O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals
Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher marched his U.S. Army dragster to the top of the provisional field of the O'Reilly Mid-South NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil with a steady run of 4.58 seconds at 318 mph Friday evening. Whit Bazemore, Dave Connolly, and Andrew Hines also opened their weekends with provisional low qualifying efforts at a humid Memphis Motorsports Park.
With eight-foot header flames lighting the way, Schumacher closed the evening's action with his impressive run, putting him in line for his 12th career No. 1 start. Bazemore also impressed, using a 4.86 to pace the Funny Car field. A victor last weekend in Brainerd, Connolly stayed red-hot with a 6.79 in pro Stock, while Hines used a 7.13 to lead Pro Stock Bike.
Schumacher started the day with a smooth 4.67, which temporarily placed him second on the ladder. Then he answered back with a 4.581 at 318.92 mph as the day closed to solidify his favored status in the class. Schumacher has raced to the finals in three of the last four events, winning twice over that same time frame. Both times he qualified No. 1 this season he's gone on to win the race.
"Teams can get momentum and then lose it and no one knows that better than us because in 1999, coming into this race, we fought off a huge potential shift in momentum," said Schumacher, who went on to win the '99 title. "I remember we had one run and smoked the tires and we weren't in and then it rained like hell and we thought we were done. Joe Amato was 20 points behind us. But they gave us one more qualifying session Sunday morning and we ran a big number and got it. We could have crumbled, but we didn't.
"It seems like every season has those points. I don't know if we've had it yet but I know that win last week in Brainerd was big and coming in here and getting the No. 1 tonight is big. The pressure starts to mount as you come down the stretch. We had a good first run today and that was key because it gave us a chance to go last tonight."
Scott Kalitta, who won in Denver earlier this summer, is second in his Jesse James/Mac Tools rail with a 4.603 at 314.31 mph. Budweiser's Brandon Bernstein follows in third with a 4.630, while beer rival Larry Dixon of Team Miller Lite ended up fourth with a 4.637.
Bob Vandergriff has the Haldex dragster in 16th with a 4.967 at 285.65 mph, which was quicker than the best efforts of Doug Kalitta and Bill Ancona. Top Fuel results
Bazemore assumed the POWERade points lead here one year ago with a big victory over Dean Skuza. This time through he's merely hoping to close the 188-point gap John Force has on him in the championship standings. He took at least one step in that direction Friday with a low qualifying effort of 4.862 at 309.77 mph in his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T.
Ron Capps labored to get the 16th and final position with a 5.147 at 281.07 mph, almost a tenth of a second quicker then Jerry Toliver, who has yet to qualify for the event.
"We've had a tough couple of months," Bazemore said. "We had an 80-point lead in the points and we've given it all back and then some. But this is a never-say-die team. It's a very tight group and we all have the same goal – win the POWERade championship. Two good runs doesn't mean we're back in the hunt just like that but it does mean we're going in the right direction, which is very encouraging.
"It's neat having a night race like this. I'm excited about it and I'm sure the fans love it. You have to drive more by the seat of your pants at night because you can't see the groove. I just make sure and line the car up as straight as possible and aim down the middle. After you hit the throttle it's all feel."
Skoal's Tommy Johnson Jr. is second with a 4.905 at 304.80 mph in his Monte Carlo. He's followed by two Fords, the Auto Club hot rod of Gary Densham, which ran a 4.906, and the Castrol Syntec machine of Brainerd winner Eric Medlen, which posted a 4.920. Funny Car results
Runaway Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson has spent the better part of the season telling anyone who will listen that the chase pack is catching up to him. Now, for the second time in the past week, his prophesy is coming true as Connolly rides the wave of his first career win last weekend in Brainerd to the provisional pole here. Connolly's 6.790 at 202.58 mph in his Bullet Cavalier gave him a sizable 26-hundredths of a second cushion over Anderson in the provisional field.
"It's surprising to be outrunning [Anderson] again," Connolly said. "I saw him down there [in the shutdown area] and he thought he had made a good run with that 6.81. He asked me what I ran and when I said 6.79 he looked very surprised. Our team's a lot like his, we tasted victory and now we're working harder then ever to taste it again.
"This season's far from over. We could work our way up to second place if we keep this up. The team is strong and the guys are doing a great job. We won't catch Greg this year but we'll try to get some more wins from him. I just wish we could start next season right now."
Anderson, who will try to equal John Force's single-season record of 13 national event wins this weekend, is second with a 6.816 at 201.49 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac Grand Am.
Reher-Morrison/Speedco racer Bruce Allen is third with a 6.820 at 200.92 mph, and Anderson's KB Racing teammate Jason Line is fourth with a 6.824 at 201.34 mph.
Mike Edwards has the Young Life Pontiac on the bump with a 6.842 at 201.16 mph.
Warren Johnson, who has failed to qualify for the last two events, something he'd never done in 448 starts, leads the 10 cars on the provisional DNQ list. Johnson's GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am is currently 17th on the grid. Pro Stock results
Hines wasted little time exerting his presence in Memphis with a Round 1 blast of 7.132 seconds at 188.17 mph, which was more than six hundredths of a second quicker than his closest pursuer. Like many of the top pros, the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod rider failed to improve on his time in the second session despite more agreeable weather conditions.
"I think a lot of people overestimated the track tonight," said Hines, whose 7.18 was the quickest of Round 2. "I lined up against my teammate GT [Tonglet] so we were really racing each other and having fun, trying to put on a good show for the fans. My bike just didn't leave as hard as it did in Round 1. That 7.13 was the best pass we've made since [the rules committee] added 40 pounds to the V-Rods.
"We had a good tune-up earlier this year but I guess they wanted to level the playing field so bad they added that weight. I felt like they were picking on me to a certain extent but my dad's worked hard to get another tune-up that works. It's totally different then it was before but we're catching back up to it.
"There is one rumor I'd like to end right now. There is no A or B bike on our team. My bike and GT's bike are the same. You could run either motor in either bike, it wouldn't matter to me. We just ride differently and the bikes are tuned differently."
U.S. Army teammates Antron Brown and Angelle Savoie kept their recent surge going here by finishing Day 1 in the second and third slots on the ladder. Brown used a 7.199 at 186.10 mph in the first session to grab second place, while Savoie had the second-quickest pass of Round 2, a 7.200 at 183.82 mph to move up to third.
GT Tonglet, Hines' Vance & Hines Racing stablemate, closed out the top four with a 7.228 at 181.52 mph.
Gotham City racer Lloyd Straus is 16th after a 7.333 at 180.67 mph. There are eight riders outside the field with two rounds of qualifying remaining on the schedule. Pro Stock Bike results
Mike Castellana, of Westbury, N.Y., was the quickest of 22 Pro Mod entries after the first day of qualifying for the AMS Pro Modified Challenge. Castellana used a 6.226 at 227.04 mph to pull ahead of teammate Shannon Jenkins during the second qualifying session.
Former Pro Stock standout Richie Stevens made his debut behind the wheel of Roy Hill's Valspar-sponsored Mustang. Stevens is third at the halfway point with a 6.300 at 225.90 mph.