Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals
By Brad Littlefield, NHRA.com
A torrential downpour and a tornado warning pushed backed the final round of Top Fuel qualifying by more than three hours, but racers, fans, and staff persevered to complete Saturday's activities at the 11th annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago. Those who waited were awarded with milestone No. 1 finishes by Melanie Troxel in Funny Car and Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel. Troxel became the first woman to qualify No. 1 in Funny Car history during an incredible final qualifying session, and Schumacher took the pole position for the 50th time in his career. Prior to the rain, qualifying was completed in the gasoline-powered Professional classes with Jeg Coughlin taking the top seed in Pro Stock and Chris Rivas earning his first No. 1 spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
A torrential downpour and a tornado warning pushed backed the final round of Top Fuel qualifying by more than three hours, but racers, fans, and staff persevered to complete Saturday's activities at the 11th annual Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago. Those who waited were awarded with milestone No. 1 finishes by Melanie Troxel in Funny Car and Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel.
Troxel became the first woman to qualify No. 1 in Funny Car history during an incredible final qualifying session, and Schumacher took the pole position for the 50th time in his career. Prior to the rain, qualifying was completed in the gasoline-powered Professional classes with Jeg Coughlin taking the top seed in Pro Stock and Chris Rivas earning his first No. 1 spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
The final qualifying session in Funny Car was one of the more dramatic in recent memory. Amid a barrage of 4.7-second runs, the battle to become the first woman to qualify No. 1 in the class took center stage when Troxel wheeled her ProCare RX Dodge Charger to the top spot ahead of incoming leader Ashley Force. The crash and burn factor was prevalent as well with Robert Hight and particularly Tony Pedregon suffering major fires in their final attempts before eliminations.
Pedregon's Q Horsepower Chevy Impala burst into flames at the 1,000-foot mark during the final qualifying session, and the body was torn off while slowing against the retaining wall. Hight also ignited his Auto Club Ford Mustang while improving one position to No. 14 with a 4.847. Neither driver was injured.
“It’s a struggle just to qualify coming into any given race, so we’re very happy to be at the top of the field,” said Troxel. “We came into today not in the field, and that put a lot of pressure on us. For me and my teammate Mark Oswald to finish one and two is a big credit to our car owners Mike Ashley and Roger Burgess.
“The female aspect of being the first woman to do something is not important to me. It’s certainly noteworthy, but I don’t try to measure myself against other females. This is a great milestone for me personally. I’ve never even run a .70 before, so to go all the way up to No. 1 with a .75 was great.”
Mark Oswald and Ron Capps made noise in the final session. Oswald's A&R Transport Dodge Charger ran a fantastic 4.757 in the final pair to take the second spot and drop Force to third. Capps, in the NAPA Dodge Charger, ran a flawless 4.777 at 322.11 mph to go all the way up to the fourth spot.
“The Sarge” stayed on top in the U.S. Army dragster in the same weekend that the Army is celebrating its 233rd birthday. Schumacher’s effort of 4.513 at 331.69 mph on Friday was enough to hold up on top, and the team elected to sit out the final session after posting a fifth-best 4.627 during the first Saturday session. Schumacher’s first-round opponent will be Bob Vandergriff Jr., who held the bump spot with a 4.789.
“As usual, what a great job by the U.S. Army team,” said Schumacher, who has qualified No. 1 six times at Route 66 Raceway. “I’m happy to stay on top of the order to get our 50th No. 1. It says a lot given the level of competition these days.
“It’s been pretty hectic so far this weekend, but it will be nice to walk out for driver’s introductions tomorrow. We need to go out there and build on that [points] lead, and the only way to do that is to win races. We’re going to try real hard to get victory No. 4 on Sunday.”
Antron Brown, Larry Dixon, and J.R. Todd maintained their respective positions behind Schumacher from Friday while Dave Grubnic delivered the DHL dragster into the fifth spot with a class-best 4.565 at 317.87 mph during the final session. All of the teams associated with Kalitta Motorsports had a successful day as
Rod Fuller and Cory McClenathan both made much-needed A to B runs in the final session. Cory Mac moved up to the ninth spot with a 4.598 in the front of the session, one pair before the rain set in. Afterwards, Fuller got the Caterpillar dragster to the finish line under power for the first time all weekend with a 4.602 to take the No. 10 seed.
“This is the most consistent we’ve been since the hit of the throttle in February,” said Coughlin. “The clouds came in and made the track tighter before the final session, so I was hoping to improve even more but we were a little too aggressive. I was glad to see [Cagnazzi teammate Dave] Connolly and [Cagnazzi-powered Ron] Krisher improve in that session, though.
“Pro Stock sees the tightest fields year after year. I guess we’re the ninth No. 1 qualifier in 10 races this year, and there have been eight winners in nine different races. I’m glad to have my name on both of those lists.”
Johnson wasn’t able to keep the No. 1 spot he held on Friday despite making the quickest passes of the first two sessions and the fastest passes of all four sessions. The biggest move behind Johnson came from recent event winner Krisher, whose Valvoline Chevy Cobalt moved into the fourth position with a 6.722 at 204.94 mph in the final session. Rookie Rickie Jones secured the bump spot and his sixth starting position of the season with a 6.754.
V. Gaines entered this event fifth in the points standings but took a hit when his Kendall Dodge Stratus failed to get in the show for the first time this season. However, the team received a morale boost when crew chief Clyde West returned to action after recent medical complications.
“I’m just happy it’s not provisional any more,” joked Rivas, whose previous career-high qualifying position was third. “We’re really glad to do well here in front of everyone at S&S Cycle, which is located in Viola, Wis. We made good runs, and the computer graphs show that there is still room for improvement.
“The whole G-Squared team is doing a great job. Ken Johnson and George Smith are making great calls. The clutch tune-up and the motors are coming back around. With the way it’s running, we feel like we can make little mistakes and still be okay.”
Points leader Andrew Hines is in the second spot despite making the quickest passes in three of the four qualifying sessions. The Vance & Hines/Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson led all bikes with runs of 7.028, 7.037, and 7.030 in the first, third, and fourth sessions, respectively.
Mike Berry made the biggest move in Saturday’s final session when his Suzuki jumped to the sixth position with a 7.098 at 184.85 mph, making him the second-quickest Suzuki behind No. 3 qualifier Chip Ellis. Wes Wells sits on the bump with a last-ditch run of 7.209 at 184.93 mph.
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