After a solid opening day of qualifying and class eliminations for NHRA Lucas Oil Series racers, the volume knob of the Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals was turned on a notch on Thursday when racers in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car took the Lucas Oil Raceway quarter-mile for their first qualifying runs.
After two of three runs, Karen Stalba is the provisional leader in Top Alcohol Dragster while Sean Bellemeur leads the Top Alcohol Funny Car field. Stalba has two runner-up finishes in her career but is still seeking her first national event win. She may just get it this weekend based on the impressive performance of her AA Auto Salvage injected nitro dragster.
Stalba was the first driver to venture into the 5.1-second zone this weekend with a 5.188, 279.15 that currently occupies the top spot. Stalba currently leads a tough field that includes Jasmine Salinas, who is second with a 5.206 and Shawn Cowie, who is third after a 5.209 best in his supercharged entry.
With one qualifying run remaining, the bump is a 5.539 by Megan Smith and it's likley to get much quicker since the top eight drivers have already run in the 5.2s or better.
Two-time world champion Bellemeur wheeled the Tony Bartone-owned, Steve Boggs-tuned Hussey Performance Camaro to a 5.470, 268.49 to lead the tough Top Alcohol Funny Car field. Bellemeur has won 23 national events in his career, including the 2018 U.S. Nationals. He currently enjoys a slim lead over Annie Whiteley, who was particularly impressive on Thursday with back-to-back runs of 5.480 and 5.484 in her J&A Service Camaro.
Recent Brainer winner Kyle Smith is third with a 5.505 just a couple of thousandths of a second ahead of Chris Marshall’s 5.507. The bump spot is held by Aryon Rochon at 6.055 but it takes a run in the mid-5.5s in order to make the top half of the field.
While the Camping World NHRA Series pros don’t hit the track until Friday, Thursday’s packed schedule also included the opening rounds of qualifying in Comp Eliminator, Top Dragster presented by Vortech Supercharger, and Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers as well as the opening rounds of eliminations in Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street.
Andrew Holt is the leader in Comp Eliminator after driving his I/Dragster to a (-.702) 6.528. Right behind Holt is Bill Skillman, who figures to be one of the leading drivers in the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown. The Cobra Jet Mustang that Skillman races in Comp is very similar to the one he’ll be driving in Factory Stock. Competing in the FS/SM class, Skillman ran a (-.684) 7.806 to take the second spot over former world champions Frank Aragona Jr. and Bo Butner, who are third and fourth, respectively.
Texan Jim Thorpe kicked off Top Dragster qualifying with a respectable 6.196 and then hit the bullseye in the second session with a 6.102 to secure the top spot in the 32-car field. Thorp has a lot of company at the top of the qualifying chart including Wynette Hudgins (6.105) Steve Will (6.108) and Dane Ward.
There was also a heated battle for the top spot in Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers where Glenn Butcher took the top spot late in the final session with a 6.142 at 230.10 mph. Lester Johnson and Eric Burnett tied for the second spot with matching 6.185-second runs. Burnett was awarded the higher position thank to his faster speed, 238.76 vs.232.39.
Tomorrow, Sportsman racing action will take center stage during the day at Indy with the 36th annual JEGS Allstars event featuring team and individual competition in Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Comp, Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Top Dragster, and Top Sportsman.