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Sat, 2 Oct 1999, 10:09 PM

Hill Qualifies #1 for First Time Since '97

TOPEKA, Kan. - Eddie Hill led a parade of records Saturday, recording the quickest Top Fuel pass at Heartland Park Topeka to close qualifying for the 11th annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.

Hill, from Wichita Falls, Texas, ran 4.520 seconds at 323.74 mph in his Pennzoil Top Fuel dragster and will lead the 16-car field into tomorrow's 11 a.m. eliminations. This is Hill's first number one qualifying position since 1997 in Sonoma, Calif. "It does feel good." Hill said. "It feels especially good to not have to spend a $100,000 car to earn that number one like we did at Sonoma last time."

Whit Bazemore and Richie Stevens were also qualifying leaders at the $1.7 million race, the 18th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston drag racing series. Pro Stock Truck top qualifier Bob Panella Jr. was among the first round winners during that category's opening eliminations.

Bazemore, from Indianapolis, powered his Kendall Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car down the quarter-mile establishing a track record for elapsed time at 4.885 at 298.40. "To pick their (John Force and Tony Pedregon) pocket is the best case scenario." Bazemore said. "I know they were counting the Budweiser money. That's the enemy over there. Johnny and Tony, and they were qualified one and two and to come out in the last session and get the job done like that, it feels good."

New Orleans' Stevens drove to the top spot in his Pro Stock Valspar Pontiac Firebird, running a track record elapsed time of 6.888 at 198.44.

"We've had a couple of close calls." Stevens, 20, earning his first top qualifying position. "Warren (Johnson) has taken it away from us at the last second. We had everything running good this weekend."

Panella, from Stockton, Calif., took over the NHRA Winston Pro Stock Truck points lead defeating Chip Ippolito and Kim Smith in the first two rounds of eliminations aboard his Panella Trucking Chevrolet S-10. "It's way too early to celebrate taking over the points lead." Panella said. "(Brad) Jeter is not to far behind, Mike Coughlin is coming on. It's probably going to end up down in Pomona and I guess that's what it is all about."

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