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Fri, 19 Sep 2003, 11:41 PM

Baca Leads O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals Qualifying in Top Fuel
Courtesy of NHRA Communications

Schumacher Crash Ends Record-Setting Day of Qualifying


David Baca
Top Fuel rookie David Baca led qualifying Friday at the O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals with a track record performance, but it was Tony Schumacher who grabbed everyone's attention when his final run of the day ended in a spectacular crash.

Schumacher appeared to be on a record-setting run as he powered his U.S. Army dragster down the Memphis Motorsports Park quarter-mile but just before the dragster crossed the finish line it lost traction and went out of control. In the opposite lane moments before Schumacher's wild ride, Larry Dixon's Miller Lite dragster went into a wheelstand and sparks flew when the front end of the dragster slammed back to the track. Neither driver was injured. Schumacher was checked and released on-site by NHRA emergency services personnel.

"I feel bad because this was the car that we ran the 4.465 (quickest run in NHRA history last weekend) at Reading (Pa.) with and I hate that the team and Alan (Johnson, crew chief) are going to have to do a lot of work to get the back-up car ready," Schumacher said. "It's a great team and we will do what it takes to get the car ready for tomorrow. I am fine except for a sprained right knee. I am ready to get back in the car and put this day behind us."

The side-by-side incident was ironic because both drivers have a crash history at the western Tennessee track that dates back to the 2000 season. Schumacher's quest for a second series title ended on a qualifying run when he suffered multiple injuries in one of the most horrifying crashes in NHRA history. One day later, Dixon was en route to the race victory when his dragster snapped in half just past mid-track and crossed the centerline in mid-air.

Whit Bazemore
Whit Bazemore, Jeg Coughlin and Geno Scali also were leaders in their categories at the $1.8 million race, the 19th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Baca posted a track record time of 4.533 seconds at 319.75 mph in his American Racing Wheels dragster to lead the Top Fuel lineup.

"First of all thank God Tony is OK," said Baca, who is seeking his second No. 1 qualifying position. "I am trying to catch my breath. We knew the car would run a number. I had my hands full on that run because it was trying to go to the centerline. It was trucking on down there. We need a win and it would be great to get it here this weekend."

Doug Kalitta was second at 4.542 seconds with a track record speed of 327.90 mph his Mac Tools dragster, which eclipsed a five-year old track mark for speed set in 1998 by Kenny Bernstein (321.42 mph).

Bazemore led Funny Car qualifying in his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus with a performance of 4.826 at 316.67.

"We had prime conditions to set records so we were going for it," Bazemore said. "We feel like we have nothing to lose. Being No. 1 is very important to us because it means we will earn at least one more point than Tony (Pedregon, current points leader), and we're counting them all right now."

Jeg Coughlin was quickest in Pro Stock, covering the distance in a track record time of 6.748 at 202.94 in his Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier.

Geno Scali topped the Pro Stock Bike order with a track record time of 7.119 at 187.13 on his Trim-Tex Suzuki.

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