Friday's AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals live photo gallery
Friday, September 28, 2012

News and views from the 
AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals
Last update: 8:45 p.m.
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  St. Louis is the fabled Gateway to the West, as symbolized by the Gateway Arch on the shores of the mighty Mississippi. Just across the river and visible from the viewing portals at the top of the arch is Gateway Motorsports Park, host of the inaugural AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.

NHRA originally competed at the track from 1997 to 2010, and after a one-year hiatus, the track returns to the schedule to host the third race of the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. The previous event was held during the summer.

Weather conditions for the weekend are bordering on perfect, and record performances are definitely a possibility.

The city of St. Louis welcomed back NHRA and vice versa with a Fan Fest in downtown Thursday night, featuring race cars on display and an autograph session with Full Throttle drivers Allen Johnson, Hector Arana Sr. and Jr., Erica Enders, Shawn Langdon, Bob Tasca III, Alexis DeJoria, Terry McMillen, TJ Zizzo, and Todd Lesenko.

Gateway Motorsports Park owner Curtis Francois, far right, and John McQueen, Gateway's manager of motorsports and sports marketing, second from right,  joined NHRA President Tom Compton and drivers Robert Hight, Allen Johnson, Tim Wilkerson, and Antron Brown at the pre-race press conference. (Jim Compton photo)

Sportsman time trials got underway this morning, and the Full Throttle teams will hit the track later today for the first of two Friday qualifying sessions at 3 p.m., followed by a second session at 5:30 p.m.

 The scales are a busy place this afternoon. Not only are the drivers in the Lucas Oil classes getting their cars certified after qualifying passes (above), but the weight-sensitive teams who run Pro Stock cars and Motorcycles are double-checking the weight of their machines prior to the first qualifying session to ensure compliance and performance.

Jason Line (right) holds the track e.t. record in Pro Stock at 6.571, set back in 2008. Greg Stanfield has the Pro Stock track speed record at 210.37 mph, set in 2010; both should fall today.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle track records are 6.860 by Andrew Hines (2009) and 194.88 mph by Michael Phillips (2010).

  Preparations are going on across the facility. (Above) Alexis DeJoria's Del Worsham-led Tequila Patrón Funny Car team is readying her for her debut at the facility. (Left) Meanwhile, ESPN2 reporter Gary Gerould, left, is doing his homework in the Pro Stock pits, checking in with former event champ Jeg Coughlin Jr.

[3:30 p.m.] As expected, with prime atmospheric conditions, the existing track records did not survive the first qualifying session in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Hector Arana Jr. (above) powered his Lucas Oil Buell to a 6.854 to lead the field, and Andrew Hines set top speed at 195.00 mph on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.

The round's last bonus point went to Hines' teammate, Eddie Krawiec, who ran 6.863 on his Harley, which is painted pink this weekend in support of Breast Cancer Awareness month.


[4 p.m.] Dubuque, Iowa, Pro Stock racer Mark Hogan lost his first shot at the track when his parachute deployed after the burnout and got wrapped up in his rear wheels.

Buddy Perkinson is subbing for Mark Martino behind the wheel of the Charter Communications Pro Stock GXP due to a family emergency. Perkinson acquitted himself well with an opening 6.547 that put him No. 5 in the field.

Twelve drivers bettered the incoming 6.571 track record in Pro Stock, led by Erica Enders, who ran 6.521 in her GK Motorsports Cavalier. Behind her are Allen Johnson and Vincent Nobile, both of whom ran 6.534.

NHRA's yearlong salute has been to the Nitro Generation, the 8,000-horsepower need for speed passed down from generation to generation, and it's in full force this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park.

[4:45 p.m.] Cruz Pedregon seized the No. 1 spot in Funny Car with a 4.100 in his Snap-on Toyota, breaking John Forces' 2010 track record of 4.103. Tim Wilkerson (4.115) and Johnny Gray (4.131) are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.

Local favorite Dale Creasy ran 4.242 to earn his TekPak Impala a provisional spot in the Funny Car  field.

[5:30 p.m.] (Above) Crew chief Mike Green had the magic touch when it came to Top Fuel, tuning Tony Schumacher to a track record 3.793; the old record was 3.815, set in 2010 by Cory McClenathan. (Below) Schumacher's teammate, Antron Brown, flying the Aaron's colors this weekend, qualified No. 3 with a 3.817 and was the fastest of many who bettered Schumacher's incoming track speed record of 318.62 with a 321.04. The one point that Brown earned for having the third-best time put him into the points lead ahead of Spencer Massey. Shawn Langdon's 3.799 in the Al-Anabi silver entry was the round's second-best time.

Pro Mod pilot Scotty Ray was alert and conscious after his '53 Corvette lost control and impacted the guardwall during the second round of qualifying. Ray was transported to St. Louis Hospital for further observation

[6:30 p.m.] The Hectors — Arana Sr. and Jr. — continue to lead the Pro Stock Motorcycle pack with their matching Lucas Oil Buells.

Hector Jr. had the best run of the round for the second straight session with an improved 6.826, and his father (left) was just a thousandth of a second back with the next-best run, a 6.827, at top speed of the meet, 196.56 mph.

Eddie Krawiec was the third-quickest racer for the second straight session with a 6.839 aboard his Harley-Davidson.

[7 p.m.] The track record battering continued in the second Pro Stock session, where three drivers ran 6.51s fronted by Jason Line's 6.514. Allen Johnson was second at 6.516 and Erica Enders third at 6.519.

NHRA Chief Starter Mark Lyle is helping ESPN get some interesting new angles for its coverage with a helmet cam. Qualifying coverage airs late Saturday and again Sunday, with final eliminations coverage 8 p.m. ET Sunday.

(Above) Evening at Gateway Motorsports Park provided a light and cloud show of its own. (Below) Warren Johnson, whose 97th and most recent win was at this event in 2010, missed the Pro Stock top 12 with a 6.559.

  [7:45 p.m.] Eight drivers ran in the 4.0s in the evening Funny Car session led by Jack Beckman’s Todd Smith-wrenched Valvoline NextGen Dodge (above), which uncorked a 4.049. John Force (4.060) and Matt Hagan (4.061) had the round’s next best runs.

Jeff Arend (right) broke the only one of the eight track records that didn’t fall in the first session when his Jon Oberhofer-guided DHL Toyota set top speed at 312.93; the incoming mark was 307.23 held by Force. 

Funny Car points leader Ron Capps went from out of the field to solidly in with a 4.083, which was good for No. 6.

[8:45 p.m.] Antron Brown (above) made the third-quickest pass in Top Fuel history, a 3.737, to lead the field midway through qualifying. His 326.79-mph speed is also top speed. Teammate Spencer Massey (below), who holds the quickest elapsed time, a 3.728 recorded earlier this year in Englishtown, is the No. 2 qualifier after a 3.752-second pass. Del Worsham's 3.735, recorded last year in Reading, is the second-quickest ever.