Looking to sweep both races at zMAX Dragway this season, legendary Funny Car driver John Force rolled to the provisional No. 1 position on Friday in Charlotte at the 14th annual Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals.
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) are also provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the second of six races in the Countdown to the Championship during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
Force, who has won the four-wide race at the track the past two years, just missed the track record at the second race in the playoffs, going 3.854s at 330.47mph in his PEAK Chevrolet Camaro SS. If it holds it would be the 16-time world champion’s second No. 1 qualifier this year and 165th in his career. Force has forged an impressive rhythm at the state-of-the-art facility in recent years and is trying to make a move in the points standings as well. He’s currently fourth in points and is looking to make a big push this weekend.
“It’s a great track to run numbers like this, but there’s a stack of them right behind me that can do the same, and we’re going to have conditions like this tomorrow,” Force said. “We’ve got a good team and it’s coming around, [but] we’ve got a lot of work to do. They were all there tomorrow, but at least we got to shine for one night. Our team had a great weekend last weekend with Robert [Hight] and Austin [Prock] both winning, and we’re back in the fight in the Countdown.”
Three other standouts closely followed right behind Force, as points leader Hight, defending world champ Ron Capps and Matt Hagan all went 3.86s. Hagan is currently second with his run of 3.861s at 329.99mph, with Hight and Capps going 3.864s and 3.866s, respectively. Bob Tasca III rounded out the top five with a 3.876s.
Looking to get into the Top Fuel championship hunt with a late-season run – and also pick up a milestone victory along the way – Kalitta was the only driver to dip into the 3.60s on Friday, rocketing to the top with his run of 3.694s at 326.56mph in his Mac Tools dragster. Kalitta is seeking his second No. 1 qualifier this season, but also his 50th career win – and first victory since 2020 – as he looks to ramp up his 2022 performance. The veteran hasn’t been to a final round yet this year, but timing is everything in the Countdown to the Championship and Kalitta looked strong on Friday under the lights at zMAX Dragway.
“I always love coming here and the conditions were perfect,” Kalitta said. “We had a lot of confidence in that run, and I was really happy it ran what it did. We’re getting down to the wire and we’re trying to go rounds. It was a great effort by the team and the car stayed in the groove well. It was pretty impressive with all the side-by-side runs and we’re looking forward to getting after it tomorrow. All year long, we’ve tried to keep improving and I think we’ve stumbled upon some things. This would be an awesome time to start going rounds and have a consistent car.”
Competing in the playoffs for the first time, defending event winner and second-year driver Josh Hart is currently second thanks to his 3.702s at 328.38mph, while points leader Justin Ashley is right behind with a 3.703s at 330.72mph.
Enders delivered an impressive boom to open Pro Stock qualifying on Friday in Charlotte, rolling to No. 1 by a considerable margin with her 6.513s at 210.93mph in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. The next closest to her was defending world champ Greg Anderson, who went 6.535s at 209.82mph, but Enders remained a step ahead as she closes in on her fourth No. 1 position this season and 27th in her career. After a dominant performance last weekend in Reading to open the Countdown to the Championship, Enders, the points leader and four-time world champ, kept up her impressive pace to open up the race weekend at zMAX Dragway.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Enders said. “The drive for five [world championships] is still alive and we’re going to try to continue to execute the best we can. It definitely felt good when I let the clutch out. All these [qualifying] points matter in the Countdown and our goal is to accumulate as many as we can. We did that in Reading and we’re going to try to keep our foot on their throats. We’re off to a good start [in the Countdown], but we have five races left and we want to capitalize on every moment. We have to make these five races count and see what happens.”
Anderson, who won in Indy to close the regular season, sits second while his KB Racing teammate, Dallas Glenn, is third after his pass of 6.537s at 210.50mph.
Qualifying continues at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.