If National Hot Rod Association veteran owner-driver V Gaines were home at the Denver suburb of Lakewood, Colo., he would be dealing with that area's first snowfall of the season.
Instead, he's at Reading, Pa., where he took the Pro Stock class by storm Friday, registering a 6.544-second elapsed time on the Maple Grove Raceway quarter-mile in his Kendall Dodge Avenger to become the provisional No. 1 qualifier for the Auto-Plus Nationals.
If it holds through Saturday qualifying, Gaines will earn the first top-qualifying position of his 19-year Pro Stock career. And he'll be seeking his fourth overall victory and first since the 2008 Phoenix event.
"How about that? It's pretty amazing," the low-key 65-year-old racer said.
"Short times were really, really good. I shut it off at 6.40 [seconds] into the run. So I guess we're lucky it went as fast as it did," he said. "Shutting it off early will hurt the mile an hour more than it will the E.T. But it certainly had a little more left in it."
As for proof that this means his in-house engine program has arrived, Gaines said, "We've been improving steadily, since about Atlanta, and we just keep getting better and better every week -- obviously making mistakes, but certainly forward progress and having a lot of fun.
"We're in charge of our own destiny, and nothing's more rewarding than to have a run like this after the guys in the engine shop that madcap there -- they're working day and night and day and night -- and I got to tell you, we've got a lot of things coming. So I'm really excited about what the future holds for us."
He attributed his Friday success to his chassis and credited longtime crew chief Clyde West. He said, "Clyde and the crew . . . Are working on that chassis day and night. We're starting to learn what it wants and what it doesn't want. So we're getting closer."
Gaines, exhibiting his dry sense of humor, indicated he didn't think he had much of a chance to hold onto the No. 1 position through two rounds of Saturday qualifying. He said he knew what would seal the deal for him: "A rainstorm."
That isn't out of the question here, where rain already has cost the sportsman racers a couple of days of qualifying and some schedule abbreviations.
Gaines laughed at his assessment but said, "Obviously we've got a good combination. We all read the weather forecast, and it’s hard to say what it’s going to do. If the weather conditions change, it throws a whole new opportunity out there. So we'll go out there and see what we can do."
He said that a visit to Reading -- and this weekend in particular, with a 30-degree drop in temperature overnight predicted -- means "we change everything. There's a lot of guesswork involved, because we don't race in those conditions too often. It's a new area for us. We're not really a cold-weather race [team]. That's an area we're going to have to work on this winter. And we'll do so. We've been running really good in the hot weather. So we'll just work on it."
He said the fact his race shop/engine shop is located a mile high, in the Denver area, is as sound an explanation as any for that contrast.
"People say you can't have an engine shop in Denver, but you know, we're running pretty good. I think those are pretty impressive numbers," Gaines said. The mile-an-hour number would have been a little more impressive if I had kept that gas pedal all the way down to the end. Unfortunately we'll never know that."
Gaines spoiled longtime racing friend and points leader Allen Johnson's return to the top of the order. The Greeneville, Tenn., native took the early lead with a 6.544-second E.T. in his first attempt.
Dogging Johnson was Jason Line, who came here last October and set the track and the national elapsed-time record at 6.477 seconds. Neither -- no one -- drove that quickly Friday and Johnson conceded the top speed of the first session to Line, who clocked a 211.43 to Johnson's 211.39.
But Johnson got the three precious bonus points from Q1 with his 6.545-second E.T., while Line could muster an outstanding 6.553 but had to settle for the early No. 2 position.
Johnson, the Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger owner-driver, has led the Pro Stock field at seven of the past 11 races, including six in a row.
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