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Halsey, Salemi, DeFlorian, Lannigan, Gast, Lutz and Curry Take Provisional No. 1 Spots at PDRA World Finals

Tara Bowker photos

Defending Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous world champion Jim Halsey is one step closer to securing a fourth consecutive Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) world championship after taking the provisional No. 1 spot at the Proline Racing Brian Olson Memorial World Finals presented by ProCharger on Friday night at Virginia Motorsports Park.

After two of four qualifying sessions, the other provisional low qualifiers in the pro classes are 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, Walter Lannigan Jr. in $hameless Racing Pro 632, Paul Gast in Drag 965 Pro Nitrous Motorcycle, Bill Lutz in Menscer Motorsports Pro Street presented by AFCO, and Paul Curry in AFCO Super Street presented by Menscer Motorsports.

The sportsman classes completed two of three qualifying sessions. The provisional low qualifiers are Glenn Butcher in MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman presented by US Rail, Vic Puglia in Lucas Oil Elite Top Dragster presented by Laris Motorsports Insurance, Barry Daniluk in MagnaFuel Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers, and Kyle Harris in Lucas Oil Top Dragster presented by Laris Motorsports Insurance.

The PDRA’s Jr. Dragster classes saw dozens of rising young stars take the tree for two qualifying sessions. Virginia’s Katelyn Page sits on top of the 41-car Coolshirt Systems Pro Jr. Dragster presented by PRP qualifying order with a 7.902. Rowan Parlett, the defending world champion in Classic Graphix Top Jr. Dragster presented by PRP, is the provisional No. 1 qualifier in his class with a .001 reaction time in his Computech entry.

The pro classes will get two more qualifying sessions on Saturday, while the sportsman and Jr. Dragster classes will get one more session.

PRO NITROUS

Pro Nitrous points leader Jim Halsey missed the No. 1 spot in Friday’s first session by just one thousandth of a second, but he came back with a big run in the second session to take the provisional No. 1 spot. He drove his Brandon Switzer-tuned, Fulton-powered “Daddy Shark” ’68 Camaro to a 3.668 at 206.83, improving on his 3.686 from the first session. The nitrous Pro Modified veteran is chasing his fourth consecutive world championship.

“To make a good run today and make another good run at night to back it up, we’re pretty happy,” said Halsey, who thanked his longtime crew. “The car is good. We have an engine in that’s not one we usually run, so that’s probably why we were a little slower than we expected to be. We’ll change engines in the morning and try again.”

Two-time world champion and track owner Tommy Franklin is second with a 3.685 at 204.73 in his Musi-powered “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro. Wes Distefano, the reigning Pro 632 world champion and a Pro Nitrous rookie, cracked into the top three for the first time with a career-best 3.695 at 203.61 in the Troy Russell-tuned, Musi-powered $hameless Racing ’68 Camaro. 

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PRO BOOST

Pro Boost record holder Melanie Salemi and her family-based team went into the World Finals knowing they need a career-best weekend to have a shot at the world championship. Currently No. 2 in points behind Todd “King Tut” Tutterow, Salemi needs a maximum points weekend, including winning and setting a new record. She came close to the record on her first pass of the day, driving Eddie Whelan’s roots-blown Slice-and-Ice ’19 Camaro to a 3.579 at 209.46 to lead the 19 other drivers on the Pro Boost sheet.

“I don’t think we were quite trying to go that quick on that run, but it worked out,” said Salemi, who credited her team, the G-Force Race Cars shop staff, and engine builder Mike Stawicki. “It kind of set us up in a weird position because we know what we have to do to win the championship. It’s an extremely tall task. We didn’t come here with the mindset that ‘this is what we have to do’ because when you do that, it never happens. So we decided to come into this race the same way we would go into any race. Whether we set the record in qualifying or not, we are still here to win the race. If it’s our turn, it’s our turn. If it’s not, we’ll try again next year.”

Tutterow’s P2 Racing teammate, Kurt Steding, is currently No. 2 in his screw-blown P2 Contracting ’20 Camaro with a 3.62 at 209.52. Johnny Camp in his ProCharger-boosted “Hells Bells” ’69 Camaro is third with a 3.622 at 208.81. 

EXTREME PRO STOCK

John DeFlorian’s goal for the World Finals is to run just one ten-thousandth of a second quicker than his 4.000-second Extreme Pro Stock record set at last year’s World Finals. With a 4.012 at 180.04 during the second session, DeFlorian believes his Kaase-powered AMSOIL ’15 Camaro has what it will take to record the class’s first official 3-second run when the conditions are there.

“The water was coming in really heavy, and you just can’t burn water,” explained DeFlorian, who thanked crew chief Brian “Lump” Self, his team, and supporters like Kevin and Karen Bealko, AMSOIL, and Graber Concrete. “We were still going for it. I think we’ve got a little issue going on with the car that we may have figured out. Both runs the car got loose down track. If we just straighten that run out there, it would’ve gone a 4.004. It’s just so close. But tomorrow doesn’t look bad. We’ll see what the conditions do and we’ll see what we can do. We love coming out here to this race every year. [The first 3-second run] is always this thing that everybody is chasing. We couldn’t have gotten any closer last year – one ten-thousandth.”

DeFlorian is far from alone in his quest for the first spot in the 3-second club. JR Carr in his Frank Gugliotta-tuned F5 Motorsports ’20 Camaro fired off a 4.015 at 180.36 in the lane next to DeFlorian. Elijah Morton was the third-closest to the 3s with his 4.021 at 180.52 in his Allen-powered Morton Brothers Motorsports ’19 Mustang.

PRO 632

While second-generation PDRA star Amber Franklin secured the Pro 632 world championship by making her first qualifying pass, there’s still an event win on the table. That’s what Walter Lannigan Jr. and the $hameless Racing team are pursuing. The four-time No. 1 qualifier is well on his way towards that goal, as he recorded a 4.151 at 171.58 in the Troy Russell-tuned, Musi-powered $hameless Racing ’68 Camaro in the opening qualifying session to hold the provisional No. 1 spot.

“It’s been pretty good because we’ve been fighting adversity from day one,” Lannigan said. “But we’ve been persevering through it. The guys never give up. The ultimate goal is to win the race. We haven’t won a race all year. It doesn’t mean that we can’t win a race, we just haven’t done it yet. The whole plan is to be smart and win the race.”

Franklin is the provisional No. 2 qualifier in her Musi-powered “OG Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro with a 4.155 at 170.45. Daryl Stewart, who won the last two races on tour in his HRE-powered Chassis Engineering ’17 Camaro, is third with a 4.164 at 169.68.

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 PRO NITROUS MOTORCYCLE

Drag bike racing veteran Paul Gast proved yet again that he has the quickest Pro Nitrous Motorcycle as he was the lone rider to dip into the 3-second range. He unintentionally let off the throttle early on his first qualifying pass and still posted a 3.978 at 176.74 aboard his Fast By Gast Hayabusa. Since the evening session’s conditions were much cooler than Gast will likely see on race day, he chose to sit out the second session.

“We made a perfect run and there’s definitely a little bit more in it,” Gast said. “You’ve gotta have it running really good for three days, especially the third day. I’m here for the race. I opted out of tonight’s qualifier in 48-degree weather. It had a chance of going real fast, but by watching the other bikes, it probably wasn’t going to happen. I think it was prudent to just wait and make another one or two tomorrow. It’s all about racing for this bike and me at this stage of my deal.”

Kuwait’s Meshal Al-Saber followed Gast with a 4.017 at 174.53 on his Brad McCoy-tuned Q80 Racing bike, while defending world champion Chris Garner-Jones is third with his 4.052 at 163.28 on his TT Jones Racing entry.

PRO STREET

Central Ohio’s Bill Lutz’s decision to test at one of his local tracks on Thursday before making the trip to VMP is paying off. Lutz and his son, Kenny, made changes to their supercharged “Big Boost” ’67 Camaro after reaching the final round at the last race. They tested those changes at Kil-Kare Raceway, then Lutz and fill-in crew member Patrick Miller put them to work with a 3.963 at 196.44 in the second session.

“Obviously this lets us get real aggressive if we want to,” said Lutz, who thanked supporters like Haltech, Vic’s Body Shop, CIA Performance, Menscer Motorsports, Liberty’s Gears, and Quick Drive. “Both sessions we backed it down just to get it through that first 60 feet. We probably could’ve been more aggressive, so tomorrow we will be more aggressive with it. We’re going to try to put it in the 3.80s tomorrow night. I want to see an 80-anything at 200. Then we’ll be happy.”

Norwalk winner Bill Riddle also dipped into the 3-second range, running a 3.984 at 188.70 in his supercharged Corrigan Race Fuels ’89 Camaro. Virginia driver Jesse Lambert posted a 4.013 at 200.26 in his twin-turbocharged ’04 Mustang to end the day third.

SUPER STREET

Virginia’s own Paul Curry is off to a promising start in his first PDRA appearance. He made the quickest run of both sessions, including a 4.646 at 158.82 in the second session, in his ’69 Nova. Dan Whetstine, who won the last Super Street race in his ProCharged ’93 Mustang, is second with a 4.676 at 158.13. Scott Marshall is third with a 4.744 at 150.65

TOP SPORTSMAN

Elite Top Sportsman veteran Glenn Butcher jumped to the top of the 78-car qualifying order with a 3.788 at 197.71 in his nitrous-fed ’69 Camaro. Two other nitrous-assisted drivers, Donny “Hollywood” Urban and Chris “Nitrous” Nyerges, took the other two spots in the Elite top three. Urban joined Butcher in the 3.70s with his 3.798 at 197.13 in his ’69 Camaro, and Nyerges posted a 3.803 at 198.32 in the Schween Motorsports ’20 Corvette.

Alberta, Canada’s Barry Daniluk drove his naturally aspirated ’68 Camaro to a 3.992 at 178.40 to lead the second Top Sportsman field. 

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TOP DRAGSTER

Over 70 drivers are also attempting to qualify in Top Dragster, with Vic Puglia leading the 16-car Elite portion of the field on the strength of a 3.713 at 194.30. Brian McHattie is second with a 3.748 at 196.13 in his DB Motorsports dragster. Michael White ran a 3.767 at 191.24 in his ProCharged ’15 Maddox dragster to sit third.

Kyle Harris, who previously raced a blown alcohol Altered, is debuting a new dragster, which he drove to a 3.903 at 189.90 to take the provisional No. 1 spot in the second Top Dragster field.

The PDRA Proline Racing Brian Olson Memorial World Finals presented by ProCharger continues Saturday beginning with Jr. Dragster and sportsman final qualifying at 9:45 a.m. Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1 and 5:30 p.m.

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