Dixon, Brown Run 1-2 In Sonoma Qualifying Reigning Full Throttle Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Hector Arana became the new qualifying leader at the Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., while Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) held onto their field-leading positions. Interestingly, of the No. 1 qualifiers, only Dixon has won the event before, and he's only done it once, in 2003.
The event is the middle leg of the annual Western Swing segment of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. After racing last weekend in Seattle, the teams will leave Wine Country and head east to Denver for the Swing’s conclusion in the challenging high-altitude conditions of the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. After the Denver event, only one race, the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., will remain on the regular-season schedule before the Countdown to 1 playoffs begin Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis.
The Top Fuel teams, who lost their second shot at the track Friday night due to curfew, got in their two blasts Saturday, but Dixon remained atop the field with his Friday 3.839 from the Al-Anabi Racing dragster to claim his fifth No. 1 of the season and the 45th of his career.
“We weren’t really sure whether that pole time would stick or not,” said Dixon. “I think the conditions warmed up enough it made it difficult to get into the low 3.8s. We were fourth quick the first session today and second quick on the second session. There were some things that Alan [Johnson] and Jason [McCulloch] and the team were working on, some good, some bad, and hopefully, it will pay off tomorrow.
“It was a good day just being able to get two runs in under the sun, which is what we’ll be racing in tomorrow. Just getting runs down the racetrack, whether it’s a good run or a bad run, it’s all great information. It just allows you to take a look at it, running on this track with this air and how it’s prepped. It’s just making runs and hopefully getting useful information for tomorrow.”
Defending event champ Antron Brown remained second with the Matco Tools entry at 3.863 but Rod Fuller, in his season debut in the Abu Dhabi-based Yas Marina machine (3.873), and Cory McClenathan, flying event sponsor Fram’s colors (3.896), made moves into the top four. Cory Mac has the best run of the first session and Fuller the best of the second session.
Five-time Sonoma winner Doug Kalitta slid two spots to fifth after failing to improve on his Friday 3.899 and Brandon Bernstein (3.912) also fell a couple of positions despite improving marginally with his Copart/Lucas Oil dragster. Reigning season champ Tony Schumacher (3.926) and Steve Torrence (3.943) fill out the top half of the field.
Steven Chrisman placed his Chrisman Driveline entry in the field’s final spot with a 4.078 and will provide Dixon’s first-round opposition for the fourth time this season; Dixon holds a 2-1 edge.
Beckman nailed down his first No. 1 spot of the season and the third of his career, hanging onto the top spot with his Friday clocking of 4.063, 311.56, which set both ends of the Infineon Raceway track record.
“The advantage to running good on Friday is that you have the ability to test on Saturday which is what we did,” said Beckman. “We tried some stuff with the clutch, and it looks promising. On the fourth run, we went back to our stock deal and the car responded like we thought it would with a 4.19. It was cool to come out and hit a home run on Friday night but it would have been wasted if we hadn’t run good today.
“This afternoon, I really wanted to make a good run and that 4.19 was safe. It’s important to be back where we wanted to be with our tune-up. I think NHRA gives us four darts to throw at every race and we just happened to put one close to the bull’s-eye. Earlier today, I signed an autograph and I stared to write, ‘No.1 qualifier’ but I thought better of it. You’re never sure but I saw track temp go up, and I knew it was gonna be tough for anything better than a 4.12. I did tell the guy to come back at the end of the day I’d finish the autograph for him, though.”
Veteran Gary Densham held onto the No. 2 position despite not making a run Saturday as his team worked to repair damage done to his machine on his 4.10 qualifying pass. A new body will be delivered tonight from the team’s Southern California base to replace the one destroyed in Friday night’s explosion and Densham is expected to compete in Sunday’s first round. John Force’s Castrol GTX Mustang remained in the No. 3 spot with its Friday 4.104 and Cruz Pedregon stayed fourth with the 4.112 he recorded Friday with his Snap-On Solara.
Del Worsham managed to crack into the top eight Saturday with a 4.152, placing him in the sixth spot between Bob Tasca III’s 4.130 and Tim Wilkerson’s 4.170. Worsham’s improvement bumped Ashley Force Hood from eighth to ninth, meaning she’ll have race her teammate, reigning world champ Robert Hight, the No. 8 qualifier (4.172), in the first round.
Jeff Diehl qualified his Rimz One Monte Carlo on the bump for the fourth time this season, running a 4.352 that earns him a first-round date with Beckman.
Johnson remained No. 1 with his Friday effort of 6.545 but reigning season champ Mike Edwards is now breathing down his neck after posting a 6.549 in the day’s opening session, a run that was two-hundredths quicker than everyone that session. Johnson, who collected his third pole position of the season, spun the tires hard in his opening lap to a 6.60 then shook to a 14-second coaster on his final attempt in the Mopar Avenger.
“I think the conditions this afternoon are what we’ll start off with tomorrow,” said Johnson. “I think it will get a little warmer tomorrow, but we didn’t do too good of a job that last run tuning for tomorrow. We’ve got a good car and a veteran team. Unfortunately, I think somebody moved around and we have to run our other motor in Vinnie’s [Deceglie] car first round. For the most part, we’ve had a good weekend up to this point.
“The first run we didn’t make a good run, but the last run, we were really trying to see how far we could push the envelope for tomorrow. We just pushed it a little far. We just had a little bit too much wheel speed and shook the tires when I pulled second gear. I feel like we’ll hit it right on the head tomorrow and go out there and try to go win this race.”
Edwards just missed what would have been his 11th No. 1 in the season’s first 15 races, but did collect max bonus points in the first session to offset Johnson’s earlier gains. Jeg Coughlin remained third on the grid with his Friday 6.552, but his final pass of 6.576 was far and away the best effort of the final qualifying session. Ron Krisher is the no. 4 qualifier at 6.565.
Defending event champ Jason Line finished fifth with his Friday 6.569, but had the final session’s second-quickest pass, a 6.594, giving him optimism for Sunday. Summit Racing teammate Greg Anderson, riding an 11-round win streak, is qualified sixth at 6.570 while Johnny Gray (6.575) and Bob Yonke (6.584) fill out the top half of the field. Gray will face his son Shane in round one while Vinnie Deceglie, the No. 16 qualifier at 6.616, will face off with fellow Dodge pilot Johnson in round one.
Arana, the No. 1 qualifier in Pro Stock Motorcycle three times already this season, broke a three-race string of No. 2 efforts and returned to the top of the pack for the first time since the Atlanta event with a track-record 6.876 aboard his Lucas Oil Buell. It’s the 13th career pole for the reigning world champ, who began the day sixth in the qualifying order.
“I was pleased with that,” said Arana. “We were struggling leaving the starting line yesterday but I knew if I could leave well, I could have qualified better. The bike drifted a bit to left but to my surprise, it was a 6.87. It sure didn’t feel like an .87; it felt slow to me. I didn’t have to work at it and the whole run seemed like it was happening in slow motion. I just waited for the shift light and then waited for the next [shift] it was all very smooth.
“I wasn’t sure if it was going to hold up, but I kept an eye on the weather and all day it was getting warmer and warmer. I never take anything for granted, because anyone can surprise you but I figured I was probably OK. We tried something for the fourth [qualifying] run just see how it was going to respond on race day and we made another good run this afternoon so I feel pretty good right now.”
Steve Johnson also made a quantum leap forward, posting a 6.904 on his Lincoln Tech Suzuki to move to the No. 2 position as both riders surpassed Matt Smith’s Friday-leading pass of 6.912. Smith was not able to improve Saturday and finished third, still ahead of yesterday’s No. 2 rider, 2002 Sonoma winner Craig Treble, who also could not improve on his Friday pass of 6.919. Smith will race his wife, Angie, in the first round Sunday for the second time this season; he defeated her in their only other meeting this year, in Houston.
Defending event champ Andrew Hines sits fifth with his Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines, also at 6.919, but Treble’s superior speed, 192.58 to 191.84, earned him the higher berth. Michael Phillips (6.926 at 195.45 mph, top speed of the meet), Eddie Krawiec (6.928), and rookie LE Tonglet (6.929) round out the top eight.
Mike Berry qualified on the bubble with a 7.079 and will be Arana’s initial opponent Sunday. GT Tonglet, the older brother of LE who was making his 2010 debut, did not qualify; his 7.190 best was 18th quickest.