Gainesville: Saturday summary

Kalitta leads the quickest Top Fuel field in NHRA history at Gatornationals. GAINESVILLE, Fla. - For the third consecutive race, Doug Kalitta has earned the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel. Kalitta paced the quickest Top Fuel field in NHRA...

Kalitta leads the quickest Top Fuel field in NHRA history at Gatornationals.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - For the third consecutive race, Doug Kalitta has earned the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel. Kalitta paced the quickest Top Fuel field in NHRA history Saturday during the 34th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

Tony Pedregon, Bruce Allen and Angelle Savoie also qualified in the No. 1 position in their respective categories at the $2 million race. This is the third of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Kalitta became just the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to earn the top spot of the category at the first three events of the season. He turned in a 4.535-second run at 326.08 mph in his Mac Tools dragster to lead the 16-car field. Kalitta joins Gary Beck, Joe Amato and Blaine Johnson as the only dragster drivers to accomplish the feat.

"Those are great names to be associated with," Kalitta said after earning his 10th career No. 1 qualifier. "It's a nice accomplishment for the team, but we still have not turned the top qualifying spots into victories. We are making good power right now and we need to covert that into a win."

Kalitta led the fastest Top Fuel group that was anchored by Shirley Muldowney. The legendary three-time Top Fuel champion turned in a 4.694 run at 305.39 in her Action Collectibles dragster.

Muldowney is racing in six NHRA national events this season, closing out a career that has spanned nearly 30 years. Muldowney and Kalitta's crew chief, Connie Kalitta, worked and competed against each other for years. Doug Kalitta and Muldowney will face each other in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.

"I am just going to go out there and do my normal deal," Kalitta said. "For me, I have to treat it like it is just another race. Shirley is a great competitor and I know that if we don't make it down the track first, Connie might take it a little harder than anyone else.

"There is some good history between Shirley and Connie and I am sure it is going to make that run a little more interesting to watch. We just have to do our job because it's not just her team that is running well. This is the quickest Top Fuel field in history and that just shows how competitive the field is going to be on Sunday."

Pedregon earned his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and 19th of his career with a 4.811 run at 317.57 to lead the Funny Car class in his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang.

Pedregon is the defending winner of the event and is looking to move back into the points lead. He was No. 1 after his season opening victory in Pomona, Calif., before dropping to the No. 2 spot behind Ron Capps after the Phoenix event three weeks ago.

"It seems like we have been able to adjust well to the different tracks that we have faced," Pedregon said. "We're pretty happy with the run. It's a good starting point for us and it is a lot better than being in the No. 17 position.

"Our strategy is to be aggressive when the conditions allow it. If the conditions are good and we fail to take advantage of it, we'll probably regret it later in the season if the points battle is real tight."

Allen notched his 16th career top qualifying position and second consecutive when he drove his Reher-Morrison Pontiac Grand Am to a track record time of 6.777 at 202.33 to lead the Pro Stock category.

There were 45 cars vying for a spot in the 16-car field.

"This class is unbelievable," Allen said. "You have two different modes when you get to the race track. You do everything you can to qualify. Once you get it, you get into another mindset. You try to get a good light and beat the car in the other lane. I've been doing this for a while and it's as hard as it's ever been. It's like walking down a razor blade."

Savoie held the top spot in the Pro Stock Bike category during the season opener for the two-wheelers. Savoie rode her Team 23 Suzuki to a 7.160 at 182.03 for the 32nd No. 1 qualifier of her career.

For the first time in NHRA history, a factory-backed Harley-Davidson qualified for eliminations. Andrew Hines, brother of three-time champion Matt Hines, rode his Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson to the No. 10 spot in the field with a 7.275 pass at 179.89. The Harley team made their debut at the 2002 Gatornationals with GT Tonglet as the rider. The team failed to qualify in seven attempts, and added a second bike during the offseason.

"Without the team being out here last year doing all the research and development, it wouldn't have been possible for this team to qualify at the Gatornationals this year," Andrew Hines said. "It's very disappointing that both bikes didn't qualify, but it's just the beginning of the season and it won't be long until we are both racing in the eliminations."

Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , Joe Amato , Doug Kalitta , Bruce Allen , Andrew Hines , GT Tonglet , Connie Kalitta