Baytown: Spring Nationals Friday summary

National, track marks tumble on record-breaking opening day. It was a record-setting day at Houston Raceway Park as cool temperatures and low humidity combined for ideal racing conditions for the first two rounds of professional qualifying at...

National, track marks tumble on record-breaking opening day.

It was a record-setting day at Houston Raceway Park as cool temperatures and low humidity combined for ideal racing conditions for the first two rounds of professional qualifying at the 16th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil.

Doug Kalitta has the inside track on his fifth successive low qualifier award after posting a 4.486-second pass at a jaw-dropping 333.91 mph, the fastest quarter-mile pass ever recorded.

Gary Densham's 4.75 at 325 mph was the quickest and fastest Funny Car pass carded in Houston Raceway Park's history.

The numbers posted in Pro Stock seemed straight out of NASA's Mission Control as six-time series champion Warren "the Professor of Pro Stock" Johnson rocketed through a national record pass of 6.720 seconds, while his son Kurt reached a national record top speed of 205.57 mph. The class easily set its quickest field ever.

Geno Scali was a surprise at the top of the Pro Stock Bike ladder with his 7.138 the best clocking of the day.

Kalitta continues to impress in his Mac Tools rail, scorching the quarter-mile in 4.486-seconds at 333.91 mph. His pass wasn't the quickest ever here - Gary Scelzi went 4.480 in 1999 - but his speed makes him the fastest man on the planet. Kalitta still has to run within one percent of his mark, or at least 330.58 mph, at some point this weekend to make it a national record, but it will remain the fastest pass ever regardless of what he does from this point forward.

"That was really nice," said Kalitta. "You know, with [crew chief] Connie's [Kalitta] legacy out here tuning this car and making the power that it is, it's a great run for us to be able to pull that off."

Clay Millican baptized his new sponsor, 104+Octane Boost, into drag racing in grand style with the best pass of his career, a 4.505 at 330.23 mph, which placed him second in the field. Miller pro Larry Dixon followed with a 4.527, with Brandon Bernstein fourth after a 4.532 in the Bud machine.

Every driver in the top half of the field ran at least a 4.5-second pass. Nitronic.com pro Bob Hallock is 16th of 20 drivers with a 4.775 at 311.63 mph. Former teammates Cory McClenathan and David Baca have yet to qualify for this race.

Densham broke an ancient (for drag racing) 4-year-old pair of track records when he blasted to a 4.755 at 325.69 mph down Houston Raceway Park. The marks easily led the Funny Car contingent as only two other drivers joined the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang driver in the 4.7-second range.

"I'd love to go out there and run a few more laps right now," Densham said. "I'd do it if they let me. It's awesome out there right now, as we can all see. They ground the track out and made it smoother than it was and it's obviously very fast. That was a good lap for us and gives us a leg on the record (4.731 seconds) if these conditions stick around. We can't be too stupid though.

"We haven't seen conditions like this here in awhile. Plus we had new tires to deal with before. And they have new sticky stuff they're spraying down. We're all just learning what to do and that's why you're seeing these great numbers this year.

"I see my boss [John Force] is still struggling. I told him a little while ago that if I owned this team and had two other cars running great like Tony and I have I'd be driving the quickest one of the bunch, but he doesn't operate that way. They'll figure it out and when they do we'd better all watch out."

Whit Bazemore, the No. 1 qualifier a week ago in Las Vegas, stayed hot in his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T with a second-best 4.778 at 323.89 mph. Densham's Team Force mate Tony Pedregon, who took the POWERade points lead back from Densham with a win in Vegas, is third here with a 4.794 at 316.23 mph.

Force finished with an early shut-off 5.313 at 198.06 mph, which left him 11th on the grid. Oakley's Scotty Cannon owns the bump after a coasting 7.855 at 105.46 mph.

Record numbers came so quickly in Pro Stock that it seemed like the finish line had been moved a few hundred feet closer to the Christmas Tree. Ultimately, it was the most prolific driver at this track, four-time Spring Nationals champion Warren Johnson, who had the baddest hot rod in the class with an awe-inspiring national-record elapsed time of 6.720 during a 204.66 mph pass.

W.J.'s remarkable time in his GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am knocked a full three-hundredths of a second off Jeg Coughlin Jr.'s 18-month-old mark of 6.750 seconds. His Round 1 pass of 6.758 seconds easily backs the mark up to make it official.

"That run really didn't feel that good but racing at night you lose a little bit of perspective as to where you are on the racetrack," Johnson said. "We certainly learned from our experience last year that this track gets a little damp at night and it isn't as good as you think it will be. Consequently, we backed our GM Performance Parts Grand Am up just a little bit to be on the safe side.

"We were a little light on the clutch, which is where the speed went, but it ran a great e.t., running quicker than anyone ever had, so there wasn't much left in it. There might have been a couple of thousandths left but you can go over the edge so easily to the point of aborting the run. We are certainly pleased with that run."

Johnson's son Kurt was the closest to his dad after a 6.726-second pass at a national record top speed of 205.57 mph in his ACDelco Chevrolet Cavalier. K.J. has already backed the speed up to make it an official record. Round 1 leader Greg Anderson followed in third place after an improved 6.727 at 205.29 mph in his Vegas General Construction machine.

Four other drivers -- Mike Edwards (6.736), Bruce Allen (6.743), Darrell Alderman (6.744), and Ron Krisher (6.746) -- all ran quicker than the old record.

Agri-Pack driver JR Carr anchored the record field with a 6.768 at 203.34 mph. Thirty-five drivers attempted passes Friday, leaving 19 on the list of cars that have yet to qualify for eliminations.

Every driver in the top 16 except former e.t. record holder Coughlin and Jim Yates used a career-best pass to make this field. The previous bump for the quickest field ever was a 6.811 set at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Curiously, the Pro Stock Bikes didn't gobble up the conditions like the Pro Stock cars did, but class leader Scali of Team Trim-Tex did manage to set a Houston Raceway Park track record for his elapsed time of 7.138 seconds during a 185.84-mph pass. Scali, who scored his first win last year in Brainerd, has never earned the No. 1 qualifying spot in eight years of racing.

"This is pretty cool," Scali said. "The track was awesome. The first half of the track I could tell I was on a fast lap but I got into some little bumps in the second half. I was surprised it ran a 7.13. We are very pleased with that run."

It's no surprise to see a female doing well in the class but it was Jonco Motorsports rider Karen Stoffer, not three-time champion Angelle Savoie, securing the second slot on the ladder with a career-best 7.155 at 187.05 mph. Fred Collis of Area 51 Racing was third after a 7.158 at 185.89 mph on the bike Savoie rode last season. Savoie, meanwhile, finished sixth on her Bonewear mount. The top eight riders all posted runs in the seven-teens.

Inline Motorsports rider Sam Hurwitz set the Day 1 bump of 7.274 at 183.59 mph, which is just four-thousandths of a second off the record for the quickest 16 ever assembled. There are 34 bikes in attendance at this event.

-nhra-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Clay Millican , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , David Baca , Gary Densham , Scotty Cannon , Sam Hurwitz , Cory McClenathan , Bruce Allen , Geno Scali , Karen Stoffer , Brandon Bernstein , Fred Collis , Mike Edwards