Doug Kalitta isn’t in domination mode as much as he appears in catch-up form. He secured the provisional No. 1 qualifying position during first day qualifying for the NHRA Midwest Nationals outside St. Louis, Mo. 

Joining Kalitta atop the leaderboard were Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
This event marks the 18th out of 21 races in the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the third out of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Kalitta, who is now pulling off the kinds of performances many expected him to showcase in 2022, thundered to the top of the list with a 
3.709-second elapsed time at 331.85 mph in his Mac Tools/Toyota dragster. If his performance stands, it would mark his second No. 1 qualifying position this year and the 53rd in his career. 

“Everybody is running really close, and we somehow snuck by them,” Kalitta said. “Hat’s off to (crew chiefs) Alan Johnson and Brian Husen and all my guys; they’re really working their tails off on this car, and it’s definitely showing. Consistency is everything in this sport, and that was a nice A to B run for us. It was close, but we pulled it off. 

“We’re all hungry. I always love coming to St. Louis. Just a lot of great memories here and a great racing town. This is really a good start for us here for the first qualifying run. The competition is tough, and everybody is running well. I just feel really fortunate to pull off the low qualifier so far.”

Behind Kalitta, Mike Salinas took the second spot with a run of 3.710 at 329.75, followed closely by Antron Brown in third with a 3.714 at 331.69.

Just like Kalitta, Tasca is on top of his game, setting the pace for the Funny Cars with a 3.852 elapsed time at 324.90 miles per hour in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang. 

“We’ve been working on this all season long, starting in testing,” Tasca said. “We had to have the setup to go out here and run with the big teams when the conditions were good. We had flashes of that early in the season, worked on it when the conditions were good, and just seeing this car run really hard. Aaron Brooks, Todd Okuhara, they have a lot of confidence in the setup. They were trying to run .85 and the car ran .85. 

“This wasn’t a fluke; they told me to keep it on the inside until about a half-track and then pull it back slowly. Normally, you muscle a Funny Car, but in this example, you’re really just finessing it. You can’t be a one-trick pony. You have to be able to throw down when it’s hot and be able to pull it back and still throw down when it’s cool.”

Blake Alexander secured the second spot at 3.888, and John Force is in third at 3.914. Notably, points leader Robert Hight sits in the 13th spot after Friday’s qualifying.

Enders has been a dominant performer in Pro Stock qualifying lately and provided more of the same with the provisional No. 1, a 6.549, 209.69 behind the wheel of her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro. 

If her performance holds, Enders would secure her third consecutive No. 1 qualifier, fifth this season, and the 34th in her career. History is on her side at St. Louis, as Enders has won the past four years at this venue, totaling six wins overall. Another victory this weekend would mark her 47th career win and make her the winningest female driver in NHRA history.

“It definitely felt awesome,” Enders said. “I say this a lot, but I feed off of Mark Ingersoll, my crew chief. I really enjoy his confidence because it, in turn, gives me confidence. This place has always been amazing to me. To have the last four years in a row is pretty awesome. It’s Mark’s home track, and he wants to swing hard here. We’re really excited.

“My sister and I have coined the phrase; everything changes in St. Louis. We’ll just go ahead and hope that’s going to be the outcome. When we went into the Countdown, we haven’t won one yet, but I said three races in a row; in three weeks, I’m going to know where I stand, and maybe my stomach can relax a little bit. It’s so fun coming here. I’m excited to have things change in St. Louis.”

Troy Coughlin Jr. secured the second spot in Pro Stock with a pass of 6.558 at 208.97, followed closely by Greg Anderson in third with a 6.560 at 208.81. Points leader Matt Hartford currently sits in the fourth position with a time of 6.565.

Hererra was being Herrera as he rode his way to the top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying with a 6.716, 201.79 on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. If his performance holds, Herrera would secure his 11th No. 1 qualifying position in his sophomore season out of 12 races in the category. 

“I’ve been having fun all year, and all the little changes, they’re out to get us as a team or me,” Herrera said. “Just to have that feeling. Basically, Matt (Smith) is doing everything he can to try to knock us off the top. I think that makes us drive harder, push harder, and me as a rider, try to be more consistent. I had a .029 light there today, and last weekend I had an average of .032. It makes me try harder and push harder, and the same for Andrew (Hines, crew chief). He wants to give me the most consistent but fast motorcycle, so I think overall, it just drives us to keep on pushing. I’m just excited to be a part of it. I’m very lucky to ride for them and be part of it.”

Defending world champion and defending event winner Matt Smith, who trails Herrera by 52 points heading into the weekend, is currently second with a 6.766 at 201.76, and Eddie Krawiec is third with a 6.787 at 201.40.

Qualifying continues at 1:30 p.m. CT on Saturday at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway