Rain Puts Wilkerson On Pole, JFR On The Spot

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 25 2010

Tim Wilkerson won the Funny Car pole in Texas on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

Ennis, Texas – A rain-delayed and eventually shortened Funny Car qualifying session at Texas Motorplex Saturday saw Tim Wilkerson claim his first pole of the season, and set up a dilemma for John Force Racing.

Wilkerson moved from third after Friday’s opening two rounds to the pole via a 1,000-foot pass of 4.079-seconds and 305.77 mph in the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang. Due to scattered rain showers that resulted in more than five hours of delays, National Hot Rod Association officials opted to set the Funny Car lineup after only three sessions.

Competitors in Top Fuel, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle were allowed to complete all four sessions leading into Sunday’s final eliminations of the 25th annual O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals in Ennis. Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will lead their respective categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations for the 20th of 23 events on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule.

The race also is Round 3 of NHRA’s six-race Countdown to 1 playoff format. After failing to qualify for the second of six Countdown races last weekend in Concord, N.C., Wilkerson made the necessary adjustments to get his  hot rod back in form on the Motorplex’s all-concrete surface.

“We have a new combination that we’re testing and obviously it’s working pretty well,”  said Wilkerson, who won at Billy Meyer’s facility in 2008. “I don’t know if I know how to race it yet, and we won’t find that out until tomorrow, but I think I do. We’ll just see how things go. Hopefully, I can prove that we’re not as dumb as we looked last weekend. Hopefully, we can go some rounds tomorrow and get back in the (Countdown). That’s what we need to do, and if the right people lose maybe we can get right back in the middle of it.”

Wilkerson will face Dale Creasy Jr. in the opening round, while series leader John Force will meet teammate and reigning world champ Robert Hight out of the box. Ashley Force Hood qualified second in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang with a 4.100-second pass at 307.72 mph, and Jeff Arend was third in his DHL Toyota Camry at 4.121-seconds at 305.56 mph.

The Funny Car session opened with Force blasting down the track in 4.170-seconds to solidify a top-half of the field position. In the next pair, Force Hood raced to the No. 1 spot with a 4.10-second pass. Melanie Troxel and Jeff Diehl raced, and then the rains set in over The Plex.

When racing resumed hours later, Hight was in the fifth pair of Funny Cars and he and Force began moving closer to a first-round match as positions on the ladder changed. Hight was paired with Wilkerson, who was behind both Force and Hight. As Wilkerson was racing to the No. 1 spot via his 4.079-second pass, Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang lost traction and crossed the finish line with a disappointing 4.517-second run that set up a date with points-leader Force.

“It’s do or die,” said Hight, who began the weekend sixth in points. “In a perfect world this would be the scenario for us. We’re racing the No. 1 guy in points. We have had two first-round losses so far in the Countdown and the No. 1 guy in the points is the guy you are chasing. Yes, there are a couple of other teams between us but he is still No. 1.

“It’s unfortunate it’s our boss and it’s really unfortunate if we lose first-round because that’s three first- round losses, which is half of the Countdown in a row and you can’t win a championship that way. It is do or die for us. If we don’t win our chances of winning the championship are over.”

Force, a seven-time Fall Nationals winner, agreed Round 1 likely will set the tone for the remainder of the season no matter the outcome.

“That’s why I carry all the logos on all my Mustangs,” said Force, a 14-time champion and driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford.  “We don’t like it (the pairing) but it is called drag racing. We’re going to go up there and punch it out. Robert needs every point he can get to run for this title and I need every point I can get to stay in the lead. I’m going to wish Robert luck because he just wished me luck. We are family still but we all have to fight. Hopefully, one of us will get Ashley in the final and we’ll have to fight there, too.”

In Top Fuel, Dixon claimed his seventh top qualifying effort of 2010 by posting a track-record time of 3.793-seconds at 320.05 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing Dragster. Dixon, a two-time TF world champion, will meet Scott Palmer in the opening round as he goes for his third consecutive playoff victory and fourth in a row.

“I really thought the two (Don) Schumacher cars that ran behind us would run better than that and I’m sure they did, too,” said Dixon, referring to No. 2 qualifier Tony Schumacher and No. 3 qualifier Cory McClenathan. “We were just lucky to run a little quicker and get the pole.

“I’ve got a winner’s circle picture when I was crewing for Ed “Ace” McCulloch in 1987 and I was with “Snake” (Don Prudhomme) when he got his last win in Top Fuel and Funny Car here. So I’ve got a lot of great memories from this track, and we’re trying to make our own now.”

Schumacher, the seven-time world champion and defending event winner, ran 3.799-seconds at 321.65 mph in the U.S. Army Dragster. “The Sarge” will face Mike Strasburg in Round 1. Cory Mac posted numbers of 3.805-seconds at 321.58 mph en route to a meeting with Morgan Lucas.

Johnson posted a 6.611-second pass at 209.04 mph in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to claim his fifth No. 1 of the season and 12th of his Pro Stock career. He will face four-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., who ran just quick enough in his JEGS.com Chevy Cobalt to sneak into the 16-car field on the last qualifying attempt.

“We don’t look at having to run Jeg Coughlin in the first round as a negative,” Johnson said. “Well, maybe a slight little negative, but it gives me an opportunity to take out one of the contenders. We’ll take this No. 1 and smile about it, and go for it and see if we can turn it into a win.”

Pro Stock series leader and defending world champ Mike Edwards was second in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP at 6.619-seconds at 208.42 mph, while Jason Line was third in his Summit Racing Equipment GXP with a 6.634/208.30. Edwards will square-off against Richie Stevens, while Line will meet six-time world champion Warren Johnson in the first round.

In Pro Stock Bike, Smith rode his Al-Anabi Racing Buell to the top of the order and earned his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season. He covered the quarter-mile in 6.923-seconds at 190.89 mph.

“We made a picture-perfect pass,”  Smith said. “The rain cleaned the track and then we had six pairs of Funny Cars in front of us and they laid down so much rubber, I knew we had to go for it. When I saw how good the track was, I got my laptop and upped the RPM and did everything I could to lock that clutch up as fast as I could. I threw everything I had at it down low and it stuck. It didn’t shake or spin. It was really good.”

Former world champion Eddie Krawiec took the second spot on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod at 6.924/195.03. Friday’s top qualifier, Karen Stoffer, dropped to third overall with a best of 6.953-seconds at 192.41 mph on her GEICO Powersports Suzuki.

First-round pairings for professional eliminations Sunday for the 25th annual O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec at Texas Motorplex, the 20th of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and third of six races in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel _ 1. Larry Dixon, 3.793 seconds, 320.05 mph vs. 16. Scott Palmer, 4.096, 256.99; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.799, 321.65 vs. 15. Mike Strasburg, 4.059, 298.21; 3. Cory McClenathan, 3.805, 321.58 vs. 14. Morgan Lucas, 3.987, 302.89; 4. Antron Brown, 3.812, 321.42 vs. 13. Chris Karamesines, 3.983, 303.57; 5. Brandon Bernstein, 3.838, 313.88 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.947, 305.77; 6. Doug Kalitta, 3.847, 316.52 vs. 11. Troy Buff, 3.934, 299.46; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.901, 308.71 vs. 10. David Grubnic, 3.933, 308.78; 8. Bob Vandergriff, 3.902, 308.43 vs. 9. Shawn Langdon, 3.902, 306.95.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Mike Bowers, 4.417, 271.52; 18. Terry Haddock, 6.138, 113.01.

Funny Car _ 1. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.079, 305.77 vs. 16. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala SS, 5.835, 247.88; 2. Ashley Force Hood, Mustang, 4.100, 307.72 vs. 15. Todd Simpson, Chevy Camaro, 4.362, 271.84; 3. Jeff Arend, Toyota Solara, 4.121, 305.56 vs. 14. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.291, 295.72; 4. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.126, 302.89 vs. 13. Tony Pedregon, Impala SS, 4.263, 251.86; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.129, 300.40 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.249, 277.43; 6. Cruz Pedregon, Solara, 4.129, 299.26 vs. 11. Paul Lee, Impala SS, 4.205, 292.71; 7. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.132, 305.01 vs. 10. Jim Head, Solara, 4.194, 299.33; 8. John Force, Mustang, 4.170, 294.63 vs. 9. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.183, 287.66.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Jeff Diehl, 7.146, 163.83; 18. Melanie Troxel, 8.840, 135.40.

Pro Stock _ 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Avenger, 6.611, 209.04 vs. 16. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Chevy Cobalt, 6.687, 207.40; 2. Mike Edwards, Pontiac GXP, 6.619, 208.42 vs. 15. Richie Stevens, GXP, 6.672, 206.92; 3. Jason Line, GXP, 6.634, 208.30 vs. 14. Warren Johnson, GXP, 6.672, 207.43; 4. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.638, 207.34 vs. 13. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.662, 207.62; 5. Shane Gray, GXP, 6.644, 207.59 vs. 12. Johnny Gray, GXP, 6.661, 207.40; 6. Greg Stanfield, GXP, 6.649, 206.92 vs. 11. Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.661, 207.24; 7. Kurt Johnson, GXP, 6.650, 208.04 vs. 10. Ron Krisher, GXP, 6.658, 207.72; 8. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.652, 208.20 vs. 9. Greg Anderson, GXP, 6.654, 208.33.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Bob Yonke, 6.703, 205.57; 18. Erica Enders, 6.718, 205.04; 19. Mark Hogan, 6.749, 204.26; 20. Mark Buehring, 6.758, 202.85; 21. Steve Kalkowski, broke.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.923, 190.89 vs. 14. Redell Harris, Buell, 7.242, 186.77; 2. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.924, 195.03 vs. 13. Junior Pippin, Buell, 7.100, 190.48; 3. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.953, 192.41 vs. 12. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.034, 191.87; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.958, 193.24 vs. 11. Angie Smith, Buell, 7.024, 188.20; 5. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.959, 191.87 vs. 10. Craig Treble, Suzuki, 7.005, 193.13; 6. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.963, 191.84 vs. 9. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 6.997, 191.65; 7. David Hope, Buell, 6.981, 190.43 vs. 8. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.988, 188.62.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 25 2010
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