MADISON, Ill. — official release — NHRA photo — John Force continued his march to a record 17th world championship title by racing to the Funny Car qualifying lead Friday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis.
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders at the third of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Force powered his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to a performance of 4.022 seconds at 319.52 mph to take the top spot over longtime rival Cruz Pedregon, who qualified second in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry with an identical time of 4.022 at a slower speed of 314.02 mph.
“We always know we can run better at night when conditions cool down,” said Force, the Funny Car series points leader. “I’m amazed that no one ran quicker. Jimmy (Prock, crew chief) said we’ll run .06 or .07, but he always runs quicker than he thinks, and it ran .02, so it’s exciting. It is my anniversary today, and I told my wife Laurie that I was going to run low e.t. tonight for her, and that’s her anniversary present; that and some roses.”
Force ended a seven-race final-round streak last weekend in Dallas and now must continue to work hard if he’s going to add another world championship trophy to his collection. Two family members – Robert Hight and Dallas winner Courtney Force – are making their own championship charges, along with Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals winner Matt Hagan, Alexis DeJoria, Ron Capps, and Tommy Johnson Jr., among others.
“We’re in the third race [of the playoffs] right now, and there are only three after this,” Force said. “This is when championships are won and lost. I’m going to get my head right, be focused, and race the way I taught my kids.”
Courtney Force qualified third with a 4.047 at 317.87 in her Traxxas Ford Mustang and was followed by Del Worsham in his DHL Toyota Camry with a 4.049 at 314.75. Johnson Jr. was fifth in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger, running 4.053 at 315.78.
Top Fuel rookie Crampton led his category with a 3.764 at 322.73 in his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster. Crampton, who won the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals to end the regular season, entered the Countdown playoffs with some momentum, but that was dashed after a pair of first-round losses in Charlotte and Dallas. He and his team showed with the effort today that they are ready to get back on track in the final four playoff races.
“We got our old race car back that we seem to have lost after Indianapolis,” Crampton said. “It would be pretty cool for me to, hopefully, hold on to that and get my first No. 1 qualifying position. That would be huge. It’s one of the things I haven’t been able to do this year. I’m pretty excited about how it ran tonight.”
Crampton qualified sixth in the opening session, but crew chief Aaron Brooks picked up the pace in the evening session.
“The conditions were pretty good,” said Crampton, one of the leading contenders for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award that recognizes the top performing rookie of the year. “A 3.76 was pretty strong, but I’m a little surprised no one went quicker than that with such great cars running behind me. It was a great racetrack with great conditions, and it worked well for us.”
J.R. Todd, who qualified No. 1 at the first two Countdown playoff races, was first in the opening session but ended up second overall after he posted a 3.779 at 325.37 in his Optima Batteries/Advance Auto Parts dragster in the second session. Tony Schumacher, who won the first two Countdown races and moved into a commanding lead in the points standings, qualified third in his U.S. Army dragster with a performance of 3.780 at 326.16.
Doug Kalitta, who led the points for most of the regular season, was fourth in his Mac Tools dragster with a 3.780 at 324.83, and defending world champ Shawn Langdon qualified fifth in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with a 3.780 at 322.11.
Enders-Stevens, the two-time defending winner of this event, took the top spot in Pro Stock with a quick run of 6.513 at 212.90 in her Mach 1 Global Services/Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.
“I love racing in St. Louis,” Enders-Stevens said. “I have always liked coming here. I’ve even had some good semifinal finishes here in Sportsman racing in some 100-car fields in Super Comp. I am not sure what it is (about this track), but there are just some tracks that are good to certain drivers. We are hoping for a three-peat this year. I am glad it is one of (my good tracks), and I am glad it is in the Countdown.”
After leading the points standings for much of the season, she now trails series leader Jason Line by more than three rounds with four races remaining in the season and knows that now is the time to make a move.
“These qualifying points are going to be like thousandths of a second in Pro Stock racing on Sunday, so every little point matters,” said Enders-Stevens, who earned a category-leading six of the qualifying bonus points today for being quickest in both sessions. “Especially coming into this race, we are only nine points behind third and 16 behind second. They all add up, and we are going to take it one round at a time and see what we can do.”
Shane Gray qualified second in his Gray Manufacturing Chevy Camaro with a 6.528 at 212.06 and was followed by series points leader Line, who posted a 6.529 at 212.19 in his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro. Vincent Nobile was fourth in his Mountain View Tire Camaro with a 6.529 at 212.36.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec was quickest on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a performance of 6.824 at 196.44.
If Krawiec’s performance holds through the final two qualifying sessions, it will be his category-leading ninth No. 1 of the season. Krawiec is in a tight battle for the championship with his teammate Andrew Hines, the current series points leader.
“We’re battling within our camp, but we’re also aware of what’s going on in the rest of the field,” Krawiec said. “Jerry [Savoie] has a quick Suzuki, and Hector [Arana Jr.] isn’t far behind. This deal is still wide open, but I’m pretty excited with the way our program is going. We have a great tune-up and have a great handle on my motorcycle. That’s what enables us to come to a track like this, unload from the truck, and make the best run of the day. Sometimes it’s an accident, but we also use all the data we have. That’s very valuable. We don’t pick our tune-up when we get here. We start working on that as soon as we leave the previous race.”
Jerry Savoie was second on his Savoie Alligator Farm Suzuki with a 6.852 at 196.19, followed by Dallas winner Hines, who posted a 6.863 at 194.63 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, and Hector Arana Jr., who qualified fourth on his Lucas Oil Buell with a 6.865 at 196.07.
Qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. Sunday’s eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m.