SALINAS MAKES HISTORY WITH FIRST 300 MPH 1/8-MILE PASS TO SECURE TOP SPOT AT CAROLINA NATS
On March 20, 1992, Kenny Bernstein became the first driver to break the 300-mph barrier in NHRA competition, completing a 301.70-mph pass to the quarter-mile to break one of the all-time great barriers in drag racing.
On September 23, 2023, Mike Salinas broke the next major barrier in NHRA competition, becoming the first driver to surpass the 300-mph mark in half that distance, clocking a 300.80 mph lap in 2.936 seconds to the 660-foot mark to become the first member of the “Phillips Connect 300 at the 1/8” club during the final round of qualifying at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals.
“It is surreal,” Salinas said. “As racers, it is something we all dream about. We have been working on this for a while. Our car has been close several times in testing. We knew we were going to do it, we just didn’t know when.
“Tonight was the perfect time to do it. We have been struggling working on different things, but the car seems to like what we are doing. Rob (Flynn) and Aaron (Cave) are amazing every run and we were inching up on things. This was not something we just stumbled on, it is something we have been working on. The way our car is running, it should run like this pretty consistently.”
A brief rain shower played into Saturday’s historic session, as the final round of qualifying for NHRA’s pro categories was pushed later into the evening. Following the delay, times began to tick toward historic numbers when Salinas unleashed a monstrous 3.647-second lap at 338.00 mph in his Valley Services dragster to easily clear the rest of the field at zMAX Dragway. While the run was certainly memorable, for the savvy Top Fuel racer known for his head-turning passes, Saturday's record-breaking performance will remain memorable for another reason brought about by the damp conditions.
“My visor was foggy,” Salinas recalled. “But I could still see where we were going. From half-track on, it was moving pretty good. I knew it was going to be a good run and when I passed the scoreboards and saw a (3.)64 I actually thought it was going to be a little faster. It was pulling like you wouldn’t believe, and a run like that is the world. I am still new to this stuff. I am learning and we are doing good out here, but I am not one of the veteran guys that has been doing this a long time. To be able to be the first -- Kenny Bernstein and me -- is pretty special.”
Antron Brown slotted in behind Salinas’ showstopping lap with a 3.655-second pass at 332.75 mph. Friday’s top qualifier, Doug Kalitta, dropped to third with a 3.665 at 331.61 mph, while Brittany Force (3.673) and Josh Hart (3.680) rounded out the top five.
It was a special moment for Salinas and his 11,000-horsepower machine, as he recalled something he said to his dragster as he prepared to strap in for that run. “I talk to my car,” Salinas admitted. “I rubbed the injector and said, ‘Okay, baby, it is time. Let’s go do this.’”
By becoming the first driver to surpass 300 mph at the 1/8 mile in his Rob Flynn-tuned machine, Salinas collected $30,000 and will have his name etched into the record books as the first driver to enter the prestigious club launched last summer. Salinas was complimentary of Jim Epler and Phillips Connect for providing the team a target to shoot for with the unique club.
“When you have a family like the Epler family that puts on something like this it gives you a goal,” Salinas said. “We are goal achievers. We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know how quick. We saw something here tonight. When we went 338 in Brainerd, we proved that you don’t need a canopy car. The cars and the tuners, they forget to go back to the basics. And I have two of the guys that just made history.”
And the truly scary part about that history? Salinas said that a small mistake on his part was the only thing that stood in the way of going even quicker.
“We know the car will go faster, that is the funny part,” Salinas said. “I have been working on some stuff with the brake handle and the car rolled in. We went 64, but this car should have ran a 61 or 62. We would have broke the national record as well. I messed up a little bit, but I got the other end of it, kept the car straight, and kept it going.”
With the fanfare out of the way, Salinas now shifts to race mode as he prepares to face Mike Bucher in Round One on Sunday. The winner of that contest will earn a bye into the semifinals.
“Now that is done, let’s go race,” Salinas said. “Let’s see if we can keep repeating what we are doing. We know we are very close to having a very consistent, fast car. The car is telling us what it wants and it wants a lot more than what we are running right now.”