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Sat, 22 Sep 2001, 11:04 PM

Dixon, Force take No. 1 Qualifying Awards at AutoZone Nationals
Courtesy of NHRA Communications

Yates Takes Top Spot in Pro Stock but Complains of Chest Pains, Status for

MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship leader Larry Dixon earned his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season Saturday at the AutoZone Nationals.

John Force, Jim Yates and Mike Coughlin also will lead their respective categories into the $1.9 million race, the 19th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

He drove his Miller Lite dragster to a 4.581 second run at 314.17 mph to take the top spot. He will go for his sixth victory of the season when he faces Don Sosenka in Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations at Memphis Motorsports Park.

John Force
"The weather warmed up quite a bit and we had more race day type conditions today," said Dixon, who has never won at Memphis. "We got some good data today for tomorrow. Having (Dick) LaHaie (crew chief) calling the shots with these kind of conditions makes me feel good going into the race."

Force captured his fifth No. 1 qualifying award of the year in Funny Car, and the 105th of his career by clocking a track record performance of 4.824 at 303.16 in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Force, who is putting the finishing touches on his 11th NHRA championship and pursuing 100 career victories, will face Jim Epler in the first round.

Force, a three-time winner at Memphis and a five-time winner this season, hasn't won since Denver in July but likes his chances this weekend.

"This track is good in the heat," Force said. "We're not worried. This is a good old race track. After all that's happened in the last week, we're going to have a great race tomorrow. It's going to be exciting."

Jim Yates
Yates scored his second top qualifying effort of the season in Pro Stock by recording a 6.883 at 199.29 in his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am. However Yates' status for eliminations remains unclear after the two-time Winston champion complained of chest pains following the first of two qualifying attempts on Saturday. He was transported to Regional Medical Center at Memphis for evaluation. The result of his examination was not known at press time.

Coughlin earned his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season in Pro Stock Truck, with a track record run of 7.422 at 181.81 in his Jeg's Mail Order Chevy S-10. The defending event winner will face fellow S-10 driver Jerry Haas in the first round.

NHRA PIT NOTE: Sunday's pre-race ceremonies for the AutoZone Nationals will include a special tribute to those affected by last week's tragic events in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. As a part of the ceremonies, American Flags will be distributed to the first 10,000 spectators. A memorial parade will feature a variety of vehicles displaying the American Flag, including four police motorcycles, three police cruisers, all Safety Safari trucks and official NHRA vehicles, ambulances and tow trucks. The invocation by Racers For Christ Chaplain Larry Smiley will be followed by a 30-second moment of silence to remember the victims and honor the heroes who risked their lives to save others. A rendition of 'God Bless America' by Katheryn Fowler, a member of the Memphis Motorsports Park sales and marketing staff, will precede the singing of the National Anthem, which will be done by The Peace Keepers of the Memphis Police Dept. Meanwhile, a 40 by 60 American Flag will be unfurled by 60 NHRA pro category drivers.

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