Del Worsham raced to the Top Fuel qualifying lead Friday at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver. Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
By making a qualifying run, Worsham secured a spot in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, NHRA's six-race playoffs that start Sept. 15-18 at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C. He also could claim his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season if his performance holds through Saturday's two qualifying rounds (1:45 and 4:15 p.m.). Sunday's eliminations start at 11 a.m.
Worsham, the Top Fuel series points leader with five victories in six finals this season, covered the distance in 3.933 seconds at 314.53mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster, which now features a new black paint scheme.
"It was definitely perfect timing," said Worsham of his 3.93-second blast. "We ran well in the coolest conditions with the sun off the track where we could take advantage of the most grip. I'm impressed by the entire group of guys on the Al-Anabi teams. With our car being prepared consistently well, it allows [team manager] Alan Johnson and [crew chief] Brian Husen to do these types of things.
"I don't tune the car, but I know from my tuning experience that you have to make big moves here. The altitude will eat up everything you do. I've noticed from my experience with this team that Alan and Brian will probably use the runs tomorrow to find the boundaries of what we can do on race day."
Bob Vandergriff was second with a 3.937 at 310.55 in his C&J Energy Services dragster and Doug Kalitta posted a 3.973 at 312.21 in his Kalitta Motorsports dragster for third best.
Two-time world champ Pedregon led Funny Car with authority by setting both ends of the track record, powering to a stellar 4.095 at 307.51 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Solara.
“That was really the run of my career,” Pedregon said. “I've been in some great cars over the years, but that was the best run I've ever made when you consider the altitude. There is a formula where you can factor in a run for atmospheric conditions, and that was probably a 3.96 or 3.97 at sea level. It was loaded for bear, and it held on.”
Pedregon's time was well ahead of second place Robert Hight, who ran 4.172 at 300.93 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Third-place Matt Hagan covered the distance in 4.194 at 300.06 in his Mopar/DieHard Dodge Charger.
After struggling in the opening qualifying session Pedregon said he knew he was in for a great ride as soon as his car launched on his second attempt.
“As much as we thought we had our act together for this race, we broke traction in the first round after posting a good 60-foot time,” Pedregon said. “We went back to the pit knowing that it would cool down for the night session. The car picked up the front end halfway through the run, and I was worried about it getting out of the groove and crossing the centerline. I'm thrilled to make a run like that in front of these great fans at Bandimere Speedway.”
Also in Funny Car, series leader Mike Neff also secured his Countdown playoff berth by making a qualifying attempt. He sits fourth after two rounds of qualifying with a 4.204 at 302.21 in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
Edwards raced to the lead in Pro Stock with a 6.989 at 196.50 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP.
“We made a great run tonight,” Edwards said, “but I think that it's premature to say that this is going to automatically end up as the No. 1 qualifying run for the weekend. V. Gaines has a real strong car now. He ran as quick as 6.96 in testing, and even with the later starting time for tomorrow's first qualifying session [it was 11 a.m. in 2010], I believe that he has a chance to run quicker than we did today."
Allen Johnson, who has won three of the last four Pro Stock titles at this event, including the last two, was second in his Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger with a 6.992 at 196.96. Local favorite V. Gaines, of nearby Lakewood, was third in his Kendall Oil Avenger, posting a 7.011 at 196.19.
With Johnson and Gaines lurking, Edwards hopes he can hang on to the top spot, which would be his fourth No. 1 of the season, the 38th of his career, and his second in Denver.
“We're just going to have to make two solid runs on Saturday if we expect to hold on to the top spot,” Edwards said. “It's not like we'll just be working on our tune-up for Sunday's eliminations. I've been racing for 30 years, and I just love racing here at Bandimere Speedway. It's always a challenge to make your car run real fast here, and I think that's why I like competing here so much.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec rode his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to the top of the order with a 7.311 at 181.96. Krawiec said he was aided by his team's test sessions at the track last week. If the time stands it will be Krawiec's second No. 1 of the season, eighth of his career and second at the mile-high dragstrip.
“We always like racing here in Denver,” Krawiec said. “It's one of the most unique tracks on the NHRA circuit, and Vance & Hines spent about 10-12 years in Colorado, so we still have a lot of fans and friends here. We don't feel any pressure we race here. It's more of a confidence thing.”
David Hope was second with a 7.312 at 181.98 on his VROOM Racing Buell, while Hector Arana Sr. was third on his Lucas Oil Buell with a 7.313 at 179.95.