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Salemi, Halsey, DeFlorian, Lannigan, Gast, Riddle, and Curry Lock In Low Qualifier Spots at PDRA World Finals

Tara Bowker photos

Melanie Salemi checked off one of the three things on her team’s to-do list – qualifying No. 1 in WS Construction Pro Boost presented by P2 Contracting and Ty-Drive – Saturday night as she chases a Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) world championship. Salemi’s 3.579-second pass at 209.46 MPH from Friday night stands as the quickest pass of the Proline Racing Brian Olson Memorial World Finals presented by ProCharger so far. Next, she needs to break her own elapsed-time record and win the race to maintain her championship hopes.

The pro classes ran two final qualifying sessions Saturday at Virginia Motorsports Park to set the fields for Sunday eliminations. The other low qualifiers are Jim Halsey in Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous, 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, and Bill Riddle in Menscer Motorsports Pro Street presented by AFCO. Paul Curry took the No. 1 spot in AFCO Super Street presented by Menscer Motorsports.

The sportsman No. 1 qualifiers are Glenn Butcher in MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman presented by US Rail, Jody Stroud in Lucas Oil Elite Top Dragster presented by Laris Motorsports Insurance, Barry Daniluk in MagnaFuel Top Sportsman 48 presented by Vortech Superchargers, and Marty Jones Jr. in Lucas Oil Top Dragster 48 presented by Laris Motorsports Insurance.

In the Jr. Dragster classes, Chase Hancock (Coolshirt Systems Pro Jr. Dragster presented by PRP) and Rowan Parlett (Classic Graphix Top Jr. Dragster presented by PRP) qualified No. 1 after three sessions. Hancock took the top spot over 40-plus other Pro Jr. Dragster drivers with his perfect 7.900 pass, while Parlett led the Top Jr. Dragster field with a .001 reaction time.

The series also crowned champions in three classes: Amber Franklin in Pro 632, Tisha Wilson in Top Dragster, and Chris Suppers in Pro Jr. Dragster. The rest of the championships will be decided on Sunday.

PRO BOOST

For the fourth time in seven races, Melanie Salemi drove Eddie Whelan’s roots-blown Slice-and-Ice ’19 Camaro to the No. 1 spot in Pro Boost. With husband Jon and brother-in-law Jim calling the shots, Salemi posted a 3.579 at 209.46 in Friday’s opening session that held up as the quickest pass through the other three qualifying sessions. Second in points behind Todd “King Tut” Tutterow, Salemi is on a mission to collect as many points as possible.

“We know we have to do a lot of things here to win the championship,” said Salemi, who won the World Finals in 2018. “Every star has to align. I have to qualify No. 1, which I’ve ticked that off. We have to win the race, set a record, and Todd has to lose first round. Every run we’ve been swinging for it. We’re going to try again tomorrow. I hope Jon has his fingers on fire and we can do it.”

Tutterow is right behind Salemi, qualifying No. 2 after laying down a 3.602 at 208.33 in his screw-blown P2 Contracting ’20 Camaro in the final session. Friday’s No. 3 qualifier, Johnny Camp, also raised the bar with a 3.607 at 209.14 to maintain his spot in a session that saw numerous drivers step up.

PRO NITROUS

Three-time and defending Pro Nitrous world champion Jim Halsey knew there was more left in his Brandon Switzer-tuned, Fulton-powered “Daddy Shark” ’68 Camaro after taking the provisional No. 1 spot with a 3.668 in Friday’s second session. He proved that in the final session, recording a 3.658 at 207.34 to lock in his third consecutive low qualifier award and fourth of the season.

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“We made two runs yesterday and switched engines this morning to our favorite engine,” Halsey said. “It just gives you that much more information. We had a run last night about the same time as tonight. The track conditions were similar. We thought we knew what we could get away with and what we couldn’t get away with.”

With mid-3.60 passes on two different motors, Halsey can go into eliminations with confidence. He’s chasing his fourth world championship and third World Finals victory.

“We’re definitely thinking about the championship,” Halsey said. “Four in a row would be awesome, but we’d like to win too. Everybody has to do their job, especially me. I’ve been a little lax here during qualifying, but hopefully tomorrow I can pick it up.”

Perennial contender Jay Cox made his best run of the weekend, a 3.677 at 205.66, in his Musi-powered Butner Construction “Pumpkin” ’69 Camaro to qualify second. Pro Nitrous rookie Wes Distefano lowered his career-best E.T. for the second day in a row, posting a 3.682 at 203.77 to hold on to the No. 3 spot in his Troy Russell-tuned, Musi-powered $hameless Racing ’68 Camaro.

 EXTREME PRO STOCK

Extreme Pro Stock driver John DeFlorian didn’t achieve his goal of becoming the first driver in the class to break into the 3-second zone, but he did qualify No. 1 in one of the largest and most impressive fields of Mountain Motor Pro Stock cars in recent history. His 4.012 at 180.04 from Friday night was as quick as anyone got to that elusive 3-second pass, though DeFlorian and several other drivers went for the record in Saturday’s final session.

“We just didn’t get the conditions,” said DeFlorian, driver of the Kaase-powered AMSOIL ’15 Camaro. “It was so close. Last night, that 4.012, honestly, it should’ve been a 4.004 or 4.005. The car was a little loose down track. But it wasn’t there. It has to be perfect – the weather, the setup, all the calls, the driver – everything has to be dead-nuts perfect. That’s why it’s so hard to break that barrier. We’re trying like hell. I was really wanting it.”

Eighteen drivers attempted to qualify for the 16-car field. JR Ward sits on the bump spot with a 4.126 at 174.50. The significance of the large, competitive field is not lost on DeFlorian, who built several of the cars in the class as the shop foreman at Jerry Haas Race Cars. He’s encouraged by the strength of the class and motivated to defend his World Finals event title.

“I came in here to win,” DeFlorian said. “There’s no other thing I come here to do, other than run that 3 and try to be No. 1 qualifier. Well, we got part of it done. We didn’t get the 3. Now we have to try to get the win. Maybe the weather’s good enough [to attempt a 3-second run]. Who knows what will happen there. The objective is to win every round and try to take that trophy home.”

JR Carr, who recorded a 4.015 at 180.36 in his Frank Gugliotta-tuned ’20 Camaro next to DeFlorian in the quickest side-by-side pass in class history, qualified second. Elijah Morton stepped up to a 4.017 at 179.85 in his Allen-powered Morton Brothers Motorsports ’19 Mustang to solidify his No. 3 spot.

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PRO 632

After making the quickest run in Pro 632 Friday qualifying, Walter Lannigan Jr. in the Troy Russell-tuned $hameless Racing ’68 Camaro did it again on Saturday with his 4.136 at 172.12. Lannigan has now qualified No. 1 at five of seven races this season driving the car that won the 2020 and 2021 world championships with Wes Distefano driving. A win has escaped Lannigan and the team this season, but the Georgia native is hoping to change that on Sunday.

“We’ve been struggling all weekend,” said Lannigan, referring to a hurt engine in pre-race testing and a converter issue earlier in qualifying. “Today was just a confidence builder for tomorrow. We’ve got the equipment, the manpower, and the know-how. When things break, there’s nothing you can do about it.

“Everybody else in the top five has a trophy,” continued Lannigan, who’s No. 2 in points behind newly crowned world champion Amber Franklin. “I want one now. I have one from two years ago, but I took a year off. Now it’s time to take one home to end the year.”

 Franklin qualified No. 2 in her Musi-powered “OG Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro, backing up her 4.155 from Friday with a 4.151 at 171.08. Similarly, Daryl Stewart improved from his 4.164 to a 4.162 at 169.74 in his Clayton Murphy-tuned Chassis Engineering ’17 Camaro to stay third. 

PRO NITROUS MOTORCYCLE

Paul Gast made a 3-second pass on Friday afternoon that safely put him in the No. 1 spot in Pro Nitrous Motorcycle, then he improved on Saturday to fend off two other 3-second riders. Gast rode his Fast By Gast Suzuki to a 3.961 at 179.44, qualifying No. 1 for the third time in three appearances this season. Since he isn’t in championship contention, Gast has just one goal for race day. 

“The goal is to win the race,” Gast said. “That was the goal before we even thought of coming here. I’m going to try my hardest. It’s pretty much up to the rider at this stage in the game. I think I have the bike that can certainly do it. The other guys are coming on, though. I think it’ll be a little bit different weather tomorrow, but I know one thing: I ain’t turning it down.”

Reigning world champion Chris Garner-Jones fired off a 3.982 at 175.00 to move up from second to third. He passed Kuwait’s Meshal Al-Saber, who also improved to a 3.984 at 178.31 aboard his Q80 Racing entry.

PRO STREET

Pro Street qualifying featured some of the quickest passes in the brief history of the class. Bill Riddle used a career-best 3.94 at 189.95 in his roots-blown Corrigan Race Fuels ’89 Camaro to outqualify Friday’s provisional low qualifier, Bill Lutz. With tuning help from Pro Boost driver Jim Beadling, the Michigan driver ended qualifying as the quickest of four drivers that dipped into the 3-second range.

“We just started leaning out the motor, and it seemed to like it in between the 60-foot and the 330,” said Riddle, who’s looking for his second win of the season. “Jim’s been helping me out for a while and helping me with the fuel tuneup. We seem to be getting it pretty close now.”

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Lutz’s 3.963 at 196.44 from Friday’s night session put him in the No. 2 spot. Ty Kasper, who won his first two races earlier this season, set new career-best numbers in Pro Street trim with his 3.976 at 197.36 to qualify third. 

SUPER STREET

While several Super Street drivers made personal-best passes in Saturday’s two qualifying sessions, no one topped the three quickest passes from Friday. Alexandria, Virginia’s Paul Curry qualified No. 1 in his ’69 Nova known as “The Joker” with a 4.646 at 158.82. Dan Whetstine is second with a 4.676 at 158.13 in his ProCharger-boosted ’93 Mustang, and Scott Marshall is third in his Elkton, Virginia-based ’89 Mustang with a 4.744 at 150.65. 

TOP SPORTSMAN

A career-best 3.787 at 197.05 allowed Glenn Butcher to hold on to the No. 1 spot in Elite Top Sportsman. After running a 3.788 on Friday, Butcher made a slightly quicker pass in his nitrous-fed ’69 Camaro to lead Donny “Hollywood” Urban and Chris “Nitrous” Nyerges. Urban and Nyerges also maintained their No. 2 and 3 positions from Friday with their passes of 3.798 and 3.803, respectively.

Friday’s provisional low qualifier in Top Sportsman 48, Barry Daniluk, also held on to his top spot with a 3.992 at 178.40 in his naturally aspirated ’68 Camaro.

TOP DRAGSTER

Jody Stroud’s quickest pass in Elite Top Dragster qualifying, a 3.60, was quicker than the minimum E.T. in the class, so that run was disqualified. Stroud in his supercharged “Zombie” ’07 Spitzer dragster came back and recorded a 3.70 at 185.10 to qualify No. 1. He went around Vic Puglia’s 3.713 at 194.30 and Brian McHattie’s 3.738 at 196.90.

Marty Jones Jr. and his Toms River, New Jersey-based ’07 Undercover dragster missed out on the 16-car Elite field, but he took the No. 1 spot in Top Dragster 48 with a 3.884 at 185.26.

The final day of the PDRA Proline Racing Brian Olson Memorial World Finals presented by ProCharger will start with first round of eliminations in the Jr. Dragster classes at 10:15 a.m. Pro eliminations will kick off at noon.

 

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ABOUT THE PDRA

Based in Fredericksburg, Va., the Professional Drag Racers Association is the top sanctioning body in the United States for the sport of eighth-mile drag racing. The PDRA’s professional categories include Pro Boost, Pro Nitrous, Extreme Pro Stock, Pro Nitrous Motorcycle, Pro 632 and Pro Street. The series also features sportsman racing in Top Sportsman, Top Dragster, Pro Jr. Dragster and Top Jr. Dragster. The 2022 PDRA schedule consists of eight national events. For more information on the PDRA, visit www.PDRA660.com

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