Weather halts Friday qualifying with Kalitta, Force, Johnson, Savoie on top

By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com

The opening day of the sixth annual Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals ended abruptly midway through the second qualifying session when a Tornado Watch was declared over Route 66 Raceway. The action on the racetrack stopped just after the Pro Stock drivers had finished their second round of time trails, leaving the Top Fuel and Funny Car pros in the staging lanes.

Before the weather changed, there were some quick passes down this 5-year-old strip. Doug Kalitta impressed with a 4.52 at 329 mph, while 12-time series champion John Force took the lead in Funny Car after a 4.763 at 322.81 mph.

After two full sessions, Allen Johnson is tops in Pro Stock with a best of 6.824 at 201.94 mph. Angelle Savoie missed the second round with a faulty battery but still managed to hold the top position on the strength of her 7.17 at 182 mph.

Kalitta's Mac Tools dragster was one of just two machines that dipped into the 4.5-second range, although his 4.520 at 329.26 mph was much quicker than points leader Larry Dixon's 4.575 at 325.53 mph. In the first nine races of the season, Kalitta has led the qualifying field six times.

Riding the tune-up of new crew chief Alan Johnson, Tony Schumacher powered his U.S. Army rail into third place with a 4.600 at 317.27 mph. David Baca of the American Racing Wheels camp followed in fourth with a 4.616 at 321.27 mph

Race Girl driver Scott Weis is 16th with a coasting 9.212 at 91.84 mph. Don Reed and Cory McClenathan will spend the night hoping for better weather Saturday as both men have yet to find a spot in the field.

Still winless on the season, Force appears to be improving with another solid qualifying effort. The 4.763 at 322.81 mph he carded Friday afternoon in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car was one of just two 4.7-second jaunts on the day, the second of which was run by Force's teammate, Tony Pedregon.

"Tony and Bazemore are still the cars to beat," Force said. "They are the most consistent. My car, in the last three races, has started to show a lot of potential. It could have won the last two races but basically driver error killed that. But I feel confident. We didn't get another run tonight. We were gonna go for the record. But we'll come out here tomorrow and see what happens."

Pedregon, the current POWERade leader in the class, was the closest to Force with a 4.798 at 320.81 mph. Matco's Whit Bazemore was a distant third with a 4.839 at 321.96 mph, while Illinois native Tim Wilkerson scored the fourth position after a 4.849 at 314.46 mph.

K&N Filters driver Frank Pedregon drifted through the lights in 6.119 seconds at 148.25 mph to earn the final spot in the field of 16. Five drivers, including Tommy Johnson Jr., Dean Skuza, Gary Scelzi, Scotty Cannon, and Dale Creasy Jr., all need to improve. "I feels real good about our runs today," Johnson said. "It's the first time I've ever led qualifying after the first day. Weather is supposed to change for tomorrow - so we're going to see if we can hang on. But we'll take it for now.

"Both runs were awesome and were at the top of the qualifying page," Johnson added. "The engine is really accelerating well this weekend. It's such a great racetrack and that's why you're seeing the great times. I think these Hemi engines will run well in any conditions - and it's just been a matter of learning how to tune them. We ran on Monday out in Topeka (Kan.) and it was really fast then. Unfortunately that didn't count."

POWERade points leader Greg Anderson posted the quickest pass of the second session but it wasn't enough to supplant Johnson from the top position. Anderson's best of 6.830 at 201.91 mph means the Vegas General Construction Pontiac driver will have to settle for second place.

Scott Geoffrion posted a 6.838 at 201.82 mph in his Nitro Fish Ford Escort ZX2 to finish the day third, while Kurt Johnson followed with a 6.848 at 201.82 mph in the ACDelco Chevrolet Cavalier.

This is the first time in recent history that the top four spots in Pro Stock are occupied by a Dodge, a Pontiac, a Ford, and a Chevrolet.

Troy Coughlin has the Jeg's Mail Order Chevrolet Cavalier on the bump after a 6.875 at 200.02 mph. Thirty-seven Pro Stock cars attempted passes Friday.

Usually staid six-time champion Warren Johnson raised some eyebrows in the evening round when he waved off official starter Rick Stewart and shut his car off in the water box to allow opponent Jim Yates additional time to fire his car. Yates and crew were franticly trying to get their car's engine to turn over under the timing tower and needed the extra few moments afforded by Johnson's patience to prepare for the pass. The good karma paid off with W.J. driving his GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am from out of the field to the No. 10 spot with a 6.867 at 200 mph.

Savoie's class-leading 7.175 at 182.28 mph on the Team 23 Suzuki came in the afternoon session. The three-time series champion then mysteriously skipped the evening round where most of her rivals showed marked improvement.

"When we were ready to go up they noticed the battery wasn't charged," Savoie said. "The crew started testing everything because we thought it was the vacuum pump switch. We changed out the switch and then we changed out the whole vacuum pump. They tested the battery and the battery was dead. We had to switch the battery and put a new battery in and put it on charge.

"The whole time the bikes were running we were charging it and I was waiting. As soon as the red light turns green that means the battery is charged and we can go. I was begging for it to turn green but it wouldn't. I guess it didn't matter since nobody ran faster than me.

"I thought for sure I was going to get passed up. It was just that the luck was with me this round. They were saying the track was tighter and the weather was getting better. I thought I was going to lose it."

Harley-Davidson pro GT Tonglet rode to the No. 2 slot in Round 2 with an impressive 7.182 at 184.80 mph on his Vance & Hines V-Rod. Englishtown winner Shawn Gann remains hot on the Mac Tools Suzuki, running the third quickest pass of the day, a 7.213 at 185. 15 mph. Points leader Geno Scali impressed his hometown fans with a fourth-best 7.226 at 185.54 mph on the Trim-Tex Suzuki.

Tonglet's Harley-Davidson stablemate, Andrew Hines, also earned a top-half berth in the provisional field with a 7.259.

Calmes Motorsports pro Michael Phillips anchored the field with a 7.315 at 180.45 mph, the mark 18 unqualified riders will try to better during Saturday's final two qualifying sessions.

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