Steve Torrence. (NHRA photo)
ST. LOUIS — Four-time Top Fuel title holder Steve Torrence put on his best run of the season at World Wide Technology Raceway on Friday, winning the No. 1 interim qualifier to open 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 the interim No. 1 qualifiers in the third of six races in the countdown to the championship during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
Torrence put in a run of 3.655 seconds in his 11,000hp Capco Contractors dragster at 327.43 in the first qualifying session in St. Louis, trying to make up some ground quickly. If it holds, Torrence, who is currently fifth in top fuel points, would earn his third top qualifier of the season and 34th of his career. However, Torrence is attempting to rack up victories in the countdown to the championship after falling in the second round of the first two playoff races. He recently found success in St. Louis as the defending champion’s winner and hopes to add to that this weekend.
“That’s a year’s work that goes into a run like this,” Torrence said. “These guys have worked really hard to get the car to where it is. We’re behind eight ball right now, but we’re going to do everything we can. We didn’t become the four-time champion by doing stupid stuff, but we backed ourselves into a corner.
“The class has really improved and everyone is so quick and so quick at the moment. We had to run well and we’re trying to get back in there. It was great for us to do that tonight.”
Doug Kalitta is currently in second place with a strong 3,684 at 334.32, while Clay Millican rounds out the top three with 3,703 at 334.24. Championship leader Justin Ashley is currently 16.
Hight quickly rebounded from his surprise lap two exit last weekend when the Funny Car points leader delivered a mighty 3.853 run at 336.32 in his 11,000hp Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS. The three-time World Champion is also the fastest Funny Car run of the 2022 season after finishing fifth this season and finishing 76th of his career and eighth win of the season on Friday. Hight won the playoff opener at Reading and was looking strong to start the weekend in St. Louis as one of only four cars to manage a three-second run to the opening qualifying race.
“(Crew Chiefs) Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham were a bit perplexed because a lot of teams didn’t make it down. But they stuck to their game plan because they know what this car can do,” said Hight. “We built a pretty good lead after Reading and gave back a lot of that last weekend. We worked hard in the shop and to come out here and do a run like that was very impressive.”
Hight’s teammate, 16-time world champion John Force, ran an identical 3.853 but was slightly slower at 334.15 to put him in second place. Matt Hagan, the defending event winner, went 3.896 at 334.98 for third place.
Koretsky, eager to make his own attack at the end of the season, drove a strong pass in his Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro in Q1 to take the top spot with a 6.512 run of 211.00. It puts Koretsky on track for his second No. 1 qualifier this season — and first since Phoenix in February — and third of his career. Koretsky is currently fifth in points and is hoping for his first win of the season. Making it halfway through the championship countdown would boost his chances of the title enormously.
“That was a great first run from the trailer,” Koretsky said. “St. Louis has been pretty good to us and the guys have been working hard on the engines. We struggled a bit but the KB Racing guys worked hard and we’re not giving up. It’s cool to be at number 1 after Friday night, but you never know out here. Everyone’s tough and we’re going to give St. Louis a decent run.”
Defending champion and KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson also dove into the 6.51 area and finished second with a 6.517 at 210.44, while two-time race winner Troy Coughlin was third after a 6.529 at 210.60. Points leader Erica Enders is currently fifth with a 6.536.
After a year’s absence from World Wide Technology Raceway, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class returned with a vengeance on Friday, with defending champion Matt Smith putting in an impressive 6.709 run at 202.82 on his Denso Auto Parts Buell. That set both ends of the course record as the sun went down in St. Louis, and the five-time world champion also ran the fastest run of his distinguished career. Smith, who was pushed back to second in points after Joey Gladstone’s win at Reading, is determined to have a great weekend as the season reaches its crucial stages.
“The bikes have evolved a lot over the past few years,” said Smith. “I’m looking forward to being back and it’s a fast track and I’m looking forward to what happens tomorrow. If we have the same weather we will definitely swing to the 6.60s because we have never done that before and we would love to do it.”
Angelle Sampey also impressed on Friday with 6.726 at 201.67 and Angie Smith followed with 6.748 at 201.19. Gladstone is currently seventh after his 6.792 pass.
Qualifying resumes at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway.
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