Champs Hight, Edwards lead their fields in Pomona; Cory Mac fronts Top Fuel
Reigning season champs Robert Hight in Funny Car and Mike Edwards in Pro Stock lead their fields after the first day of qualifying at the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Cory McClenathan grabbed the No. 1 qualifying spot in Top Fuel on the day, which featured just one qualifying session. Another qualifying session is scheduled for Friday, and the final two are slated for Saturday. The golden-anniversary event is also highlighted by a display of nostalgic race cars from the event’s long history and exhibition runs, Cacklefests, and autograph sessions with the sport’s heroes that will take place throughout the weekend.
McClenathan jumped to the top spot in Top Fuel late in the day’s only session with a 3.809 at 320.05 mph – the fourth-fastest speed in the 1,000-foot era – with his Todd Okuhara- and Phil Shuler-tuned Fram dragster and held on to the No. 1 spot when perennial championship challengers Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon experienced woes on their initial passes. Schumacher, whose run was punctuated by a flash of fire at the top end, finished seventh, and Dixon, who lost traction, wound up 10th.
"I can guarantee you one thing: It won’t stick," said McClenathan. "Somebody’s going to run definitely in the .70s with this cool weather, and it doesn’t have to be that late. The track and the conditions are really there. To run over 282 mph to half-track is pretty good. The Fram car’s flying. Everybody said we looked like the flying pumpkin.
"We plan on making some noise early. We’re going to make our presence known. In the past, I like listening to all the hype for everybody else, but I’m tired of lurking and kind of waiting to see. We’re just going to come out here and try to go toe to toe with these guys from day one. I think Todd and Phil are thinking the same thing. The guys did a great job. The car was prepared right, and everything looked fantastic."
Shawn Langdon, in the first race of his sophomore season in the class, is qualified No. 2 with the Lucas Oil dragster at 3.847, just ahead of the surprise No. 3 qualifier, Norway’s Thomas Nataas, who clocked a strong 3.88 in his Andersen Racing entry. Behind Nataas are three other top-half surprises: Troy Buff, who ran 3.950 in the Bill Miller Engineering entry; returning David Grubnic, who ran 3.954 in Connie Kalitta’s second dragster; and 82-year-old Chris Karamesines, who is sixth with a 3.997.
Antron Brown, who qualified No. 1 here in his Top Fuel debut two years ago, holds the 12th and final time that could transfer into Saturday’s qualifying, an aborted 8.36 pass.
As at this event last year, reigning NHRA Funny Car world champ Hight grabbed the No. 1 qualifying berth with his Jimmy Prock-wrenched Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang, blasting to a 4.059 at a career-best 312.86 mph, the second-fastest Funny Car speed of the 1,000-foot era. Hight’s effort continues his great string of outings at this event. He was the Winternationals champ in 2006 and 2008 and was runner-up in 2007.
“I figured it would run 4.05. That’s what we did in testing, and we didn’t change it a whole lot,” said Hight. “Probably my No. 1 qualifier here last year was the highlight of the season up to Indy for me. We were terrible. It’s definitely nice to get off on the right foot, especially looking at the rest of the weekend, it’s going to be great weather. I do kind of feel bad for my buddy [Del] Worsham. It’s his 40th birthday, and I bumped him down, but that’s what we got to do here. That won’t stick. There’s going to be a lot more better runs later in the weekend, but it gives us a start that we can really get after ours and maybe get close to national-record stuff.
“Since Indy last year, Jimmy has a whole new confidence, and you can just see it in him. He’s not second-guessing himself, going back and forth to the box making changes. He leaves the pit with a good tune-up and sticks with it, so he has a lot of confidence right now. As a driver, that gives me confidence, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Worsham celebrated his 40th birthday by powering the Al-Anabi Toyota to a stout 4.062 at 312.35 for the No. 2 spot, and Hight’s teammate, Ashley Force Hood, finished third with a 4.093 with her Castrol GTX Mustang. Both Hight and Worsham exceeded Hight’s track record of 310.55, set at last year’s Finals. Only Matt Hagan’s 313.88, recorded last fall in Las Vegas, is faster than Hight’s run.
Hagan’s new DieHard Dodge is qualified fourth at 4.10, and 2009 event runner-up Jim Head is fifth at 4.167, a number matched by fellow veteran Gary Densham. Head got the higher seed based on his superior speed, 304.74 to 293.60.
Former world champ Tony Pedregon holds the 12th spot after charting a 4.37 in his Nitro Fish Chevy. John Force, beginning his 25th season with Castrol GTX, lost what may have been a high-4.0-second pass after a red-light, rear-wheel start posted an eye-popping 3.80 on the scoreboard; Force received no official elapsed time for the run. Nineteen Funny Cars attempted passes today.
Edwards also opened 2010 the way he ended 2009: atop the Pro Stock pack. The driver of the Penhall/Interstate/K&N Pontiac roared to a 6.580 to take the provisional pole position. His speed on the run, 210.47, was also the best of the session. Edwards, who first competed at the Winternationals in 1982, surprisingly has never qualified better than fourth at this event. If he maintains the top spot, it will be the 23rd of his career and his 10th straight dating back into 2009.
“The track is pretty tricky on the first day, so we’re pleased with that,” said Edwards. “We’ve been testing and everything, but it’s different when you come out here and start competing and try to qualify. We’re excited. We made an OK run, and we’ll just try to build on that and see what happens tomorrow.
“I’m not sure where it would have stacked up if the two Summit cars had gotten down the track, but we’re happy with our start. We’re ready to start the new season, and hopefully, we can build on this first run and get better as the weekend progresses. We’re excited. Man, it feels good to get to come out here and race again with all these guys and see where we can stack up this weekend.”
Jeg Coughlin Jr., whose mail-order company also is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, is certainly off to a golden start after clocking a 6.591 in his JEGS.com Cobalt for the No. 2 spot. Ron Krisher, using Edwards horsepower in his Valvoline Cobalt, was just a few ticks behind Coughlin with a third-best 6.595 at 209.75, the round’s second-fastest time.
Behind those frontrunners are Rodger Brogdon and his Attitude Apparel Pistonator at 6.603 and Allen Johnson with the field’s fastest non-GM car at 6.613 in his new Mopar Avenger, just ahead of engine customer Vinnie Deceglie’s 6.613. John Nobile has the quickest Ford after clocking a 6.66in his new Mustang, but it’s only the 12th-quickest time.
Summit teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line, who with Coughlin are expected again to give Edwards his toughest battle for the title, both had disappointing opening laps. Anderson, who holds both ends of the track record, slowed to a 13.51 at just 64 mph, and Line also had troubles and could muster just a 7.23.