ST. LOUIS – Four-time defending Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence made his best run of the season on Friday at World Wide Technology Raceway, taking the provisional No. 1 qualifier to open the race weekend at the 11th annual NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Robert Hight (Funny Car), Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
Torrence powered to a run of 3.655-seconds at 327.43 in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster during the first qualifying session in St. Louis, looking to make up some ground in a hurry. If it holds, Torrence, who is currently fifth in Top Fuel points, would pick up his third top qualifier of the season and 34th in his career. Torrence, though, is trying to rack up victories in the Countdown to the Championship after falling in the second round at the first two playoff races. He’s had recent success in St. Louis as the defending event winner and will hope to add to that this weekend.
“That’s a year’s work that goes into a run like that,” Torrence said. “These guys have worked really hard to get the car where it’s at. We’re behind the eight-ball right now, but we’re going to do everything we can. We didn’t get to be the four-time champs by doing dumb stuff, but we have backed ourselves into a corner.
“The class has really stepped up and everyone is so quick and so fast right now. We needed to run well and we’re trying to get ourselves back in there. That was great for us to do that tonight.”
Doug Kalitta is currently in the second spot with a stout 3.684 at 334.32, while Clay Millican rounds out the top three after going 3.703 at 334.24. Points leader Justin Ashley is currently 16th.
Hight quickly bounced back from his surprising second-round exit last weekend, as the Funny Car points leader delivered a massive run of 3.853 at 336.32 in his 11,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS. The three-time world champion is after his fifth No. 1 spot this season and 76th in his career, as well as his eighth victory this season, and he also made the fastest Funny Car run of the 2022 season on Friday. Hight won the playoff opener in Reading and looked strong to start the weekend in St. Louis as one of only four cars to make a three-second run to open qualifying.
“(Crew chiefs) Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham were a little perplexed because a lot of teams weren’t making it down. But they stuck with their gameplan because they know what this car can do,” Hight said. “We amassed a pretty good lead after Reading and we gave a lot of that back last weekend. We worked hard at the shop and to come out here and make a run like that, that was very impressive.”
Hight’s teammate, 16-time world champ John Force, ran an identical 3.853 but was slightly slower with a 334.15 to put him second. Matt Hagan, the defending event winner, went 3.896 at 334.98 to slot him in the third spot.
Looking to make his own late-season charge, Koretsky made a strong pass in the opening qualifying session in his Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro, taking the top spot with a run of 6.512 at 211.00. It puts Koretsky on track for his second No. 1 qualifier this season – and first since Phoenix in February – and third in his career. Koretsky is currently fifth in points and looking for his first win this season. Getting it at the halfway point of the Countdown to the Championship would be a huge boost to his title chances.
“That was a great first run off the trailer,” Koretsky said. “St. Louis has been pretty good to us, and the guys have been working hard on the engines. We’ve been struggling a little bit, but the guys at KB Racing have been working hard and we don’t give up. It’s cool to sit No. 1 after Friday night, but you never know out here. Everyone is tough and we’re going to give St. Louis a heck of a run.”
Defending world champ and KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson also dipped into the 6.51 range, going 6.517 at 210.44 to sit second, while two-time race winner Troy Coughlin is third after a 6.529 at 210.60. Points leader Erica Enders is currently fifth thanks to a 6.536.
After a year away from World Wide Technology raceway, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class returned with a vengeance on Friday, with defending world champ Matt Smith making an impressive run of 6.709 at 202.82 on his Denso Auto Parts Buell. That set both ends of the track record as the sun was setting in St. Louis, and the five-time world champ also made the quickest run in his standout career. Bumped back to second in points after Joey Gladstone won in Reading, Smith is determined to have a big weekend as the season hits crunch time.
“The motorcycles have evolved a lot in the last few years,” Smith said. “I’m excited to be back and it’s a fast track, and I’m looking forward to what happens tomorrow. If we have the same weather, we’re definitely going to go and swing for the 6.60s because we’ve never done that before, and we would love to do it.”
Angelle Sampey also impressed on Friday, going 6.726 at 201.67 and Angie Smith followed with a 6.748 at 201.19. Gladstone is currently seventh after his pass of 6.792.
Qualifying continues at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway.