Schumacher, Bazemore, Anderson top qualifying

Photo by Rick Harris
Brandon Bernstein in the Top Fuel Bud King dragster.

By Jeff Birchfield

   BRISTOL -- The trio of Tony Schumacher, Whit Bazemore and Greg Anderson roar into Bristol Dragway as the top qualifiers in the major classes for the fourth annual MAC Tools Thunder Valley Nationals.
   Schumacher, the points leader in the Top Fuel class, set a new track record with an elapsed time of 4.523 seconds in grabbing his first pole of the season. With the new record time, the driver of the U.S. Army rail bested former event winner Doug Kalitta for the top spot. Kalitta's time of 4.530 seconds tied the old event record set by Brandon Bernstein last year.
   Bernstein, the number four qualifier behind David Grubnic, still holds the speed record of 328.38 miles per hour. Schumacher's speed topped out at 327.66 miles per hour through four qualifying sessions.
   "It was great to go out there and do that," said Schumacher about his tenth career time as the No. 1 qualifier. "It was the first one of the year. We've won three races and we've won six since Indy last year. We had four in a row where we were number one at the end of last year. This year, we hadn't been number one yet.
   "We were waiting a while getting it done. We did it on new tires. I'm looking for the first win at any track I haven't won at before. I was here when this was a different race track. This is a great place Thunder Valley with a great crowd here."
   The Bristol-based Carrier Boyz Racing team, owned by the sons of former track owner Larry Carrier, had reason to smile as their entry with driver Cory McClenathan qualified fifth. It wasn't so pleasant for Bluff City driver Todd Paton, whose dragster was 17th, one spot shy of elimination rounds.
   Bazemore's pole in the Funny Car class was much needed for a team, shut out of poles and wins in the tour's first five races. An elapsed time of 4.770 seconds beat second best Cruz Pedregon at 4.815 seconds. His overall speed of 321.27 miles per hour was third best overall behind the 322.50 mph posted by third place qualifier John Force and the 321.58 mph No. 8 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. ran.
   His 25th career number one qualifying run came courtesy of the Friday night qualifying session. More important to the team's morale was scoring the fast time in the final Saturday evening qualifying session after having to abort a run on Saturday morning.
   "Last night was important, but I think for our team the run we made this afternoon was more important," said Bazemore. "The track is considerably hotter than last night and this is most likely the conditions we are going to race on. After we smoked the tires this morning, it was important to get down the race track."
   The drivers had to adjust to a track that has undergone work since Bazemore's last win here two years ago.
   "The track is different," commented Bazemore. "They've repaved the first part of the course this year and it's super smooth. The asphalt is better now. The track was good when we won here two years ago, but the key is the people here are not afraid to invest in the facility to make it grow."
   Anderson scored an incredible 11th straight pole win in the Pro Stock class. He has led all but one qualifying sessions the entire 2004 season. He topped the Pro Stock division both with a 6.790 et and 202.52 mph, ahead of Jason Line, a former NASCAR crewman turned drag racer.
   Despite the dominance of his Pontiac Grand Am, Anderson, the current Pro Stock points leader and defending Pro Stock champion, isn't going into today's eliminations overconfident.
   "You can't go out there and think because your car is better than the other guy you are going to win," said Anderson, the 2001 event winner. "The driver has to do a better job than the other driver. It's nothing to lose five-hundredths of a second on the Christmas tree (starting lights).
   "I definitely have a target on my back and I can't back off a bit. They will be gunning for me. I have to execute perfectly or I'm not going to win."
   Among those gunning for Anderson will be Greeneville driver Allen Johnson. After failing to qualify the last two years for the event, the Mopar driver made it into the field of 16 on Sunday with a ninth place qualifying run.
   The Pro Modified cars New York driver Fred Hahn power his 2001 Corvette to a fast time of 6.201 seconds for 228.65 miles per hour.