Champs, Former Champs Rule on First Day of Qualifying at Route 66 Raceway

It was a night for champions at Route 66 Raceway as series titlists Tony Schumacher, Gary Scelzi, Greg Anderson, and Andrew Hines led opening day action at the 10th annual Torco Race Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals. Schumacher's 4.462 at 327.11 mph in Top Fuel got the biggest cheer, but Scelzi's 4.736 at 330.96 mph in Funny Car was just as impressive. In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, Anderson and Hines thrilled with a pair of track record.

As is usually the case at Route 66 Raceway, all the big numbers came in the evening session after the sun set over the massive stadium tower of luxury suites. Once Hines posted his career- best pass of 6.930 seconds, the run was on and E.T.s began to dip more dramatically every pass. By the end of the session many of the drivers in attendance had posted career-best numbers.

Unlike year's past, Schumacher's provisional top qualifying effort didn't set him far apart from the rest of the Top Fuel field. But it was enough to set the U.S. Army team up for its fourth low qualifying award of the year on a weekend when the Army celebrates its 232nd birthday.

Intent on regaining the POWERade points lead he lost at the last event in Topeka, Kan., "Hot Rod" Fuller pulled in right behind Schumacher with a 4.464 at 328.54 mph in his Fabick Cat dragster. Clay Millican checked in with a 4.483 in the Ratt --Back for More rail, while Bob Vandergriff became just the 19th person in history to run a 4.4-second pass when he dipped to 4.499 in the UPS dragster.

Closing in on a record field, struggling Doug Kalitta closed out the top 16 with a 4.596 at 317.57 mph in the Mac Tools car. Heavyweights Brandon Bernstein, Whit Bazemore, Morgan Lucas, and Dave Grubnic have not yet made the field.

Four-time champion Scelzi hasn't led a Funny Car field since the season opener in Pomona, a race he went on to win. In fact, he's only won four elimination rounds since that race, so it wasn't a surprise to learn he and Mopar/Oakley crew chief Mike "Zippy" Neff elected to go back to their Pomona tune-up before posting a class-leading 4.736 at 330.96 mph in Round 2.

"We haven't done much since Pomona so we kind of went back to basics and it worked for us here," Scelzi said. "Chicago is one of those places, like Pomona, where you can just haul ass. We might not see conditions like this again until we get to Indy or beyond. It was a prime time to go for it.

"I think that's a pretty good number and I doubt anyone will touch it tomorrow in the sunshine. The track was just stellar tonight. It wasn't very good at all in either lane in Round 1 but they fixed whatever was wrong. Qualifying No. 1 is fun but blue-hat day is where it's at for me. I come to these things to win, that's it."

Coming off his first DNQ in years, Scelzi teammate Ron Capps won't miss the show here after posting a second-best 4.755 in his Brut Test Drive Dodge Charger. Six-time champion Kenny Bernstein also looked sharp, running a 4.759 to place his Monster Dodge in third place.

John Force is fifth with a 4.759, while daughter Ashley is ninth with a 4.782 in her identical Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.

Topeka winner Mike Ashley ended up in 16th place with a best of 4.867 at 314.17 mph, which had him leading the pack after Round 1. Robert Hight is the biggest surprise on the provisional DNQ list.

No surprise in Pro Stock as Anderson reset both ends of the Route 66 class records with a 6.617 at 208.94 mph in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO. The only drama was that he opened qualifying with an off-pace 6.959, which was a distant memory by day's end.

"Friday night's what it's all about," Anderson said. "If you want to be No. 1, that's where you go for it. We hurt our primary motor this morning so we didn't exactly start off the way we wanted but we swapped it out and the back-up we had was good enough that we were able to move to the top. Our back-ups aren't as good as our No. 1 motors but I'll still match them up against what most people run.

"This is a big money weekend for us. The King Demon Crown is next and it's good that we're going into that race feeling like we have a good read on the racetrack now. It's a fun race where you can go out there without worrying about POWERade points and just race. That big check up for grabs gets your attention also."

Allen Johnson remains competitive in his Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T, finishing the day in second place with a 6.626 at 207.56 mph. racer Jeg Coughlin dropped from first to third in Round 2 despite improving to a 6.632 at 208.17 mph.

Former NBA great Tom Hammonds anchors the field with a 6.666 in his unsponsored Cobalt.

Sleeping giant Hines, the reigning three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion who has languished outside the top 10 for much of the season, might have finally woken from his slumber Friday. Hines' Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod carried him to a stout 6.930 at 192.88 mph in the evening session, setting a Route 66 elapsed time record in the process.

"One of our goals for this race was to make four solid runs in qualifying," said Hines, who opened with a 6.987. "We're halfway there. I really want to prove everyone wrong because I've heard the talk that we have no clutch management on our team. I'd put my dad (Byron) and brother (Matt) up against anyone out here and I'm proud to say we had a 1.06-second 60-foot time just now and I ended up with my career-best E.T.

"We took the time off between the last race and now and tested a bunch at ORP (O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis). We made a total of 41 passes, 36 on my bike and five more on Eddie's (Krawiec, teammate) and by the time we left there the runs were all within five-thousandth of a second. We gained a lot of data there and it really helped us today."

Karen Stoffer was second on her Geico Motorcycle Suzuki, zooming to a 6.951 at 191.13 mph, while points leader Matt Smith coaxed a 6.975 at 190.89 mph out of his Torco Buell. Angelle Sampey (6.977) and Chris Rivas (6.979) also posted six-second passes.

Performance Machine Suzuki racer Geno Scali was sixth with a 7.018 at 193.38 mph, the fastest pass in track history. Mohegan Sun Buell rider Matt Guidera sits on the bump at 7.082.

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