By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
NHRA Countdown Is Underway As Performance Barrier Falls
Rising to the top of the Top Fuel field, Doug Kalitta captured the first two races in the Countdown to the Championship. He nailed down the win in both the countdown opener at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania and put number two in the win column at zMax Raceway in North Carolina. Photo By Mike Burghardt

In NHRA drag racing there are two major performance barrier/goal standards remaining that deal with speed. One is the maximum speed for the 1000-foot racing distance. The top two categories, Top Fuel and Funny Car, race in a 1000-foot distance, while the other classes race to the standard quarter-mile distance, for safety issues. The top speed barrier is the 340-mile per hour in this distance. Another barrier, in recent years has popped up, 300-miles per hour at the “half-track” (eighth-mile) point. The racers are getting closer to each. A special $30,000 award would be given to the first driver to reach this. Well, the 300 mph to the eighth-mile has been broken. Mike Salinas had the fans at the track and nationwide in a buzz as he broke the 300-mph barrier with a 300.80 mph speed at half-track. His complete run was 3.647 at 338.00 mph, capturing the top qualifying spot in his final qualifying run at the NHRA Carolina Nationals. For those who have followed this sport over the years, if someone had told you 30 to 40 years ago that they would be going 300 mph in a quarter-mile with a wheel driven car, you would not believe it possible. In 1992, Kenny Bernstein broke the 300-mph barrier. Soon, speeds of over 330-mph were regularly achieved, and in just 1000 feet. Now they have reached 300-mph in just 660-feet. Brittany Force still holds most of the Top Fuel dragster speed records, about eight of the 10 fastest speeds, including 338.66 mph.

Two of the six events in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship have been completed. The Pep Boys NHRA Nationals was up first, at the famed Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pennsylvania.

In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta came through for his first win in nearly two years. But it was not an easy path to his 50th career win. During his final qualifying run, the rear tire on his dragster unexpectedly exploded, taking out the rear wing of his dragster. His team brought out and assembled his back up dragster, that used a regular style driver’s compartment instead of the enclosed canopy style. The car responded way above expectations and Kalitta went on to collect the event win over Steve Torrence. In the process, he set top speed of the event (336.99 mph) and low elapse time of the event (3.658-seconds). In a surprise, the point leader, Justin Ashley lost in the second round of eliminations to Tony Schumacher.

In Funny Car, Robert Hight marched his Cornwell Tools Camaro through to his 64th career event win, defeating Chad Green in the final round, 3.854 at 330.39 mph to 3.928 at 327.27 mph. In one of the closest races in history, Hight defeated Matt Hagan in the second round by 0.0001-seconds. Hight left second (0.059 to 0.052) against Matt Hagan and won with a 3.852 at 327.66 mph to 3.859 at 335.48 mph. Margin of victory was about one inch.

In Pro Stock, Matt Hartford collected his second win in a row and first ever in the playoffs. But it was not that simple. Hartford’s race car kept suffering from various intermittent ignition problems. After his win in Indy, they returned. Once an event starts, racers cannot test or run their cars on the track until their scheduled times. You cannot fix a problem until you find it. To solve the problem, they had the car transported to a parts store after hours, where they had the parking lot secured for safety. Then they ran some tests on the car. When the electrical system in the car caught fire, the problem was found. After they replaced all the wiring in the car, the problems were gone, allowing him to win the event and take over the point lead.

Matt Smith had a plan to help his chances of defending his title in Pro Stock Motorcycle. He brought in a third team bike as a blocker to help take out opponents. Then in the final round he faced and defeated his blocker, Chip Ellis to take the win and the point lead with a 6.807 at 198.50 mph. The nearly unbeatable Gaige Herra was taken out in the second round by Jianna Evaristo (daughter of Mike Salinas), who was being assisted by Matt Smith.

Next up was the betway NHRA Carolina Nationals. With the many competition upsets, the event could have been easily called “The Upset Nationals”.

In Top Fuel, the best driver, Justin Ashley, was taken out in the opening round by Leah Pruitt, as his car lost traction. Doug Kalitta then took out Steve Torrence, 3.718 at 33.16 mph to 3.725 at 332.34 mph. Kalitta then marched into the final round, where he took out the first driver to go 300 mph to the eighth-mile (Mike Salinas) for his second consecutive and 51st career victory. This put Kalitta on top of the Top Fuel point standings.

The Funny Car class joined the upset club as countdown contenders, John Force, Ron Capps and JR Todd were all taken out in the opening round. When the dust cleared it would be Robert Hight vs. Bob Tasca III in the final round. Tasca kept Hight from making it two event wins in a row by leaving first (0.050 to 0.091), for a holeshot 3.933 at 329.26 mph to 3.92 at 326.95 mph win, putting himself second in points behind Hight.

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders had the quickest and fastest car throughout the first event, but went out due to a minor driving error. The second event was like a mirror of the first. And once again, she made a minor shifting error. This time, Greg Anderson was the beneficiary and he made the most of it. She left well ahead of him (0.029 to 0.043), but her second gear shifting error allow him to pass her for the win. Anderson then closed the deal over Dallas Glen, 6.554 at 209.23 mph to 6.590 at 206.73 mph for his 102nd career victory. Matt Hartford maintained the point lead by only four points over Enders, as she took him out in the second round of eliminations.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Gaige Herrera came alive. After his loss in the first countdown event, he came in on a mission. He made no mistakes, and ran quicker (by almost 0.015-seconds) and faster than everyone else, nearly every run. Because of his flawless performance, nearly all his opponents fouled out against him, as they tried to get any advantage, except Matt Smith. He and Smiith left together in round two, but Herrera simply rode away from him with a 6.747 at 200.71 mph run. He then collected his seventh win of the season by taking out (red lighting) Hector Arana Jr with a 6.726 at 201.34 mph.

With four events to go, nearly every category has four to five drivers still in contention to win a championship. Next race is at the “Gateway to the West”, St. Louis.

Qualifying first in Funny Car action at Pennsylvania in the opening race of the Countdown to the Championship, Bob Tasca failed to make it to the final. He then qualified third at the second event staged at North Carolina’s zMax Raceway and claimed the victory there over Robert Hight. Photo By Mike Burghardt
After losing out in the first Countdown to the Championship event, it was Gaige Herrera capturing the Pro Stock Motorcycle win at the second race, staged in North Carolina. He beat out Hector Arana, Jr. in the final round for his seventh overall victory of the season. Photo By Mike Burghardt