Schumacher, Pedregon lead fuel cars,

but Muldowney earns biggest cheer


Courtesy NHRA -- Rob Geiger,


Top Fuel pro Tony Schumacher rocketed to a 4.53 and Tony Pedregon blew away the Funny Car field with a 4.75, but Friday's loudest cheer came when retiring legend Shirley Muldowney muscled her way through a 10th-best 4.64-second pass under the lights of The Strip. It was a spectacular start to the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals and the capacity crowd showed Muldowney its appreciation with a lengthy standing ovation.


The naturally-aspirated set also impressed. Greg Anderson's 6.89 at 200 mph was tops in Pro Stock, while Angelle Savoie's 7.27 at 188 mph put her at the front of Pro Stock Bike.


Schumacher waited until the last pairing of the day to post his class-leading 4.520 at 331.45 mph. The U.S. Army racer, who has won three of the last five national events on the POWERade tour, debuted a new Brad Hadman chassis in Round 1.


"'m still getting fitted for this car," Schumacher said. "To run a 4.58 in Round 1 was key because it put us back in the group. There's less air here so the later you can run the cooler it is and the better chance you have of posting a big number.


"Now we're in solidly and we can start testing things for Sunday. It looks like it's going to be sunny and hot all weekend so we'll work on that tune-up from earlier in the day and get ready to race."


Jesse James racer Scott Kalitta shot up to the No. 2 position with a 4.532 at 329.10 mph. Fresh off his win in Dallas, Kenny Bernstein was next with a third-best 4.543 at 327.66 mph, while N.Y. Yankees/Berryman ace Cory McClenathan took fourth with a 4.545 at 323.97 mph.


Although she's 63, Muldowney showed the reflexes of a teenager when her "Last Pass" dragster suddenly veered towards the centerline just past half-track. But the three-time champ coolly persuaded her machine back into the groove and completed the lap.


Another quarter-mile icon, Chris "the Golden Greek" Karamesines, managed to stay in the mix by holding on to the final position with a 4.865 at 285.23 mph. All told, 24 Top Fuel drivers attempted runs Friday. Doug Herbert and Rookie of the Year candidate David Baca are the big surprises on the provisional DNQ list. Top Fuel results


The two men fighting for the Funny Car championship are 1-2 on the qualifying ladder but points leader Pedregon and his near-track record pass of 4.753 at 322.88 mph put his Castrol Syntec Ford significantly ahead of Bazemore's Matco Dodge and the 4.847 at 310.05 mph he posted.


"We're 114 points up [on Bazemore]," Pedregon said. "So that means five rounds plus 14 points. Those 14 points don't mean much unless you get it up to 20, which would be another round. The only way to do that is in qualifying but [Bazemore's] right behind us. The thing is that they have John Force in their rearview mirror both at this race and in the points so the pressure is on.


"That run was great. It hiked the wheels up like it did earlier this year. I heard [crew chief John] Medlen say 'Hallelujah' on the radio and I thought we must be good. A Hallelujah run must be No. 1. I didn't even ask him what he did. I just told him I was impressed.


"People keep telling me it would be cool if we could win the championship in Pomona, 20 minutes from home. No offense but I'd rather get it done here. It won't be easy but if we can run like this on Sunday we have a chance."


Playing supporting roles, Pedregon's and Bazemore's teammates, John Force and Scotty Cannon, followed their stablemates on the ladder. Force is third with a 4.857 at 314.39 mph while Oakley racer Cannon has Bazemore's back after a fourth-best 4.863 at 322.34 mph.


K&N Filters racer Frank Pedregon has Jim Dunn's Pontiac parked in the 16th slot after a slightly off-pace 5.062 at 288.09 mph. Funny Car results


Anderson's quest to tie the record for number of wins in a single season is off to a quick start as the Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am carried him to the provisional No. 1 slot with a 6.891 at 200.44 mph, the only 200-mph pass of the day. The newly-crowned series champ has 10 wins on the year and hopes to catch and pass Darrell Alderman's mark of 11 wins, which he collected in 1991.


"I love racing here at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway," Anderson said. "I'm starting to feel like it's my home track with all the fan support we received coming down the return road. That's really something.


"It's great to give this to our team owner Ken Black for all the support he and his company give this team. It's neat for him to have the No. 1 car. Even our second car with Jason [Line] is running well. He was No. 1 after the first session. I believe we can be 1-2 tomorrow morning."


Jeg's Mail Order pro Troy Coughlin went from the bottom rung on the qualifying ladder to the No. 2 position with a quick 6.900 at 198.93 mph in Round 2. ACDelco driver Kurt Johnson powered his special-edition KISS car to third place on the strength of a 6.904 at 199.58 mph, while relative newcomer Dave Connolly put his Grumpy's Toy entry into the top four with a 6.912 at 199.17 mph.


Mike Corvo parked the Atlas Roll-off Service Neon R/T in the 16th position, successfully holding off 15 other drivers, including top-10 runners Warren Johnson and Scott Geoffrion.


Savoie is trying her best to keep her fleeting championship hopes alive by posting the quickest and fastest pass of the day on her U.S. Army Suzuki. Savoie's 7.273 at 188.15 mph was one of just three runs in the 7.2-second range.


"We all know I can pretty much forget [winning the championship], that I'm really shooting for No. 2 at this point, but I still want to go out with a bang," Savoie said. "I really, really want to win one for the U.S. Army. I want to get on TV and thank all those soldiers overseas. This is the first time in my career that I've gone this long without giving a new sponsor a win.


"We had a good run, three championships in a row, and I think I'm okay with not winning it this year. When the points lead began slipping away I didn't think I could handle it, but the way Geno [Scali] has handled himself, being respectful and cool about it, that's really helped me. He'll be a good champ.


"I hope he's a little anxious right now because I know I was, but he's done a great job of staying cool. I have to hand it to him. It's hard right near the end because everyone's telling you that it's over but until it is you have to keep it together. There's a lot of pressure there."


Andrew Hines had trouble at the starting line in Round 1 but rebounded nicely in the second session with a 7.279 at 183.57 mph, which placed his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod in second place.

MB Precision rider Mike Berry is off to a great start with a third-best 7.286 at 183.44 mph. Points leader Scali follows in fourth with a 7.300 at 182.85 mph on his Trim-Tex Suzuki.


Atop his Alamo City Harley-Davidson-sponsored Suzuki, Joe Desantis set the opening-day bump with a 7.392 at 177.51 mph. Twenty-nine bikes attempted passes Friday.



*Jay Matthews of Henderson currently sits 13th in a field of 29 Pro Stock Bikes.  Only the top 16 will advance to eliminations on Sunday.  Sean Conner of Boulder City is 20th after two rounds.  Las Vegas firefighter Andy Lewis entered the event, but was unable to compete after suffering engine damage.


*George Marnell of Las Vegas was 12th in the first round of Pro Stock qualifying but slipped to 18th after two rounds.