St. Louis: Saturday qualifying report

WILKERSON WOWS HOMETOWN CROWD AS GRUBNIC, LINE, SMITH LEAD PACE MADISON, Ill. -- It's proving to be a golden season for independent team owner Tim Wilkerson. Wilkerson earned his fourth No. 1 qualifier in seven races at the 12th annual...

WILKERSON WOWS HOMETOWN CROWD AS GRUBNIC, LINE, SMITH LEAD PACE

MADISON, Ill. -- It's proving to be a golden season for independent team owner Tim Wilkerson.

Wilkerson earned his fourth No. 1 qualifier in seven races at the 12th annual O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Castrol on Saturday. He'll face Tony Bartone in the first round when eliminations at Gateway International Raceway open Sunday.

It was the Springfield, Ill. native's second top qualifier award at his hometown track and his 14th career No. 1. Wilkerson drove his Levi, Ray & Shoup Chevy Impala SS to a 4.744-second pass at 326.16 mph to pace the field.

"I feel pretty fortunate that we were No. 1 qualifier at all, let alone four times," Wilkerson said. "We really seem to have the knack of hitting the run at the right time. I'm not trying to brag to you and tell you we know what we're doing. So far it's a knack. But we're very happy with that, especially with as many people as we have here today.

"Dick Levi (of sponsor Levi, Ray and Shoup) is over there in the pit area, and just as happy as he can be. Believe me, I need that for my program. These cars, they don't run on a lot of happiness, they run on a lot of cash."

Australia native Dave Grubnic earned his first No. 1 qualifier of the year, the eighth of his career and his first in St. Louis when he turned in a 4.467 at 319.90 in his St. Louis Carpenters' Union Top Fuel dragster.

"Obviously the conditions were fantastic today," Grubnic said. "Everybody sort of stepped up. The (4.467) we ran in the early session was the quickest run of the year, which we're obviously very happy about. (Team owner and crew chief) Connie Kalitta obviously is the main person behind the whole thing. He's doing a great job tuning the car, and all my guys.

"Tomorrow's another day. We'll have to face that when we get up here. Consistency will be key. We know what we can get away with, but tomorrow we have to do it four times in a row. That's going to be our goal."

Jason Line picked up his first No. 1 qualifier of the year, the 14th of his career and his first at Gateway when he drove his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to a 6.571 at 209.23 around his teammate and Friday's leader Greg Anderson.

"It's very exciting to be No. 1, and even better to have my teammate (Anderson) No. 2," Line said. "Being 1-2 is the ultimate thing for us. I haven't looked at the weather but I know it's supposed to get warmer. It'll be a whole new ballgame for us...I feel very confident that our guys are as good as anybody. It was a good day for us, and it's been an exciting week for me."

Defending NHRA POWERade Series world champion Matt Smith rode his NitroFish Wear Buell to a 6.901 at 190.32 to unseat Friday's low qualifier, Chip Ellis. It was Smith's second No. 1 qualifier of the year, the ninth of his career and his second consecutive at Gateway.

"Chip's got a good bike too," Smith said. "He's been right there with us today both passes, and even yesterday. We'll have our work cut out for us.

"We had two good runs today. We left a little on the table on the first pass. If we had had that one there it probably would've been an .89 or maybe even an .88."

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Bartone , Greg Anderson , Tim Wilkerson , Jason Line , Connie Kalitta , Chip Ellis , Matt Smith