The first round of professional qualifying is in the books at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals and Justin Ashley, Robert Hight, Erica Enders, and Eddie Krawiec are the leaders with four rounds to go.
Fresh off of announcing a new multi-year sponsorship deal, Ashley zipped to a 3.716 aboard his Mike Green-wrenched Phillips Connect dragster, running alongside world champ Steve Torrence’s second-ranked 3.725 in what was a preview for Saturday’s Pep Boys Allstar Callout semifinal.
"You always want to come out hot and go A to B and make a good run the first time down the track,” said Ashley, “but it is a special week as far as on and off the racetrack we announced our Phillips Connect extension to be able to follow that up with No. 1 qualifier, at least provisionally, is special.
“I can't get away from that guy [Torrence]. It's amazing. Even during qualifying, but you can't really take anything from qualifying until it's race day, but we feel good about how we ran, but it was a good race, right? It's always nice to see the win light, no matter what, even during qualifying. Something about that feels good, feels right. But nonetheless, once tomorrow cones, once it's around one of the shootout, all that's behind him is behind us and time to put our best foot forward.”
Two-time Indy Top Alcohol dragster winner Josh Hart and Ron Douglas-tuned Brakes for Breasts/TechNet dragster sit third with a 3.726, just a tick ahead of Mike Salinas’ 3.727.
Billy Torrence (3.734), 2019 Indy champ Doug Kalitta (3.753), 2020 winner Shawn Langdon (3.754), and Clay Millican (3.761) in the new Rick Ware Racing entry round out the top eight.
Krista Baldwin sits on the bump spot with a 3.866, just behind class rookie Will Smith, making his Pro debut in former Indy Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon’s dragster.
Points leader Brittany Force had a disappointing first pass, shutting down to a 4.739 that has her ranked 19th in the 25-car field.
Three-time U.S. Nationals champ and current points leader Hight jumped to the top of the pack in Funny Car with the Auto Club Camaro, dashing to a 3.870 to grab the early lead after one of five qualifying sessions.
"This race is like a marathon, and you have to take it in stride, one day at a time, one run at a time," said Hight. "And, A plus to the Auto Club team tonight; they did an amazing job at a brand new Camaro body on it, and it went well.
"But, you know, the forecast keeps changing all weekend long. We're thinking, 'OK, we're gonna get one shot for No. 1.' Well, you look at the conditions and the forecast now we could see runs like this all week, which is going to make it exciting for the fans. Normally we have a lot of heat and tricky runs here at Indy, but when I see that forecast, I don't think we're gonna have that. So it's one down, you know, four to go."
Bob Tasca III contused his recent hot streak by ranking his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford in the No. 2 spot with a 3.878, just a few ticks ahead of 16-time world champ and five-tine Indy John Force’s 3.881.
Blake Alexander leads a parade of drivers in the 3.90s with a 3.905, followed by Cruz Pedregon (3.906), J.R. Todd (3.927), Tim Wilkerson (3.935), and Matt Hagan (3.938) to round out the top eight.
Alexis DeJoria (3.953), Paul Lee (3.963), and Bobby Bode III (3.974) round out the 11 drivers to run below four seconds. Terry Haddock sits on the bump with a 5.063.
Conspicuous by his absence in the qualified field is reigning world champ Ron Capps, whose 3.910 pass was invalidated when he scrubbed the guardwall before the finish line.
Championship leader Enders leads the Pro Stock field after day one at Indy, but her advantage over the rest of the field is minute. Enders, the defending Indy champ, drove her Melling/Elite Camaro to a 6.598, matching the elapsed time previously run by Dallas Glenn. Enders will head into Saturday as the provisional low qualifier due to her faster top speed, 209.49 mph to Glenn’s 208.01.
Enders has so far dominated the 2022 season with six wins in 12 events and she comes to Indy chasing her fifth Camping World NHRA Pro Stock world championship. Enders has also been solid in qualifying, taking the top spot in Pomona, Norwalk, and Sonoma.
“It’s definitely exciting especially after winning the last two races here,” said Enders. “We’ve had a lot of success here and I’m looking for that trend to continue. That said, there is a lot of tough competition here but we recently brought out a new motor and it showed a lot of promise in testing. I hope that run stays No. 1 but either way, we’ve got a great race car to bring into eliminations on Monday.
“After the way we lost the championship last year, our mindset was to come out swinging this year and I think we’ve done that. In Pomona, I won the 900th Pro Stock race and 10 of the first 12 races have gone to Elite. I’m also glad we have five qualifying runs here which is awesome because we’ve has some races where we’ve only gotten three.”
While the Elite team is currently in the top spot, the rival KB team has reason for optimism as their drivers currently occupy the second, third, and fourth spots with Glenn followed closely by Greg Anderson (6.599) and Deric Kramer (6.600).
There is still a long way to go, but defending Indy winner Krawiec must certainly feel good about his chances to earn career win No. 50 after making the quickest run during Friday’s lone Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying session. The four-time world champ rode his Vance & Hines Suzuki to a 6.826, 198.79 to lead the large 19-bike field. Krawiec has been to the final round of the last two events and finished as a runner-up to Joey Gladstone in both of them, can secure the 51st low qualifier award of his career if he can hold on through four more qualifying runs on Saturday and Sunday.
“It was good to come off the truck like that and make a good run. Now we can go into test mode and use the next four runs to learn what to do for Monday,” said Krawiec. “At this race we get five qualifying runs which is great because we those extra two go a long way. I try to look long term and want to be ready for Monday.”
“I’ve been in the final for the last two races but Joey [Gladstone] has been in the other lane but I do think we’re starting to turn the corner with our Suzuki program. I’ve got about 40-50 runs on this bike and I feel comfortable. After a while you get some muscle memory and you know what to do. This year, the Suzuki was new to me. The last time I rode a Suzuki at this race was 2003.”
Angie Smith is the provisional No. 2 qualifier following a 6.859 on her Denso Buell while two-time Indy winner Jerry Savoie is off to a fast start on his White Alligator Suzuki following a 6.882 on Friday evening. Gladstone, the championship leader, slowed to a 7.01 aboard his Suzuki, which is backed by Fatheadz Eyewear this weekend.