Kalitta leads the way in Day One of the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove

Doug Kalitta raced to the Top Fuel qualifying lead Friday at the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. 

Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also led their categories at the fourth of six playoff events during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. 

Kalitta posted a 3.747-second pass at 326.95 mph in his Mac Tools dragster to pace the field. Kalitta, the winningest Top Fuel driver to have never won a championship, is looking for his seventh top qualifying position of the season and second at the facility. 

“This is definitely the time to get going if we are going to make something happen,” said Kalitta who is currently fifth in points. “The conditions are really good here. I’m really proud of my guys getting low qualifier after day one. It was a good run. It left (the starting line) and rattled and didn’t seem like it was going to make it, then it kind of just hooked up and went. That was a big relief; so far so good. ” 

Brittany Force was second after a 3.765 at 322.81 in her Castrol EDGE dragster, achieved during the same pass as Kalitta. Points leader and seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher piloted his U.S. Army dragster to a 3.766 at 324.67, good enough for third on the leaderboard. 

Reigning Top Fuel world champ Shawn Langdon was fourth with a 3.773 at 325.77 in the Al-Anabi Racing dragster while Spencer Massey’s Odyssey Batteries dragster was fifth with a 3.774 at 323.19. 

In Funny Car, Pedregon claimed the top spot with his 3.991 at 319.52 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry, the only Funny Car to run in the three second range during the day. Pedregon, a two-time world champ and a two-time winner at the facility, is two sessions away from securing his third No. 1 qualifier of the season and third career in Reading. 

“We were hoping for a low 4.0,” said Pedregon, who sits 10th in points. “The three second was a bonus. I was a little surprised [that it held]. There are some great cars. These cars are very touchy and finicky and I did feel like there would be two or three three-second runs up there, but hey we blew the motor up so we definitely go everything out of it.” 

Recent Charlotte winner Matt Hagan, who is third in points, qualified second in his Rocky Boots Dodge Charger following a 4.008 at 321.50.  Reigning world champ and point leader John Force is third with a 4.046 at 318.24 in the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. Del Worsham drove the DHL Toyota Camry to the No. 4 spot by means of a 4.046 at 316.15 while Robert Hight was fifth in the Auto Club Ford Mustang with a 4.053 at 318.17. 

Courtney Force, who won the two most recent events and is second in Funny Car points, ran a 4.108 at 305.29, good enough for 12th in her Traxxas Ford Mustang. 

Enders-Stevens is going for her fifth No. 1 of the season in Pro Stock following her performance of 6.513 at 211.76 in the Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. Enders-Stevens, who was second-quickest during the first session, has been the top qualifier during two of the first three Countdown events. 

“All those little bonus points are definitely helpful at this crucial point in the Countdown,” said Enders-Stevens, who sits third in points. “I’m really excited and proud of my team. We had a good baseline run the first session and stay No. 2. I’m really proud of my crew chiefs, they did a really great job. 

Shane Gray was the quickest in the first session of Pro Stock and currently sits second with a 6.521 at 211.43 in the Gray Manufacturing Chevy Camaro. Gray, who won the regular season ending event at Indianapolis and finished runner-up to Gray Motorsports teammate Dave Connolly in Dallas, is fourth in points. 

Jonathan Gray, who recently claimed his first career Pro Stock win at the Carolina Nationals, ran a 6.541 at 210.97 to put him in the provisional No. 3 spot in the Gray Motorsports Chevy Camaro. Reigning world champ Jeg Coughlin is fourth following a 6.542 at 2110.20 in the JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart and Chicago winner Vincent Nobile is qualified fifth in the Mountain View Tire Camaro with a 6.554 at 211.36. 

Savoie, who claimed his first Pro Stock Motorcycle win at St. Louis last weekend, sits in the top spot after a 6.860 at 194.66 on his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki. 

“We went out first session and we really should have run quicker,”  Savoie said. “The bike wouldn’t go in high gear. I had to hit the button three times and it finally went in. Second pass, the conditions were a lot worse than they were the first pass. To go .86 means we actually went in the right direction.” 

Points leader Andrew Hines was second on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, running a 6.870 at 194.02. Hines’ Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec was third with a 6.877 at 190.40. Hector Arana Jr.’s Lucas Oil Buell was fourth following a 6.888 at 195.76 and Chaz Kennedy was fifth with a 6.899 at 190.78 on the Star Racing Buell. 

Qualifying for the NHRA Nationals continues Saturday with sessions at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Eliminations are schedule for 11 a.m. Sunday.


Adam Sinclair