Fresh off his first victory of the season, reigning Funny Car champion John Force kept things rolling at Infineon Raceway Friday night with a class-leading 4.060-second pass at 311.99 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
The run thrilled the partial California crowd that packed the beautiful facility on the southern tip of the world-renowned wine country, and put Force alongside Top Fuel's Tony Schumacher, Pro Stock low man Allen Johnson, and Pro Stock Motorcycle upstart Hector Arana Jr.
Truth be known, Force needed the ego boost after a humbling day at an air show in Oshkosh, Wis.
"I was introduced to Harrison Ford," Force said. "Edsel Ford said, 'This is John Force, the winningest guy in history.' (Harrison Ford) said, 'Nice to meet you Mr. Force, but I want to be honest. I don't have a clue who you are.' I said, 'That's it. I'm going back to drag racing where they know me.'"
Force, who hails from the Los Angeles suburb of Yorba Linda, was quickest in both of Friday's sessions, which played to his advantage as track officials needed to stop the action midway through the second round to let the sun set so it wouldn't shine in the driver's eyes. That gave Force's tuners a chance to ride the cooler air to bigger numbers.
"Credit to Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas and the team," Force said. "They've actually had me in a good car all year. My focus has just been on too many other things, but now I'm ready to race."
Schumacher zipped to the top of Top Fuel in his U.S. Army dragster with a great 3.814 at 321.65 mph, out-pacing teammate Spencer Massey, who ended up second with a 3.834 at 312.50 mph in the FRAM dragster.
"This isn't the kind of track you show up at and try to be average," Schumacher said. "The conditions were perfect, and you know it's going to be hotter tomorrow, so it's 'the' run of qualifying. You know it's going to be pretty quick – or smoke the tires.
"We tested after Chicago, and it's really starting to pay off. I'm excited as I've been in a long time. Mike (Green, crew chief) is feeling confident and comfortable, and that always puts a driver at ease."
A seven-time world champion, Schumacher likely gained some satisfaction out of knocking Al-Anabi Racing teammates Del Worsham and Larry Dixon out of the top two spots they occupied after Round 1. The two ended up sixth and seventh, respectively, after failing to improve in the second round.
Dodge Avenger Pro Stock driver Johnson finished the day out front with a 6.547 at 210.50 mph, which was just a hair off the Infineon Raceway records of 6.545 and 210.77 mph he set in 2010.
"We made a really, really good run," Johnson said. "The air right there was 1,000 foot and last year it was about 400 foot so it's easy to see how much power we've made in these Pro Stock engines in one year's time. If it had been 400 feet right then we probably would have gone 6.49.
"Once the sun goes off the track it gets really good here. The air was getting better by the minute and you start wishing the cars in front of you shake or something and take longer to get off the track to by you a few more minutes. It's that dramatic of a change, and my Mopar Hemi loves to breath that good air."
Erica Enders was close behind Johnson with a best of 6.555 at 209.82 mph in her ZaZa Energy Chevrolet Cobalt. Lucas Oil Ford driver Larry Morgan, a winner her in 2002, was third with a best of 6.576 at 209.36 mph.
Arana Jr. is starting to look pretty comfortable at the top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying sheet as the Lucas Oil Buell rider put himself in position to earn his third No. 1 qualifier honor of the last four races. The rookie-of-the-year candidate posted a near-perfect 6.887 at 193.02 mph in the cooler evening session to jump over six other riders, including his father Hector Arana Sr., who was top qualifier last weekend in Denver.
"We'll take these No. 1 qualifiers every race if we can," Arana Jr. said. "It's hard to do in this class, so to get four in a row for our team, if this one holds, would be really special. It's something to be proud of, for sure.
"All we did was make one clutch adjustment (between rounds) and the track came to us," Arana Jr. said. "That was it. I rode a really good pass. It was amazing. I knew it was good as soon as a dropped the clutch because it smacked me in the butt. I was like, 'Oh, man, that kind of hurt, but that's good.' I tucked really hard, and ran a 6.88."
Angie Smith was a bit of a surprise in second place after a 6.949 at 190.22 mph on her unsponsored Buell.
Saturday's final two qualifying sessions are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
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