Topeka: Saturday qualifying report

FEMALES TAKE CENTER STAGE AGAIN: TROXEL, ENDERS BECOME FIRST PAIR OF WOMEN TO EARN NO. 1 QUALIFIERS AT SAME EVENT Robert Hight leads three Team Force cars atop the field in Funny Car TOPEKA, Kan. -- The female drivers added another page to the...

FEMALES TAKE CENTER STAGE AGAIN: TROXEL, ENDERS BECOME FIRST PAIR OF WOMEN TO EARN NO. 1 QUALIFIERS AT SAME EVENT

Robert Hight leads three Team Force cars atop the field in Funny Car

TOPEKA, Kan. -- The female drivers added another page to the NHRA history book Saturday when Pro Stocker Erica Enders joined season-long Top Fuel points leader Melanie Troxel as the first pair of women to earn No. 1 qualifiers at the same NHRA POWERade Series event.

Robert Hight (Funny Car) rounded out the No. 1 qualifiers at the $1.9 million O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX, the ninth of 23 races on the $50 million NHRA POWERade Series.

Enders etched her own bit of additional racing history by becoming the first female Pro Stock driver to qualify No. 1 at an NHRA national event and she became the eighth female to earn a No. 1 qualifier in NHRA history.

"Being a girl in Pro Stock is pretty unique," said the 22-year old Enders said, who has two runner-up finishes but is still seeking her first POWERade Series event win. "It was exciting for us to qualify for the first time. It was exciting to win our first round, to get to a final for the first time; it's all been amazing. It's neat to share the podium with Melanie. I just hope we get to share it again tomorrow. That's the next thing we need to check off that list."

In just her 32nd career race, Enders already owns all the class records for female competitors. She is the fifth woman to compete in the 36-year-old factory hot rod category. Her Friday-night pass of 6.785 seconds at 203.06 mph in her Slammers Milk Chevrolet Cobalt was enough to top the Pro Stock field.

After qualifying in the top five at seven of eight races this year, her first low qualifier award earned her the $3,000 bonus from King Demon Crown that comes with the honor. What's impressive is the fact she's considerably quicker than the other contenders -- three hundredths of a second -- a gargantuan gap in a class where cars are usually separated by a few thousandths.

"This is pretty cool," she said. "It's another check mark we get to put on the list of things we want to accomplish. I'm proud of my guys. They've never failed to give me a racecar that's capable of winning.

Troxel and Hight also stayed No. 1 in their respective classes with their opening-day runs, which took place under the lights Friday night. Troxel earned her second career No. 1 with a best of 4.567 at 321.50 mph in the Skull Gear dragster, while Hight used a 4.824 at 315.19 mph in his Auto Club Ford Mustang to snare his ninth career pole in just 32 starts.

Troxel has averaged a fifth-place start this season, including runs to the winner's podium from the fourth and ninth positions. She now hopes to become the first low qualifier from a nitro category in 2006 to convert a No. 1 starting position into a victory.

"The No. 1 spot hasn't been good for anyone this year but we're hoping to break that jinx tomorrow," said Troxel, who will pocket $4,000 from Budweiser for being the low qualifier. "Everyone knows that Friday night runs mean absolutely nothing on race day. The other runs are the important ones and we ran pretty well there. The car spun the tires down track every run and I lifted a little early each time because we didn't want to oil the track and incur any more penalties. We can't afford it."

Three-time series champion Tony Schumacher will try to get his first Topeka win and his first victory of the season from the No. 4 slot after a 4.622 at 312.35 mph.

Team Force wrapped up the top three positions on the Funny Car ladder with Hight taking the No. 1 designation after a 4.824 at 315.19 mph, which is worth $4,000 from Skoal. This is the seventh time Team Force, which includes John Force and Eric Medlen, has swept positions 1-3. Now the trio will try to break a streak of never garnering a win after topping the charts as a group in qualifying.

"I'm with Melanie. We need to break this deal about no No. 1 qualifiers winning the race," Hight said. "Maybe we can both get it done tomorrow and put it to rest. My teammate Eric was the last guy to do it in Funny Car and that was at Seattle so we're coming up on a year pretty soon. We need to get past that. We can break that other deal too with the Team Force cars being 1-2-3."

Sunday's eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Tony Schumacher , Melanie Troxel , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight