MORRISON, Colo. -- Defying broiling temperatures that kept most competitors' times down, Allen Johnson hit 197.65 mph in his Dodge Avenger on Saturday to become the top qualifier in the Pro Stock category at the NHRA Mopar Mile High Nationals.
Johnson, of Greeneville, Tenn., covered the straight-line, quarter-mile course at Bandimere Speedway in 6.978 seconds to lead the 16-car contingent qualifying for Sunday's elimination rounds.
Securing the No. 1 qualifier spot in Top Fuel dragsters not only put Del Worsham in the favorite's role, but helped him clinch a spot in the Countdown to the Championship later this year, giving him a chance for a title run.
Worsham withstood Saturday's rounds to remain the No. 1 Top Fuel qualifier on the 1,000-foot course with a time and speed of 3.933 seconds and 314.53 mph that was achieved the day before.
With trackside temperatures at Bandimere Speedway peaking at 118 degrees on Saturday, many competitors, especially in the Funny Car and Top Fuel categories lost time as their racers struggled to gain traction because of the slick, super-heated tires smoking and spinning on the asphalt.
There was a frightening moment in Funny Car qualifying, when the body of John Force's Ford Mustang was blown off the chassis shortly after the start and flipped in the air before crashing right-side up to the track. Force, strapped to his seat above the chassis, was not injured. He even hopped on a scooter and cruised over to the side of the track, where the body of the car was carried by his crew, to inspect the damage to the windshield, hood and side panels.
Leading in the points standings with 1,003 to 872 for Spencer Massey in second, Worsham will be going for his sixth win in 12 races on Sunday. His run of success is coming in his first season as a driver of Top Fuel dragsters after some 20 years racing in the Funny Car division.
The transition has gone so well, said Worsham, who drives for the Al-Anabi team, because of the people around him.
"They've worked incredibly hard and I've been fortunate to be part of a great team," he said. "The season continues to be amazing."
Despite clinching a Top 10 spot in the NHRA's Countdown, a six-race, title-deciding series that begins in Charlotte in mid-September, Worsham said he and his team have no intention of becoming complacent while competing in the five remaining regular season races.
Indeed, Worsham said, they'll push to secure the top seed, a position that would award them a 30-point bonus heading into the Countdown series.
"Every point is important," Worsham said. "I'd really like to get that No. 1 spot. That's our goal now."
Worsham has had a long, successful career but a season championship has eluded him, something he hopes he's on his way to remedying. His best previous finish came in 2004, when he won five races and was second in points while competing in the Funny Car division.
"To me, I feel like I haven't been that close before and I really believe this is my best opportunity yet for a championship," Worsham said.
Hector Arana was the top qualifier in Pro Stock motorcycle, hitting a speed of 185.69 mph and covering the quarter-mile in 7.240 seconds on his Buell motorcycle on Saturday.
Cruz Pedregon, who sped to a Bandimere Speedway record for Funny Cars when he reached 307.51 mph in his Toyota Camry in qualifying Friday night over a 1,000-foot course, retained his No. 1 qualifying mark.