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Cox, Salemi, DeFlorian, Stewart, Garner-Jones and Mota Take No. 1 Qualifying Spots at PDRA Carolina Nationals

Roger Richards photos

A record-tying 3.613-second pass at 208.72 MPH helped Jay Cox secure his third No. 1 qualifier award of the season in Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous on Friday night at the PDRA Red Line Oil Carolina Nationals at Darlington Dragway. Cox tied Jim Halsey’s national class E.T. record set in 2020.

No. 1 spots in the professional classes also went to Melanie Salemi in WS Construction Pro Boost presented by P2 Contracting and Ty-Drive, John DeFlorian in Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock presented by AED Competition, Daryl Stewart in M&M Transmission Pro 632, Chris Garner-Jones in Drag 965 Pro Nitrous Motorcycle, and Derek Mota in Afco Racing Super Street presented by Menscer Motorsports

The low qualifiers in the sportsman categories are Buddy Perkinson in MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman presented by PAR Racing Engines, Pete Maduri in Laris Motorsports Insurance Elite Top Dragster, Vonnie Mills in MagnaFuel Top Sportsman presented by Corbin’s RV, and Brandon Page in Laris Motorsports Insurance Top Dragster.

After two of three qualifying sessions, the provisional low qualifiers in the Jr. Dragster classes are Justin Kerby in Coolshirt Systems Pro Jr. Dragster presented by PRP and Lily Steding in Classic Graphix Top Jr. Dragster presented by PRP. Kerby recorded a 7.901 in his Hertford, North Carolina-based ’19 Halfscale dragster to lead the 34-car qualifying order in Pro Jr. Dragster, which qualifies against a 7.90 index. Steding cut a .004 reaction time in her P2 Contracting ’18 Mike Bos dragster to lead Friday qualifying in Top Jr. Dragster, which qualifies using reaction times.

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For the second consecutive race and the third time this season, Pro Nitrous veteran Jay Cox and his Musi-powered Butner Construction “Pumpkin” ’69 Camaro will start race day from the No. 1 spot. The Smithfield, North Carolina-based wheelman ripped off a 3.613 at 208.72 in the final session to tie four-time and reigning world champion Jim Halsey’s Pro Nitrous E.T. record.

“I always want to run like that,” said Cox, who credited engine builder Pat Musi, teammate and sponsor Marcus Butner, and Smithfield Collision. “I’ve just struggled the last year or two to get the car happy. We tested a lot last year at the end of the year. This year, I feel like I’ve had the top one or two car all year. I hadn’t won but, man, I’ve had a bad hot rod. We came out at the World Series of Pro Mod, and man, we hauled tail down there. I’ve been fast. It just takes luck here a little bit. All these guys are good, but it’s good. That’s the way I like to race. I race wide open. I don’t know no other way.”

Halsey, also a three-time low qualifier this season, ended up second with a 3.638 at 206.61 in his Fulton-powered “Daddy Shark” ’68 Camaro. Two-time world champion Tommy Franklin recorded a 3.645 at 205.67 in his Musi-powered “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro for the third spot in the 16-car field.


A crash at this summer’s Summit Racing Equipment PDRA ProStars race at Virginia Motorsports Park hasn’t stopped Melanie Salemi and her team from pursuing the Pro Boost world championship. Salemi arrived at Darlington with a repaired G-Force Race Cars ’19 Camaro and a refreshed MSR Performance screw-blown engine, which carried Salemi to a 3.606 at 209.30 in the final qualifying session to qualify No. 1 for the second time this year.

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“We definitely put our heads together really, really well today and made some really good adjustments to the car,” said Salemi, who thanked her team, including husband Jon, brother-in-law Jim Salemi, car owner Eddie Whelan, and engine builder Mike Stawicki. “It made a couple of really, really nice runs. One of the qualifiers it actually went to the left and I had to abort, but we learned a lot on that run, believe it or not. We knew everyone was going to come swinging [in Q3] and we just kind of fell on the lucky side of that one, I think. These guys will continue to work and work and work, and I’ll do my job behind the wheel like I did tonight, and hopefully we can end up in the winner’s circle tomorrow.”

Points leader and two-time Pro Nitrous world champion Jason Harris qualified second in his ProCharged “Party Time” ’69 Camaro on the strength of a 3.611 at 208.04. Dustin Nesloney used a 3.613 at 208.62 in the ProCharged GALOT Motorsports ’22 Camaro to qualify third.


Extreme Pro Stock veteran John DeFlorian has spent the whole season chasing a gremlin in his proven Kaase-powered Amsoil ’15 Camaro. After a dyno session at Jon Kaase Racing Engines revealed the problem, DeFlorian rolled into Darlington with renewed confidence. The first two qualifying sessions didn’t yield the results DeFlorian was after, but his 4.047 at 176.26 in the final session put him at the top of the final qualifying order.

“We made one run – the first run we made in March – and we hadn’t been down the racetrack since,” said DeFlorian, who thanked his team, including crew chief Brian “Lump” Self, wife Liann, and Jeff Graber, as well as partners like Amsoil, Kevin and Karen Bealko, and Graber Concrete. “We developed this problem with the car. We’ve spent over five months trying to find it. We finally found the problem, came here, and knocked the tires off the first two runs. We made a bunch of changes, changed tires, and that did it. I felt like I won the race out there already just by that run. To roll out here at the PDRA race and be able to do that, I’m on top of the world. Absolutely awesome deal.”

Multi-time winner JR Carr, who’s making his return after selling his entire operation over the offseason, drove Richard Freeman’s Elite Motorsports ’21 Camaro to a 4.057 at 178.36 to qualify No. 2. Past world champion Steven Boone qualified third with a 4.059 at 178.50 in his Allen-powered Boone Motorsports ’07 Cobalt.

PRO 632

Multi-time Pro 632 winner Daryl Stewart’s return to the class after a move over to Extreme Pro Stock earlier in the season is off to a positive start, as he qualified No. 1 in his Clayton Murphy-tuned Chassis Engineering ’12 Camaro. A 4.151 at 171.76 in the final session moved Stewart up to the top spot ahead of numerous championship contenders.

“We were so down, so Clay and I were just excited to get it done on the last run like that,” said Stewart, who thanked engine builder Daryl Hameetman, Chassis Engineering, Ram Clutches, and Joe Oplawski with Hyperactive Performance Solutions. “We had a feeling if we could put the whole package together, we would lay down a lick because of that Liberty [transmission] and the brand-new motor that HRE just did for us. We got lucky and it was perfect timing. Now we’ve got our work cut out for us. Hopefully tomorrow we come out and somehow make it to the final. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

Fellow South Florida driver Jason Ventura held the No. 1 spot until Stewart grabbed it. Ventura slid into the No. 2 spot with his 4.168 at 170.97 in his HRE-powered Gladiator X Racing ’70 Camaro. Michigan’s Doug Nicholl qualified third in his Musi-powered ’68 Camaro with a 4.169 at 170.84.


By just ten-thousandths of a second, Chris Garner-Jones earned his second No. 1 qualifier award of the season aboard his T.T. Jones Racing Hayabusa. The 2021 world champion posted a 4.002 at 176.82 in the second qualifying session, just missing his goal of a 3-second pass. He’ll have a first-round bye, which he’ll use to attempt to get into the 3s.

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“We came in here looking for a victory. Nothing less than that,” Garner-Jones said. “No. 1 qualifier, that’s a start. Hopefully we can capitalize off of that and get us a victory tomorrow. I’m coming out tomorrow first pass looking for a 3. I was looking for a 3 on my first pass today. A victory would be great because I haven’t had one since the second race. Last race, we got to the final but we blew up in the final. It’s been rough this year, man. It really has, but we are going to keep chipping away at it, and we’ll try to get us a victory tomorrow.”

Kuwait’s Meshal Al-Saber rode Brad McCoy’s Q80 Racing Hayabusa to a 4.002 at 175.78 in the final session to sit No. 2 behind Garner-Jones. Fellow Kuwait-based rider Mohammed Alawad qualified third with a 4.083 at 174.76.


A cracked crankshaft in car owner Dave Mancini’s ’68 GTO put an early end to Derek Mota’s weekend at the Norwalk race in May, then he missed the Maryland race. But after starting the season with a win in his Super Street debut at Virginia, Mota was determined to get back into the championship chase this weekend. The Massachusetts-based driver and fabricator put his own X275 Mustang into Super Street trim, and after making a few strong test passes, he laid down a 4.65 at 163.76 in the turbocharged Mustang to qualify No. 1.

“We found some stuff in the rear end after our last race and we decided to cut the car apart and Jamie [Miller] made a set of custom ladder bars for it,” Mota said. “We pretty much got the car back together Saturday, loaded up Sunday, and we were on the road on Monday. We went to North Carolina before here, tested, got here, and this thing has just been on rails. I can’t thank Jamie enough for everything he does for us, and thanks to Hart’s Turbos, my crew, and my girlfriend at home. We’ve just got so much time and testing in the car, and this weekend, it’s all paying off. It’s just printing tickets and .60s and that’s what we wanted. Now, hopefully we can get back in the hunt for the championship.”

Brad Cox qualified No. 2 in his nitrous-fed ’90 Mustang with a 4.737 at 150.35. David Knight took his Kannapolis, North Carolina-based ’72 Nova to the third spot with a 4.768 at 155.60.


Past world champion Buddy Perkinson drove his Musi-powered, nitrous-fed LAT Racing Oils ’69 Camaro to a 3.729 at 202.16 to claim the No. 1 spot in Elite Top Sportsman. Bryan LaFlam’s supercharged ’67 Mustang laid down a 3.749 at 195.31 to qualify second. Another nitrous car, Glenn Butcher’s ’69 Camaro, took the third spot with a 3.789 at 197.98.

Vonnie Mills’ 4.084 at 179.93 wasn’t quick enough to make the all-3-second Elite field, but it did put her Sonny’s-powered Show-N-Tell ’15 Camaro on top of the Top Sportsman 32 field.


Another past world champion, Pete Maduri, earned the No. 1 qualifier award in Elite Top Dragster when he fired off a 3.764 at 195.31 in the Bauer family’s ProCharged Dynabrade ’15 Chrome-Worx dragster. Not far behind, Brian Anderson in his ProCharged ’23 Race Tech dragster posted a 3.765 at 191.41 to end up No. 2. Frank Falter IV rounded out the top 3 with a 3.78 at 198.50 in his supercharged “Candy Man” ’20 Miller dragster.

Boiling Springs, South Carolina’s Brandon Page secured the No. 1 spot in Top Dragster 32 with a 4.086 at 175.37 in his ’17 Maddox dragster.

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The PDRA Red Line Oil Carolina Nationals will continue Saturday at 9:30 a.m. beginning with Jr. Dragster final qualifying, followed by eliminations in the sportsman and Jr. Dragster classes. Pre-race ceremonies and pro eliminations will kick off at 3 p.m.

This story was originally published on September 16, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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