Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta continued his impressive run in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship at World Wide Technology Raceway, powering to the provisional No. 1 spot to close out Friday’s racing at the 12th annual NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also the provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the 18th of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, and the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
As part of the final pair of the evening under the lights at World Wide Technology Raceway, Kalitta turned in a run of 3.709s at 331.85mph in his Mac Tools/Toyota dragster. If that holds, the veteran would pick up his second No. 1 spot this year and 53rd in his career. Seeking his first career world championship, Kalitta has won the first two playoff races this year and continued to gain momentum on Friday.
“Everybody is running really close, and we somehow snuck by them,” Kalitta said. “Hat’s off to (crew chiefs) Alan Johnson and Brian Husen and all my guys; they’re really working their tails off on this car, and it’s definitely showing. Consistency is everything in this sport, and that was a nice A to B run for us. It was close, but we pulled it off.
“We’re all hungry. I always love coming to St. Louis. Just a lot of great memories here and a great racing town. This is really a good start for us here for the first qualifying run. The competition is tough and everybody is running well. I just feel really fortunate to pull off the low qualifier so far.”
Mike Salinas took the second spot with a run of 3.710s at 329.75mph and Antron Brown was right behind in third with a 3.714s at 331.69mph.
In Funny Car, Tasca delivered an epic blast to close out qualifying, going a spectacular 3.852s at 324.90mph in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang. Coming off last weekend’s win in Charlotte and advancing to second in points, Tasca grabbed the qualifying points on Friday at World Wide Technology Racew ay as only one of two drivers to dip into the 3.80s. With warm temperatures expected on Saturday, Tasca appears on track to earn his sixth No. 1 qualifier in his tremendous 2023 campaign and the 15th in his career. It would also be his second No. 1 in the playoffs if it holds, a week after making a career-best pass in Charlotte.
“We’ve been working on this all season long, starting in testing,” Tasca said. “We had to have the setup to go out here and run with the big teams when the conditions were good. We had flashes of that early in the season, worked on it when the conditions were good, and just seeing this car run really hard. Aaron Brooks, Todd Okuhara, they have a lot of confidence in the setup. They were trying to run 0.85s and the car ran 0.85s.
“This wasn’t a fluke, they told me keep it on the inside until about a half-track and then pull it back slowly. Normally you muscle a Funny Car, but in this example, you’re really just finessing it. You can’t be a one-trick pony. You have to be able to throw down when it’s hot and be able to pull it back and still throw down when it’s cool.”
Blake Alexander took the second spot with a run of 3.888s at 326.79mph and John Force is third after going 3.914s at 325.06mph. Points leader Robert Hight is 13th.
World Wide Technology Raceway has belonged to Pro Stock’s Erica Enders over the years and that continued on Friday, as the defending world champion went to the No. 1 spot with a run of 6.549s at 209.69mph in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro. If that holds, Enders would earn her third straight No. 1 qualifier, fifth this season and the 34th in her stellar career. She’s been nearly flawless in St. Louis, winning the past four years at the track, giving her six overall. That’s the most in NHRA history at the facility and a seventh win this weekend – and 47th in her career – would also give her the most wins by a female in NHRA history.
“It definitely felt awesome,” Enders said. “I say this a lot but I feed off of Mark Ingersoll, my crew chief. I really enjoy his confidence because it in turn gives me confidence. This place has always been amazing to me. To have the last four years in a row is pretty awesome. It’s Mark’s home track, and he wants to swing hard here. We’re really excited.
“My sister and I have coined the phrase, everything changes in St. Louis. We’ll just go ahead and hope that’s going to be the outcome. When we went into the Countdown, we haven’t won one yet, but I said three races in a row, in three weeks I’m going to know where I stand and maybe my stomach can relax a little bit. It’s so fun coming here. I’m excited to have things change in St. Louis.”
Troy Coughlin Jr. took the second spot thanks to his pass of 6.558s at 208.97mph and Greg Anderson, who won last weekend in Charlotte, is third after a 6.560s at 208.81mph. Points leader Matt Hartford’s 6.565s has him fourth.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Gaige Herrera enjoyed another terrific Friday night, this time putting together an impressive run of 6.716s at 201.79mph on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. It puts the points leader on track for an incredible 11th No. 1 qualifier this season in 12 races for the category, another sign of his dominating season. He picked up his first career win in the Countdown to the Championship last weekend and, after moving back into the points lead, Herrera looks to keep rolling this weekend in St. Louis.
“I’ve been having fun all year, and all the little changes, they’re out to get us as a team or me,” Herrera said. “Just to have that feeling, basically, Matt (Smith) is doing everything he can to try to knock us off the top. I think that makes us drive harder, push harder, and me as a rider, try to be more consistent. I had a 0.029s light there today and last weekend I had an average of 0.032s. It makes me try harder and push harder, and the same for Andrew (Hines, crew chief). He wants to give me the most consistent but fast motorcycle, so I think overall it just drives us to keep on pushing. I’m just excited to be a part of it. I’m very lucky to ride for them and be part of it.”
Defending world champion and defending event winner Matt Smith, who trails Herrera by 52 points heading into the weekend, is currently second with a 6.766s at 201.76mph and Eddie Krawiec is third with a 6.787s at 201.40mph.
Qualifying continues at 1:30 p.m. CT on Saturday at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway.