MADISON, Ill. – official release — NHRA photo — Doug Kalitta raced to his sixth No. 1 Top Fuel qualifying position of the season Saturday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.
John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers at the third of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Kalitta powered his Mac Tools dragster to a performance of 3.758 seconds at 325.45 mph to take the top spot away from rookie Richie Crampton in the final qualifying session.
Kalitta, who led the series standings for most of the regular season, will try to reverse a recent trend of first round losses over the past three races when he opens eliminations against ageless drag racing legend Chris Karamesines.
“We kinda struggled in the first two Countdown races, but we know we can go rounds,” said Kalitta, a three-time winner at Gateway Motorsports Park, his last coming in 2004. “We’re real confident about that and now we need to go out there and prove it. We’re real excited for tomorrow. The car is running good, the track is holding up good, the lanes are both pretty even and the conditions are really good. I’m looking forward to it.”
Kalitta said from the cockpit his top qualifying effort was really smooth.
“It went down through there real nice and straight,” Kalitta said about the 42nd No. 1 of his career. “When they run real quick like that they are for some reason easier to drive. It was a great effort for the Mac Tools guys.”
Kalitta hopes to take advantage of his strong qualifying effort and convert it into a victory tomorrow so he can pull back into the Countdown to the Championship title conversation. He entered this race in third place in the points order, 107 back of series leader Tony Schumacher. He says given the category’s competitiveness, being the No. 1 qualifier is no guarantee for Sunday success.
“With this group in Top Fuel I don’t think you can relax regardless of who you are running against,” Kalitta said. “I run the Greek (Karamesines, in the first round) and you can’t take him lightly either. I’ve got beat by him too. We are planning on going to the final and getting a win tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes.”
Crampton’s Friday-best of 3.764 at 322.73 in his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster leaves him in second in the final qualifying order, while series leader Schumacher, who won the first two Countdown playoff races, will start third in his U.S. Army dragster with a 3.768 at 326.16. Kalitta’s teammate, J.R. Todd, who qualified No. 1 at the first two Countdown races, will start fourth in his Optima Batteries/Advance Auto Parts dragster with a 3.779 at 325.37.
In Funny Car, Force earned his sixth No. 1 of the season and 152nd of his career with his Friday run of 4.022 at 319.52 in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. Force will race category newcomer Brian Stewart in the opening round.
“I am going to watch him,” said Force about his first head-to-head meeting with the former nostalgia Funny Car driver. “It’s no different than racing (Matt) Hagan. I used to be an unknown, and every now and then I would whip somebody like (Kenny) Bernstein or The Snake (Don Prudhomme). Maybe I was just lucky. But luck is what it’s all about.”
Force, 65, who is seeking a record 17th world championship title, is still trying to get back on track following an uncharacteristic red-light start in the delayed Pep Boys Carolina Nationals final round at Dallas. He followed that effort with a second round loss the next day to Tommy Johnson Jr. during eliminations for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals.
“I choked it last week and gave away 20 points,” Force said. “I got 16 back here during qualifying and I owe that to my team. We are really focused. You can look at history and see where people made mistakes, dropped the ball and fumbled it and you don’t want to live with that. Last week it was just driver error and I screwed up. I did that years ago and made that mistake. There’s four races to go starting tomorrow. I am going to keep my act together and see if I can pull it off.”
Cruz Pedregon will start second in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry with a 4.022 at 314.02, while Robert Hight moved to third in his Auto Club Ford Mustang with a 4.040 at 316.15. Dallas winner Courtney Force qualified fourth in her Traxxas Ford Mustang with a 4.047 at 317.87.
Enders-Stevens will go for her third consecutive Pro Stock victory at this event from the top spot as she claimed her fourth No. 1 of the season and 10th of her career with 6.511 at 213.03 in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. She will face veteran driver Larry Morgan in the first round.
“We were trying to be consistent and have a nice race day setup for tomorrow,” Enders-Stevens said about her quickest pass of the weekend that came in her final attempt. “The conditions were definitely conducive to run that number. I am proud of my team for giving me a consistent race car and a fast one at that, so I am excited about tomorrow.”
She is hoping a three-peat at this event will move her back to the top of the points order. With her stellar qualifying effort where she was quickest in all four rounds she was able to trim away a bit of series leader Jason Line’s points advantage.
“We’ve had four really nice runs that we are proud of,” she said. “We’ve got a stout group of players out there and we’ve got our work cut out for us. Our side of the ladder is packed with all of the Gray Motorsports cars. I know I say this all the time, but we’re just going to focus on one round at a time. You can’t get ahead of yourself.”
Jeg Coughlin qualified second in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart with a 6.522 at 212.53 and Line qualified third in his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro with a 6.522 at 212.39.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec improved on his Friday time with a Saturday best of 6.810 at 194.60 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to claim his ninth No. 1 of the season and 23rd of his career. He will race Shawn Gann in the opener.
“Every run you make down the track you learn,” said Krawiec, a two-time winner at this event. “Sometimes you go backwards and sometimes you go forwards. We got after it a little harder (today) and we sort of overpowered the track (in the final session). On our first run of the day, we killed it. We picked up a lot early and powered to a 6.810 so I know I have a great motorcycle. Now we have our threshold of what the track will take. We have our window. We know where we need to be and that should make for some great racing.”
Jerry Savoie qualified second with a 6.838 at 197.16 on his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki, Hector Arana Jr. will start third on his Lucas Oil Buell with a 6.851 at 197.68 and series points leader Andrew Hines is fourth on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.863 at 195.22.