POMONA, Calif. – Rookie sensation Courtney Force strengthened her bid for the NHRA Auto Club Road to the Future Award and the Funny car portion of the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship got more interesting Thursday as the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals got under way at historic Auto Club Raceway.
Allen Johnson and Andrew Hines were the qualifying leaders in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively, but the opening session for the Top Fuel cars was washed out by persistent afternoon rain showers. Qualifying will continue with one round scheduled on Friday afternoon and two rounds on Saturday, but today’s rained-out Top Fuel session will not be made up.
Force, at 24 the youngest of perennial Funny Car champion John Force’s four daughters, moved into position to claim her third No. 1 qualifying award of the season in the Funny Car class with a category-best run of 4.032 seconds at 315.93 mph in her Traxxas Ford Mustang.
“This was kind of surreal, coming out here and remembering what it was like (at her first race) in February, when I was so sick to my stomach,” Force said. “I’ve got a great car and a great team. Running a 4.03 the first lap out is amazing. I’m hoping it hold up for No. 1. That would be pretty awesome.”
Jack Beckman and Ron Capps ended Funny Car qualifying in spectacular fashion. Beckman, 46, who leads Capps by four points in the sixth and final round of the Countdown playoffs, had his qualifying run ended when the fiberglass body on his Valvoline Dodge Charger blew off in a massive engine explosion. Beckman qualified fifth with a 4.117 at 273.00, but Capps, 47, lost traction in his the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger, and was the first non-qualifier.
“I’ve never had that happen before and I’m not going to sign up for it again,” said Beckman, who was unhurt in the incident. “I had just let go of the wheel to reach for the parachute and all of a sudden there was no body on the car.”
The beneficiary of the leaders’ problems was Force teammate Mike Neff, who came into the weekend in third place, 88 points behind Beckman. He was No. 2, with a 4.062 at 313.66 in the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, and cut his deficit to 86.
All three Funny Car contenders are seeking their first championship.
Johnson, who will clinch his first Pro Stock title by qualifying for Sunday’s elimination rounds, made those final three sessions anticlimactic by putting his Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger atop the field with a performance of 6.565 at 210.47.
“That was a pretty good run right there,” Johnson said. “If the weather conditions (cool and overcast with possible rain showers) hold like they’re supposed to we should be right there, in the top three or four anyhow. My mindset was that we were going to get one run and then it was going to rain for three days so I wanted to be sure to get it down the track. The guy on the mic with me (crew member Mike Gott) said ‘I believe we can say champion now.’”
Hines put his Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson in the top spot in the Pro Stock Motorcycle field with a 6.872 at 196.04, just ahead of the 6.874 at 196.19 turned in by teammate and series points leader Eddie Krawiec.
“Where was this motorcycle at the last race?,” said Hines, who lost to Krawiec in the final two weeks ago at Las Vegas and is second in the standings, 110 points behind. “Everything but the chassis is completely different. We’re a little bit off where we should be (in elapsed time), but this tune-up has never been on the bike before.”