Edwards goes big time and it shows

The days when National Hot Rod Association drag racing teams could function with two people – say a father and son or two best friends – are long gone.

That is how Mike Edwards has enjoyed the sport for a long time. The low-key Oklahoma native, who started in the NHRA’s Pro Stock class in 1982, won races that way, even if only occasionally.

But this season, the 51-year-old is not just a mid-tier veteran. He’s a serious contender for the Pro Stock points title.

And he’s back at the site of his first NHRA professional victory – Pacific Raceways – at the 22nd Northwest Nationals in Kent.

No NHRA driver has been faster in qualifying all season, and the two-time Northwest Nationals champion (1996 and 1997) leads a tightly contested pack of Pro Stock drivers after day one.

Edwards posted the division’s top mark Friday – an elapsed time of 6.606 seconds – on the quarter-mile strip. If it holds up after two more qualifying sessions today, he will collect his eighth No. 1 spot.

“Bottom line, we’re making awesome runs,” Edwards said.

Larry Dixon, the Avon, Ind., driver in his first year with the Alan Johnson/Al-Anabi team, turned in the top time in Top Fuel (3.891 ET), and Detroit’s Tony Pedregon was one of the few in Funny Car to blister a cooling track in the evening session, going a class-best 4.182 ET. Both Top Fuel and Funny Car runs are being made over a 1,000-foot course because of safety considerations.

For Edwards, building one of Pro Stock’s powerhouse teams started in 2008. After so-so results the first year, he hired Nick Ferri, one of the sport’s top engine-builders for Victor Cagnazzi Racing, which serviced two-time defending points champion Jeg Coughlin, Jr.

Now, Edwards has reached the point of no return gunning for his own Pro Stock series title.

“When we started this whole program two years ago, me and Roger (Stull, trusted supporter) said we’re either going to get in it and do it the best way we know how, or get out,” Edwards said. “We jumped in, and we’re probably going to swim or drown. Right now, we’re swimming.”

Before a quarterfinal exit last week in Denver, Edwards had taken his 2008 GXP car to five consecutive finals, winning once.

Funny Car racers had trouble smoking their tires on Friday.

Finally, by the end of the session, Pedregon, in his 2009 Chevy Impala, took top spot from Bob Tasca III (4.228).

Dixon took fastest time in early Top Fuel qualifying on his final run, going 3.985 against Brandon Bernstein. He did the same thing after J.R. Todd and Morgan Lucas bettered his mark, ending the session with his slick 3.891 run.