MOHNTON, Pa. – official release — NHRA photo — Top Fuel points leader Tony Schumacher claimed the No. 1 qualifying position Saturday at the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will also lead their respective categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the fourth of six playoff events during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
Schumacher, who won the opening two events of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, posted a career-best 3.733-second pass at 327.51 mph in his U.S. Army dragster to lead the field into eliminations. It was the seven-time world champ’s 76th career No. 1 qualifier, fourth of the season and seventh at Reading. Schumacher, who has a Top Fuel best 76 career victories, will open eliminations against Bob Vandergriff.
“We had a great race car,” said Schumacher, a four-time winner at Maple Grove Raceway. “That was a fantastic run. There was more left out there. I was stuck in the track. Mike [Green, crew chief] had an excellent baseline because that was exactly what we were going for.”
Schumacher’s seventh No. 1 qualifier at Maple Grove Raceway was a Top Fuel qualifying record. No other driver has ever had more than six No. 1s at a single track.
Brittany Force qualified second with a 3.737 at 328.78 in the Castrol EDGE dragster. She will face Terry McMillen to start. Kalitta Motorsports teammates J.R. Todd and Doug Kalitta drove their dragsters to the third and fourth starting spots with Todd running a 3.738 at 325.77 in the Optima Batteries dragster while Kalitta posted a 3.747 at 326.95 in the Mac Tools dragster. Todd will race Dom Lagana while Kalitta opens with Clay Millican. St. Louis winner and 2012 world champ Antron Brown faces Khalid alBalooshi in the first round following a 3.762 at 323.50 in his Matco Tools dragster.
Pedregon claimed the top spot in Funny Car with his Friday run of 3.991 at 319.52 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry, only one of two Funny Cars to run in the three second range during the four qualifying sessions. Pedregon, a two-time world champ, secured his third No. 1 qualifier of the season, 57th of his career and third at Reading. He faces first-timer John Bojec in the first round.
“I’m happy for the team,” said Pedregon, a two-time winner at Maple Grove Raceway. “This is our third [No. 1 qualifier] here at Maple Grove, been a good track to us. We need the points, all the help we can get. We’re trying to dig ourselves out of the hole points wise.”
John Force qualified second with a 3.997 at a track record speed of 323.97 in the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. Force, a 16-time world champ and seven-time winner at Reading, opens eliminations against Bob Tasca III. Don Schumacher Racing’s Matt Hagan raced to a 4.008 at 321.50 in the Rocky Boots Dodge Charger, good enough for the No. 3 qualifier and a first round matchup with Tony Pedregon. Courtney Force, trailing her father by 30 points in the standings when the weekend began, is fourth in the Traxxas Ford Mustang following a 4.008 at 320.36. She races Jeff Arend on Sunday. Robert Hight, the 2009 world champ, faces Tim Wilkerson from the No. 5 spot after his 4.009 at 320.13 at the controls of his Auto Club Ford Mustang.
In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens earned her second top qualifying position in a row, fifth of the season, 11th in her career and first at Reading following her track record time of 6.465 at 213.16 in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. Enders-Stevens, who sits third in points, races Frank Gugliotta in the opener.
“It was very exciting,” said Enders-Stevens following the run. “We knew conditions were conducive for that. We didn’t necessarily expect to go a .46, we had thought we would be able to go a .48 so it even blew our minds a little bit. Great racing surface and the weather was awesome. How much fun was that?”
Shane Gray, the winner at Indianapolis to end the regular season, sits second after a 6.484 at 212.33 in the Gray Manufacturing Chevy Camaro. Gray will open eliminations against Kenny Delco. Points leader Jason Line is third in his Summit Racing Chevy Camaro with a 6.500 at 213.23, earning a first round faceoff with John Gaydosh. Allen Johnson rebounded from a tough start in the Countdown with the No. 4 qualifying spot after a 6.505 at 212.79. He will drive his Magneti Marelli Dodge Dart against first-round foe Larry Morgan. Chicago winner Vincent Nobile starts fifth in his Mountain View Tire Chevy Camaro and will race Dave Connolly after a 6.505 at 212.46 in his Charter Communications Camaro. Connolly, who has won the last two races, is currently second in points.
Arana Jr. qualified No. 1 in Pro Stock Motorcycle after a 6.796 on his Lucas Oil Buell during the last session. It is his second top qualifier of the season and 15th of his career. Arana Jr., who sits third in points, opens against Brian Pretzel in the first round.
“We’re going to go one round at a time,” said Arana Jr., a winner at Chicago in June. “We struggled this weekend in qualifying. We were trying different things but couldn’t get it figured out. We threw a Hail Mary at it. We’ve got nothing to lose. It went right down the track and we went all the way to No. 1. I was shocked.”
Points leader Andrew Hines was second on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson after a 6.799 at 196.27, which matches him up with Joe DeSantis. Jerry Savoie, a recent winner at St. Louis, was third with a 6.821 at 195.62 on his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki and will face John Hall in round one. Krawiec, the second Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson entry, will open eliminations against Shawn Gann following his run as the No. 4 qualifier with a 6.822 at 195.34. Adam Arana is fifth on his ProtectTheHarvest.com/MAVTV Buell with a 6.862 at 193.93 and will race Steve Johnson on Sunday.