Southern California native Larry Dixon closed out a blistering day of qualifying with a national-record pass of 3.770 at 324.98 to claim the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel on Saturday at the season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals.
The other No. 1 qualifiers at the first of 22 races in NHRA's 60th anniversary season were Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock).
Dixon, the defending champion from nearby Van Nuys, had run a 3.778 in his first pass of the day Saturday so he has the required back-up to validate the record previously set by Tony Schumacher (3.771 at Richmond in Oct. 2008).
“That run today was just spectacular from my standpoint,” said Dixon, who drives the Al-Anabi Racing dragster. “It shook really hard, kind of just like (teammate) Del (Worsham)'s car did, and it was almost to the point where you give up, it's shaking that bad. It cleaned up, and then went the rest of the way down the track.”
For Dixon, the No. 1 was the 49th No. 1 of his career, three shy of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme for No. 8 on the all-time NHRA No. 1 qualifiers list.
“With us only racing 1,000 feet, you can see the scoreboards now, so you click it off, and you see a .77 come up, and it's like, ‘Wow, was that right?'” Dixon said.
Cruz Pedregon laid down a blistering 4.015 at 313.22 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry that ranked as the third quickest in NHRA Funny Car history. It was the 40th No. 1 qualifier of his career and he will meet his brother Tony in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
“It felt great, it felt incredible, especially when I took a quick peek at the scoreboard. I saw that 4.01 and I thought there it is, that's the big payoff,” Pedregon said. “I've got to hand it to the (NHRA track) prep team. Crazy that we had sleet earlier in the day (Saturday)…so great credit to the prep team.”
In Pro Stock, Enders cemented the second No. 1 qualifier of her career in her ZaZa Energy Chevy Cobalt when her 6.553sec pass at 211.69mph from Thursday held up through the final round of qualifying on Saturday.
“After we ran on Thursday and finished the session and stayed No. 1, I did feel confident that it would hold,” said Enders. “I don't know if I'd say I'm surprised to be No. 1 just based on the championship-caliber team I'm with and the horsepower that we have over there, but I will tell you that it is a surreal feeling. I find myself pinching myself to see if it's real.”
Enders, who has not run a full season since 2006, earned her only other No. 1 qualifier at the 2006 O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. She's twice runner-upped, but never won in 89 career races entering Sunday's final eliminations.
“I've had a tough last couple of years,” Enders said. “It's just awesome to be back with a team like this and to be back on top. I'm very excited.”
Meanwhile, Mike Edwards, who has won 13 races and a championship over the last two seasons, did not qualify.
The 51st annual Winternationals eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m. with Top Fuel, followed by Funny Car and Pro Stock, and they will be telecast by ESPN2 beginning at 7 p.m. ET.