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NHRA QUALIFYING: FORCE BRAKES BARRIER.

Byline: Steve Ramirez Staff Writer

POMONA - John Force has won 13 National Hot Rod Association Funny Car titles since 1990. He may be on his way to No. 14.

Force made quite a statement at Fairplex during the opening qualifying session of the 45th Carquest Nationals on Thursday. The Bell Gardens native, who became the first nitro coupe pilot to eclipse the 4.7-second barrier at Pomona Raceway last fall, opened the 2005 season with a track- record 4.697 pass at 329.26 mph. It ties him for the second quickest run in NHRA history. Force also ran 4.665 and 4.667 at Chicago in October and 4.698 at this track in November.

Teammate Eric Medlen is second at 4.753 with Cruz Pedregon third at 4.768. Other top qualifiers Thursday were Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel and Mike Edwards in Pro Stock.

``The conditions got better,'' Force said. ``We know we have a car that can run (4.60s). We weren't trying to do that. But it just went. It rattled the tires a little bit down at the other end but it came back.''

Thursday's session was not without its problems. Eighteen of the 20 Funny Car competitors were forced to run in the right lane when the electronic timing device malfunctioned in the left lane. The problem robbed rookie Robert Hight of a possible low 4.7 run. Earlier, Top Fuel veteran Doug Kalitta also had a possible 4.4 run wiped out when the clocks malfunctioned while he was side-by-side with Schumacher, who made a 4.487 pass.

Officials attempted to fix the problem after Hight's attempt. Qualifying was delayed for nearly and hour before they decided to run cars just down the right lane.

``Robert is disappointed,'' Force said of his teammate. ``We talked to (NHRA vice president of racing operations Graham) Light and Ray Alley (director Top Fuel and Funny Car racing) after the Kalitta dragster went out. We knew something could go sour.

``Robert asked me, 'Is there anything we can do?' I said, 'We could get mad and go to anger management.' You just have to take your hit. It's kind of sad because he's tried so hard. He wants to be in the show. But in my heart, he made the show and ran a (4.70).''

--Nervous start:Rookie Erica Enders was lukewarm about her first official pass in Pro Stock competition.

Enders, the fifth woman to compete in Pro Stock, qualified 16th with a sub-par 6.852 pass at 193.93 mph

``It was pretty lose between third and fourth gears,'' Enders said. I dropped it into fifth and it settled down. I was never more nervous. I'm just glad its over. The rest of the weekend should be much easier.''

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 11, 2005
Words:471
Previous Article:DECLAN'S MOON FAVORED EARLY.
Next Article:ENDERS IS JUST ONE OF THE GUYS FEMALE TRIES HAND IN PRO STOCK.


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