Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) took the top qualifier spots in Saturday’s final rounds of qualifying for Sunday’s 29th annual Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, PA.
With just three races remaining in the Countdown for the Championship for the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, it was all hands on deck as teams looked to score crucial points in qualifying and bonus points for track records, but despite the cool track temperatures the top spots remained unchanged from Friday in three of the four divisions.
In Funny Car, John Force scored his fourth top-qualifier position of the season and 144th of his career time of 3.987 seconds at 323.50 mph from Friday’s session that went unchallenged in Saturday, moving the 15-time champion into the points lead for the first time this season, leading Matt Hagan by five points.
Force, who had the fastest time Saturday’s qualifying session, will face Jeff Arend in the opening round of eliminations on Sunday.
“(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock swings for the fence and the guys are really working hard," Force said. “I’ve got a good racecar right now and what was exciting to me was to see the fans in the stands. It sure feels good to be running well. I struggled as a driver earlier in the year and my guys stayed by me."
Courtney Force took the second spot after turning in a run of 4.025 but her qualifying speed of 329.42 – which would have shattered the NHRA world record by nearly ten miles per hour – was disallowed due to a timing malfunction. Jack Beckman was second with a 4.034, 318.99, followed by Hagan (4.035, 319.45) and Johnny Gray (4.067, 313.88).
Morgan Lucas retained the no.1 position in Top Fuel after his run of 3.772 at 314.90 mph in Friday’s second session held up the final two rounds on Saturday, earning Lucas his third top qualifier of the season and 11th of his career.
Lucas, who is currently fourth in points in the Top Fuel standings, has never made a final round appearance at Reading. He will go up against Sidnei Frigo in the first round.
“This track just continues to hold up to its reputation," Lucas said. “It’s a smooth track and it’s just an awesome racetrack. I’m just happy with going down the track four times, but I’m really happy with having the lowest time two of the four sessions. That’s a big deal for us."
Points leader Shawn Langdon held onto the second spot going 3.776 seconds at 325.14 mph. Tony Schumacher ( 3.778, 323.97), Brandon Bernstein ( 3.788, 324.44) and Antron Brown (3.793, 324.98) rounded out the top five.
Pro Stock qualifying saw the only top spot that changed hands during Saturday’s sessions, as Jason Line bumped Allen Johnson after posting a 6.573 at 210.70 mph in the opening round to just barely edge Johnson’s Friday pass of 6.579, 210.34.
The pole-winning effort was the second this season and 35th of his career for Line, who will be looking to score his third consecutive Reading victory when he meets Kenny Delco in the opening round on Sunday.
“This has always been a good Pro Stock track and we’ve had success here in the past," said Line. “It’s a big deal for us to be No. 1 and everything matters right now. I like coming up here and it’s a big deal to peak at this time of year. We’re putting in a lot of effort and hopefully we can have a big day (Sunday). We need a win."
Points leader Mike Edwards was third, going 6.580, 210.64. Jeg Coughlin too fourth with a 6.581, 209.95 followed by V. Gaines in fifth with a 6.586, 210.60
Pro Stock Motorcycle saw Michael Ray atop the ladder for the third time this season as his qualifying effort from Friday’s session of 6.857 at 193.38 mph stood up through Saturday. With only 15 bikes entered for this weekend’s event, Ray will start with a free pass in Sunday’s eliminations.
Hector Arana, Jr. – currently locked into a tight points battle with his father Hector Arana, Sr. –beat out his dad for the second spot, locking in with a 6.862, 195.19 while Arana, Sr. went 6.871, 195.19. Points leader Matt Smith (6.889, 193.49) and his teammate John Hall (6.914, 192.88) made up the rest of the top five.