ENNIS, Texas - Weather forecasts calling for a chance of rain showers at the Texas Motorplex Saturday proved to be wrong, but the also-predicted cooler temperatures and cloud cover arrived right on schedule. The result was wholesale shuffling of the eliminations ladders during the final two qualifying sessions for Sunday's eliminations in the 3rd annual NHRA Castrol Nationals presented by O'Reilly Auto Parts.
Of the four Professional categories competing at the event, only the Top Fuel ladder survived more-or-less intact, Larry Dixon remaining atop the order with his 4.545-second elapsed time from Friday qualifying. Gary Scelzi and Joe Amato moved around Tony Schumacher, into the second and third spots in the order, with runs of 4.552 seconds at 322.58 mph and 4.567 seconds at 326.67 mph, respectively. Amato's speed is the second-fastest ever and will become a national record if Amato can run 323.41 mph or better Sunday. Schumacher fell to fourth in the order, failing to improve his 4.569 second elapsed time from Friday.
High drama accompanied both Saturday Top Fuel sessions, fan favorite Eddie Hill struggling and sliding further down the ladder with every pair of cars down the track. Hill failed to qualify, encountering problems on all four attempts at the site of his best-know achievement, becoming "first in the fours" at the Motorplex in 1988.
High drama also accompanied both Funny Car sessions Saturday, Winston points leader and three-time 1999 national event winner John Force not in the field after three sessions and within one run of breaking a 213-race qualifying streak. But not to worry, the "Untouchables" came through on his fourth attempt and Force vaulted into the number-one spot on the ladder with a 4.887 at 315.45. However, unlike other events in 1999, Force did not show a big edge over his competition, the next four spots on the ladder all clocked at 4.91 seconds - Ron Capps at 4.910, Cruz Pedregon at 4.912, Dean Skuza at 4.916, and Whit Bazemore at 4.917.
Warren and Kurt Johnson continued their domination of the Pro Stock category, Warren qualified number one at 6.904 and 200.22, Kurt 6.921 at 199.82. Mike Thomas and Mark Pawuk rounded out the top four, Thomas with a 6.933 at 198.54, Pawuk 6.944 at 198.36.
Greg Anderson and Mike Trumble made the most dramatic moves in the final round of qualifying, Anderson moving from the bottom half of the field into the sixth spot, and Trumble moving into the field, bumping Darrell Alderman.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, the cooler weather allowed Angelle Seeling to lower Antron Brown's one-day-old track record by 0.13 seconds, qualified atop the ladder at 7.263 seconds and 182.44 mph. Matt Hines also ran in the twenties, his best a 7.290 at 182.92. Brown held on for third at 7.343 and 179.21 mph, also carding a 183.03 mph speed to hold that half of the track record. John Smith rounded out the top four at 7.362 and 180.61.
The weather forecasts for Sunday sound ominous, with varying predictions of
rain. However, as shown today, predicting the weather in mid-Texas in the
Spring is a tricky business and the only way to know for sure what happens
will be to check again tomorrow afternoon.