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1 Ron Capps 2230
2 Mike Neff 2157
3 Jack Beckman 2152
4 Robert Hight 2113
5 Cruz Pedregon 2087
6 Johnny Gray 2081
7 Courtney Force 2074
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2 Andrew Hines 2205
3 Hector Arana Jr 2151
4 Hector Arana 2139
5 Scott Pollacheck 2092
6 Karen Stoffer 2083
7 Paul Ray Jr 2074
8 Shawn Gann 2062
9 Louis Tonglet 2061
10 Matt Smith 2054
Dixon, Hawley Top zMax Qualifying; Force Misses Show

by Pete McCole
Saturday, September 13, 2008

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Larry Dixon
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Every driver in the National Hot Rod Association wants to make it into the show on Sunday, but when the series’ newest drag strip names their main grandstand after you, not making the field would be devastating.

That is exactly what John Force is facing this weekend at the inaugural Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., as the 14-time NHRA Funny Car Champion failed to qualify for the finals for the second week in a row.

Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Frank Hawley (Funny Car), Kurt Johnson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all held onto their top qualifying spots on Saturday, but all eyes were on John Force in the Round 4 qualifying session as the series career-wins leader took to the track to try to bump his way into the 16-car field for Sunday’s main event.

John Force
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Force’s elapsed time of 4.157 wasn’t enough to bump Tony Pedregon out of the 16th spot, marking the first time since 1982 that Force has failed to qualify in back-to-back events, and puts him in a deep hole in the points coming out of the first event in the six-race Countdown to 1 playoff race.

“I would like to say first that I’m sorry,” said a distraught Force in the Dragway’s media center. “I apologize to Bruton Smith and to the NHRA fans, because when they give you an arena like this, the greatest facility in the history of our sport, that brings in 50,000 people - and I don't get to be a part of it.”

“This is hard for me. I didn't qualify at Indy. We put a new chassis into play. We have been struggling all year and we just made it into the Countdown. This doesn't help at all because the Countdown starts here. We had the same opportunities as everybody else. We just didn't get the job done.”

Force’s daughter Ashley, along with teammates Robert Hight and Mike Neff, made the show, and Force will be cheering them on – from the sidelines.

“I got three Ford Mustangs in. But me, personally, I am not in the race and that is what John Force does,” said Force. “This is more painful to me - in my life I’ve handled everything, I lost Eric Medlen and that put me to my knees. That and the pain of breaking my arms and even at Indy I walked out of it and said that was part of the game - but this hurt.

“In a town like Charlotte where I have fought my whole life to catch up to NASCAR I sure ain't helping or doing my part of the job. They are going to have a great race.”

Larry Dixon’s top elapsed time of 3.846 from Friday’s second qualifying round was enough to give the two-time Top Fuel champion the top spot in Sunday’s field, looking to gain ground on points leader Tony Schumacher, who made it into the show in the last round of qualifying.

“We came here to get qualified and then try and win the event,” said Dixon. “If we can win this race, we’ll make up ground in the points, but we’ve got a long way to go for that to happen.”

Frank Hawley
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Hawley, the 1982 and ’83 NHRA Funny Car Champion, is running a part-time schedule this season. So far in five events this season, he’s qualified for four events, making it to the final round at Reading, Pa. in August.

“I didn’t know if I’d get a chance to get back into the seat of a race car again, so I’m really grateful for that,” said Hawley. “The chance for us to run three races in a row is a really big deal. I don’t know how much it hurt us to sit out, but it’s nice to get into a groove.

“As exciting as it is to be the first low qualifier at this new track, we start all over again tomorrow. When you’ve got a whole field within six-hundredths, qualifying doesn’t matter. We’re gonna enjoy this No. 1 tonight, and then that’s it. Tomorrow, it literally doesn’t matter.”

North Carolina native Matt Smith claimed the top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Smith, the defending Pro Stock Motorcycle champion, resides in King, N.C. and would love to put a Carolinian’s name on the winner’s trophy for the inaugural event here in Concord.

“I think we’re the local favorite,” said Smith. “I have to say that this is the best track I’ve ever been on. The track was sold out today, and the fans have been great. I’d love to see a second event here and not just because I’m a local.”

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