Rupert Sets The Pace In Tucson

Jason Rupert was the top qualifier in Funny Car Friday at Southwestern Int'l Raceway. (IHRA photo)

Jason Rupert was the top qualifier in Funny Car Friday at Southwestern Int'l Raceway. (IHRA photo)
Jason Rupert was the top qualifier in Funny Car Friday at Southwestern Int’l Raceway. (IHRA photo)
TUCSON, Ariz. — The return of traditional qualifying and a healthy championship battle was just as sweet as expected as the IHRA Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series opened the season on during the IHRA Southwestern Nationals at Southwestern Int’l Raceway.

Jason Rupert led the way in IHRA’s most anticipated championship, taking the top spot in Nitro Funny Car with a well-earned 5.898-second elapsed time at 245 mph. Mike Scott topped the Nitro Harley field on Friday with a 6.353, 221.49 mph and Kyle Hough took the pole in Nitro Altered with a 6.796, 187.11 mph run. Mountain Motor Pro Stock will make the first of its qualifying runs on Saturday.

Nearly all of the chart-topping runs took place during the second round of competition as drivers struggled to find the right setup right out of the box. Rupert topped the charts after both rounds on opening night, but his final run on Friday set the pace for Saturday eliminations.

Canadian Tim Boychuk, who sat in the DNQ position after round one, put himself into the field with a respectable 5.932, 241.76 mph, temporarily giving him the top mark. Texan John Hale qualified third in the “Mike Burkhart” tribute nostalgia flopper with a 5.946, 242.41 mph, followed by Bruce Litton (6.039, 237.34) and Kris Krabill (6.131, 240.17 mph).

Rounding out the field were Mark Sanders, Mike McIntire Jr. and Roger Garten. Mike Halstead, in the “Powers Steel” Camaro, and Ronny Young in “Blue Max” failed to make the field.

Litton provided one of Friday’s truly feel-good stories as the longtime Top Fuel veteran made his first pass in a Nitro Funny Car in over 20 years, temporarily putting himself in the top spot during round one before slipping to fourth. Also making news on Friday was the debut of Mike McIntire Jr. who took over for his father in the “McAttack” Camaro and put himself solidly in the field.

Mike Scott led the Nitro Harley category with a memorable 6.353, 221.49 mph, barely enough to hold off a hard-charging Jay Turner. Turner posted a 6.399, 230.88 mph during his second round of qualifying and was one of two drivers to break the 230 mph mark in the two-wheel class. Randal Andras was third with a 6.416, 224.10 mph, followed by Steve Dorn (6.648, 212.23 mph) and Ron Gledhill (7.171, 198.79 mph). Alvin Kobernusz, Mike Pelrine and Steve Heidner rounded out the bike field.

In Nitro Altered third-generation driver Kyle Hough topped the wild class with a 6.796, 187.11 run after being forced to shut the car off in round one. He was followed by Jim Maroney who had a distant 7.445, 143.61. Rounding out the field is Ron Maroney, Ron Hope, Steve Nelson and Mike Hilsabeck.