After a three-year drought, Doug Kalitta won his second straight Top Fuel title to take the points lead with a victory at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, the second event of the six-race NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, at zMAX Dragway. Kalitta was joined in the winner’s circle by Bob Tasca III, Greg Anderson, and Gaige Herrera.
Kalitta, fresh off his first win in nearly three years and the milestone 50th of his career, kept the raceday momentum rolling by taking out points leader Steve Torrence to take his first points lead since the fall of 2020. Kalitta’s Alan Johnson- and Brian Husen-tuned Mac Tools rail followed with victories over teammate Shawn Langdon and Leah Pruett to reach the 111th final round of his career, where he defeated Mike Salinas, 3.69 to 3.71.
"A lot of what we've been doing has been in the clouds, and low temperatures, so it was nice that the thing was going down the track with .74s throughout the day and then obviously, we had to tune that for the final against Mike, and he was right there. It was a real close race.
"It was a good day for all my guys. It's been a while since I've had a points lead, and with Alan and Brian, and all these guys, they are the ones used to winning the championship, so I'm glad I'm along for the ride with whatever we end up with. it's a great start for us and I've got just a ton of support from everybody that's been following me over the years. Winning the championship would be huge, but we've just got to keep going rounds."
Salinas, who raced his Rob Flynn-tuned Valley Services Scrappers Racing dragster to the No. 1 qualifying spot Saturday night with an historic 3.64 that was created on the back of the sport’s first 300-mph eighth-mile pass — for which he received a rich bounty of $30,000 from Phillips Connect — worked his way past part-timer Mike Bucher in round one to earn a second-round bye, then took down Austin Prock with a 3.89 to reach the final, his first since his season-opening win in Gainesville.
Tasca, who started the playoffs in fourth and climbed to third with a semifinal last weekend in Reading, now sits in second place after defeating points leader Robert Hight in the Funny Car final round on a holeshot, 3.933 to 3.932. It’s Tasca’s 17th career win, 14 of which have come in this class.
Tasca raced his Todd Okuhara- and Aaron Brooks-tuned Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford past Alexis DeJoria, upset-minded Terry Haddock, and points-hungry Matt Hagan by just .006-second in the semifinals to reach his 29th career final round in the class. But the team had to thrash mightily just to make it to the line for the final.
"I wish the fans could have had a live feed to my pit," said Tasca. "The motor was half together and they they pulled a head stud torquing the head down, so we had to swap the motor. Every person on our team, crew chiefs included, thrashed to swap the engines. For me, that's the most gut-wrenching part of racing because there's nothing I can do.
"We've really come together as a team probably more so than any point in my career, and the race car really sees it. I'm just so impressed with the car they've given me. I've never had a car that could run when the conditions were throwdown and the harsh reality is in the sport, if you can't run with the best when the conditions are the best, you're just playing for second place. I can assure you there's nobody that pulls up alongside that Motorcraft car now, when the conditions are good, and says, 'We can pull it back and still beat them.' "
After a huge setback from a booming blower explosion on his first qualifying pass, Hight and the Jimmy Prock-led Cornwell Tools team rebounded to reach their second straight final. Hight took full advantage of points rival Ron Capps’ surprising first-round upset loss at the hands of Dave Richards to expand his points lead, racing his black-primered Chevy past Paul Lee and Funny Car rookie Alex Laughlin after taking a first-round bye as low qualifier in the 15-car field. It was Hight’s 101st career final.
Anderson, winless since his victory at the 2022 season finale in Pomona, scored at his hometrack event for local backer Rick Hendrick, defeating his KB Titan Racing teammate Dallas Glenn in the final for his 102nd career win, 6.55 to 6.59. One of just five drivers in NHRA history with more than 100 national event victories, it was Glenn whom Anderson also defeated in Indy last year for his milestone 100th win.
Anderson had won just one round in the three races since runner-upping behind Erica Enders in Topeka, bested Jerry Tucker, Camrie Caruso, and, in a big upset, No. 1 qualifier Enders in the semifinals to reach the 174th final of his distinguished career.
"It was incredible," said Anderson. "It was my day. I haven't had any 'my days' this year, so it's definitely sweet to do it here at Charlotte, my home track with all my family here, all my friends, all my support of the Hendrick group. It's just perfect. It's been a long year for me. It's been a struggle. We're capable of winning just haven't been able to make four perfect runs down the racetrack where you're the car didn't make a mistake or the driver did make a mistake, and we did that today. The car was fantastic and I didn't screw it up.
"It's going to be an exciting Countdown and I'm sure today scrambled the points up quite a bit and it basically put a lot of people right back in the hunt, myself being one of them. So I'm not out of it yet. I certainly felt a little bit like that happened last week and if I'd had another weekend this weekend like last weekend, I would be out of it, but we're back in the hun with four races to go."
Glenn, who led the points for 10 races starting with his win at the Winternationals only to surrender it after an early exit in the playoff opener last weekend, had a chance to retake the points lead if he won the final but will instead sit third behind Matt Hartford and Enders.
Glenn reached his eighth final of the season and the 16th of his career by powering his RAD Torque Systems Camaro past two of his Elite Motorsports rivals, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Aaron Stanfield, to reach the semifinals, where he defeated Deric Kramer with an off-pace 6.61 after Kramer appeared to roll the staging beams and foul.
Herrera scored his seventh win and first since Sonoma not counting his triumphs in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge on Hector Arana Jr.’s final-round red-light.
Herrera, who won six of eight events in the regular season astride his powerful Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki, worked his way to the final by defeating former world champ Jerry Savoie in round one, then retook the points lead he lost to Matt Smith last weekend by beating Smith in a titanic second-round clash. Rookie Chase Van Sant then red-lighted to send Herrera to his eighth final in 11 races this season. Herrera’s lead over Smith is now 52 points.
"It was a good Sunday," Herrera characteristically understated, "We're here, I've got the Wally so I can't complain and my bike was consistent again today. Losing [at the last] two races kind of lit a fire under me. After Reading I was kind of pissed off because we really couldn't pinpoint what happened and that basically made me dig down, me and Andrew [Hunes, crew chief] going over data, and trying to figure out what happened. So it really got me involved in it and the bike came off the trailer here flying.
"I was excited [to race Smith]. I actually wanted to skip the first round. I was definitely excited to race Matt because I don't want anyone easy. I've got a really fast motorcycle compared to a lot of others out here, so it makes it look easy, but at the same time, they're all very tough competitors. I love the pressure. My dream would be to race Matt in the final in Pomona for the championship."
Arana’s long day aboard the GETTRX Buell pulled him back into the thick of the points battle. Winner earlier this year in Norwalk and runner-up in Indy, the second-generation two-wheeled star defeated class veteran Steve Johnson, Angie Smith, and Herrera’s teammate, Eddie Krawiec, to reach the final, the 33rd of his career. Arana now sits just two points behind Smith in third place.