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Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Saturday Notebook

A warm day of qualifying action at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals allowed J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) to retain their spots atop their respective classes.
01 Sep 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Indy

Preview | Features | Results | Photos

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

aranajr.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (1:38 p.m.): Saturday’s warm temperatures and bright sunshine didn’t leave much room for improvement in Pro Stock Motorcycle but apparently no one told Hector Arana Jr. The first rider to run over 200-mph made a solid improvement over last night’s effort with a 6.847 that was good for low E.T. of the session and four qualifying bonus points. Arana Jr. also moved to second in the field behind Eddie Krawiec, the provisional leader. Krawiec was second-quickest with a 6.862 on his special edition Mello Yello Harley Street Rod and teammates Chip Ellis and Andrew Hines also collected bonus points. Matt Smith was expected to produce a big number but his EBR-bodied V-twin bogged off the starting line.

mcgaha2.jpgPRO STOCK Q2 (1:53 p.m.):  Tanner Gray’s 6.60 pass from last night went untouched during the second round of Pro Stock qualifying but there was plenty of shuffling in the rest of the field. The best run of the session came from Gray with a 6.624 and Chris McGaha (6.626), Greg Anderson (6.627), and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.637) are all in hot pursuit. McGaha’s run represented the biggest improvement since he did not get down the track last night. Reigning world champ Bo Butner also made a big move with a solid 6.647 from his KB-powered Camaro.

britt.JPGTOP FUEL Q2 (2:35 p.m.): Defending Mello Yello Top Fuel world champion Brittany Force earned four bonus points by being one of only a handful of dragsters to make it down the track successfully in the second session of qualifying. Her 3.836-second burst moved her up into the No. 10 position and put her a thousandth ahead of Billy Torrence with three sessions to improve in race day-like conditions. That will suit the Peak Coolant / Monster Energy team just fine – for now. Terry McMillen is still not in the field as Wayne Newby holds the bump spot on the back of a 4.567 run. That will not hold up… probably.

wilk.jpgFUNNY CAR Q2 (3:05 p.m.): Tim Wilkerson, who saw his lead over 11th place Bob Tasca III shrink by three points Friday when Tasca earned bonus points and he did not, got those three points back with a 4.098 that was second only to the 4.096 registered by Robert Hight. Otherwise it was a session fraught with frustration with mid-track tire smoke or top-end dropped cylinders creating problems and few improvements.  Points leader Courtney Force sits No. 11 and second-place Ron Capps is 12th after “improving” to a 4.38 (third best of the session) that got him off of the bump spot. The current 16th and final position in the field is held by Terry Haddock with a pedestrian 6.00.

ellis3.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (4:24 p.m.): A shift in wind direction and a bit of cloud cover helped improve performances during the third round of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying. Several riders bumped their way into the field including Karen Stoffer, who used a 6.941 to all but secure a spot in Monday’s 16-bike starting field. Chip Ellis, in his first race of the season, set the pace with a 6.831, 197.48 on his Harley Street Rod to move into the second spot. Provisional low qualifier Eddie Krawiec continued to collect bonus points with a second-best6.834 while Hector Arana Jr. was third best of the round with a 6.839 in a tightly-bunched field. Arana Jr. also has top speed of the event thus far with a 198.32 blast. With two runs remaining, Angie Smith sits on the bump with a 6.95 best from her Denso Spark Plugs Buell.

jeg_0.jpgPRO STOCK Q3 (4:42 p.m.): The Pro Stock field at Indy is incredibly close with just thousandths of a second separating the No. 2 through 9 qualifiers. Tanner Gray continues to lead following his 6.60 run from last night but every other driver in the top half of the field has run a 6.62. In Q3, Bo Butner collected four bonus points with a 6.621 run in his Butner Auto Sales Camaro while Gray (6.623), Chris McGaha (6.624), and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.627) were all close behind. In the battle for the top spot, Gray has earned enough points to make sure that his deficit to leader Greg Anderson will remain at one round or less going into Monday’s final eliminations.

millican.jpgTOP FUEL Q3 (5:23 p.m.): Clay Millican snagged four qualifying bonus points to move into the No. 2 spot with yet another 3-second hit. His 3.762-second pass put him just .006 second behind pole sitter Mike Salinas, who ran out of steam at around half track. Steve Torrence got off the bump spot and moved into 11th with a 3.826, but he didn’t have anything for his dad. Billy Torrence made another smooth run (3.822) and his third 3-second run of the weekend has the Capco Contractors dragster looking dangerous entering the last day of qualifying. Richie Crampton is on the bump spot and he’ll race Salinas for a spot in the Countdown if nothing changes on Sunday. There’s potential for high drama at the U.S. Nationals. 

courtney.jpgFUNNY CAR Q3 (5:55 p.m.): After struggling through the first two qualifying sessions, points leader and newly-crowned No. 1 Countdown seed Courtney Force raced to a 3.959 for the best run of the day but still well short of J.R. Todd’s field-leading 3.910 from Friday night. Tommy Johnson Jr. had the sessions only other three-second pass, a 3.974, with Kalitta Motorsports teammates Todd (4.001) and Shawn Langdon (4.019) also earning bonus points in the session. Jim Campbell sits on the bump spot with a 5.414 with two sessions to go; Terry Haddock and Justin Schriefer are outside of the field looking in.

E_Krawiec.jpgSATURDAY PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER EDDIE KRAWIEC: “I would say by past history tomorrow morning’s run could be pretty good. You saw what happened today. everyone got better, and it wasn’t because air got better. The wind just turned around. To us bike guys that makes a big difference. We’ve been picking away at tune-up, changing little things. We’re gonna try to more things tomorrow. We tried something today and for it to respond on last run is something. It showed us what it’s got. I ran almost 198-mph. I could maybe have gone a 6.81. I’ve got a good motorcycle underneath me. My Mello Yello Harley-Davidson is running fast. 

“To have my daughter up here with me, and my family here at the track is what makes this special. That’s the thing about NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing. When you do this, it’s done as a family. A lot of us are very close out here. We have all the people from our shop here. I hit my ticket bank this week. It’s what makes this even so special.”

T_Gray.JPGSATURDAY PRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER TANNER GRAY: “We did a lot of testing for Countdown early on. Now, we’re just trying to get a better handle on things. Today we went to a set-up that’s more like what we’d use on Monday. I moved the [clutch] linkage to see if I can get better on the Tree. I want to be prepared for when I have to up against someone, who is close to me. I think if anyone runs faster than 6.60 it will be tomorrow morning. I am confident coming out here. I’m not superstitious, but maybe a bit scary because I’m not sure how many No. 1 qualifiers have won this year. It’s not over yet, but it would be special to do it at Indy. 

“I don’t pay too much attention to what other teams are doing. I just try to focus on myself. I do the same thing week in and week out. Lately, I’ve been driving good. I just hope I didn’t speak too soon. Our goal is to stay consistent throughout the Countdown. We’ve all see someone have a bit bad luck and lose a championship. It happened to Steve [Torrence] last year. I definitely don’t want that to happen to me. Hey, that’s the name of the game; be good in the Countdown.”

J_Todd.JPGSATURDAY FUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER J.R. TODD: “I thought we’d go to work on our raceday setup, but then the conditions got really good for Q3 and I started worrying that our 3.91 wasn’t going to hold up. [Clay] Millican went 3.76 [in Top Fuel] and then Tommy Johnson went .97 and Courtney [Force] and Robert [Hight] still hadn’t run.

"The track is still a little tricky and that 3.95 that [Force] ran, I think she got all of that one. We just need to tune to the conditions so that Sunday and Monday we’ll know what to do. I’m happy with [4.00 in Q3]; we just missed it in Q2, which 95 percent of the teams probably did, too. The track was hot and slick and nasty but it really came around for Q3. We’ll make some changes and work on our raceday setup.”
 

FEATURES

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Mike Salinas got his first taste of drag racing at Fremont Dragstrip in Northern California where he and his family were regular attendees. That’s where the current pole sitter made a connection that eventually got him into drag racing forever. 

“I used to hang out at Fremont Dragstrip and when I was 9 years old, he picked me up and put me in his dragster,” said Salinas. “What brought me over to his pit to begin with was he used to put out these big king cobras around and when I was a kid these things were as big as me. So I was over there hanging out and he asked if I wanted to get in the dragster.

“So, I still do that today and put kids in my car because I never forget what got me started. I sat in that car and thought, ‘this is badass.’”

That helped push Salinas to do a tribute to the late Tom McEwen when a legend of the sport passed away. Salinas, who still lives in San Jose, attended the memorial for McEwen in Southern California and decided he wanted to do more to honor The Mongoo$e. 

“Let’s do a tribute car ourselves because I don’t have any sponsors or anything,” said Salinas. “The funny thing is, Kenny Youngblood and all these guys that are involved in the original are also involved with this car.”

Salinas hooked up with Robert Reel, who he described as instrumental to putting all the parts and pieces of the deal together. Reel helped connect all the dots, from Youngblood to The Snake to other artists to get the deal done. 

“We went to the memorial and then we went out to Chipotle together afterwards and Mike said that we had to do something, and I kind of went to work on it,” said Reel.

That’s how one of the best tribute cars ever done ended up at Lucas Oil Raceway on Friday night. That’s a job well done by the Scrappers Racing team. 

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If there is a nervous bone in Scott Palmer’s body, he isn’t showing it. That makes sense – and not just because it would be very hard to race with a compound fracture. The cool as you like Missouri-based racer is right in the thick of a Countdown to the Championship critical race but did not go testing ahead of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. 

Instead, he gave his team a chance to rest and recuperate before the Big Go. The CatSpot Top Fuel Dragster trailer is stocked with brand new engine blocks, rods, pistons and Palmer appears as confident as he has all year. Even good friend and collaborator Steve Torrence took notice of how spotless the pits looked before the first qualifying pass at the U.S. Nationals. 

“We worked for a couple of days and decided to roll in here fresh,” said Palmer. “We came here fresh. There was nothing for us to test. The car does what we want.” 

Palmer averages runs of 3.835 seconds and gets down the track 60.5 percent of the time. That consistency is what gives him a great chance of making the Countdown to the Championship for the second year in a row. He’s battling it out with Mike Salinas and Richie Crampton for, ostensibly, one spot. 

He’s currently the No. 3 qualifier with a 3.791 and with warm weather forecasted the rest of the weekend, that spot just might hold. Those qualifying points will come in handy when everything is tallied up. 

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Nobody can stake a claim to great performance quite like Steve Torrence over the past season and change. Since the start of the 2017 season, he has won 13 times. That’s 13 wins in 41 races (31.7 percent) and it’s put Torrence at the top of the leaderboard as we prepare to race in the Countdown to the Championship. Steve-O will enter the Countdown as the No. 1 seed for the second year in a row. 

After coming ever so close to scoring his first championship in 2017, Torrence geared up for a battle this time around. The Capco Contractors team brought out a brand-new race car and ran it all through the Western Swing and Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd. During those four races, the team learned everything they needed to know should it be needed during the Countdown – just like a backup car was needed following a wreck at the NHRA FallNationals last year. 

“We’ve got that thing loaded up in the trailer and it’s ready to go,” said Torrence. “If you ain’t got this stuff figured out stuff in 18 races, you’re not going to figure it out in two days.” 

He’s got reason to be confident. Entering Saturday’s competition, Torrence averaged a 3.791-second elapsed time and made it down the track 66.4 percent of the time. That’s the best in the field as far as full-time racers are concerned. If that wasn’t enough, Torrence is the fifth-best in the Top Fuel category when it comes to reaction time (.074).

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J.R. Todd and the “Yella Fellas” of the DHL team might be peaking at the right time. After going winless for three straight events –- Epping, Denver, and Sonoma –- they went to the second round in Seattle, to the semifinals in Brainerd (where they made their first three-second run since the Topeka event in May), and opened Indy qualifying in the No. 1 spot.

“We’re getting a handle on this thing at the right time of year,” he observed. “You try certain things throughout the year and you don’t know if they’re going to work. We went through the same thing last season and late in the summer we turned it around, and here we go again.

“Being No. 1 would be huge. I’ve never been the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car; we’ve been second a handful of times but we’ve never been a top-qualifying team, at least since I’ve been driving. When Del [Worsham] was driving this car they were ripping them off left and right and we’re kind of getting back to that because the tune-up changes they’re making are going back to those days.”

Todd came into the event tied for sixth place with Tommy Johnson Jr., but the four bonus points Friday gave him sole possession of the position and with points and a half, another solid eliminations day could further improve his spot.

“I like where we’re at points-wise,” he said. “I’m hoping we can win this again and move up in the points. We’re not all that far out of third place and my goal was to be in the top five.”

Asked how his life has changed in the 360-plus days since he joined the list of Indy champs, the Indiana resident beamed.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I hadn’t been back here until last week but it put a smile on my face and brings back great memories. The cool part is that everyone announces you as a U.S. Nationals champ. That has an awesome ring to it. Legends and current drivers remind you of it and they congratulate you on joining the club. It’s an awesome accomplishment and it’s my home race, where I grew up racing.”

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Bob Bode will never forget his first three-second pass. After running a lot of 4.0s over his decade-plus Funny Car career – including a career-best 4.018 two weeks ago in Brainerd - the popular Illinois-based privateer lit up the Lucas Oil Raceway scored with a 3.981 early in the Friday night qualifying.

Too bad it didn’t count.

Bode’s headers knicked one of the finish-line timing blocked, automatically disqualifying the pass, but even if he hadn’t done that, the run would have been tossed anyway as the car came up 10 pounds light at the scales, and both were consequences of the problems encountered by his qualifying mate, Justin Schiefer, who had problems with the safety system that prevented him from staging in a timely manner.

“We wanted to be mad, but could we be?” he said. “It was nothing we did wrong. Schriefer went long -– two minutes and 16 seconds, which is a good half-minute longer than we like –- and we burned an extra two gallons of fuel. At the hit the front end was light so the car was moving around and then, of course, it was light at the scales. I’m not mad at Justin; those things have happened to me, too. We have a great car now; it’s the best race car I’ve ever had.”

The new Mustang-bodied car comes courtesy of Tim Wilkerson, who also is providing tuning assistance, which had paid immediate dividends.

“Tim has been trying to help me for a long time, but just couldn’t make it work with my old car,” Bode explained. “He told me I should just buy one of his cars, and when he told me how much, it was like, ‘Well, I’m never doing that!’ but over the winter and spring we still couldn’t make our car work, so we bit the bullet and bought one of Tim’s cars. My wife, Alice, says it was worth every penny, but there sure were a lot of pennies!

“The good thing now is that our car is set up just like his car; he’ll make a change on his car and then come over and make the same change on our car, and every time he does that, it just goes. It’s all Tim; we could never be the car we are now without him.”

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Last year at this event, Justin Schriefer and his team could do no wrong, laying down five A to B passes: 4.11, 4.08, 4.06, 4.04, and a career best 4.03 that qualified him in one of the quickest fields in Funny Car history.

“Someone came over and told us that, by average alone, ours was the best average anyone had every made over five runs at Indy,” he remembers. “We were pretty excited about that.”

This year’s outing got off to a less than thrilling start when a safety system malfunction on the starting line rendered the throttle pedal useless, but he was able to stage the car and at least get on the qualifying sheets should weather prove to be a threat.

schriefer2.jpgThe event is just the second of the season for Schriefer, who earned his Funny Car license back in 2009 and has driven for the likes Dale Creasy Sr. and Paul Richards before becoming an owner/driver last season. His excavating and concrete business keeps him too busy to run more than a handful of events each year, but he’s proven himself capable when he does.

With veteran John “Bodie” Smith turning wrenches and backing from WestSide Tractor Sales (from which he buys heavy equipment for his business), Schreifer feels like he could make an impact on the field if he had the time to race. He’s also adding to his family in December and he and wife Rebecca are expecting their first child, a girl.

"I'd like to get funding to able to run more events, maybe just 4-5 to start, but I did as many as 11 when I was driving for Creasy," he said. "The car runs good and we know that when we're racing the big guys if they slip up we'll be right there. I love being a car owner; my guys are all like family and they're proud to be part of what we're doing."

Schriefer also has extra motivation to do well this year, to honor Creasy Sr., who is hospitalized after a recent stroke and whose birthday is Sunday.


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anderson2.jpgGreg Anderson has been racing long enough to understand that when it comes to a championship, every single point counts so he’s not about to yield his hard-fought lead to rival Tanner Gray without putting up a heck of a fight. Anderson entered the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals nursing a 20-point lead in the standings and with the unique points-and-a-half structure at Indy, he knows that Gray could potentially pass him during qualifying if he’s not careful. On Friday night, Anderson was second-quickest with a 6.621 to earn three bonus points and he needed them because Gray was the top qualifier and got four.

“For me, it's always exciting going to Indy – but it's even more so this year,” said Anderson. “For it to be points and a half every round, and Tanner [Gray] and I are about tied, whoever does the best job there is going to run away with the No. 1 seed into the playoffs. I think this year more than any other, that's going to go a long way. The last two years have been decided by less than one round, and I have zero reason to believe that wouldn't be the case this year. I really want to be the No. 1 seed. The stakes are higher than they've ever been in this class, and at the end of the year, whoever ends up being your world champion will be able to say that it was the hardest fought championship ever. It all starts this weekend at the US Nationals.”

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Asked to briefly describe Friday’s lone Pro Stock qualifying run, Bo Butner didn’t hesitate to call it “loose”. Butner ran a 6.638 that is currently good for the No. 7 spot in the field. Butner, the reigning world champ, entered Indy as the No. 10 seed in the Countdown to the Championship standings but he doesn’t have to worry about missing the playoffs since he officially locked up his spot just by making a qualifying run at Indy.

“I was second-quickest in the first sixty-feet but it was really loose in third and fourth gear,” said Butner. “I wasn’t as bad as Chris McGaha behind me but we definitely gave up a few hundredths. I think I would have been about fourth if we’d have made a better run.”

Butner admits that his title defense has not been all that he had hoped, but he also understands that the season is far from over and that things can change in a hurry, especially in the unpredictable Pro Stock class.

“I get it; it’s really hard to win a championship when you start in tenth but it’s not impossible,” said Butner. “I think it’s been done before. Really, you just try to concentrate on the last six races and see if you can win the first one or two and then go from there. I think our car is better now than it was at mid-season so we’ve got that going for us. Counting this race, there are seven left and I know we’ve got what it takes to win a few of them. That’s my goal.”

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Chris McGaha did not make the pass he wanted to in the first qualifying session at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Despite winning earlier this season, the Texan is near the bottom of the average elapsed time leader board (6.592) and is currently qualified 10th with a 6.65. 

“We’ve really had a hard time keeping the car straight this season and I’m not sure why,” said McGaha. “You’ve gotta race the track. All you have to do is keep adjusting to it, though and race each session. We’ve had power all year, that really hasn’t been the problem.”

That, in some respects, shows up in the 75 percent success rate McGaha gets down the track. That’s better than the class average (64.9) but is not up to snuff when you compare it to the other heavy hitters in the category. Greg Anderson leads the class with an 80.8 and Drew Skillman and Bo Butner are also very consistent with 79 percent marks. 

So, all that to say it’s not easy to manage the tremendous amount of power McGaha is making right now. He’s going to enter the Countdown to the Championship somewhere between seventh and 10th place, making it possible (but difficult) for him to make a run at his first Pro Stock title. If he wants to chase that in earnest, he’ll need to get everything humming the way it was when he won in Phoenix – the second race of the season. 

He’s won more recently than that, but that messy win in Epping had a lot more to with the grit and grind that embodies McGaha as a racer than it likely will embody the Texan as a champion. 

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As soon as he arrived home from the recent Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Hector Arana Sr. went to work rebuilding the engines on his two EBR V-twin Pro Stock Motorcycles. Arana Sr. took the team’s best two engines, tore them down and completely rebuilt them in anticipation of the sport’s biggest event. Positive results on a dyno are one thing, but results on the race track are what matter most. Hector Jr. was third-quickest on Friday with a 6.88 and Hector Sr. was 14th quickest with a 6.98. Both Arana’s were at the top of the speed charts at over 197-mph.

“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” said Arana Sr. “When they handed me my time slip I was really disappointed with the E.T. The bike bogged and it was really slow in the first sixty-feet but then I looked at the eighth-mile speed and the quarter-mile speed and I knew my engines were very good. Junior made a good run so he’s fine and I just need to work on my bike; on the clutch and I think I can run right with him. I had been pretty frustrated with the way my bike was running but that was really good. I’m pretty happy now.”

Arana Sr. is one of the riders fighting for a spot in the Countdown to the Championship. Arana Sr. entered Indy as the tenth-ranked rider in the class but he’s just ten points ahead of 11th place Jimmy Underdahl. He also has to fend off Steve Johnson and Joey Gladstone, who are fighting to make the playoffs.

“I know I’m going to need to win a round or two on Monday,” said Arana. “This isn’t going to be easy but if the bike runs the way it should we’ll be just fine.”

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pollacheck.jpgLooking back to the beginning of the season, Scotty Pollacheck remembers pre-season testing when his Suzuki Extended Protection Suzuki was one of the quickest bikes in the class and he entered the Gainesville season-opener with a lot of optimism. That was then. This is now. Pollacheck, generally regarded as one of the most talented riders in the class, is not only winless, but he’s also seventh in the points standings and has yet to lock up his spot in the Countdown to the Championship.

“At the beginning of the season, we went to Orlando to test and we ran Gainesville with exactly the same combination that we ran last Fall in Pomona and I ran 6.78,” said Pollacheck. “Then we went to Charlotte and blew up an engine and it hasn’t been the same since. It’s very frustrating. We’ve got some mechanical issues and we just haven’t sorted them out. That’s all I can say about it.”

On Friday night at Indy, Pollaceck made what he would consider a decent run and he ended up 13th with a 6.962 and his speed of 190.94 is the slowest of any of the 16 provisional qualifiers.

“Our numbers were a bit better to half-track than they were in Brainerd, but we still didn’t make a great run,” said Pollacheck. “We can do better so I’m not ruling out us qualifying in the top half of the field but I’d need to make a run that’s almost perfect. Right now, I just want to get locked into the Countdown and then go from there. It’s frustrating but it’s not just us. All the Suzuki teams are having issues. In Brainerd, only one Suzuki got a round win and that was Jerry Savoie. He beat another Suzuki [Steve Johnson] in the first round.”

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On Thursday night at Indy, Joey Gladstone provided undisputable evidence that he’s one of NHRA’s most fit drivers by performing a standing backflip. A former gymnast, Gladstone said he learned to perform the maneuver when he was 12 but hasn’t practiced much in the past few years.

“I’m surprised that I can still do it,” said Gladstone. “I’m not in the same shape as I used to be but I guess I’m not too bad.”

Gladstone will probably be doing more backflips if he can somehow sneak his way into the top ten. Gladstone entered Indy in the 13th spot and needs to pick up at least 36-points on tenth-place Hector Arana Sr. in order to have a chance to race for the Mello Yello championship. To that end, he recently left Greg Underdahl and Gary Stoffer’s Suzuki team and joined the Libery Racing team. Gladstone is riding Cory Reed’s Buell V-twin while Reed waits for his new bike to be finished.

Gladstone’s first run was a respectable 6.941 that is tenth-quickest after one of five runs.

“I raced a V-twin in 2012 when I rode a couple of races for Matt Smith and I got a chance to test [Liberty Teammate] Angelle Sampey’s bike earlier this year so I’m not too unfamiliar with these bikes,” said Gladstone. “That being said, they are a lot different than riding a Suzuki. They make a lot more torque and you’ve got to be ready for that. I won’t say that one brand is necessarily harder to ride than another, but they are just different. I only had a 1.10 sixty-foot time on that first run so I know there is a lot left.”

PHOTOS

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The SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown kicked off this morning with the first qualifying sessions for a fleet of Chevrolets, Fords, and Dodges.

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NHRA’s next generation of racers, competitors in the Summit Racing NHRA Jr. drag Racing League, have their own display in the pits.

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NHRA’s world-famous open pits allow fans to get up close and persona; with the stars of the sport, including Indy’s most prolific Top Fuel champ, 10-time winner Tony Schumacher.

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The NHRA Legends Tour rolled into Indy with multiple appearances by heroes of the sport, including this major autograph session in the Top Eliminator Club.

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From left, Richard Tharp, Ed McCulloch, and Don Garlits – all of whom have won U.S. Nationals crowns – were joined by Linda Vaughn at the autograph session.

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Legendary rivals Garlits and Shirley Muldowney, who raced one another in the 1975 Top Fuel final (Garlits won) also were part of the traditional autograph session at the Mello Yello Powerhouse in the pits.

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Lucas Oil Raceway is packed with fans enjoying the second day of qualifying at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

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The view from the Top Eliminator Club grandstands shows the grandness of the fabled facility.

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Veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Chip Ellis, runner-up at this event in 2015, rolls out below the famed pedestrian bridge that spans the racetrack behind the starting line.

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Pro Stock pilot Alex Laughlin readies his Chevy-powered Dodge Dart hybrid Pro Stocker for his second qualifying pass.

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Richie Crampton debuted new Craftsman colors on the Kalitta Racing dragster that he will run through the balance of the season.

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Crampton’s teammate, Doug Kalitta, also unveiled a new look, King of the Shop, on the Mac Tools dragster.

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Veteran Pat Dakin’s woes are obvious from the flying pieces as his dragster began chewing up the blower belt just off of the starting line.

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T.J. Zizzo and the Rust-Oleum  Top Fuel team get lined up and ready for a blast down the famed Indy dragstrip.

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Among the many added features of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Naitonals is a special eight car exhibition featuring 800-plus cubic inch Mountain Motor Pro Stock cars. John Montecalvo’s Camaro (above) and Elijah Morton’s 220-mph Mustang (below) were a big hit with the Indy fans. 
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PREVIEW

M_Salinas.jpgNobody made a better run on Friday night than Mike Salinas, the current 10th place racer in Top Fuel and the man who will very likely enter Monday morning as the pole sitter at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Salinas was less bullish about his chances of his 3.756-second run holding up over the next four qualifying passes, but with warm weather expected on Saturday and Sunday, it seems likely the San Jose, Calif. native will earn his first career pole position. That doesn’t mean racers like Steve Torrence, currently 15th, won’t make big moves Saturday to get back into the swing of things. The same goes for those fighting for their Countdown lives like Richie Crampton. 

J_Todd.JPGDefending event champ J.R. Todd once again was the focus of attention in the media center, this time for being the low qualifier after Friday night’s “hero” session where his Jon Oberhofer- and Todd Smith-tuned DHL Toyota delivered a 3.91, good for the overnight provisional qualifying lead. With temperatures expected to only get warmer and no more night qualifying sessions on the docket, there’s every reason to believe it will hold up for the top spot, which would be the first in the class for the former Top Fuel pilot. Bob Tasca III, battling for his playoff life, was an impressive No. 2 in his Bob Glidden tribute entry and would love to continue earning bonus points – he and crew chief Eric Lane are the sixth-most prolific bonus points earners this season – to better his chances.

T_Gray.JPGThe battle for the top seed in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs between second-place Tanner Gray and points leader Greg Anderson saw those two flip-flop, at least in the qualifying order where Gray was No. 1 Friday at 6.603, putting an impressive gap on No 2 Anderson’s 6.621 to chop a point from Anderson’s lead, which now stands at 19. Behind six-time winner Anderson is 2015 event champ Erica Enders with a 6.623 with young guns Vincent Nobile (6628) and Alex Laughlin (6.630) nipping at her heels.

E_Krawiec.jpgEddie Krawiec (6.825) ran .025 second quicker than his nearest competitor on the specialty Mello Yello championship bike and came within .49 mph of running top speed of the session. He’s not chasing points, but the Harley-Davidson crew must be pleased with the performance on his bike. That means there’s room for the other two Harleys on property, as Chip Ellis (6.856) and Andrew Hines (6.866) ran a bit behind their teammate. Matt Smith is in the No. 2 position on his new EBR, which is freshly painted and all too capable of taking home a Wally this weekend.