In front of a sellout crowd at World Wide Technology Raceway, championship contender John Force powered to the No. 1 spot in Funny Car on Saturday at the eighth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the second of six races during the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. It is the 20th of 24 events during the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. NHRA and World Wide Technology officials announced a Saturday sellout crowd for a fourth straight year as well.
“The St. Louis racing community continues to show the world that they are a die-hard racing town,” said Chris Blair, World Wide Technology Raceway Executive Vice President and General Manager. “The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals has firmly established itself as one of the must-attend events on the NHRA Mello Yello Championship Tour and our venue continues to show that we are the premier motorsports showplace in the Midwest.”
Force went to the top spot in Funny Car on his final qualifying run, going 3.842-seconds at 334.40 mph in his PEAK Chevrolet Camaro to earn his fourth No. 1 qualifier this season and 159th in his career. The 16-time world champ started the weekend second in points, going to the final round in three of the past four races, and will meet Terry Haddock to open eliminations on Sunday. Matt Hagan qualified second with a 3.854 at 333.08, while Bob Tasca III qualified third with a career-best pass of 3.855 at 327.51. Points leader Jack Beckman is ninth after going 3.894 at 326.16.
“It was a good night for me, and I do love this, I do love the fans and I love driving these racecars,” Force said. “We’ve got a real good team and we’re out there fighting the fight. I’m excited I get to drive a car that’s this good. I’m happy tonight and we gobbled up some points.”
Top Fuel’s Salinas went 3.687 at 330.55 in his Scrappers Racing dragster on Saturday, earning his fifth No. 1 qualifier this season and sixth overall. Salinas, who entered the weekend sixth in points, will meet Cameron Ferre to start eliminations as he seeks his third win in a breakout 2019 season. Billy Torrence, who was the provisional No. 1 qualifier on Friday, is second thanks to his run of 3.699 at 321.88, while rookie Austin Prock is third with his pass of 3.707 at 332.10. Points leader Doug Kalitta will start eliminations from 10th after going 3.741 at 327.59.
“The car is really smooth and really fast, and it has more in it,” Salinas said. “The guys are doing a great job, and we’re ready for the Countdown. We have a fast car and it’s really nice to be a part of it. I’m just happy to be with this group. I’m learning so much and (crew chief) Alan Johnson is teaching me so much. It was really, really fast, smooth and clean, and I think we’re going to have a really fast car for raceday.”
In Pro Stock, Enders maintained an impressive qualifying pace through the first two races of the Countdown to the Championship, earning her second straight No. 1 qualifier with a run of 6.552 at 209.85 in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro. It is Enders’ second straight No. 1 qualifier and 21st of her career, as the two-time world champ had the quickest runs in three of the four qualifying sessions. She will face off with Alan Prusiensky in the first round of eliminations. Her Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified second with a 6.558 at 208.01, while points leader Jason Line will start raceday from third after going 6.560 at 209.52.
“My guys just keep powering through all the hard stuff, and they have their confidence and swagger back,” Enders said. “In turn, that gives me mine and it’s just been fun to crawl our way back to the top. To go low three of the sessions and accumulate nine bonus points, I’m thrilled. I’ve got a great racecar underneath me and I’m ready for raceday. Every point matters and just having that confidence means everything. That’s what it’s all about, having that positive mental attitude.”
Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle event winner and world champ Matt Smith moved to the top spot in the class on Saturday, unleashing a 6.801 at 198.93 on his Denso Racing/Stockseth/MSR EBR. It is Smith’s fourth No. 1 qualifier this season and 35th in his career. He’ll face off with Jianna Salinas to open eliminations on Sunday. Steve Johnson, who was the provisional No. 1 qualifier on Friday, will start from second thanks to his 6.838 at 196.02. Andrew Hines is third with his 6.851 at 195.82, and points leader Jerry Savoie qualified fifth after a run of 6.869 at 196.13.
“Our confidence is really high,” Smith said. “We come into this race knowing this is one of our better tracks and we put our good motor in, and today we got it. Everything’s fine and we’ll be ready to go four rounds tomorrow. We need to win the race. We were 23 points out coming into this race, but our goal is to turn on four win lights tomorrow. Ever since I’ve been coming here I’ve been successful, and I just really like this place.”
In the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, three-time world champ Rickie Smith joined his son, Matt, as a No. 1 qualifier with a run of 5.724 at 252.43 on Saturday in his nitrous-powered Camaro. It is his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and ninth in his career. Defending event winner and points leader Stevie “Fast” Jackson is a spot behind after going 5.734 at 251.49.
Eliminations at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals begin at 11 a.m. CT on Sunday.