Matt Hagan raced to the No. 1 qualifying position and set a national performance record in Funny Car Saturday at the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. Larry Dixon, Allen Johnson and Hector Arana also will lead their categories into Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers at the fourth of six playoff races in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
Hagan powered his DieHard Dodge Charger to a 4.046-second run in the final qualifying session to officially certify his category-leading time of 4.011 seconds from Friday as an NHRA national record. If Hagan can hold the performance mark through the remainder of the weekend he will earn 20 bonus points in his quest to win the Funny Car world championship title. Hagan, who will meet Phil Burkart in the first round, trailed series leader John Force by 25 points entering this event.
“It's the stuff you dream about right there,” said Hagan of his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season. “It's great that we have a car that's capable of coming up here and laying that kind of number down, even with the sun out like that. It's just a real testament of how smart [crew chief] Tommy DeLago is and how hardworking the crew is. I was up there on pins and needles and just trying to do everything right and keep it in the groove and make it go to the other end. When I went through the trap, I could see the mph. I was trying to duck to see the e.t., but I couldn't see it, but the guys came over real quick on the radio and said we got it done. It was just an overwhelming feeling. I guess that evens up the points for now, but we've still got a lot of racing to do. As of tonight, that's huge for us. We'll put this behind us after tonight, after we do a little celebrating, and focus on tomorrow.”
Force qualified second in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang with a 4.057 at 311.27 and was followed by teammate Robert Hight, who was third with a 4.060 at 304.94 in his Auto Club Mustang. Jack Beckman was fourth overall in his Valvoline/MTS Charger with a 4.068 at 308.00. Force will meet Dale Creasy Jr., Hight will face Tony Pedregon while Beckman will race Jeff Arend.
In Top Fuel, Dixon made a statement to championship rivals Cory McClenathan and Tony Schumacher by taking his eighth top qualifying position of the season. Dixon posted both ends of the track record with a 3.786 at 322.42 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. Dixon will race No. 16 qualifier Terry McMillen in the first round.
“It was a great job by the team,” said Dixon of the 48th No. 1 qualifying position of his career. “Weather conditions this weekend are pretty good to where you should be able to fire some shots. We've seen it in Funny Car and just hadn't come up in Top Fuel, but I was glad to see us be able to do it in that last session. As I went through, it was pretty straight, pretty true. When you're not having to drive it a lot, you have a chance when you shut it off to try and catch the scoreboard when you pass it, and I saw the .78 on it and was like, ‘Wow, that was nice.'"
McClenathan took the second spot in his FRAM dragster with a 3.815 at 318.54 while teammate Schumacher was third in his U.S. Army dragster with a 3.823 at 319.14. In their first round pairings, McClenathan will race Dom Lagana, while Schumacher will take on Morgan Lucas.
Johnson claimed his sixth No. 1 position of the season and second in a row in Pro Stock as no one improved on his Friday best of 6.551 at 211.16. Johnson, who entered this race in fourth place in the series standings, says at this point in the Countdown, it's a must-win situation for his team.
"Everyone picked up this morning and we didn't and I'm a little mad about that,” said Johnson, who will line his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger up against Warren Johnson's Pontiac GXP in round one. “We were just soft with out tune-up. Nothing wrong; just soft. Sometimes you hit it and sometimes you miss, and we certainly missed it. I'm still confident and I feel good but I have to go out and win this race tomorrow. It's as simple as that. Anything less and I'll be disappointed. We've got the car to do it. I just need to go and get it done.”
Series leader Mike Edwards was third with a 6.561 at 210.67 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP and will meet Larry Morgan in the first round. Second-place points-sitter Greg Anderson qualified ninth in his Summit Racing GXP and will meet Jeg Coughlin in the opening round.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending champ Arana rode his Buell to his category-leading fifth top qualifying position of the season with a track-record time of 6.828 at 196.16. He will face Connie Cohen in the first round. Arana was thrilled with his bike's performance after struggling a bit during the last few races.
"I feel awesome to make this awesome run,” Arana said. “It didn't feel like a .82. I knew it felt good because the 1st gear I had control over it, and I felt comfortable. Then I went into 2nd and it was going smooth, and then into third and now I'm waiting for my shift points. It wasn't like the bike was ahead of me; I was waiting for the bike, and it was going straight as an arrow. The bike never stopped pulling. The Hammer's back.”
Points leader Andrew Hines qualified third on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.859 at 196.56, while second place LE Tonglet was eighth at the end of qualifying, posting a run of 6.907 at 191.76 on his NitroFish Gear Suzuki. Hines will race Neil Jacobs in the opening round while Tonglet will meet fellow Countdown racer Karen Stoffer.