After a slow start that produced just six four-second runs in Top Fuel and Funny Car combined, the 18th annual Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Nationals picked up the pace considerably in Friday's second session with a plethora of crowd-pleasing passes.
By the time the desert dust settled, four track records had fallen by the wayside and some familiar names appeared atop the qualifying sheets. Sporting a special-edition Arizona Diamondbacks World Champion dragster, Top Fuel points leader Larry Dixon roared to the front of his class with a 4.555 at 321.50 mph. Meanwhile, John Force's march towards 100 career victories got off to a solid start after the sport's best Funny Car driver bounded out to yet another Day 1 low qualifier position on the strength of a track-record pass of 4.797 at 318.17 mph.
For the second race in a row the quickest and fastest Pro Stock car belongs to Ron Krisher. The Ohio-based pro set both ends of the Firebird International Raceway record for Pro Stock cars and finished the first day of qualifying in the No. 1 spot with a 6.875 at 201.40 mph.
Dixon's purple and teal Diamondbacks rail was a fan favorite before he ever hit the accelerator. But once the Miller Lite pro posted his class-leading 4.555 at 321.50 mph, there were no doubters left, including shortstop Tony Womack, who watched the pass from the starting line.
"That was definitely exciting," Dixon said. "It went out there to maybe 200 feet and then snapped the front tires up in the air until well past the 330-foot timers. I couldn't steer it for about a second. Pretty wild but it ended up being a great run.
"It was really nice having everyone from the Diamondbacks out today. Womack was pumped. He said, 'You know why you ran a 4.55?' Then he pulls this diamond pendent out of his shirt with a big No. 5 on it. That's his number. I told him he better bring that thing back on Sunday. He used to go to the drag races with his dad in Virginia when he was a kid but he was blown away by how fast these cars are going these days."
Kenny Bernstein was close behind Dixon on the ladder with a 4.567 at 325.85 mph in his Budweiser dragster. Mac Tools pilot Doug Kalitta followed in third place with a 4.605 at 324.44 mph, while Round 1 leader Tony Schumacher fell to fourth place despite improving to a 4.606 at 321.81 mph in the U.S. Army dragster.
Rob Passey of Salt Lake City, Utah, might be missing the Winter Games in his hometown but so far he's in the field of the CSK Nationals after running a 16th-best 5.294 at 204.20 mph. Twenty-one cars attempted passes today. Top Fuel results
If today's Funny Car qualifying were an Olympic event it would have been a clean sweep for John Force Racing. The boss would have taken the gold with a double-track-record pass of 4.797 at 318.17 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Teammate Tony Pedregon and his Castrol Syntec machine would fill out the next spot on the podium after a solid silver run of 4.885 at 314.17 mph, while the group's third driver, Auto Club pro Gary Densham, would have claimed bronze with a 4.887 at 317.34 mph.
"The first run (4.83 at 314 mph) was important," Force said. "We were sweating it out because everyone was smoking the tires. We watched Tony smoke 'em and so we backed me and Densham down. Then he ran and smoked 'em so we backed mine down again. [Crew chief Austin] Coil said if he backed mine down any more it would hydraulic. We didn't know what it would do but Coil said to get it to the other end the best I could so we could be back in the pack in Round 2.
"The partnership worked, and it could have been even better because we were moving around and we even slung the belt down there. Coil's something isn't he? And [assistant crew chief] Bernie Fedderly too. He turned 60. It's good to have someone around who's older than me."
Oakley wildman Scotty Cannon rounded out the top four with a 4.892 at 315.64 mph in his Firebird.
Stewart & Stevenson FMTV Camaro driver Bob Gilbertson has the final qualified Funny Car after an off-pace 7.432 at 113.68 mph. While Gilbertson tries to improve in tomorrow's final two sessions, six other drivers will try to knock him out of the field including Dean Skuza and Al Hofmann. Funny Car results
Just as he did at the season opener in Pomona, Krisher guided his Eagle One Chevrolet Cavalier to the top spot in the Pro Stock field by posting a pair of track-record passes. His official mark is a 6.875 at 201.40 mph, a Firebird International Raceway elapsed time record. Earlier in the day he reached a top speed of 201.97 mph to set a new speed mark.
“We had some problems in Pomona with our rear end but got it fixed the other day in Tucson,” Krisher said. “We didn’t go out there today to set records but the engine was so good. Getting the track record surprised us a little bit because we were breaking in a motor. We’ll sure take it. I don’t think it’ll stand but we left a little out there so maybe we can get quicker also.
“I’m really excite because we’re making good horsepower and I have some new people on the team and we’re all getting g along and having a good time. That’s what it’s all about. We’re out here to have fun.”
Fresh off his runner-up finish in California, SplitFire/Peak Pro Jim Yates remains one of the drivers to beat. His 6.882 at 200.44 mph placed him second on the Day 1 ladder. Tom Hammonds was next with a 6.889 at 200.65 mph in his Winnebago Cavalier, while defending event champion Warren Johnson eked out a top-four slot with a 6.890 at 201.52 mph in his GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am.
Jesel driver Tom Martino rode the bump after both rounds but did manage to lower it from a 6.959 to a 6.935 at 199.76 mph. Former champions Jeg Coughlin and Bob Glidden are two of the more notable drivers who have yet to qualify for this event. Pro Stock results