Morgan Lucas raced to his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season Saturday in a rain-shortened day at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
NHRA officials were forced to cancel the final qualifying session for all but Pro Stock Motorcycle when persistent rain showers moved into the area near mid-day, continued off-and-on in the late afternoon and intensified into the early evening as darkness moved in.
Mike Neff, Mike Edwards and Hector Arana also will lead their categories into Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations as the No. 1 qualifiers at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
Lucas powered his GEICO Powersports/Lucas Oil dragster to a 3.868 second run at 307.16 mph to earn his fourth career No. 1 effort.
"The conditions are what's going to determine tomorrow," Lucas said. "But I'm really excited about how this weekend has gone so far. We started out yesterday and our whole game plan was just to go down the track in the first session. Last night we thought the track would probably hold a .94, and this morning we went up there and Jimmy [Walsh, crew chief] said, 'I can leave it pretty hopped up, or I can back it down and just try to go down the track, but let's see what it can take.' It went an .86 and I think it could have even used a little more in the middle of the racetrack."
Lucas, who will face 77-year-old Chris Karamesines in the opening round, says racing at scenic BIR is one of the highlights of his season every year.
"The people here in Brainerd are doing a really good job keeping this track going and Safety Safari is doing a really good job getting this track prepped," Lucas said. "The Zoo (track campground) is just awesome, as always. I look at a lot of races throughout the year that are fun to hang out, but no race is as good as this one. I come up here enjoying myself and I don't think I've ever left here with a sour face. I always look forward to coming back every year."
Larry Dixon was second with a 3.886 at 304.60 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster, and defending winner and six-time world champ Tony Schumacher was third in his U.S. Army dragster with a 3.893 at 308.71. Antron Brown, winner of the last three events and the current points leader, qualified sixth in his Matco Tools dragster and will face drag racing journeyman Terry Haddock in the first round.
Neff, who was the last Funny Car driver to make a qualifying attempt in the third session, waited patiently as his run was delayed for more than three hours by rain. Once he finally ran, conditions were a bit cooler and his Drive One Ford Mustang took advantage, posting a 4.126 at 304.46.
"It was worth the wait that we had from the rain delay, because it actually made the track cooler," said Neff of his second No. 1 of the season. "I think there were several other cars that could have gone that quick under those conditions. We were the first car to make a run when the qualifying resumed, and sometimes that creates concerns. But our team members checked out the track, liked what they saw, and the conditions turned out to be great. Adjustments were made to the car in anticipation of the improved weather, and the way that the car responded gives us added confidence."
Neff's John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight, who is currently in a tight battle with Cruz Pedregon and Matt Hagan to earn the final spot in the top 10 for the Countdown to 1, NHRA's Playoffs, failed to qualify in his Auto Club Ford Mustang.
"It's a tough break that my teammate Robert Hight missed the program," Neff said. "I think that if there had been a fourth session that he could have made the field."
Ron Capps moved to second in the final order, covering the distance in 4.169 at 292.01 in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger and Ashley Force Hood was third in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang with a 4.178 at 292.77.
In Pro Stock, Edwards improved on his performance from Friday, and took his category-leading eighth No. 1 effort of the season with a 6.694 at 205.35 in his ART/Young Life Pontiac GXP.
"We made another nice run today, but I think we could have been about a hundredth quicker if we had been just a little bit more aggressive," said Edwards, who will face up and coming sophomore driver Rickie Jones in the first round. "Tomorrow's conditions should be better, and I don't think that a 6.69 will be enough. You could see some mid-60's during eliminations, and there are a lot of teams that are capable of doing it. Again, hats off to all my guys for doing such a good job. Today was just another reward for all the hard work that's been done with our in-house engine program."
Arana rode his Lucas Oil Buell to his third No. 1 qualifying position of the year in Pro Stock Motorcycle with a performance of 7.048 at 186.87.
"It couldn't have gone any better," Arana said. "We made three awesome runs and I'm happy that the Lucas Oil bike is running awesome. Tomorrow, I feel great; I feel good about it. The conditions were better and the track got even better. They did a helluva job prepping the track. The 60-foot time was improved and therefore that's where we gained the e.t. at the end."
Eddie Krawiec, the series points leader who is riding a seven-race final round streak on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, qualified fifth and will face Matt Smith in the first round. By qualifying 12th on his NitroFish Ultimate Gear Suzuki, Smith became the third rider in the two-wheel category to clinch a berth in the Countdown to 1.