Schumacher, Pedregon, McGaha, Sampey lead Friday fields

Defending world champ Tony Schumacher raced to the qualifying lead in Top Fuel Friday at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.

Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock), and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were the leaders in their respective categories at the third of 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events.

Schumacher had a great start to the weekend at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, leading both qualifying sessions and piloting his U.S. Army dragster to a performance of 3.796 seconds at 323.43 mph during the second session.

Tony Schumacher

Cruz Pedregon

Chris McGaha

Angelle Sampey

"We’ve got a great car," said Schumacher, who is looking for his 77th career top qualifying start and third in Gainesville. “We’re not coming off a bad race either. We won in Phoenix and performed decent in Pomona. I think the changes we made early on, for once, really worked. It’s setting a good trend on a tune-up that we needed to find quicker than last year."

Brittany Force had an impressive run during the second session in her John Force Racing dragster, running a 3.817 at 318.09, good enough for the current No. 2 spot. Spencer Massey sits third after the first two sessions with a 3.841 at 323.66 in the Red Fuel dragster.

In Funny Car, Pedregon was quickest with a 4.022 at 312.13 in the Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry. A two-time world champ, Pedregon is going for his fourth consecutive top qualifying spot at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.

“I wish I could tell you because I would do it at all the tracks," said Pedregon about his qualifying luck in Florida. “It just works out that way. There’s been a few changes to the car mechanically even since last year. The four years in a row that we have managed to stay No. 1, all four of those were done with slightly different setups on the car."

Del Worsham continued his positive early-season momentum with a 4.057 at 312.57, good enough for the provisional No. 2 spot. John Force, the winningest Funny Car driver in Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville history with seven career wins, sits third with a 4.075 at 314.02. Defending world champ Matt Hagan drove his Mopar Express Lane Dodge R/T to the current No. 8 position.

McGaha led the Pro Stock category after two sessions with a run of 6.507 at 212.73 in the Harlow-Sammons Chevy Camaro. McGaha, who set career-bests for both time and speed in Gainesville, is going for his third No. 1 qualifying effort of his career.

“We’re finding our way back," said McGaha about last season’s struggles. “We had issues in the engine department and slowly overcame those. We started finding it toward the end of the year. This winter, we really found the mojo."

Phoenix winner Rodger Brogdon continued his strong performance in his RoofTec Chevy Camaro, claiming the current No. 2 position with a 6.525 at 212.93. Shane Gray was third with a 6.526 at 212.26 in the Gray Manufacturing Camaro. Defending world champ Erica Enders-Stevens sits in the seventh position in her Elite Motorsports Camaro with two sessions remaining.

Three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Angelle Sampey set the pace in the two-wheel class with a run of 6.891 at 192.44 on the Star Racing Buell. Sampey, who had off-season surgery to repair an ankle injury from Las Vegas last October, will be going for a fourth No. 1 qualifier in Gainesville and 46th overall.

“Over the off-season, I think the ankle injury actually was a blessing in disguise," said Sampey, who rejoined the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour in St. Louis last September after a six-year absence. “It really made me work hard over the off-season to improve mentally and physically."

Karen Stoffer, who last raced in Indianapolis in 2013, qualified No. 2 on Friday with a 6.904 at 193.18 on her Stoffer Enterprises Suzuki. Defending world champ Andrew Hines drove his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to a 6.905, 192.91 putting him in the third provisional position.

Qualifying continues for the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at noon and 3 p.m. Sunday’s eliminations start at 11 a.m.

T.J. Coughlin raced to the qualifying lead Friday in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the event. This weekend’s Pro Mod competition, presented by the Real Pro Mod Association and Jerry Bickel Race Cars, Inc., is the first of 10 events on the season.

On his second career pass in Pro Mod competition, Coughlin drove his JEGS.com Chevrolet Corvette to a performance of 5.876 seconds at 251.49 mph to lead the category.

“Everybody really played their part to get this thing to go that fast," Coughlin said. “It was a group effort. What an honor just to be here, racing in a professional class here at the Gatornationals. Great group of drivers to be racing with. I can’t think of any better way to have a day one."

Steve Matusek sits second with a 5.879 at 248.29 in his Agave Underground Tequila 1968 Camaro and his teammate, Danny Rowe, is third with a 5.882 at 249.16 in his Agave Underground Tequila 1968 Camaro.

A pair of former world champions, including reigning champ Rickie Smith and 2011 champ Khalid alBalooshi, did not qualify through the first two rounds. Troy Coughlin, 2012 champion and father of T.J., qualified fourth in his JEGS Mail Order Corvette.

The final NHRA Pro Mod Series qualifying session is Saturday at 2 p.m., and will be followed by the first round of eliminations at 5 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations will continue on Sunday at 1:15 p.m.

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