Shawn Langdon raced to the qualifying lead in the ultra-competitive Top Fuel category Friday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.
Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders at the third of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Langdon powered his Al-Anabi Racing dragster to the top spot on the final run of the day with a performance of 3.761 seconds at 326.40 mph and regained sole possession of the series points lead after entering the race tied with Dallas winner Doug Kalitta. Langdon, who received six bonus points for leading both qualifying sessions, is now six points ahead of both Kalitta and Spencer Massey, who are tied for second place.
“Right now, we are just focusing on racing smart,” Langdon said. “Those qualifying bonus points are huge, and we’re trying to get that lead back. We were able to accomplish that in both sessions and maintain the No. 1 qualifying position. We were able to make two strong runs and get those 'little' qualifying bonus points, and everything adds up in the end.”
Seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher was second in his U.S. Army dragster with a 3.782 at a track record speed of 327.74, while Clay Millican was third with a 3.786 at 322.27 in his Parts-Plus dragster. Kalitta sits 14th overall after his Mac Tools dragster team struggled on their two runs, posting a best of 4.447 at 180.14.
Funny Car points leader Hagan set both ends of the track record with a 4.001 at 320.20 in his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger to take the qualifying lead in his category. Like Langdon, he claimed six bonus points for leading both sessions.
“That’s six points for us that we picked up there in qualifying so far, and we need to try and pick up six more tomorrow and just keep running smart and running hard and being methodical is what [crew chief] Dickie Venables has been this whole season,” Hagan said. “I’m just in there having fun. I’m just grinning from ear to ear. It’s just a lot of fun for me.”
Robert Hight was second with a 4.022 at 315.64 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang and was followed by Dallas runner-up John Force, who qualified third with a 4.023 at 311.92 in his Castrol GTX Mustang.
In Pro Stock, defending series world champ Johnson drove his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to the qualifying lead with a performance of 6.512 at 212.29. Johnson is hoping to reverse his start to the Countdown, which has included a pair of second-round losses, and get back on track to defending his series crown.
“We’ve been missing the 'little' [qualifying] points lately, but we hit on something last weekend, and I think that for the rest of the Countdown, our combination is going to be bad to the bone,” Johnson said.
“We’re not a dark horse,” he continued. “We are three rounds back, and things can turn around quickly. Win two or three in a row, and we’re going to be in good shape. I think you’re going to see all three of our [team cars] in the mix. There is going to be five or six of us in the mix for the championship.”
Dodge Avengers claimed the top three spots. V. Gaines was second in his Kendall Oil Avenger with a 6.526 at 211.96, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. was third with a 6.527 at 211.20 in his JEGS.com/Mopar Avenger. Series leader Jason Line qualified 10th in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro with a performance of 6.555 at 211.83.
Ray, a two-time winner this season who is fifth in points, rode his Sovereign-Star Racing Buell to a 6.844 at 195.79 to lead the Pro Stock Motorcycle category.
“The conditions were similar to what we had in New Hampshire earlier this year, so we just put in the Q3 map from that race, and it worked,” Ray said. “We figured that we’d see some 6.8s, so when I ran 6.84, we knew that was a good baseline and we could hold our heads high.”
Hector Arana Sr. was second with a 6.845 at 195.87 on his Lucas Oil Buell and was followed by No. 2 in the points standings Matt Smith, who sits third on his Viper Motorcycle Co. Buell with a 6.850 at 195.96. Series leader Hector Arana Jr. is fourth on his Lucas Oil Buell with a 6.873 at 193.52.
Qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Sunday’s eliminations start at 11 a.m.
Jim Laurita raced to the qualifying lead in just his second NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series start.
Laurita, who made his NHRA Pro Mod debut at the last event, in Charlotte, drove his nitrous-powered ’68 Chevy Camaro to the qualifying lead with a performance of 5.854 seconds at 245.23 mph.
Kenny Lang was second with a 5.908 at 246.21 in his Summit Racing Corvette, and Mike Castellana was third in his Al-Anabi Racing Camaro with a 5.914 at 241.02.
Series points leader Rickie Smith qualified fifth in his late-model Camaro with a 5.924 at 243.68, followed by the touring series’ most recent winner, Von Smith, who was sixth with a 5.930 at 242.32 in his Dr. Moon’s Rage/Al-Anabi Racing ’69 Camaro.
In a scary moment during the second qualifying session, Swedish driver Adam Flamholc's supercharged Camaro went out of control near the finish line and impacted the guardwall. He was reportedly alert and responding to commands as he was transported to St. Louis University Trauma Center.
The final Pro Mod qualifying session is Saturday at 1:45 p.m. and will be followed by the first round of eliminations, which is scheduled for 4 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations will continue Sunday at approximately 2:30 p.m.