Ashley Force, Rivas seeking first No. 1s; Schumacher, WJ also top Friday fields

Ashley Force led an action-packed first day of Professional racing at 11th annual Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago. The second-year Funny Car driver wowed the crowd by posting a 4.750 e.t. and the fastest speed of the season at 329.10 mph in an effort that could make her the first woman in Funny Car history to qualify No. 1. Tony Schumacher, Warren Johnson, and Chris Rivas also lead their respective classes.

Schumacher sits atop the Top Fuel class in what could be the 50th top spot of his career. W.J., the all-time qualifying leader with 138 No. 1s, made the quickest Pro Stock laps of each session. Rivas is contending for the first No. 1 of his Pro Stock Motorcycle career.

Ashley Force

Force's remarkable 2008 season continued with a class-leading 4.750 e.t. Her speed, 329.10 mph, is her career best and the quickest pass made by a Funny Car driver thus far this season. The driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang will be the first woman to qualify No. 1 in Funny Car history if she retains her top spot.

"It's a matter of time before Melanie [Troxel] or I get a No. 1, and it would be nice if we can do it this weekend," said Force. "When it comes down to it, we're here to win a race. Qualifying well gives us confidence that we have a fast, consistent car going into eliminations.

"The most exciting part about that run was the speed. Four mph [above my previous career best] doesn't seem much different in the car, but we're all pretty pumped up about the number."

Cruz Pedregon's second outing with a Toyota Solara body were successful as he vaulted to the second spot with a 4.780 at 324.51 mph. He and brother Tony comprise half of four Funny Car drivers who have made every starting field this season; Tony sits sixth with a 4.797 at 323.43 mph.

The field's biggest surprise entry was 1984 Funny Car champ Mark Oswald, who subbed for Mike Ashley in the A&R Transportation Dodge Stratus. Though he last attempted to make a Funny Car field at the 1997 NHRA Finals, Oswald showed no signs of rust in making a career-best lap of 4.783 at 324.67 mph to qualify fourth. The last time Oswald competed, the national records were 4.889 seconds and 314.46 mph.

Tony Schumacher

Schumacher wheeled the U.S. Army dragster to a 4.513 at 331.69 mph to put himself on top of the Top Fuel field. After two previous No. 1 qualifying positions this season, Schumacher is on the verge of netting the milestone 50th pole position of his career.

"I just heard about 50 No. 1s, and that's pretty cool," said Schumacher. "What would be even cooler is to win on the Army's birthday and give a little back to the soldiers this weekend.

"The car left great. It was smooth early, and the incremental times show that we could give it a little more. I love racing at this track. Racing here is what driver's dream of. Here we have a state-of-the-art track, facility, and safety people."

No. 2 qualifier Antron Brown was in the first pair of the second session when he unloaded a 4.516 at 331.53 mph in the Matco Tools/iLocate dragster. Larry Dixon and J.R. Todd are third and fourth, respectively, with runs of 4.525 and 4.555.

No. 5 qualifier Alan Bradshaw, who qualified No. 1 on two occasions this season in the Vis Viva Living Force dragster, found some of the consistency he'd been lacking by running a class-leading 4.571 in the opening session and following up with a 4.664.

Warren Johnson

Johnson, the all-time No. 1 qualifying leader, is working towards the 139th pole position of his illustrious career with a fast Friday start. "The Professor" made the quickest and fastest laps of both qualifying sessions as his GM Performance Parts Pontiac GXP opened with a 6.733 at 206.26 mph and improved with a 6.711 at 206.35 mph. In addition to two previous top qualifier efforts this season, Johnson has also set top speed at six of nine previous events.

"We made two pretty good runs out there," said Johnson. "It seemed like everyone was cautious on the first pass, and they went after it on the second run as you can tell by some of the shuffling in the order.

"The runs we made equate to two- or four-hundredths slower than the best runs we’ve made. The race track is great, but the humidity is killing us. The relative humidity was 112 grains of water during the first run and 109 grains during the second."

Jeg Coughlin and Greg Anderson are second and third, respectively, after a bizarre pairing in which both drivers ran identical 6.726s at 205.10 mph. Coughlin got the nod because his holeshot allowed him to record his time before Anderson.

Among the biggest surprises in the top 12 are Jim Yates, whose Richard Maskin-powered Wiley X Pontiac GXP sits fourth with a 6.728 at 203.74 mph, and John Nobile, who sits No. 11 with a 6.741 at 204.48.

Chris Rivas

The G-Squared Motorsports team is beginning to show its championship-caliber form after a slow start to the 2008 season with riders Rivas and Angelle Sampey both in the top half. Rivas rode the Drag Specialties S&S Buell V-Twin to the first provisional pole of his career. He posted a solid 7.027 at 187.29 mph during the second session in windy conditions that were trying for motorcycle riders.

"These bikes have been real susceptible to the wind," said Rivas. "I wouldn't say it's unsafe, but it sure makes it tough once you get past the grandstands. We just made the necessary chassis adjustments to deal with it.

"We've been working really hard as a team. We did a lot of testing at South Georgia Motorsports Park to learn a new clutch, and it shows a lot of potential. We're motivated to make something happen here at the home track of S&S."

Sampey sits fifth with a 7.093 at 183.29 mph. In between the two G-Squared riders are three-time world champion Andrew Hines (7.028), Chip Ellis (7.039), and Matt Smith (7.089). Ellis impressed with an unheard-of 1.038-second 60-foot clocking on the Schumacher Electric Suzuki.

Tom Bradford made his first appearance of the season on the Sportsman Channel Buell and clocked a 7.200 at 181.40 mph to grab the No. 11 spot. David Hope rounds out the top 12 with a 7.212 at 181.32 mph. Past national event winners Shawn Gann, Karen Stoffer, and Craig Treble will all be vying for a spot in the 16-car field tomorrow.

*Courtesy of NHRA

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