COMMERCE - Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car) again proved they are two of the strongest competitors in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and both are ready to win the 100th race by a female driver by qualifying No. 1 at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, GA on Saturday.
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and (Eddie Krawiec) also will lead their categories into eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers at Atlanta Dragway.
Enders-Stevens laid down a Pro Stock E.T. track record 6.493 run at 212.69 to earn the No. 1 qualifier. The run bested Enders-Stevens' track record pass from Friday night. Enders-Stevens' Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro was the fastest car during all four qualifying sessions.
"It's a true testament to how hard my guys work and what perfectionists they are," Enders-Stevens said. "We go back after every run and analyze the data and do our best to make the most perfect run at that run and time that we can."
Enders-Steven's No. 1 qualifier status was in doubt when former teammate Dave Connolly beat her Friday run during Saturday's first session. Enders-Stevens' next pass would return her to the top spot, a run that she topped with her fourth session pass.
"I was very confident that we'd be able to stay No. 1," said Enders-Stevens. "Dave ran that .49 and then it rained and they sent us back to the pits for an hour or so. When we came back the conditions were not quite as good but we managed to run a little quicker than he did and we ran quicker still on the last run. The best thing is that we managed to learn a little on every run and improve a little each time."
Despite having two wins already this season, the run gave Enders-Stevens' only her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and the seventh of her career. She faces John Gaydosh, Jr. in the first round.
Connolly raced his Charter Communications Chevy Camaro to the second spot with a 6.496 pass at 212.86. He will race against Warren Johnson when eliminations begin.
Shane Gray, Jason Line and Rodger Brogdon are also top five seeds for Pro Stock eliminations on Sunday.
DeJoria's Funny Car E.T. track record 3.786 second pass at 321.81 on Friday was good enough to secure her first career No. 1 qualifying effort. With two wins on the season, DeJoria and her Patron XO Cafe Toyota Camry are looking for a third, one which would place her name in the NHRA record books.
"If it happens tomorrow, great," DeJoria said in response to the race for the 100th female win. "We just want to keep going rounds. First things first, we've got to get past first round and get past Tony Pedregon."
DeJoria is in her fourth season of Funny Car competition and noted the achievements of her team so far this season. With a number of firsts, DeJoria is confident that her team can keep running consistently.
"This has been our turnaround year," said DeJoria. "We've had some great consistent runs, and I'm just hoping we can keep on going. It's huge (getting a No. 1 qualifier). That's one of the things Tommy (DeLago) and Glen (Huszar) were hoping that they could do for us this season because I've never gotten it. He's pretty stoked that he could do that for us. I thank them very much from the bottom of my heart. I love those guys. That team, we work really hard, like everybody does, but I think as a team we've really connected, and it's been a great year."
DeJoria will open eliminations against Tony Pedregon.
Del Worsham, DeJoria's Kalitta Motorsports teammate, piloted his DHL Toyota Camry to the No. 2 qualifying position with his Friday pass of 4.014 at 320.05. The run was good enough to give Worsham the Funny Car track record in speed as he faces No. 15 seed Chad Head in the opener of eliminations.
2009 Funny Car world champion Robert Hight, 2011 world champion Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr. round out the top five qualifiers.
Kalitta set Top Fuel track records in E.T. and speed with his Mac Tools dragster's 3.732 run at 328.86 during the third session. With the run, Kalitta secured the third No. 1 qualifying effort of the season and 39th of his career.
"I think the conditions are probably perfect for Atlanta," Kalitta said." It's got its reputation for 'Hotlanta.' It's been great conditions. I think the fans have definitely seen some good action. I'm just real proud of my guys. Two .73's for today is great for us. It's real exciting to be going into eliminations with that kind of car."
Kalitta's car was dominant with no other Top Fuel dragster coming close to his impressive runs. Kalitta has had a consistent race car all year with one win in Gainesville and runner-up finishes in Pomona and Las Vegas. Coming into Atlanta second in points, Kalitta knows how strong the Top Fuel category has been to start the season.
"I'm really excited about tomorrow," said Kalitta. "Low qualifiers are great. Any time you can stay ahead of these guys in any of the sessions or what not is great. It's a real competitive class. My car is definitely been running good all year. Jim (Oberhofer) and Connie (Kalitta) and all those guys, they've given me what I need. Now, I just need to get up on the wheel and get it done."
Kalitta will face Chris Karamesines in the first round of eliminations. With Kalitta's qualifying effort, Kalitta Motorsports swept the No. 1 qualifiers in the nitro classes.
Bob Vandergriff qualified No. 2 with a 3.757 run at 324.05. Vandergriff, the defending event winner, will race against Clay Millican in eliminations.
Krawiec followed up his Pro Stock Motorcycle E.T. track record qualifying effort on Friday with an even better run during the fourth and final session of qualifying. Krawiec, a three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion, raced his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley Davidson to a 6.796 pass at 196.62 to secure the top qualifying position.
"We gave up a little bit in the first 60-feet of the track, but after that, we got it," said Krawiec. "Coming here to Atlanta, the air was not at all what we're used to. It was cool and crisp and that was just right for our combination. We did struggle to get off the starting line, but that was a problem for the whole class. It was so sticky up there that it was hard to generate any wheel speed."
Krawiec will face Jerry Savoie in the first round.
Krawiec's teammate, Andrew Hines, qualified No. 2 with a 6.833 run at 195.22. Hines, who won the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals last month, races Gainesville winner Steve Johnson in round one.
Eliminations for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals begin on Sunday at 11 a.m.
NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series