The first round of qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway will set the mark for the competitors to beat on Saturday to set the field for Sunday's final showdown outside of Houston.
BAYTOWN, Texas – Cruz Pedregon continued his strong start to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season as he powered to the qualifying lead in Funny Car Friday at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway.
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also led their respective categories at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event near Houston.
The two-time Funny Car world champion has one win this season along with one No. 1 qualifying position and is second in points. On Friday he raced to the top of the qualifying order in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry Funny Car with a leading performance of 4.086 seconds at 310.41 mph.
“This run was really good for us because we broke a couple of rods [on a 4.70 176.76 mph pass] in the first session,” Pedregon said. “It was a flawless pass that really set me back in the seat right at the hit of the throttle. It really pulled hard all the way through, and I knew it was a good pass. But we weren’t trying to knock it out of the park, and or goal was just to keep all eight cylinders lit all the way to the finish line. I honestly would have been happy with a 4.12 or a 4.13. So we were really thrilled with the 4.08.”
Pedregon has eight career No. 1 qualifying positions at the track, but knows that keeping it for eliminations on Sunday could be a tall order.
“Houston has always been a fast track, but our cars are making a lot more power than they used to, and we’re also getting used to some new parts and new tune-up ideas that we’re trying,” Pedregon continued. “And as good as the 4.08 run was, I think that if we have a cloud cover tomorrow, some of the other drivers like Johnny Gray or Courtney (Force) could pop a 4.07. So we have our work cut out for us on Saturday.”
Kalitta raced his Mac Tools dragster to the qualifying lead during a wild second session which saw the top spot change seven times during the course qualifying. Kalitta was in the final pair of cars and posted a run of 3.791 seconds at 321.65 mph to take the lead into the final day of qualifying on Saturday.
“The conditions were right and we made a good run and had the quick time of the day,” said Kalitta. “I actually think Jim O [Oberhofer, crew chief] was trying to run a 3.77, but we settled for a 3.79. I’m happy and I’m really proud of my guys.”
Kalitta has two No. 1 qualifying positions so far this season, but has yet to capitalize on them for a win. He has one career win at Royal Purple Raceway and is hoping to add another to his 32 career wins total.
“I think the chances are good that it will stay,” Kalitta said. “It should warm up tomorrow and I think mid-3.8s will be good, but you never know with these guys. The competition is this class is so good. We’ve been doing well lately, but we really need to turn that into a win on Sunday.”
Coughlin, a four-time Pro Stock world champion, raced his JEGS.com / Mopar Dodge Avenger to the No. 1 position with a performance of 6.569 at 211.20. Coughlin has 17 career No. 1 qualifying positions in his career but hasn’t posted one since the 2010 season.
“Roy [Johnson, engine builder] was pleased with the performance of the car, and the crew chiefs [Mark Ingersoll and Jim Yates] were very happy,” said Coughlin. “The temperatures might be a little warmer tomorrow, which will be in our favor, but we’ll still have to peck away at it if we want to stay No. 1.”
Arana Jr. continued his hot start to the season by racing to the top spot on his Lucas Oil Buell in Pro Stock Motorcycle. He has won the first two events of the season and if his 6.876 pass at 195.39 stays No. 1 it would be the 12th of his career and his first at Royal Purple Raceway, which already holds special memories for him.
"We’re doing so well so far this season that I just want to keep that momentum going and stay on top as long as I can,” said Arana Jr. “I like this track. This is where I qualified for the first time and got my first round win against my father. Last year, I also made my first final round so I like it here.
“The track was not bad at all today,” Arana continued. “It was a little warmer than it has been anywhere else this year but we still made good runs. Tomorrow, I hope to improve. I’m sure some guys will get close, but if we run in the morning and the weather is cool, I should run quicker.”
Qualifying continues on Saturday at noon and 2:15. Eliminations are scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m.