SARVER TAKES EARLY LEAD IN FUNNY CAR, WHILE BERNSTEIN, YATES AND SAVOIE ARE ALSO ON TOP

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An appreciative crowd of Second City residents thrilled to the sound and fury of NHRA drag racing as the fifth annual Chicagoland Dodge Dealers NHRA Nationals came to life with two rounds of professional qualifying at Route 66 Raceway. The evening session was the best part of the show with excellent elapsed times and awesome top speeds being posted after every flame-throwing pass. Living legend Kenny Bernstein led a trio of pros in the 4.5-second range with a stout 4.56 at 325 mph. Bruce Sarver stunned the crowd with a career-best pass of 4.76 seconds at 316 mph to lead the Funny Car contingent by a comfortable margin. Sarver's run was the only 4.7-second pass of the day. Jim Yates posted a 6.862 at 200 mph in the day's first Pro Stock session and, surprisingly, it held through the slightly cooler evening session to award him the provisional No. 1 slot. Angelle Savoie has the inside edge to corral her third consecutive low qualifier honor after taking the Day 1 lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle with a 7.21 at 185 mph. In the second-to-last pairing of the day, Bernstein got the most out of his Budweiser dragster to lead the Top Fuel field with a 4.562 at 325.06 mph. Bernstein was one of several nitro-powered professionals to switch to the newest Goodyear tire, which was made available at this event. "I just give credit to Tim Richards and the team for setting the car up tremendously," Bernstein said. "And thanks to Goodyear for giving us a tire we could do something with, especially that particular run. That was a really good run. I wish we'd done some more because the track was awesome. But we won't be greedy. "We're tickled to run that good and tomorrow we'll start over in the sunshine and see what if we can get going in the sun and keep up with everybody else." After completely missing the field in Round 1, Doug Kalitta posted a second-best 4.575 at a career-best top speed of 327.43 mph in his Mac Tools machine in the evening session to finish the day with a smile on his face. Early leader Darrell Russell, a winner one week ago in Topeka, Kan., couldn't improve on his 4.597 at 314.83 mph in the Bilstein Engine Flush System rail and slipped to third place. Australian Dave Grubnic followed in fourth in the Montana Express dragster with a 4.608 at 303.09 mph. Jerry Freeman has his Wulff Pumps dragster in the field with a labored 5.151 at 284.03 mph. This is Freeman's first race of the year. Four drivers, including Scott Weis, need to improve Saturday if they want to play on Sunday. Sarver's low-qualifying 4.768 at 316.23 mph marked a personal-best elapsed time for the White Cap Toyota Celica driver. This is just the third race of the year for Sarver. He took over the seat of Alan Johnson's car two weeks ago in Englishtown, N.J., and has posted a runner-up finish and a No. 1 qualifier effort since his return. "The conditions got so good while we were sitting there in the staging lanes," Sarver said. "As I was getting ready to get in the car Alan came over and said, 'We could push this thing back to the pits and I could make it better but right now, as it is, I've got it turned up as high as it will go.' "It was a fun ride but it got pretty hairy down there. The windshield was vibrating so much and the way the lights are here I really couldn't see at all. But I wasn't about to lift because I knew we were moving. We actually nosed over with about 100 feet to go so I probably could've been even quicker. "It's just a matter of timing that the car's been running better since I took over (from Gary Scelzi.). We have a completely new tune-up and the car does fit me better. That's all there is to it." Oakley driver Scotty Cannon improved to a 4.800 at 319.37 mph in the second session to move up to the No. 2 slot. Mopar Parts pro Dean Skuza kept the race sponsor smiling with a third-best 4.832 at 312.86 mph, and Matco Tools driver Whit Bazemore finished fourth with a 4.833 at 320.97 mph, the day's fastest Funny Car pass. Joliet native John Lawson has his Lucas Oil flopper on the bump with a 5.025 at 306.26 mph, the only five-second driver in the field. Four drivers will try to supplant Lawson during Saturday's two sessions. Yates has a headstart for his third successive low qualifier honor and fourth of the year after running a competitive 6.862 at 200.65 mph in the SplitFire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am. Although he has yet to score a win this year, Yates definitely has the most dominant car of late, assuming the POWERade championship points lead last week in Topeka and looking strong once again today. "It'll be really nice if it holds," Yates said. "The way it looks right now I guess everyone's gonna win one race each this year so I hope my turn comes and the rest of the time we can do enough to stay out front in the points. "I'm happy we have a fast car right now. It tells me our team is heading in the right direction. I feel a bit like we missed a golden opportunity to go really fast tonight but Richie Stevens broke in front of us and there was something on the track that got me out of shape. To still stay No. 1 is something." After four DNQ finishes in a row, former NBA player Tom Hammonds has returned to frontrunner status with a second-best 6.870 at 200.74 mph in the Winnebago Cavalier. Mark Osborne drove one of Steve Schmidt's Grand Ams to the No. 3 position with a 6.877 at 200.29 mph, while Bruce Allen followed in fourth with a 6.877 of his own at a slightly slower 199.82 mph. Agri Pack-sponsored pro JR Carr rides the early bump after a 6.903 at 200.17 mph. Two of the nine drivers who have won races this season, Troy Coughlin and Darrell Alderman, will have to work hard Saturday to make the cut. They are two of 26 drivers who have yet to qualify for this race. No surprise in Pro Stock Motorcycle as points leader Savoie rode her CVEC Racing Suzuki to the top slot in the evening session to assume the provisional low qualifier position. Her best elapsed time so far shows a 7.212 at 185.18 mph. Matco Tools pro Craig Treble led after one round after posting a 7.221 at 189.36 mph in the heat of the day. Only Savoie was able to better that mark, leaving Treble in second place. Shawn Gann piloted his Gann Speed Airtech Suzuki through a 7.226 at 185.41 mph to finish third on the ladder, while Englishtown winner and defending event champion Antron Brown stayed in the mix with a fourth-best 7.251 at 188.78 mph on his unsponsored machine. Fast Lane Sports rider Greg Underdahl was fast enough Friday to earn a spot in the Day 1 field. His 7.386 at 180.67 mph anchored the field of 16. Steve Johnson leads a group of 13 riders who have yet to qualify.
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