Doug Kalitta, John Force, and Erica Enders led qualifying on the opening day of the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, where qualifying at the second event of the Countdown to the Championship sizzled under the lights at zMAX Dragway.
Kalitta, one of a number of teams who stayed at Maple Grove Raceway to test Monday after the Pop Boys NHRA Nationals, showed that that extra work paid off as he powered his Alan Jonson- and Brian Husen-tuned Mac Tools dragster to a 3.694 to lead the field. Kalitta also was low qualifier earlier this season when he ran a career-best 3.65 in Phoenix.
"We've just changed a bunch of stuff around before Indy," he said. "We've tried a couple of different things all year long, just trying to keep improving on what we're doing. And, and we really stumbled across some stuff that I think Alan and Brian were real happy with, so we left there super excited.
The conditions were perfect, really for what we're all out here doing. We had a lot of confidence going up there for that run and, I was just really happy that he ran when it ran. Obviously, we're getting down to the wire here and we're obviously a team that's trying to go rounds and stay in this Countdown, so that was a great effort for us on the first day."
Defending event champ Josh Hart parked the R+L Carriers dragster in the No. 2 spot with a 3.702, just a tick ahead of points leader Justin Ashley’s 3.703.
Brittany Force, who lost her points lead to Ashley in Reading, clocked a 3.712 that was probably much better as she crossed the finish line at just 297 mph after her engine soured before the stripe,
Clay Millican (3.721), Antron Brown (3.728), Billy Torrence (3.750), and Leah Pruett (3.758) round out the top half of the field.
John Force, who won the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway earlier this year from the No. 1 qualifying spot, is back in that spot after Friday’s lone pass, charting a 3.854 from his Peak Camaro, just .004-second off the track record he set in late April.
"First sad to come here without Bruton Smith," said Force of the man who built the track but passed away earlier this year. "I think all the racers feel that way and the friends that he's created, but we've got to move on and keep racing. He gaveus great race tracks for us to go out here and run numbers like this, but there's a stack of them behind me that can do the same thing.
"Danny [Hood, crew chief] said it was going to run a mid-.80, and he pretty good call. He's never a guy that just throws it out there. He said, 'If you can get down there and [stage] shallow,' and I bumped her and bumped her. It moved around a lot down past half-track, but I think it's the new steering we got. I was oversteering. I don't think that [will sty No.1] if we had these conditions again tomorrow because everyone will turn up the wick."
Force is followed in the field by 10 other drivers who ran in the three-second zone at the track that hosted the first three-second pass in 2011, and that guy who made that historic run, Matt Hagan, sits second with a 3.861.
Reading winner and points leader Robert Hight (3.864), world champ Ron Capps (3.866), Bob Tasca III (3.876), and Reading runner-up Tim Wilkerson (3.891) also ran in the 3.8-second zone.
Blake Alexander (3.908), Alexis DeJoria (3.919), Cruz Pedregon (3.937, J.R. Todd (3.950, and Jim Campbell (3.990) round out the three-second runners on opening day.
Points leader and Reading winner Enders continued to pile up the points in her “Drive For Five” championship chase, going low in the first session with a 6.513 in her Elite Performance Camaro, a solid two-hundredths up on U.S. Nationals winner Greg Anderson’s 6.533.
It definitely felt awesome," she said. "When I let the clutch out, you can kind of just tell when you're on a run. Greg and I were pretty equal to 60 feet. We just transitioned much better in the back half, but after looking at our clutch setup, we definitely had some more in that round. My crew chief said if we could fix everything that was wrong that run and go out tonight and make another run, it would go [6.]49.
"It's super significant to run that fast and have two hundredths on the No. 2 spot. All of these baby [qualifying bonus] points matter during the Countdown, so our goal coming in is to just accumulate as many points as we can."
Anderson’s KB Racing teammate Dallas Glenn sits third with a 6.537, just ahead of Enders’ Elite teammate, Aaron Stanfield, who clocked a 6.540 for the fourth spot.
Matt Hartford (6.543), Kyle Koretsky (6.544), Mason McGaha (6.571), and Chris McGaha (6.580) round out the quick eight.
A number of cars had trouble getting down the track for varying reasons, including too much traction – a wild, wheelstanding Larry Morgan, who’s 14th – and hard tire shake that affected No. 15 Camrie Caruso and bubble sitter (23.25) Cristian Cuadra.
Conspicuous by his absence in the top 16 is Bo Butner, the low qualifier last weekend in Reading, didn’t get to make a pass as his Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage Camaro was timed out after Butner reportedly had trouble seeing the staging lights due to sun glare.