Hight, Edwards, McClenathan lead opening NHRA qualifying at Pomona
Defending champions Robert Hight and Mike Edwards picked up right where they left off with pace-setting runs on the first day of qualifying at the season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline on Thursday. Joining Hight (Funny Car) and Edwards (Pro Stock) was Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), who rounded out the provisional qualifying leaders through the first of four rounds of qualifying at the historic 50th running of the Winternationals. The Auto Club Raceway at Pomona event is the first of 17 races in NHRA's regular season, the "Countdown to 10."
In Top Fuel, McClenathan claimed the provisional pole in his FRAM dragster with a 3.809sec pass at 320.05mph. McClenathan had to wait out the final pass of the day that saw six-time defending champion Tony Schumacher's U.S. Army dragster go up in flames and 2009 runner-up Larry Dixon smoke the tires on his Al-Anabi dragster.
"I can guarantee you one thing: it won't stick," said McClenathan, seeking his 34th career No. 1. "But it's nice to come out, we made a commitment to come here with a better power package than we left here (at the season-ending Auto Club Finals in November) and we were 282 at half-track, so that feels good."
McClenathan, who finished fourth last year and second in points four other times in his career, says he's ready to mount a challenge for the title this year from the start in his Don Schumacher Racing-owned car.
"We plan on making noise early," McClenathan said. "I'm tired of waiting, lurking; we're going to try to go toe to toe with these guys from day one."
In Funny Car, defending Full Throttle Series champion Robert Hight set the pace in his Auto Club Ford Mustang with a 4.059sec pass at a track-record 312.86mph. If the performance holds through Saturday's qualifying, it would be the 33rd No. 1 of his career and second straight at the Winternationals.
"It's definitely good to get off on a nice foot," Hight said. "I figured it would run an oh-five (4.05). That's what we ran in Phoenix (in testing) and we didn't change anything."
Hight was in the last pair of the session with teammate Ashley Force Hood and his pace-setting run moved him around Del Worsham and the Al-Anabi Toyota team.
"Definitely feel bad for my buddy, Del Worsham, on his 40th birthday, bumping him," Hight said.
In Pro Stock, defending Full Throttle Series champion Edwards set the early pace in his brand-new Interstate Batteries Pontiac with a 6.580 at 210.47. This would be Edwards' 10th straight No. 1 dating back to 2009 when he finished the season with nine-straight No. 1s.
"We did start off good, that's for sure," Edwards said. "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."
Qualifying resumes with Round 2 on Friday and Rounds 3 and 4 on Saturday before the fields are set for Sunday's final eliminations.