Under the lights at zMax Dragway on Friday night, Josh Hart lit up the scoreboards with a 3.684 in his R+L Carriers dragster to claim the provisional pole position for the Circle K NHRA Four Wide Nationals. Alexis DeJoria, Cristian Cuadra, and Gaige Herrera also lead in Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively.
Hart, winner earlier this season of the Pep Boys All-Star Callout in Gainesville, broke a three-race string of first-round losses with a final-quad appearance in Las Vegas two weeks ago and now is halfway to what would be his first career No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel after his Ron Douglas-tuned R+L Carriers dragster raced to a 3.689.
"I think the team deserves it," said Hart. "Ron Douglas and the crew always give me a great car and it's nice to finally hit that milestone where we can demonstrate what we're really capable of. It was never a car problem. It was a driver problem. I'll openly admit that. I can make a bunch of excuses, but I just didn't do it.
"We had the winning car in Gainesville [but didn't win]. I learned a lot last race in Vegas. I had a lot of distractions, and I had some personal injury issues that we were working through. You watch these guys busting their butts every single weekend, and we've got to just muscle through it and do our job and focus. That's where I find myself -- just focusing harder and stronger than normal."
Austin Prock had the qualifying lead until Hart’s last-pass heroics after a 3.707 while first-session leader Steve Torrence improved on his opening lap of 3.710 with a 3.708 but dropped to third.
The top eight is extremely close and tight with Clay Millican (3.725), Shawn Langdon (3.727), Mike Salinas (3.728), Brittany Force (3.730), and Justin Ashley (3.733) holding down those spots.
DeJoria put her Del Worsham- and Nicky Boninante Jr.-tuned Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota on the pole with a 3.876 and with Saturday’s weather expected to heat up could be on track for her seventh career No. 1 and her first No. 1 qualifier since the 2021 fall event in Las Vegas. The car has been the No. 2 qualifier the last three races.
"I have yet to win a four-wide, so it's exciting to be No. 1 right now," she said. "Hopefully it stays. I think it will tomorrow doesn't look like it's gonna be that much cooler. So, God willing, we will stay in the No. 1 position and it go some rounds on Sunday, and hopefully make it to the winner's circle, but I can't think that far ahead.
"We're really excited about how we're running, this is the best start to our season. Our car is just so consistent the last few races. It's just been getting down the track when a lot of cars haven't been getting down the track and getting down there quickly. So it's just pretty much up to me now."
Cruz Pedregon, low qualifier at the last two races, just missed a third time at the top with a 3.879 in the Snap-on Tools Dodge for the No. 2 spot. Robert Hight, the first session leader with a 3.932 picked up as well but his improved 3.894 only took the Flav-R-Pac Camaro to No. 3.
Points leader Matt Hagan’s special edition Operation Healing Force Dodge was heavily damaged in Q1 after the parachutes failed to deploy after a 3.94 pass. The team pulled out the limefire-flavored Dodge Power Brokers Charger with which they started the year for Q2 but didn’t; make it down the track at the end of a long day of delays and ended up fourth.
Tim Wilkerson (3.952) and sigh-of-relief-emitting J.R. Todd (3.971) round out the three-second runners in fifth and sixth.
Coming off a solid finish at the Las Vegas four wide race, Cuadra went to the front of the pack in a very competitive Pro Stock field when he drove his Corral Boots Mustang to a 6.558 on Friday night. Cuadra, who is racing with his father, Fernando Sr., and brothers, Fernando Jr. and David, ran a 6.558 to pace the massive 23-car field.
Cuadra, who was also the top qualifier earlier this year in Phoenix, finished ahead of Deric Kramer, who wheeled his GetBioFuel.com Camaro to the No. 2 spot with a 6.566 while Las Vegas winner and incoming points leader Dallas Glenn is third after a 6.575 in his RAD Torque Systems Camaro.
“It means more to me to be out here racing with my brothers and my dad than it does to be No. 1," said Cuadra. "Four years ago when I started racing, my brother David helped me and now I’m happy that he’s our here racing with me. I’m proud to be No. 1 even if it doesn’t stick tomorrow.
“I’m happy with my run. I was the first car out [in Q2] and I was a bit concerned about shaking the tires but we have good horsepower and the Elite team put it all together," Cuadra said. "I also love the four-wide format. It puts pressure on the driver to be able to focus a little more, and I like that. If you stay focused, you can do really well here.”
There is just .026-second separating the top eight drivers in Pro Stock and .074-second from first to No. 16, currently occupied by reigning world champ Erica Enders, who was unable to make the second run with her Johnson’s Horsepowerd Garage Camaro.
After winning the Gatornationals in his debut with the Vance & Hines Suzuki team, the six week layoff between races didn’t do much to slow Herrera. During Friday’s nighttime session, Herrera lit up the scoreboards at zMax Dragway with a 6.758 to claim the provisional pole position. The only rider close to Herrera was his Vance & Hines teammate Eddie Krawiec, who turned in a 6.765 on his Hayabusa. No one else was in the 6.7s and Hector Arana Jr. currently sits No. 3 after a 6.825 on his GETTRX Buell.
“This feels good. We had a little problem in Q1, but sometimes you’ll have that. I have all the confidence in the world in my Vance & Hines/Mission Foods team,” said Herrera. “We’ve got two more rounds tomorrow and anything can happen but we’ll see if we can keep It going.”
Herrera, who is experiencing the four wide format for the first time in his brief NHRA career, also set the top speed of the day with a 201.10 run.
“In Q2 I had a single so I didn’t notice it as much but in Q1 I had three other bikes alongside me and it was much different. There is a lot more to pay attention to. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t get timed out, which seems like the biggest thing. I went up and watched Pro Mod before we ran to see how it all went so hopefully I got a little rhythm going.”
Herrera isn’t the only newcomer who has impressed so far this season. Following a semifinal finish in Gainesville, Chase Van Sant made another solid run with a 6.836 on his Suzuki, which is tuned by White Alligator crew chief Tim Kulungian. Joey Gladstone posted a solid 6.854 while Steve Johnson has also made two strong passes including a best of 6.865.
Noticeably absent from the top of the qualifying charts are the husband and wife team of Matt and Angie Smith, who each experienced mechanical problems.