Melanie Salemi made a major statement on the first day of the 2022 Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) season at the East Coast Nationals presented by FuelTech, as she fired off a string of 3.50-second passes to set a new WS Construction Pro Boost presented by P2 Contracting and Ty-Drive elapsed-time record. Her 3.568-second pass at 207.91 mph during the third qualifying session at GALOT Motorsports Park also gave Salemi the No. 1 qualifying spot in Pro Boost, which saw 24 cars attempt to qualify for the 16-car field.
Jim Halsey (Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous), JR Carr (Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock presented by AED Competition), Walt Lannigan Jr. ($hameless Racing Pro 632), Travis Davis (Drag 965 Pro Nitrous Motorcycle), and Nick Agostino (Menscer Motorsports Pro Street presented by AFCO) also qualified No. 1 in the pro classes after three qualifying sessions.
After two of three qualifying sessions in the sportsman classes, the provisional No. 1 qualifiers are Buddy Perkinson in MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman presented by US Rail, Craig Addis in Lucas Oil Elite Top Dragster presented by Laris Motorsports Insurance, Jeff Brooks in MagnaFuel Top Sportsman presented by Vortech, and Nick Meloni in Lucas Oil Top Dragster presented by Laris Motorsports Insurance.
In the Jr. Dragster classes, Nyck Shirkey went to the top in Coolshirt Systems Pro Jr. Dragster presented by PRP with a 7.903 in his Ridgely, Maryland-based ’21 Halfscale entry. Hampton, Virginia’s Kylie Varnier is the provisional low qualifier in Classic Graphix Top Jr. Dragster presented by PRP with a .001 reaction time.
After going back and forth between roots blower and screw blower combinations over the last few seasons, Melanie Salemi and her team, led by tuner and husband Jon Salemi and brother-in-law Jim Salemi, committed to running their proven roots-blown combination this season. The decision – and offseason dyno pulls and on-track testing at GALOT – paid off on Friday when Salemi recorded three progressively quicker runs in her Eddie Whelan-owned ’19 Camaro, setting a new record on each pass. She went a 3.585 in Q1, a 3.578 in Q2, and a 3.568 in the final session. The previous record was a 3.591 set by Kurt Steding at the 2021 Brian Olson Memorial World Finals.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for my team,” said Salemi, who closed out the 2021 season with a win at the 50th annual Snowbird Outlaw Nationals. “I’m ecstatic for my team because I know how much hard work has gone into it. I’ve won races, I’ve qualified No. 1 before, but this one is really an eye opener for all of us. It’s refreshing. It’s awesome that we finished the year strong, and hopefully we can start the year strong.”
Pro Boost qualifying was a slugfest, with 14 of the other 15 qualifiers running in the 3.60-second range. Pro Mod veteran Todd “King Tut” Tutterow took the No. 2 spot by speed, posting a 3.615 at 211.20 in his screw-blown P2 Contracting ’20 Camaro. Johnny Camp followed with his 3.615 at 208.91 in his ProCharger-boosted “Hells Bells” ’69 Camaro.
Three-time and defending Pro Nitrous world champion Jim Halsey picked up right where he left off, taking his Brandon Switzer-tuned, Fulton-powered “Daddy Shark” ’68 Camaro to the No. 1 spot. He was the quickest driver in all three qualifying sessions, though he narrowly held on to the top spot in the final qualifying session when he fired off a 3.65 at 206.70.
“Honestly, we thought we were going to run a little better than that,” Halsey said. “We haven’t really looked at the data yet, but we missed it somewhere. But it’s a brand-new engine. That was like the ninth or tenth run on it this morning. We were happy with that. We still have ol’ tried and true underneath the bench if we need it. We did a bunch of small changes over the winter and it seems to be coming around. I think it’s a tuner’s race [on Saturday] and I think I have the best tuner out there, so I would say we’re ready.”
Two-time world champion Tommy Franklin missed the No. 1 spot by just a few thousandths of a second, as he recorded a 3.654 at 206.64 in his Musi-powered “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro a pair before Halsey’s 3.65. Hometown hero Jay Cox, who’s based in nearby Smithfield, threw down a 3.663 at 206.70 in his Musi-powered Butner Construction ’69 Camaro to hold down the No. 3 position on the 20-car Pro Nitrous qualifying order.
EXTREME PRO STOCK
It was like déjà vu all over again in Extreme Pro Stock, where Mountain Motor Pro Stock veteran JR Carr qualified No. 1 yet again after qualifying No. 1 at seven of eight races in 2021. During the final qualifying session, Carr drove his Frank Gugliotta-tuned ’20 Camaro to a 4.017 at 179.78 to go No. 1 in the full 16-car field.
“I wasn’t expecting to be No. 1, so to speak, because everybody was running so well and we were a little behind,” Carr said. “We didn’t get enough testing in and I hadn’t been in the car since Virginia [World Finals]. I knew there was a pretty good shot someone else was going to take it. We came around, kept working on it, and Frankie and the crew made it happen. I just got to drive right down the street. It was good.”
The Extreme Pro Stock field was full of new faces and returning drivers, but it was two proven competitors taking up the other two spots in the top 3. Defending world champion Chris Powers qualified No. 2 with a 4.022 at 177.88 in his new Sonny’s Racing Engines ’21 Camaro. Elapsed-time record holder John DeFlorian ran a 4.027 at 179.14 to qualify third in his Haas-built ’15 Camaro.
With two-time and reigning Pro 632 world champion Wes Distefano moving up to Pro Nitrous this season, the door is open for a new champion in the class. Distefano’s $hameless Racing team tapped former competitor Walt Lannigan Jr. to drive their Musi-powered ’68 Camaro in Pro 632 competition, and the team appears to be championship contenders yet again after Lannigan qualified No. 1 with a 4.12 at 172.60. A hurt engine prevented Lannigan from running in the final session, but the $hameless team will be ready for Saturday eliminations.
“I’m real happy with how the car ran,” said crew chief Troy Russell. “Walt’s doing a good job driving. To come out with a new driver and a new crew and go No. 1 at the first race feels good. We’ll get the car fixed tonight and go out there [Saturday] and try not to beat ourselves. We’ll do what we know how to do.”
Championship runner-up Daryl Stewart used a 4.14 at 171.53 in his Clayton Murphy-tuned Chassis Engineering ’12 Camaro to qualify No. 2. Championship contender Amber Franklin, driving her father’s Musi-powered “OG Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro, claimed the No. 3 spot with a 4.146 at 171.03.
PRO NITROUS MOTORCYCLE
Multi-time Pro Nitrous Motorcycle world champion Travis Davis is determined to return the No. 1 to the side of his Timblin Chassis-built Suzuki. He’s starting his 2022 title pursuit with a No. 1 qualifying effort after running a 3.974 at 176.49 during the second qualifying session.
“I think there’s a little more there,” Davis said. “We drifted to the inside of the track and scrubbed some E.T. off. It was getting loose on me through the middle of the track. We’ll make an adjustment for that where we’ll go straight down the track [on Saturday]. The tuneup looks like it can handle more, so we’ll take it round by round and see if we can get it done.”
Kuwait’s Meshal Al-Saber rode his Brad McCoy-tuned entry to a 3.975 at 173.96, earning the No. 2 spot. Defending world champion Chris Garner-Jones qualified third with his 4.026 at 175.94 aboard his T.T. Jones Racing Suzuki.
Small-tire racing veteran Nick Agostino is making the most of his Pro Street debut, as he threw down a monster 3.925 at 206.17 in his twin-turbocharged, small-block-powered ’69 Camaro to qualify No. 1. The Ontario, Canada-based driver was finally able to make his Pro Street debut after border restrictions eased up.
“We’re pretty happy,” Agostino said. “Coming from the radial racing, we switched over to 10.5s. We have run on 10.5s before, but first time with this setup in PDRA. We’re very happy with the outcome so far. It’s really good to be back out here and to see a bunch of friends who race over here in PDRA. It’s just great to see everyone again.”
Defending world champion Tim Essick almost dipped into the 3-second zone in his ProCharger-boosted “Brown Sugar” ’18 Mustang, instead running a 4.017 at 190.51. Another Pro Street newcomer, Tommy Youmans, followed closely with a 4.018 at 203.00 in his twin-turbocharged ’70 GTO.
Past Elite Top Sportsman world champion Buddy Perkinson led a trio of nitrous-assisted entries at the top of the Top Sportsman qualifying sheet after posting a 3.78 at 196.85 in his Musi-powered LAT Racing Oils ’69 Camaro. Chris “Nitrous” Nyerges, the 2019 Top Sportsman world champion, followed Perkinson with a 3.806 at 197.86 in Dr. Gary Schween’s Buck-powered ’20 Corvette. Yet another past world champion, Donny “Hollywood” Urban, rounded out the top 3 in his new ’69 Camaro with a 3.808 at 195.82.
Jeff Brooks’ unique Sonny’s-powered Kaeser Compressors ’51 Henry J carried him to a 4.113 at 177.86 to take the provisional No. 1 spot in the Top Sportsman 32 field.
Ohio’s Craig Addis rocketed to the provisional No. 1 spot in Elite Top Dragster when he fired off a 3.719 at 192.77 in his ProCharger-boosted R.A.B. Trucking ’21 Spitzer dragster. North Carolina’s own Michael White followed in behind him with a 3.741 at 192.88 in his centrifugally supercharged ’15 Maddox dragster. Defending world champion Pete Maduri qualified third in the Bauer family’s Dynabrade ’17 Chrome-Worx dragster with a 3.757 at 194.88.
Nick Meloni, the defending Top Sportsman world champion and Top Dragster championship runner-up, just missed the 16-car Elite Top Dragster field with his 4.199 at 164.93, but the run gave him the provisional No. 1 spot in Top Dragster 32 field.
The East Coast Nationals presented by FuelTech at GALOT Motorsports Park will continue Saturday beginning at 9:30 a.m. with a final time trial for Edelbrock Bracket Bash presented by COMP Cams and final qualifying for all sportsman and Jr. Dragster classes. Pro eliminations will begin at 3 p.m.