His badly cut hands swathed in bandages, 12-time funny-car champion John Force showed no signs of letting go of his consecutive-events record Thursday by taking the provisional No. 1 starting position for the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway.
Driving in his 322nd consecutive National Hot Rod Assn. national event, the former truck driver from Yorba Linda covered the quarter-mile racing strip in his Castrol Mustang in 4.771 seconds at 321.65 mph.
Force cut both hands nine days ago when a crystal trophy he was holding splintered when he put it down. It took 40 stitches to sew up one slash.
"I know I told a lot of people I wouldn't be driving, but after spending three days in bed and getting pampered by my girls, I decided I better get back to work," a subdued Force said. "The cuts are on my palms, so I drove my hot-rod with my fingertips and it ran perfectly."
Right after Force qualified, newly crowned funny car champion Tony Pedregon and his chief challenger, Whit Bazemore, took a shot at Force's time. Both fell short, Bazemore running 4.802 and Pedregon 4.832.
Another qualifying session today and two on Saturday will set the 16-car pro fields for Sunday's eliminations.
Top-fuel driver Cory McClenathan gave the surprisingly large Thursday crowd a thrill when his parachutes failed to open at the end of a 327-mph run. He ran through the sand trap and into the netting before the 300-inch vehicle flipped on its side.
"Neither parachute came out, and I tried to save the car by turning it over to prevent damage to the nose," he said after climbing from the wreckage.
"It looks like we accomplished that, and the car didn't sustain too much damage."
Shirley Muldowney, in the final event of her 30-year career driving nitro dragsters, qualified seventh in 4.664 seconds at 320.20 mph and appeared safely in the field.
Top fuel's hottest driver, Tony Schumacher, took the No. 1 spot at 4.497 seconds and immediately said he expected the top speed to be 4.45 before Saturday's time trials were over. Schumacher has won three of the last six events.
Greg Anderson, who has already clinched the pro stock crown, was fastest with an impressive 4.786 clocking.
In the only pro category with the championship undecided, Craig Treble was a surprise leader in pro stock bike at 7.119 on his Suzuki. Geno Scali, who has a narrow lead over Angelle Savoie, was second. Savoie was seventh.