NHRA Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta earned his fifth No. 1 qualifier of the season and 36th of his career on Saturday, and will try for his first victory of the season on Sunday at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.
John Force (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also will lead their categories as the No. 1 qualifiers at the 13th of 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events in 2013. Sunday's eliminations start at 11 a.m.
No driver improved on Kalitta's pass of 3.767 seconds at 327.74 mph that came on Friday in his 8,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster and broke the track record in both categories.
The 36th No. 1 qualifier of Kalitta's career also moved him to fifth overall in Top Fuel history. The Ann Arbor, Mich. resident, who is seeking his first win since 2010, is the only driver in the top five in points in Top Fuel, Funny Car or Pro Stock without a victory in 2013, a tag he hopes to remove on Sunday at his home NHRA track. Kalitta meets Troy Buff in the first round of eliminations.
“We're real happy to be that No. 1 qualifier and be in this position,” Kalitta said. “Hopefully we can turn it into a win. We just have to take it round-by-round and see if we can keep it going.”
Points leader and Chicago winner Tony Schumacher kept his U.S. Army dragster in second with a strong 3.778 at 320.74. Clay Millican had Saturday's most impressive showing in the class, powering his Parts Plus dragster to a 3.789 at 327.27. It kept him in the third position, but Millican, who was the runner-up to Schumacher last week in Chicago, was the only driver in the 3.70s on Saturday.
Defending event winner Spencer Massey will face off with David Grubnic in the opening round.
“I've got a ton of confidence in my guys,” said Kalitta, who is also seeking his first career victory in Ohio. “They'll know what to do to get it down the track. It's going to be an interesting day, but we loving running here in Norwalk. The Bader family always does a great job at the facility.”
Force's track-record time of 4.021 at 317.72 from Friday wasn't matched during Saturday's two qualifying sessions, giving the 15-time world champion his third No. 1 of the season, second in the last three weeks and 143rd of his career. Force has also advanced to the finals of the last three events in his 8,000-horsepower Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. He will race Blake Alexander in the first round of eliminations.
“We proved we could run well, but (Sunday) is going to be anybody's race,” Force said. “The track was good, but we fought the elements of the heat. We wanted to see how far we could push it (Saturday), but we've got a race here to win and that's what it's all about.”
Robert Hight and his Auto Club Mustang, which posted a track record speed of 318.77 on Friday, qualified second behind his John Force Racing teammate with a 4.030. Sitting in the third slot is Ron Capps, who powered his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger to a 4.040 at 316.82.
“Every track is a little different, but we've got good race cars,” Force said. “Robert is running well and (daughter) Courtney (Force) has a good car. I just love racing here. It's a cool deal.”
In Pro Stock, nobody could match Johnson's run of 6.592 at 209.75 from Friday, giving the defending world champion in the class the No. 1 qualifying spot for the first time in 2013 and 29th time in his career. The driver of the Team Mopar Dodge Avenger also qualified No. 1 in Norwalk for the second straight year.
“I think we've closed the gap performance-wise on (points leader Mike Edwards),” said Johnson, who has three wins in 2013. “This is what I call ‘getting after it time.' Hopefully we can do well (Sunday) and keep pushing to try and secure that No. 1 position going into the (Countdown to the Championship).”
Edwards kept the track speed record of 209.92 in his I AmSecond/Interstate Batteries Chevy Camaro, and his 6.601 gave him the No. 2 position as well. Jeg Coughlin, the most recent event winner in the class, finished as the No. 3 qualifier in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger with his run of 6.614 at 208.91.
Defending Norwalk winner Vincent Nobile, who qualified No. 6, will take on Steve Kent in the first round.
“We made one good run (Saturday) and one bad run, and I think you'll see pretty close to the same conditions Sunday,” Johnson said. “We will have to adjust accordingly, but I think we've got a pretty good set-up and we feel good about (Sunday).”
Ray improved on his No. 1 time from Friday, going 6.912 at a track-record speed of 194.77 to take the top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle on his Sovereign-Star Racing Buell. Ray, who is also the most recent winner in the class, earned his second No. 1 qualifier in 2013 and will meet Sean Gann in the first round.
“The tune-up was just flawless and (crew chief and team owner) George (Bryce) said I good job riding on that pass,” Ray said. “We're just really, really clicking right now and when you keep seeing the momentum moving forward, it's an awesome thing.”
Hector Arana Jr. broke through on his Lucas Oil Buell, running a 6.939 at 192.69 in the final qualifying session to finish as the No. 2 qualifier. Steve Johnson's 6.941 at 193.16 on his Suzuki from Friday kept him in third, while defending event winner Andrew Hines will meet Scott Pollacheck in an opening-round matchup.
Ray, seeking his second win in three races, continued to have a productive weekend in Norwalk with a pass he hopes to replicate during eliminations.
“We went up there with a first-round of eliminations tune-up and it was an awesome performance,” Ray said. “To see the team going in this direction, it's an awesome feeling and we're just going to try to bring back another Wally on Sunday.”