Force Powers To No. 1 Spot At Midwest Nationals

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John Force powered to the top spot in Funny Car qualifying during the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. (Shawn Crose Photo)
John Force powered to the top spot in Funny Car qualifying during the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. (Shawn Crose Photo)

MADISON, Ill. – In front of a sellout crowd at World Wide Technology Raceway, championship contender John Force powered to the No. 1 spot in the Funny Car class Saturday at the eighth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.

Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the second of six races during the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. It is the 20th of 24 events during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Force went to the top spot in Funny Car on his final qualifying run, going 3.842 seconds at 334.40 mph in his PEAK Chevrolet Camaro to earn his fourth No. 1 qualifier this season and 159th in his career.

The 16-time world champ started the weekend second in points, going to the final round in three of the past four races, and will meet Terry Haddock to open eliminations on Sunday.

Matt Hagan qualified second, while Bob Tasca III qualified third with a career-best pass of 3.855 seconds at 327.51 mph.

“It was a good night for me, and I do love this, I do love the fans and I love driving these race cars,” Force said. “We’ve got a real good team and we’re out there fighting the fight. I’m excited I get to drive a car that’s this good. I’m happy tonight and we gobbled up some points.”

Top Fuel’s Salinas went 3.687 seconds at 330.55 mph in his Scrappers Racing dragster on Saturday, earning his fifth No. 1 qualifier this season and sixth overall. Salinas, who entered the weekend sixth in points, will meet Cameron Ferre to start eliminations as he seeks his third win in a breakout season.

Billy Torrence, who was the provisional No. 1 qualifier on Friday, is second, while rookie Austin Prock is third.

“The car is really smooth and really fast, and it has more in it,” Salinas said. “The guys are doing a great job, and we’re ready for the Countdown. We have a fast car and it’s really nice to be a part of it. I’m just happy to be with this group. I’m learning so much and (crew chief) Alan Johnson is teaching me so much. It was really, really fast, smooth and clean, and I think we’re going to have a really fast car for race day.”

In Pro Stock, Enders maintained an impressive qualifying pace through the first two races of the Countdown to the Championship, earning her second straight No. 1 qualifier with a run of 6.552 seconds at 209.85 mph in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro.

It is Enders’ second straight No. 1 qualifier and 21st of her career, as the two-time world champ had the quickest runs in three of the four qualifying sessions. She will face off with Alan Prusiensky in the first round of eliminations. Her Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified second, while points leader Jason Line will start race day from third.

“My guys just keep powering through all the hard stuff, and they have their confidence and swagger back,” Enders said. “In turn, that gives me mine and it’s just been fun to crawl our way back to the top. To go low three of the sessions and accumulate nine bonus points, I’m thrilled. I’ve got a great racecar underneath me and I’m ready for raceday. Every point matters and just having that confidence means everything. That’s what it’s all about, having that positive mental attitude.”

Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle event winner and world champ Matt Smith moved to the top spot in the class on Saturday, unleashing a 6.801-second pass at 198.93 mph on his Denso Racing/Stockseth/MSR EBR.

It is Smith’s fourth No. 1 qualifier this season and 35th in his career. He’ll face off with Jianna Salinas to open eliminations on Sunday. Steve Johnson, who was the provisional No. 1 qualifier on Friday, will start from the second position. Andrew Hines is third.

“Our confidence is really high,” Smith said. “We come into this race knowing this is one of our better tracks and we put our good motor in, and today we got it. Everything’s fine and we’ll be ready to go four rounds tomorrow. We need to win the race. We were 23 points out coming into this race, but our goal is to turn on four win lights tomorrow. Ever since I’ve been coming here I’ve been successful, and I just really like this place.”

In the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, three-time world champ Rickie Smith joined his son, Matt, as a No. 1 qualifier with a run of 5.724 seconds at 252.43 mph on Saturday in his nitrous-powered Camaro. It is his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and ninth in his career.