By Lee Elder
KENT, Wash (Aug. 4, 2018) – Two great veterans stood on the outside looking early in the final qualifying session for the professional teams of the NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series at the CatSpot Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways.
John Force and Cruz Pedregon, who have 18 Funny Car championships between them, struggled in the first three sessions of time trials and needed to make solid runs just to make the 16-car field for Sunday’s eliminations.
Both got in.
Matt Hagan qualified first in Funny Car and Steve Torrence was first in Top Fuel. Jeg Coughlin topped the Pro Stock field after a drama-filled night.
A shuffle among the first Funny Cars to make their final qualifying passes resulted in Force and Pedregon getting bumped out of the field, but neither had run yet. Force qualified with a 4.028-second blast down the strip, good for 10th place. He will race Shawn Langdon in round one Sunday.
“It feels like you won Indy and all you did was qualify,” Force said. “We really struggled … but I handle pressure in a different way. I had fans that were at the ropes and said, ‘You don’t qualify, you’re going to buy my tickets.’”
Now that’s pressure.
Force’s car had problems during the first three qualifying attempts. The team caught a broken part prior to a run Friday and, after a run that might have been good enough to make the field, Force crossed the centerline near the end of his Q3 run Saturday.
Force added, “I’m excited just to be here. I did not want to wake up tomorrow and not be in the show. That is painful.”
Pedregon was in the next pair. He responded with a run of 4.182 seconds, good for the final spot on the ladder. He will face Hagan in round one.
“At least we’re in the field,” Pedregon said. “That’s a big nod because we were staring down the barrel there. What’s scary about it was that, if it got loose or dropped a cylinder, I had to keep my foot on it and hope it didn’t blow up.”
Pedregon lost an engine Friday when it exploded, the second time in two weekends he has had to drive through that experience.
“We’re going through a hard time but the car will run,” Pedregon said. “We think we can mow through the field if we have our act together.”
Terry Haddock and Jeff Diehl were the drivers who did not qualify.
Hagan’s 3.913-second pass Friday stood through Saturday’s struggle in Funny Car. Robert Hight and Courtney Force were next on the list.
Torrence said, “I hope that this thing (the cap given to top qualifiers) is luckier than it was the last time. The last time we got it, I think went out early.”
Doug Kalitta qualified second, Clay Millican was third.
Coughlin’s pole was the 25th of his career and it came the afternoon after his team spent the night rebuilding the car after it was protested.
Chris McGaha and his Southwest Performance team filed a protest against the Elite Motorsports cars driven by Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin after Friday’s qualifying sessions. The cars were found to be within regulations. The McGaha team had to cough up $1,000 per protest, so it lost $2,000. McGaha did not sound as if he was convinced by the determination by officials that the cars were legal when he was interviewed over the public address system. Enders said her team took the protest as a compliment.
Greg Anderson qualified second, Enders was third. Coughlin could race McGaha in the second round if both advance beyond round one.
Coughlin said of McGaha’s protest, “I think we’ll use that as an attention-getter and a motivator for gameday tomorrow and be on our toes and be ready to race aggressively.”