John Force raced to the Funny Car qualifying lead Friday at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Sr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago.
Force powered his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to a leading performance of 4.050 seconds at 310.77 mph during the first of two-night qualifying sessions at this event. The 15-time world champ has been in a bit of a slump since he won the season opener at Pomona in February, and needs to make a surge in the final few races of the regular season to guarantee that he qualifies for the six-race Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, NHRA's post-season playoffs.
The win at Pomona is kind of 'we were there,' but we didn't really look that good,” said Force, currently eighth in the points standings. “This is simple. I'm a 15-time champ. I owe sponsors and fans better than what I have been giving them last year and this year. I know what the game is. We've showed some consistency lately, but not much to be excited about.”
If the effort stands, it will be Force's NHRA record 140th No. 1 qualifying position and his first of the season. Force has claimed five No. 1 qualifying positions and three victories in his career at Route 66 Raceway.
“A 4.05 is good, but let's see if we can do it again tomorrow,” Force said. “I thought [Ron] Capps or [Robert] Hight would be right there to break it. All I want to do is play the game. I love it so much.”
Jack Beckman was second in his Schumacher Electric Dodge Charger with a 4.054 at 311.56, and Force's teammate Hight was third in his Auto Club Mustang, posting a 4.060 at 309.91. Capps, who has a six-race final-round streak going, was the leader after the first session but ended up eighth in his NAPA Auto Parts Charger with a 4.121 at 303.98.
In Top Fuel, Brown cruised to the top of the order with a 3.773 at 322.50 in his Matco Tools dragster to hold off Al-Anabi Racing driver Shawn Langdon, who posted a 3.784 at 322.73, and teammate Spencer Massey, who was third with a 3.788 at a track record speed of 326.79 in his FRAM/Prestone dragster.
“One thing that I can tell you is that right when I step on the gas, the Matco dragster got out of Dodge,” Brown said. “That was a good, good feeling. It hiked the front tires right up, and it just kept going and going and didn't stop pulling. When it starts arching up, you know you're on a great run. All of the guys on our team are really working hard.”
Brown and the rest of the Top Fuel contingent took advantage of the cooler conditions of the evening qualifying session. There will be a second night qualifying session on Saturday so many of the teams will be looking to better tonight's performances.
“We know that if we can get the car off the starting line, we know we can put the big numbers up,” Brown said. “You get that momentum going early, and everything takes care of itself. Tonight we got off the starting line good, and that's what it's all about. I'm stoked and pumped and really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Johnson led Pro Stock with a 6.597 at 209.26 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger. If the time holds, it would be his fifth No. 1 of the season and 23rd of his career.
“We've just got an awesome team right now,” Johnson said. “We're very consistent, we're very fast. The Hemi engines are absolutely awesome. Dad [Roy] has managed to find even a little bit more horsepower. Losing the last race [Bristol] was a heartbreaker, especially at home. Hopefully, we'll get a little bit of the good stuff at this race to make things come our way.”
Defending world champ Jason Line was second with a 6.629 at 207.88 in his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro, and Bristol winner Mike Edwards was third with a 6.635 at 208.10 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac.
Arana paced the two-wheel category with a performance of 6.915 at 192.22 on his Lucas Oil Buell.
“The first race this year was slow, but we've picked up the pace and have been doing great ever since,” Arana said.
Arana took the top spot in the first qualifying session of the day. On his second attempt, his bike slowed near the finish line.
“I was on a great pass,” Arana said. “The bike was going straight and at about 1,000 foot, it started slowing down, and I felt my leg getting cold. Then other leg got cold, and I knew what had happened. I had a fuel leak, and that is what slowed us.”
Hector Arana Jr. sits second on his Lucas Oil Buell with a 6.939 at 193.21, and three-time world champ Andrew Hines is third on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.945 at 192.55.
Qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday's eliminations begin at 11 a.m.