Cory McClenathan raced to the qualifying lead in Top Fuel Friday with a record-setting run at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil.
Robert Hight, Mike Edwards and Andrew Hines also were qualifying leaders in their categories at the world's most prestigious drag race. Qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 3 and 6 p.m. for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, the first of six rounds of NHRA's championship playoffs.
McClenathan, a two-time Indy winner and second-place driver in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoffs, powered his FRAM dragster to a leading performance of 3.789sec at 319.98mph. McClenahan's elapsed time is an O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis track record.
Last week the championship-hungry McClenathan also had the quickest dragster during two days of testing for this event.
“The track was better tonight than it was in testing, but we just wanted to go out there and repeat what we had done, and we did it,” McClenathan said. “(Crew chiefs) Todd (Okuhara) and Phil (Shuler) are just doing such a great job and are so in tune with each other on what they're going to do in different conditions. This is probably my best chance to win the championship since 1997, and it's interesting that some of the same people are still around me, like Mike Green, and Lee Beard. I don't want to say it's going to happen, but it will be a lot of fun if it does. We'll rock the house down, I guarantee you.”
Two-time Indy winner Hight (left) set a Funny Car track record for time with his leading run of 4.055 at 310.98 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Hight's team owner, four-time U.S. Nationals winner John Force, was second in his Castrol GTX High-Mileage Mustang with a 4.058 at a track record speed of 312.86.
“It's exciting to come in here with a new paint job that celebrates my 2009 championship and take it to the top, but what's really exciting for me is that all three of the John Force cars are 1-2-3 within thousandths,” said Hight, the defending world champion who comes into the event in second place in the playoffs.
“More than anything, that's the way to start the Countdown out,” he continued. “This is a new season for us. From this point forward, we have to forget everything that happened before. It doesn't matter how many wins we had at Force Racing. From here forward, we have to be perfect and do our job because there's too many good cars out here that are chasing us.”
Defending world champ Edwards, who won this race in 1998 and is the top seed for the playoffs in the 200mph category, paced the Pro Stock field with a 6.596 at 208.46 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP.
“It was a really good way to start the weekend,” Edwards said. “We thought we could run a 6.60, but we ran a little bit better than we thought we could. The guys on my team obviously did a great job. With the conditions forecast for the weekend, we may improve on that. We'll see what happens. The [qualifying bonus] points are very important to me. All those points really add up. At this race, with five qualifying sessions, that's almost a full round's worth of points.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, playoff top seed Andrew Hines was quickest with a 6.974 at 185.69 on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
“I dreamed of coming to this race as a little kid and to be here riding a Harley-Davidson at this race is just fun," Hines said. “I've never had as good a motorcycle as I have right now and I'm probably the best racer I've ever been in my career. My lights are consistent – and not red, which is a big deal – and it's all about being comfortable. This team is back where it used to be.”
The three-time world champion hopes this is the start he needs to finally add a Mac Tools U.S. Nationals victory to his resume.
“I've been racing here since 2002 and never won it; it's just plagued me – bad luck and bad timing and bad fortune,” said Hines, who was runner-up here in 2008 in his only final round appearance at this event. “I think this is my best shot ever to win it. We've won the [Pro Bike] Battle here the last six years but it was always on a Saturday. With that race gone, maybe we can concentrate more on getting the Wally on Monday.”