Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon took advantage of NHRA's new qualifying bonus point system and earned the maximum 12 points for the second consecutive race during two days of qualifying at the O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals presented by Pennzoil.
Robert Hight, Mike Edwards and Hector Arana also claimed No. 1 qualifying positions in their categories leading into Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised on ESPN2 HD and ESPN2 (7-10 p.m. ET).The race is the third of six events in the Countdown to 1, NHRA's championship playoffs.
Great weather and eager competition allowed previous track records to fall in the two days of qualifying at Memphis Motorsports Park. Dixon, Antron Brown, Hight, Edwards and Greg Anderson all set new track records at Memphis Motorsports Park during qualifying.
In Top Fuel, Al-Anabi Racing's Dixon earned his seventh No. 1 of the season, 38th of his career and third consecutive in the playoffs, with his 3.810 at 318.99 mph performance. Per the new rule, the top three qualifiers in each pro category earn 3, 2, and 1 points respectively during each qualifying session. Dixon led all four sessions of qualifying earning him the maximum of 12 points.
"Obviously, it was nice to pick up all those bonus points this weekend," said Dixon. "It's great for Al-Anabi. We'll take 'em however we can. Hopefully, we'll get the chance to lay down four more good runs tomorrow.
"The drier air is the reason you see great performances in all four of the Pro classes. The number we ran in the final session is exactly what Alan [Johnson, team owner] and Jason [McCulloch, crew chief] were shooting for. We got a pole and a final last week, so I hope to do the same here."
Dixon set a new track record for quickest run of 3.810 seconds, while Antron Brown set a new speed record of 312.50 mph at Memphis Motorsports Park. Dixon, the two-time world champ will face opening round opponent Clay Millican in the first round of Top Fuel eliminations on Sunday.
Hight set a new elapsed time and speed record for Funny Car at Memphis Motorsports Park with a run of 4.074 seconds at 310.70 mph in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. This No. 1 qualifying position is Hight's second consecutive in the playoffs, fourth of the season, and 32nd of his career.
"We made three good runs and one run where we smoked the tires because we were trying too hard," said Hight. "I think that smoking the tires on one run was a good thing, because we found the limitations of what we can do on this track. I like all of the matchups on the ladder between drivers who are in the Countdown to 1 that will be taking each other out.
"Looking at the weather forecast, we should see great conditions tomorrow that will allow us to run fast. [Crew chief] Jimmy Prock usually does really well in those types of conditions. Being No. 1 also gives us the chance to sit back at the end of the pack and see what the other cars are doing."
Hight earned a total of six bonus points in the four rounds of qualifying. He will face Justin Schriefer in first round of Sunday's eliminations.
Edwards held his lead and was quickest in his A.R.T. / Young Life Pontiac GXP, but it was his 6.552 second run at 220.18 mph from Friday that earned him the top spot and the track e.t. record.
"Anytime you can get points, it's crucial to grab them," said Edwards, who earned eight bonus points during qualifying. "Everyone out here is trying to be the fastest each lap to get those three bonus points. I think we let a few slip away on the last run. Let's hope tomorrow goes a lot smoother for us.
"I look at it like we're racing the track and the conditions no matter who our opponent is. We're going to try to turn everything we learned today into tomorrow's tune-up."
Edwards earned eight qualifying bonus points in Memphis. Greg Anderson qualified second and set the track speed record with a run of 6.555 at 210.97 mph.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana claimed his sixth top qualifying position of the season with his performance of 6.851 at 195.03 on his Lucas Oil Buell, the quickest in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle history.
"We really wanted to backup the record," said Arana. Before the last session, we were thinking, 'Wow. We can get it done and get 20 points,' and it backfired. I was too aggressive early in the run when my gut told me to drop the two-step. I'd still like to set the record, but I'm more focused on winning rounds tomorrow."
Arana is looking to back this time up this weekend with a 6.919 or quicker which would secure the NHRA national e.t. record and earn him a 20 points bonus.
"I wanted to run .80s yesterday and knew that we could do it. We tried so hard that we hurt the motor. We took everything apart and gave it to Larry Morgan. Larry grinded the valves and said the engine was good as new, and it went out and ran 6.85 this morning."
Arana earned four qualifying bonus points for the weekend.