Friday night qualifying at the NHRA Midwest Nationals was fiery and fast, with header flames high and adrenaline soaring even higher for drivers competing in the third of six NHRA Countdown to the Championship events. Provisional low qualifiers were named, and on Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway, those four drivers are the target.
Doug Kalitta's incredible Countdown performance continued on Friday in St. Louis as he drove the Mac Tools dragster right to the top on a 3.70-second pass at 331 mph. Kalitta, the incoming points leader, turned a massive corner at the first race of the Countdown when an altercation on the racetrack necessitated a return to a backup dragster. The car that hadn't been exceptionally kind in the past had a new attitude when given this second chance, and Kalitta not only won Reading, but he went back-to-back with victory in Charlotte just days later. Here in St. Louis, that dragster – finessed by the tune-up of Alan Johnson and Brian Husen – had no intention of standing down. Saturday's weather was predicted to be quite toasty, and that could prove challenging. Mike Salinas – who became the first driver in history to go 300 mph to the 1/8th mile last weekend – is sitting in the No. 2 position in his Valley Services dragster, and Antron Brown's Matco Tools rail is just .004 back from Salinas in the No. 3 spot.
Kalitta scored three bonus points to add to his lead, while Salinas earned two and Brown earned one. Steve Torrence, who entered the event No. 2 in the Top Fuel standings, is currently No. 13 on the page – but with two sessions today, it is logical to expect an improvement for the four-time champion. Justin Ashley, the winner of the regular season, came to St. Louis sitting fourth in the points – and he is No. 3 on the qualifying sheet heading into day two, while Buddy Hull and Terry Totten are eager to make a move and break into the field.
Young Cody Krohn, at just 19 years of age, is making his Top Fuel debut at the event. He laid down an impressive 3.81, 319 and is No. 10 for now.
Blake Alexander and his Jim Head Racing Pronto Auto Parts Funny Car made a spectacular 3.88, 326 pass and held onto the top spot until the final pair, when Bob Tasca III and his Motorcraft Quicklane Ford Mustang blew it out of the water with a 3.85, 324. Alexander's display was particularly compelling as it came after a string of early losses, and he'll be one to watch on Saturday in St. Louis and he and his team work to better what already appears strong.
The target on Tasca's back, meanwhile, is growing as he continues to show that his tuning team of Aaron Brooks and Todd Okuhara can excel in any conditions. The provisional low qualifier is aiming to secure his sixth No. 1 of the year and 14th of his career. Last weekend in Charlotte, he went ahead and won the race from the No. 3 position to move into the No. 2 position in the standings. Robert Hight leads the points in his AAA Cornwell Tools Chevrolet, and he and his team have work to do as they are looking to elevate from the No. 13 qualifying position.
Hight's boss, 16-time world champion John Force, is sitting No. 3 on the sheet. Reigning series champion Ron Capps, a four-time St. Louis winner, was tied with Matt Hagan for third in the Funny Car points heading into St. Louis. Capps is provisionally in the No. 14 spot on the ladder, while Hagan is No. 4. With 17 cars vying for 16 positions, the odd-man-out right now is Cruz Pedregon.
Defending Pro Stock champion Erica Enders gathered three bonus points as the quickest driver on Friday in her Johnson's Horsepowered Garage Chevrolet Camaro, and Elite Motorsports teammate Troy Coughlin Jr., driving the JEGS.com Chevy, is right behind in the No 2 position. Charlotte winner Greg Anderson, the most winning driver in the history of the category, scooped up a bonus point as well and is No. 3 in his HendrickCars.com Camaro.
Incoming points leader Matt Hartford is positioned as the No. 4 qualifier at the moment, with KB Titan Racing teammate Kyle Koretsky No. 5. Just four points separated Enders from Hartford as the last race concluded, and with Enders performance on Friday, that difference has been cut down to a single point. Dallas Glenn, who won the regular season, is No. 3 in the standings and looking for another bump after he was runner-up last weekend in Charlotte.
With 18 cars in attendance, Robert River and Deric Kramer are on the outside looking in with big plans to claim a raceday start.
Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith had to pull a big switcheroo after a slew of engine damage in Charlotte left him without an effective bullet for the Midwest Nationals. He's back on the motorcycle he rode to the previous three championships, and although it's just for one race while he works to get replacement parts for his DENSO Suzuki, Smith plans to make the most of the opportunity. He was No. 2 in the Pro Stock points entering the event, and he's No. 2 on the qualifying sheet.
As he has been for much of the season, Gaige Herrera is sitting at the top aboard his Vance & Hines Mission Suzuki on a 6.71 at 201 that was a full five-hundredths quicker than the run put forth by Smith. Herrera's Vance & Hines teammate, Eddie Krawiec, has two previous wins in St. Louis and is currently third in the qualifying order. He was holding at No. 4 in the Pro Stock Motorcycle points ahead of this race, while Hector Arana Jr., the 2015 St. Louis winner, was third. Arana is looking to climb higher than fourth in the qualifying order, where he currently resides.
2022 EVENT WINNERS
Steve Torrence, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock, Matt Smith, Pro Stock Motorcycle
MOST EVENT VICTORIES
Antron Brown, 5, TF; Ron Capps, 4, FC; Erica Enders, 6 PS; Matt Smith, 5, PSM
Top Fuel - - 3.631 seconds by Clay Millican, Sept. '17; 338.43 mph by Brittany Force, Oct. '22
Funny Car - 3.830 seconds by Robert Hight, Sept. '17; 338.60 mph by Hight, Sept. '17
Pro Stock -6.492 seconds by Greg Anderson, Sept. '15; 213.47 mph by Line, Sept. '12
Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.709 seconds by Matt Smith, Sept. '22; 203.22 mph by M Smith, Oct. '22
SATURDAY, Sept. 30
Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series eliminations at 8 a.m.
FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series qualifying at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.
Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown qualifying at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, Oct. 1
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Sunday, Oct. 1: FOX Sports 1 (FS1), will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 2:00 p.m. ET and three hours of finals coverage at 3:00 p.m. ET
You can also watch the action on NHRA.tv.