Topeka: Saturday summary

TOPEKA, Kan. -- John Force led the quickest Funny Car field in NHRA history Saturday to close qualifying for the Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. Mike Dunn, Warren Johnson and Bob Panella also will lead...

TOPEKA, Kan. -- John Force led the quickest Funny Car field in NHRA history Saturday to close qualifying for the Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

Mike Dunn, Warren Johnson and Bob Panella also will lead their respective categories into tomorrow's 10:30 a.m. eliminations for the $1.9 million race, the ninth of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Force, who clocked a 4.809 second elapsed time at 316.82 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to take the 102nd No. 1 qualifying position of his career, will face Chuck Etchells in the first round. Etchells anchored the 16-car starting lineup with a 4.911 second effort, marking the sixth time this season that the quickest field has been set in the 6,000 horsepower category.

That meeting is just one of several high-profile first round encounters in the ultra-competitive category.

"If you look at the (elimination) ladder, there's some really big races in that first round," said Force, who is seeking a record 11th Winston championship this season. "Tony (Pedregon) has (Bruce) Sarver and (Gary) Densham has (Ron) Capps and they're both trying to move up in points. It could be a big day for this team. We've got good weather and we're having fun -- that's what it's all about."

Meanwhile, Pedregon would like to set the national speed record. To do it, he needs to clock a speed of at least 321.59 mph (within one-percent as required by NHRA rules) in his Castrol Syntec Mustang. On Friday he recorded the fastest Funny Car speed in NHRA history, a 324.83 mph blast.

"I'd like to see him set it, and move it on up there away from GM," said Force, who currently holds the mark at 324.05 mph.

"We were really close on our final qualifying attempt (320 mph)," said Pedregon, who also holds the quickest run for a Funny Car at 4.779 seconds (Gainesville, '99). "I felt it was a very clean run and the engine was revving really good down there. I was surprised that it wasn't faster. Tomorrow our main goal is to win rounds, but we may be able to get the record if the conditions are right. The more rounds we win, the more shots we'll have at it."

Dunn, who could also set a national speed record during eliminations, took his third top qualifying award of the season in Top Fuel and 13th of his career, clocking the quickest run under NHRA's 90-percent nitro rule in his Yankee dragster, 4.495 seconds, with the second-fastest speed in NHRA history, 331.53 mph.

"I think we've got a good handle on the track, and it's going to be interesting," said Dunn, who needs to post a 328.22 mph speed to back-up the record performance. "We run in the morning, so it might be possible to put up a good number then. As the day goes on the track will get gooey and it'll be tough to back-up the record. We're not going to take a chance because we're going for the win."

Dunn, who started his driving career in Funny Car in the early 1980s, will face upset-minded Don Sosenka in the first round, a former Funny Car driver who is making his Top Fuel debut at this event.

"Man, I'm glad I'm not running Funny Car this year," Dunn said with a smile. "I'm confident that we've got the most powerful car (in Top Fuel), but that doesn't necessairly mean that it's going to win races. We've struggled to get round wins this year and we've got to change that. That's what we're going to try and do tomorrow."

Johnson earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season and first since last August, covering the distance in 6.868 seconds at a track record speed of 200.92 mph in his Pontiac Grand Am. It is the 123rd career No. 1 qualifying award for Johnson.

Panella earned his third No. 1 qualifying position of the season in Pro Stock Truck with his track record time of 7.475 at 180.96 in a Chevy S-10.

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Panella , Mike Dunn , Warren Johnson , John Force , Chuck Etchells