Jeg Coughlin ended Mike Edwards' streak of 12-consecutive No. 1 qualifying positions in Pro Stock competition Saturday at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also will lead their categories into Sunday's noon eliminations at the first NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event in NHRA history to feature racing in four lanes instead of the traditional two.
Coughlin posted a track-record time of 6.520sec at 212.29mph in his JEGS.com Chevy Cobalt to take the top spot away from recent category-dominator Edwards, who was second overall with a 6.548 at 212.13 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP.
"It feels fantastic and it's an honor to be first low qualifier for the Four-Wide Nationals," Coughlin said. "It gives us great momentum going into tomorrow. We had a car that struggled for the first three races of the year and now we've got a little momentum built. My dad, Jeg Sr., came back out in Gainesville and helped us. We made a couple of test runs before Gainesville, and made quite a few changes. Once we got there, we had a car that qualified No. 2."
It is Coughlin's first No. 1 position since the 2008 season and his 16th overall. He will face Rodger Brogdon, Phoenix runner-up Bob Yonke and rookie Shane Gray in the opening round of eliminations. He is looking forward to the challenge of four-wide eliminations.
"I've been a drag racer my entire life, and this [four wide] is definitely more of a challenge for a driver," said Coughlin, a four-time Pro Stock world champion. "I've made thousands of runs in many kinds of cars and this is more of a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it. I've tried to prepare over the last few weeks. We've talked about how the format works. Mentally I've put a lot of time and thought into it as far as how we will handle different situations. I had a lot of them play out on four of my qualifying runs this weekend. Coming in, I'd say my comfort level was about 60 percent, but it's now well above 90 percent."
Also making news in Pro Stock was three-time world champ Greg Anderson, who set a national speed record at 212.46mph. However, his time of 6.570sec in his Summit Racing GXP was only good enough for fifth in the ultra-quick starting lineup.
McClenathan claimed the No. 1 position in Top Fuel with his Friday performance of 3.790sec in his FRAM dragster, as no one ran quicker than that in Saturday's two sessions. It is McClenathan's 35th career No. 1, second of the season and first at zMAX Dragway.
"I think we have a car that they are going to have to step up to beat us," said McClenathan, who also posted Saturday's quickest run at 3.810sec. "We've had the same car all year long. We have either shined or taken someone for granted this year. Todd [Okuhara, co-crew chief] said we were going to try and run 3.79 again but I was happy with an 81. That's the perfect package for tomorrow. Thought it was a gutsy call, though. The track temp jumped up but at the same time, Todd and Phil [Shuler, co-crew chief] were swinging for fences and I like that."
McClenathan will face Brandon Bernstein, Morgan Lucas and Rhonda Hartman-Smith in the first round.
"As for the four lane, it is very interesting," McClenathan said. "I've gotten a lot of feedback from fans, all positive. Everything is different from the track to the time slip but it's all been handled very well. All four lanes are raceable. Everything is smooth. I do like lane two better, but maybe that's because we won in that lane last year. At the same time, I'm good with all of them."
In Funny Car, no one improved on Hight's track-record performance of 4.024sec at 314.24mph from Friday and the defending world champion earned his second No. 1 of the season and 34th of his career. He will pull his Auto Club Ford Mustang to the expanded starting line against Paul Lee, Matt Hagan and Jeff Arend in the first round.
"The car is good," said Hight. "We tried to set the national record on the first run today but we were too far into the day, but I'm excited about tomorrow. The record is still out there for us, and for a lot of other people. The conditions are supposed to be cool tomorrow. I told my crew I don't even want to know who I'm running tomorrow. I don't want to think about who's in what lane when I'm staging. It's just go up there, see the amber, and step."
Local favorite Smith of nearby King, N.C. claimed his 33rd No. 1 qualifying position in Pro Stock Motorcycle with a track-record time of 6.875 at 193.18 on his Al-Anabi Racing Buell. Smith topped the quickest bike field in NHRA history, which was anchored by Doug Horne's 7.025sec run on a Buell.
"We struggled at the first race [in Gainesville] but we've worked on it quite a bit and made a lot of strides," Smith said. "As long as nothing mechanical happens, we have the bike that can win. We should be in the final four and we'll see what happens there."
Smith will meet Horne, Junior Pippin and Craig Treble in the first round. Eddie Krawiec qualified second on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.882 at a track-record speed of 195.42.