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Sat, 22 Sep 2001, 04:37 AM

Force, Dixon Among Qualifying Leaders Friday at Memphis Motorsports Park
Courtesy of NHRA Marketing

MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- John Force clocked the quickest Funny Car run Friday to lead qualifying at the AutoZone Nationals presented by Pennzoil.

Larry Dixon, Jim Yates and Mike Coughlin led their respective categories at the $1.9 million race, the 19th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Force drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a track record run of 4.824 seconds at 302.82 mph at Memphis Motorsports Park. However, as the sport's most prolific winner closes in on a record 11th Winston championship and nears his milestone 100th career victory, his usual upbeat mood was somewhat somber following the day's racing.

"It's hard to have a good feeling at a time like this," said Force, still shaken by the tragic events that took place Sept. 11 in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. "Maybe it's time for us all to get a day off and give the fans a good show. To be really honest, with all that's taken place in the last week, we always talk about having battles and wars on the race track, but that's nothing like the real war that's coming. Next to my family being the most important thing in my life, it was winning a Winston championship. After last Tuesday, all that doesn't mean that much."

Defending Funny Car winner Ron Capps was second in his Skoal Chevy Camaro, posting a 4.858 at 306.12. Whit Bazemore was third in his Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird (4.881, 313.29).

Larry Dixon
Dixon, who was runner-up here last year after being disqualified in the final when his dragster suffered a spectacular crash near the top-end, rocketed to a season-best performance of 4.581 seconds at 314.17 mph in his Miller Lite dragster to move to the top of the 16-car order.

"I was surprised that run stayed low," said Winston points leader Dixon, who was quicker than Doug Herbert (4.597, 313.51), Kenny Bernstein (4.600, 318.99) and defending event winner Gary Scelzi (4.606, 313.44). "I thought Bernstein and Scelzi would have run in the low 50s. The track is good. It has some teeth to it. I was plenty happy with that run."

Yates posted the best Pro Stock performance, covering the distance in 6.894 at 199.29 in a Pontiac Grand Am.

Coughlin paced the Pro Stock Truck order with a 7.458 at 179.90 in a Chevy S-10.

Pro qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

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