Championship Drag Racing

Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
Indianapolis, Ind.
(August 27-September 1)

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Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
Dixon takes Top Fuel lead; Pedregon, A. Johnson, Arana front other fields

by Phil Burgess,

Three-time Mac Tools U.S. Nationals winner Larry Dixon took control of Top Fuel Saturday, jumping to the head of the field to lead qualifying with two runs remaining Sunday at the 54th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. Reigning NHRA POWERade Funny Car world champ Tony Pedregon leads the fuel coupes, just ahead of his brother, Cruz.

Allen Johnson and Hector Arana, two competitors looking not only for their first U.S. Nationals wins but also their first Indy poles, are three-fifths of the way to accomplishing half their goals after finishing Saturday atop the Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle fields, respectively.

Larry Dixon

Dixon, at the wheel of seven-time Indy winner Don Prudhomme's U.S. Smokeless dragster, eased past Cory McClenathan's first-session-leading 3.852 with a 3.84, and did it with Cory Mac in the other lane to bump the Fram driver to second.

"I'm not writing any acceptance speeches yet," Dixon cautioned. "I'm just happy with the run. Going to 1,000 foot has tightened the pack up that much more and qualifying 1, 10, 7 … it's so tight, it doesn't seem to matter. The only good thing about being No. 1 is you get to chose your run order on raceday.

"Some guys took to1,000 foot like a duck to water, but it put us behind because our car was one of the better from 1,000 feet to 1,320 feet. Going to the final round last week in Reading was a big part of it; you can’t test anymore, so going to the final gives you three more runs to learn on than the guy who lost first round."

Hillary Will, in pursuit of her first Indy win, stepped up in the final session with a strong 3.85 in Ken Black's dragster to grab the third position while Brandon Bernstein, who had struggled on his first two passes to a 5.84 best, jumped way up to the fourth spot with his Tim Richards-tuned Budweiser dragster with a 3.86. J.R. Todd, who started the day second, finished in fifth after failing to improve on his Friday 3.87. Rod Fuller finished in the final transfer spot with a 3.90.

The bad news only got worse today for Tony Schumacher, whose all-world crew chief Alan Johnson announced earlier in the day that he would be leaving the U.S. Army team at the end of the season. Schumacher made a solid run of 3.92 to kick off the day's final session after opening his qualifying account with back-to-back tire smokers of 8.60 and 6.37 yet finished outside the top 12.

Schumacher, winner of this event five of the last six years, finished the day 13th and will have to make the field Sunday. Schumacher's worst starting position this season was 10th, in Houston.

Morgan Lucas , who is 14th at 3.934 and will also have to make the show Sunday, is battling with Doug Kalitta and Dave Grubnic for the final two spots in the Top Fuel Countdown to 1 with just 10 points separating the trio. Grubnic is qualified No. 8 and Kalitta No. 11

Tony Pedregon

Los hermanos Pedregon stole the show Saturday at Indy with Tony grabbing the No. 1 spot with a 4.07 – which ties the second-quickest 1,000-foot Funny car pass – from his Q Racing Impala and Cruz, who won this race three times in the 1990s, slipping into second with a 4.104 just ahead of surprise No. 3 qualifier Gary Densham's 4.109. Rookie Mike Neff, competing as a driver in his first U.S. Nationals, qualified the Old Spice Mustang fourth with a 4.114, just ahead of John Force Racing teammates Robert Hight (4.117) and Ashley Force (4.122). Team leader John Force, who shockingly failed to qualify at this event this year, is outside looking in again in the 18th spot with two attempts remaining.

"We knew the conditions were very good," said Pedregon. "We've been too conservative for the last dozen races. We figured it would go or smoke the tires, and it went.

"The goal tomorrow will be the U.S. Smokless Showdown. We know we're qualified, and that gives us a competitive advantage."

Tony Bartone holds the 12th spot that will transfer to Sunday's qualifying sheets with a 4.183. Others outside the top 12 include Reading runner-up Frank Hawley and former Indy winners Gary Scelzi and Jim Head.

Allen Johnson

Johnson continues to give the GM cars fits with his Dodge Stratus, stealing the No. 1 spot back from Dave Connolly after relinquishing it to the Chevy driver in the day's first session. Johnson powered his Mopar machine to a 6.657 to lead a back of hot-in-pursuit GMs into the final day of qualifying. Connolly led the field after a 6.671 in the day's first pass but could not improve and slid back five spots to sixth.

"That was the first run we've made it to the finish line under power," said Johnson. "Last night we broke a rocker arm, and on the first run today, we burned a spark plug in fifth gear, so it was good to get the top spot back. Being No. 1 makes you sleep a lot better.

"The conditions today were a lot better for our cars. The humidity is half of what it was yesterday, and tomorrow is supposed to be exactly the same. Tomorrow morning should be the best conditions of the weekend for us and probably where you'll see the best run. Qualifying No. 1 at Indy has been a dream of mine, along with winning the event, so we'd sure like to hang onto it. We've got a veteran team, and if everyone does their job, I think we can hang onto it and improve."

Johnson fronts a traffic jam of Pontiac drivers who ran 6.66 in the final session, fronted by Mike Edwards (6.660) and including Jason Line (6.661), Greg Anderson (6.667), and Warren Johnson (6.668), and capped by Connolly's Charter Communications Chevy, the first three from that marquee.

Ron Krisher, who only needs to qualify to clinch his playoff spot, sits seventh with his Valvoline Chevy just ahead of three-time Indy winner Jeg Coughlin's Cobalt. Jim Yates holds the 12th and final transfer spot with a 6.694 from his Wiley X Eyewear Pontiac.

All eyes are on W.J. and Greg Stanfield, who are battling for the final position in the Countdown to 1 playoffs. Should Stanfield, who is not among the day's fast 12 – in fact, he's a distant 23rd -- fail to qualify, Johnson, who currently holds top speed for the class at 207.88, would still have to reach the final round to pass him in the points for 10th place. Johnson has not reached the final of the U.S. Nationals since 1999, when he defeated Anderson in the final round.

Hector Arana

Arana, embroiled in a tight battle with Karen Stoffer for the final spot in the class’ Countdown to 1 playoffs, made a huge statement Saturday morning with a 6.954-second blast aboard his Lucas Oil Buell to take the No. 1 spot, a run that held up through the completion of the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle and final qualifying session. Arana trails Stoffer by 12 points, but she’s not among the top 12 right now. Should she fail to qualify, Arana would make the playoffs, and she would not.

“I’m trying not to look at the points and get distracted; it's not good” said Arana, who earlier this year won his first national event crown. “I don't even want to know what she's doing. If I qualify No. 1 that will give me some points, then all I have to do is just win.

“I haven’t looked at the weather to see what it’s going to do, but I’d sure like to hold onto the No. 1 spot. Everything's been going great for me this year – a lot of highlights, a lot of accomplishments – and it's been great to show my kids that you can succeed if you work hard."

Matt Smith jumped up to second place with a 6.961 Saturday morning while Chris Rivas made it a triple-header of Buells atop the field with a 6.978. Andrew Hines' Harley is fourth with a 6.984, and Steve Johnson is fifth with the field’s quickest Suzuki, at 6.984. In all, five riders went past Friday leader Eddie Krawiec, despite his improvement from a 7.01 to a 6.99 Saturday, and he settled for sixth heading into Sunday’s final two qualifying sessions, but no doubt was soothed by the $25,000 payday he earned for winning the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle for the first time over red-lighting teammate Hines.

Craig Treble, in his first event aboard Don Schumacher’s second Suzuki, holds down the 12th and final spot to transfer into Sunday with a pass of 7.052. If he holds on to a spot in the field, Treble will clinch his playoff berth Sunday night.

In addition to Stoffer, other top names outside the quick 12 are Gatornationals champ Matt Guidera and last year’s fourth-place finisher, Peggy Llewellyn.

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