Kalitta, J. Force lead NHRA qualifiers at Norwalk
John Force has advanced to the final round in the last three races, and his hot streak continued on Friday as he raced to the qualifying lead in Funny Car at the seventh annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Series event, the 13th of 24 in the 2013 season.
Force powered his 8,000-horsepower Castrol GTX Mustang to a leading performance of 4.021 seconds at 317.72 mph, setting a new track E.T. record in the process.
If Force's performance holds through Saturday's two qualifying sessions (11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.), it will be his third No. 1 of the season, second in the last three weeks and 143rd of his career, the most in NHRA history. Sunday's eliminations start at 11 a.m.
“We've got a good race car right now,” said Force, who has jumped from 10th to third in the points standings during his recent run. “There's a bunch of great race cars in this class and to get the low time, I'm happy. We've been trying a lot of stuff and we're just working well as a team.”
Force's teammate Robert Hight took his Auto Club Mustang to the second position thanks to a 4.030 at a track record speed of 318.77. Ron Capps powered his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger to the third position with a strong run of 4.040 at 316.82.
To get back on track this season, Force gave a lot of credit to crew chief Mike Neff, who was the Funny Car winner at Norwalk in 2012.
“Mike Neff and Jon Schaffer have given me a good car,” said Force, who is still looking for his first Norwalk victory. “Neff's really got a lot of talent and he really helped me calm down. This new car, you've got to finesse it and we're really working well as a team.
“You really feed off the fans here at Norwalk. They love racing, they're a great crowd and it's great to put on a show for them.”
Kalitta paced the Top Fuel category with a 3.767 at 327.74 in his 8,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster, breaking the track record in both categories. It was also only one of three runs in the 3.70s on Friday. Kalitta, who is seeking his first win of 2013, will claim his fifth No.1 qualifier this season and 36th of his career if the time holds.
“The conditions were good and I'm real proud of my guys,” Kalitta said. “They've been making that dragster run and we were real happy to rip off a good run in qualifying. The facility is just awesome and the place was packed. It was pretty cool to see.”
Points leader and Chicago winner Tony Schumacher was the first to reach the 3.70s on Friday, sending his U.S. Army dragster to an impressive 3.778 at 320.74 that currently puts him second. Clay Millican and his Parts Plus dragster went 3.795 at 323.66 to place him in third.
But Kalitta topped everyone under the lights, setting the track records on the final pass of the night.
“It was just a good capper to a great night and I'm just real proud of everyone,” Kalitta said. “We are all just real hungry to do well. We're making great strides and that's starting to show. We've been working real hard on things and we're getting it narrowed down to where we can continue to run more consistent.”
In Pro Stock, Johnson, the defending world champion, took command in the second qualifying session, running 6.592 at 209.75 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger. If it holds, it would be the first No. 1 qualifier this season and 29th of his career.
“After the sun went down, the track just got awesome,” said Johnson, who was the No. 1 qualifier at Norwalk in 2012. “Last year we ran really well here and the car just loves this track.”
Mike Edwards managed to break the track speed record in his I AmSecond/Interstate Batteries Chevy Camaro, running 6.601 at 209.92, but Johnson snuck past the current points leader in what was the next to last pair of the second session.
Jeg Coughlin, coming off a win in Chicago, is currently in the third spot, going 6.614 at 208.91 in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger. With teammate Coughlin also running well, Johnson, who has three wins in 2013, is excited for the remainder of the weekend.
“We're gaining on (Edwards) a little bit and I think we made some progress (Friday night),” Johnson said. “The last few races we've pretty much matched him engine-wise and we're figuring out some things on the car. It's going to be a knock-down, drag out for a while.
“It's going to take consistency. You have to do your job as a driver, but everything has to be perfect in Pro Stock.”
Ray ran a 6.926 at 193.68 on his Sovereign-Star Racing Buell to take the initial top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Should that run maintain the top spot, it would be the second No. 1 qualifier of 2013 for Ray, who is the most recent event winner in the class.
Steve Johnson, who had the best run in the second qualifying session, went 6.941 at 193.16 on his Suzuki to surge to second. John Hall is currently third on his Viper Motorcycle Company Racing Buell after his pass of 6.593 at 192.96.
Ray has jumped to second in points, winning two of the last three races in the class. If he remains the No. 1 qualifier, it will be the second time in three races that has happened for a rider who continues to build momentum in his breakout season.
“We were surprised that it ran well with the broken valve springs," Ray said. "At first, we weren't planning on running the second session, but [team owner] George [Bryce] decided to go for it to gain some data for Saturday morning's first session, which is expected to have cooler conditions.”