Professional qualifying at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals kicked off on Friday where Doug Kalitta, Ron Capps and Greg Anderson emerged as the provisional leaders in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock.
Cool fall-like temperatures greeted the NHRA tour on Friday morning, providing a sharp contrast to last week’s triple-digit temperatures in Topeka. With Saturday’s forecast calling for significantly warmer weather, tuners viewed Friday as the best opportunity to make hay.
Doug Kalitta, still in search of his 50th career win, did just that with a strong 3.757 in Top Fuel that leads the field halfway through qualifying. Kalitta was also the top qualifier earlier this season in Phoenix with his Mac Tools dragster and has led the field 52 times in his career, which now spans 580 races.
“We made a good run in the first session, and I was excited to see what we could have done in the second,” said Kalitta. “It’s a shame we didn’t get to make the second run, but pretty sure that we’ll have two good lanes tomorrow to run on and we’ll go out and go for it. Even with the heat [expected] tomorrow, we plan to step it up. But, it’s also good to have that 3.75 to fall back on.”
“Of course, we’re hungry for a win but just to make it to a final is good to keep the points coming,” Kalitta said. “I love racing in Brainerd. Connie did well here and overall, all our teams have done well here. I hope we can keep that going.”
Top Fuel dragsters were limited to just one session after an oil down delayed the action for nearly an hour, pushing the session into the early evening. Brainerd Int’l Raceway does not have lights, forcing the day’s action to end with the completion of the funny Car class.
Even though there was just one run, the Top Fuel class put together a competitive effort with the top eight drivers all in the 3.7s including Steve Torrence (3.758), Brittany Force (3.762), Leah Pruett (3.777), Antron Brown (3.780), championship leader Justin Ashley (3.780), Mike Salinas (3.784), and Austin Prock (3.795).
Capps didn’t get down the track during the first run but had no such troubles later in the day when he wheeled his NAPA Toyota Supra to a strong 3.894, 330.23 to claim the provisional pole and snare three qualifying bonus points.
Capps, who opened the season with a No. 1 qualifying effort in Gainesville and has been ranked in the top half field in 12 of 13 events this season.
Next to John Force and his 11 wins, Capps has also enjoyed tremendous success in Brainerd with six wins between 1998 and 2019 including three-straight from 2012-2014.
“I was just thinking of how forks in the road affect your life. Sometimes you take the right one and sometimes you don’t. right here, is where my fate changed. I talked with [team owner] John Mitchell and he asked me to get my license in Top Alcohol Dragster. Had he not done that, there’s no telling where I might be. I have great memories here. Some are foggy but still great.
“On the first run, we had to shut the car off,” Capps said. “Our crew guy saw the wheelie bars weren’t pinned that that could have been bad. Guido [Dean Antonelli, crew chief] took the same approach that we’ll have in Indy in two weeks and decided to throw down and it held.”
Capps withstood a challenge from Sonoma winner J.R. Todd, who continued his recent string of impressive performances with a 3.907 while Matt Hagan’s 3.910 from Q1 held as the third-best run of the day.
Bob Tasca III (3.915), Cruz Pedregon (3.934), Robert Hight (3.942), John Force (3.943) and Alexis DeJoria (3.960) round out the quick half of the field.
Greg Anderson, a Minnesota native, who considers Brainerd Int’l Raceway to be hallowed ground, put his HendrickCars.com Camaro into the top spot following a 6.597, 205.79 run on Friday afternoon. Anderson was also the leader after Q1 with a competitive 6.600 effort.
Typical of modern-day Pro Stock racing, Anderson is barely in the lead as Matt Hartford is just a thousandth of a second behind with a 6.578 while five-time champ and recent Topeka winner Erica Enders is third after a 6.603 run.
If it holds, Anderson will earn his 122nd low qualifier award in 527 career Pro Stock races.
“Being back home is cool. This is where I grew up, where it all started for me,” said Anderson. “It’s also been four long years [since Pro Stock ran in Brainerd] The facility is still wonderful, and the track surface is great. We got all the points they had to give and made two nearly flawless runs.
“This is right before Indy and right before the Countdown so it’s crunch time,” Anderson said. “We had some time off after Denver and I think we made the most of it. I’m proud of the guys on this team. The whole KB Titan team is just awesome right now.
I wouldn’t say I’ve been taking one for the team, but I’ve been willing to try new things for the benefit of the team. Now, it’s time for me to see if I can make some hay. It’s time to focus on my car and stop experimenting. We can forget about the first ten races of the year.”
The top half of the Pro Stock field is qualified within .026-second and features Anderson, Hartford, Enders, Cristian Cuadra, Deric Kramer, Dallas Glenn, Aaron Stanfield and Kyle Koretsky. The bump is a competitive 6.702 by first-year racer David Cuadra.
The big news in Pro Stock involved a pair of world champions as Bo Butner has enlisted Minnesota native Jason Line to help tune his Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage Camaro. Butner did not get down the track on his first attempt but made amends later in the day with a 6.632.