There were almost too many eye-opening runs to count during another fast day during the Texas NHRA FallNationals but few could hold a candle to the 6.627 by Vance & Hines Suzuki rider Gaige Herrera but fellow low qualifiers Steve Torrence, Bob Tasca III, and Greg Anderson still had plenty to crow about.
On his way to a record-breaking blast of 6.627. Herrera bettered Karen Stoffer’s 6.665 elapsed time record from Gainesville in 2021. For good measure, Herrera also backed that run up with the second-quickest run, a 6.652 in Q4. Herrera, who also posted near-record speeds of 204.16 and 203.81. By claiming the top spot for the 12th time in 13 events this season, Herrea broke the record previously held by three-time world champ Matt Hines.
"We kind of figured with the weather that we could run a .64 but then after seeing Pro Stock not pick up that much we didn't think it'd be possible," said Herrera. "It was a picture-perfect run and it was so smooth it felt slow. I really didn't think it went that fast. I went around the turnoff and one of the safari guys yelled I went to 204 I thought maybe we went like a .65 and I was .62, so we're definitely happy about that.
"I was really happy I was actually almost more excited about that than maybe winning the race it's just a big accomplishment for all the guys. Byron [Hines] is back in the shop he's been working on the cylinder heads nonstop and it's all guys at the shop that this is showcasing how much they've been working at it and Andrew [Hines] with his clutch setup and everything just came together really well."
It took a low 6.8-second run just to make the top half of the field with Eddie Kraweic (6.714), Hector Arana Jr (6.736), John Hall (6.788), Matt Smith (6.804) Marc Ingwersen (6.814) and Chris Bostick (6.818) holding down spots three-through eight.
Herrera will kick off eliminations with a race against 2003 Denver winner Blaine Hale, who is making his first start in the class since 2005. Eddie Krawiec will be paired against Cory Reed while Matt Smith will continue his pursuit of a seventh championship with a race against Ryan Oehler.
Torrence held onto his No. 1 spot from Friday night with his 3.636 for his third No. 1 qualifying effort of the season and added two more 3.6-second passes to show that consistency is part of the package, too.
An amazing 28 3.6-second runs were recorded over the course of the four Top Fuel qualifying sessions and the Top Fuel field ended up as one of the quickest in history, with Buddy Hull on the bump with a 3.780 and 15 other drivers quicker than the 3.758 record established at last year’s U.S. Nationals and 12 drivers qualified in the 3.60s.
"It's definitely morale-boosting to go out and go low e.t.," said Torrence. "It was great to do it when we could in the session that we did, but more importantly, today, we went out we ran .66 on the first lap and .67 on the second lap, and when you can be disappointed in a 67 It kind of gives confidence.
"It's been the last two years where you gotta go out and can't be .080 on the Tree and walk away with a win very much. The competition level's definitely stepped up a lot of the cars have started pushing the envelope. I think that Top Fuel and Funny Car in general have definitely brought the whole competition level up to be more closely in line with Pro Stock. The cars are all quick, the drivers are all good., and there's no gimmee rounds anymore."
Points leader Doug Kalitta remained No. 2 with his Friday 3.642 but Mike Salinas (3.655) and reigning world champ Brittany Force (3.657) made great runs in the final qualifying session to close the gap.
Billy Torrence sits fifth with a 3.660, followed by Justin Ashley (3.661), Leah Pruett (3.665), and Austin Prock (3.669). Incredibly, drivers like Antron Brown Shawn Langdon, Clay Millican, and Tony Schumacher ran in the 3.60s but will not have lane choice in round one. Low qualifier Torrence gets fellow Texan Mitch King in round one.
Like Torrence in Top Fuel, Tasca also remained on the pole in Funny car with his Friday-night pass, a career-best 3.822. Tasca picked up nine bonus points by having the quickest run of the first three qualifying sessions and even though his Q4 pass of 3.847 was “only” the fourth-quickest of the session, it came with a career-best speed of 338.58, the fifth-fastest in class history.
Sixteen-time world champ took a real shot at Tasca’s lead in Q4 with a sterling, career-best 3.823 but fell just a thousandth of a second shy.
Robert Hight (3.832) and Ron Capps (3.844) also saved their best runs for last to creep up on Tasca’s mark, setting up a real showdown on Sunday.
"We've got one of the best cars on the planet right now, so you get a lot of confidence but while everyone's talking about the Big Four, we're worried about the big 16 because anyone out there can take out any one of these cars easily," said Tasca. "We've got a really good car, we've got a great handle on it, and that 338-mph speed was pretty remarkable. We wanted to run quicker but got a little behind the clutch and revved up more than probably they wanted to. and that's where the speed comes from. When you really hear the motor rev up in the lights, that's when you know it's on a big run. My guys are probably disappointed with .84., but they're not disappointed with the speed.
"But we have to perform tomorrow. I mean, at the end of the day, nobody really cares about the story unless you win, and that's how I believe, that's what I believe in. We just we want to win this race and go into Vegas with some momentum. We've done it before, with a car that was not as good as this one. So I like my chances, but we're gonna go one round at a time."
Matt Hagan (3.848), J.R. Todd (3.857), Chad Green (a career-best 3.861), and Alexis DeJoria (3.876) hold down the quick half of the field.
Thirteen drivers qualified in the three-second zone and two more in the 4.0s with the bump at 4.23 held by Jack Wyatt, who will be Tasca’s first-round opponent. It took a 3.876 to get first-round lane choice.
As if Friday’s nighttime qualifying session wasn’t impressive enough, cool weather on Saturday allowed Pro Stock teams to establish the quickest bump spot in the history of the class fuel injected or carbureted. Nine drivers found the 6.4-secons zone including five-time world champion Greg Anderson who stole the top spot from his KB Titan teammate, Deric Kramer, who ran 6.486 on Friday night to collect the $7,500 Stamped of Speed bonus.
Anderson delivered the knockout blow with a 6.480 in his HendrickCars.com Camaro to claim the pole. That run held up through Saturday’s second session and with the championship battle entering the home stretch, Anderson is happy to collect every available qualifying point.
"This has probably been the toughest all-around qualifying it I can remember in my career," said Anderson. "There's never been as many cars capable of grabbing the pole, capable of being No. 1 through No. 10, and that means to us not only does that car have to be perfect every time but you have to shift it perfectly. It's so hard or so easy to mess up shifting and give up 3-4-5-6 hundredths if you just mess up a shift.
"It's just that critical out there and that tough right now. The bar has been raised in his class the price of poker right now is through the roof. it's awesome for this class. I'm just proud to be a part of it or try to be one of the one of the guys that are in the mix fighting for a championship."
While Herrera’s run was shocking, it wasn’t the only shocking run of the day. Kelly Clontz, who has made steady progress with her Steam Fitters 602 Suzuki, exceeded her career best by more than a tenth of a second with a 6.705 to qualify No. 2. Clontz also made her first 200-mph pass with a 201.99 run.
Troy Coughlin Jr., the leader after Q1, struggled on Friday night but made good on Saturday with a 6.482 to barely miss the top spot. The same could be said for championship leader Erica Enders, who sits just three thousandths behind in third place with a 6.483.
The rest of the 6.4-second club includes rookie of the year contender, Jerry Tucker, who ran a career-best 6.486. Tucker also ran one of the best speeds of the EFI era with a 213.09.
The rest top half of the field includes Dallas Glenn (6.486), Friday leader Deric Kramer (6.486), Matt Hartford (6.487), Kyle Koretsky (6.490).
The bump is held by Chris McGaha, who is just .056-second off the lead with a 6.536 in his resurgent Harlow Sammons Camaro,