Top Fuel racer Antron Brown led a record-setting day of qualifying Friday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Brown and the rest of the NHRA teams took advantage of cool fall temperatures in the St. Louis area that led to a parade of track records in all four Full Throttle Series classes. It is the first time drag racing's marquee circuit has visited the multipurpose motorsports facility that sits just beside the Mississippi river and in view of the famed Gateway Arch in more than two years.
Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders at the third of six playoff races in the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship.
Brown powered his Matco Tools/Aaron's dragster to a track record performance of 3.737 seconds at 326.79 mph to qualify just in front of his teammate and championship rival Spencer Massey, who was second with a 3.752 at 326.16 in his FRAM/Prestone dragster.
“We made the third-quickest run in history on a track we haven't ran on in two years, which is a credit to the Gateway staff and the NHRA Safety Safari [presented by AAA],” Brown said. “When I stepped on the gas, the car picked up and took off with no hesitation. I felt instant wheel speed. It hunkered down after 60 feet and never stopped accelerating. I took a little peek up at the scoreboard and saw that .73. Underneath my helmet, I was like, ‘Yeah, boy!' I felt like Flavor Flav. We're just beside ourselves, and we're riding that wave.”
Brown and Massey entered the event tied at the top of the Top Fuel standings, but Brown now holds a two-point lead by virtue of his better qualifying effort today.
“This is the way you want to start,” Brown said. “We never ran that quick before. We got pretty much everything out of that run. Hats off to Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald] — our crew chiefs — and our Matco Tools/Aaron's boys for doing a bang-up job. I'm pretty stoked about it. I'm very blessed to be on this team.”
David Grubnic posted a 3.773 at 317.94 in his Optima Batteries dragster for third overall, and seven-time Top Fuel world champ Tony Schumacher was fourth with a 3.775 at 325.69 in his U.S. Army dragster.
In Funny Car, Beckman led the field with a track record time of 4.049 at 308.85 in his Valvoline/NextGen Dodge Charger.
“The reaction from the three guys who pick me up in the tow vehicle and the rest of the guys in the pits after a run like that makes it all worthwhile,” Beckman said. “I think that tracks get unfairly over- or underrated simply based on the numbers that come up on the scoreboard, which has more to do with the time that we run there than the actual racing surface. I think it's cool that St. Louis gets a chance to show off with good atmospheric conditions. I also think it's great that the people in this area get a chance to attend a Countdown race.”
John Force was second in Funny Car qualifying with a 4.060 at 308.35 in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang and was followed by defending world champ Matt Hagan, who posted a 4.061 at 305.42 in his Aaron's/Mopar Dodge Charger. Series points leader Ron Capps was sixth in his NAPA Auto Parts Charger, covering the distance in 4.083 at 309.34.
Line set both ends of the Pro Stock track record in moving to the top of the order with a performance of 6.514 at 212.76 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro.
“All and all, it was a good day for both of the Summit cars,” Line said. “We're getting better with the new Camaro, but we still have a ways to go. Greg [Anderson] is still a tick behind, but at least we understand these cars, and we know what to do to make them better. We had a fairly high barometer today, which is great for Pro Stock. I felt like a 6.4 run was out there, but none of us did that good of a job to get there. Tomorrow, we won't be quite that conservative.”
Series points leader and Dallas winner Allen Johnson was second in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger with a 6.516 at 212.76, and three-time season winner Erica Enders was third in her GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt, posting a 6.519 at 211.83.
Arana set a track record time of 6.826 at 195.19 on his Lucas Oil Buell to lead Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying.
“This is my first time out here, and it has been great so far,” Arana said. “It's really great, but the most important thing is to be consistent and have success on Sunday. That's what we're gonna work on. We need to go rounds on race day. [Coming to a new track is] fun; it's something new and different. That was what I went through at every race last year. It's always fun to go to a new track, and it gives you more knowledge. Every track is different, and this one feels good so far.”
Hector Arana Sr. set a track speed record on his Lucas Oil Buell at 196.56 and was second overall with a time of 6.827. Series points leader Eddie Krawiec was third with a 6.839 at 194.77 on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, and his teammate, Andrew Hines, was fourth with a 6.862 at 195.00 on his Harley-Davidson. Dallas winner Michael Ray was 12th with a 6.947 at 190.78 on his Viper Motorcycle Co. Buell.
Full Throttle qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday's eliminations start at 11 a.m.
Don Walsh raced to the qualifying lead in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx portion of the event.
Walsh powered his turbocharged late-model Ford Mustang to a Gateway Motorsports Park track record time of 5.816 seconds at 255.43 mph to move to the top of the 16-car field. If his time holds through tomorrow's final qualifying session, he will earn his third consecutive No. 1 qualifying position.
Donald Martin was second in his supercharged '68 Camaro with a 5.861 at 247.84, and Charlotte winner Leah Pruett was third in her turbocharged 2012 Mustang with a 5.880 at 251.06.
Troy Coughlin qualified sixth in his JEGS turbocharged '68 Camaro with a 5.924 at a track record speed of 255.43 mph. Series points leader Mike Castellana was fifth in his Al-Anabi Racing late-model Chevy Camaro with a 5.911 at 241.20.
Qualifying continues for the NHRA Pro Mod Series on Saturday with the final round at 1:30 p.m. and will be followed by the first round of eliminations at 4 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations will continue on Sunday at approximately 2:30 p.m.