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Salemi, Halsey, Pluchino, A. Franklin, E. Steding and Mota Top Friday Qualifying at PDRA Mid-Atlantic Showdown

Tara Bowker photos

Multi-time No. 1 qualifier Melanie Salemi fired off a 3.585-second, 209.01 MPH pass Friday night at the Red Line Oil PDRA Drag Racing Series Kaeser Compressors Mid-Atlantic Showdown presented by Classic Graphix to qualify No. 1 atop the quickest field in WS Construction Pro Boost presented by P2 Contracting and Ty-Drive history. After just two qualifying sessions at Virginia Motorsports Park, the 16-car Pro Boost field was separated by just .053 seconds. 

An evening rain shower led to an abbreviated qualifying program, with all professional classes completing two of three scheduled qualifying sessions to set the fields for Saturday eliminations. Jim Halsey (Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous), Johnny Pluchino (Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock presented by AED Competition), Amber Franklin (PDRA Pro 632), Ethan Steding (Menscer Motorsports Pro Street presented by Afco Racing), and Derek Mota (Afco Racing Super Street presented by Menscer Motorsports) also qualified No. 1 in the pro classes. 

Top Sportsman completed all three qualifying sessions, while Top Dragster set the fields off of two qualifying sessions. The low qualifiers are Tim Molnar in MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman presented by PAR Racing Engines, Frank Falter IV in Laris Motorsports Insurance Elite Top Dragster presented by Greenbrier Excavating & Paving, Jeff Simons in MagnaFuel Top Sportsman presented by Corbin’s RV, and Tony Elrod in Laris Motorsports Insurance Top Dragster presented by Younce RV. 

The Jr. Dragster classes completed two of three qualifying sessions on Friday. Nearly 50 Coolshirt Systems Pro Jr. Dragster presented by Philadelphia Racing Products racers attempted to qualify for the 32-car field against a 7.90 index. Chesapeake, Virginia’s Gavin Wood ran a 7.900 to end Friday as the provisional No. 1 qualifier. In Classic Graphix Top Jr. Dragster presented by Philadelphia Racing Products, which qualifies based on reaction time, 2023 championship runner-up Victoria Beaner cut a perfect .000 reaction time to take the provisional No. 1 spot. 


For the second consecutive race, Pro Boost made a statement with an ultra-competitive 16-car field. Driving Eddie Whelan’s screw-blown Al-Lee Installations ’23 Camaro, Melanie Salemi threw down a 3.585 at 209.01 to lead the record-setting field into race day. The perennial Pro Boost contender will start race day facing Preston Tanner, who ran a 3.638 at 206.07 to set a new record for the quickest bump spot in class history. 

“It’s a testament to all of the hard work that goes on on our team, not only at the racetrack but at the shop,” Salemi said. “The guys that work for us have been instrumental in every little bit of our success. Mike Stawicki builds us a really badass engine program and the guys at the shop stay late and come work on the weekends if we need them to fix little things on the car here or there. There’s never a time when the focus is not 100% on our team and winning races. We’ve qualified No. 1 a lot of times and now we need to win a lot of times.”

Canadian Pro Mod star Spencer Hyde, who won the 2023 World Series of Pro Mod, fired off a 3.59 at 213.47 in the first session to qualify second in his screw-blown “Jack & The Green Stock” ’69 Camaro. Kurt Steding in his new screw-blown P2 Contracting ’69 Camaro rounded out the top three with his 3.592 at 208.07. 

Six drivers did not qualify, with five of those drivers also running in the 3.60-second range, including season opener winner Todd “King Tut” Tutterow.


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Four-time Pro Nitrous world champion Jim Halsey is on a war path this season after finishing second in the 2023 championship hunt. He earned his second consecutive No. 1 qualifier award in his new Fulton-powered, Brandon Switzer-tuned “Daddy Shark” ’68 Camaro by posting a 3.63 at 208.26 in the second session, which ended up being the final session due to the weather.  

“Actually, we weren’t trying to run super-fast on that run,” Halsey said. “We had messed up on Q1, so we just wanted to make sure we got down the track. It was a good run – can’t dispute that – but we were hoping for better [in the third session]. Being No. 1 qualifier, I think we got a bye to run first round, so we’ll probably let it hang out and see how much the track will take tomorrow and go from there.”

Young gun Marcus Butner, who is pursuing his first Pro Nitrous world championship with tuner Jay Cox, fired off a 3.639 at 206.01 in his Musi-powered “Heartbreaker” ’69 Camaro to end up second. Three-time and reigning world champion Tommy Franklin wheeled his Musi-powered “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro to a 3.642 at 204.98 to qualify third. 


Two-time Extreme Pro Stock world champion Johnny Pluchino opened his 2024 PDRA season with a win at GALOT Motorsports two weeks ago. During his winner’s circle interview, he noted that he doesn’t typically qualify No. 1, instead finding more success on race day. He proved in Friday qualifying that his Kaase-powered Feather-Lite Batteries ’13 Mustang can shine in qualifying too, though, as he fired off a 4.046 at 178.80 in the final session to qualify No. 1 at the Mid-Atlantic Showdown for the second year in a row. 

“We didn’t test and we only had two qualifiers,” said Pluchino, who thanked his crew and sponsors. “On the first run, we changed a couple of things with our clutch program a little bit from the last race and we missed it. Had to take a shot at it. When you miss it heavy, you go out there and you’ve got to back it back down. We only had one more run. It makes the decision a little bit difficult. We didn’t drain it by any means, but we made the best run of the day, so we’re No. 1. Our game plan for race day is kick everyone’s ass. Simple as that.”

The several cars behind Pluchino on the qualifying order were stacked up, with Elijah Morton coming in second with a 4.052 at 177.39 in his Allen-powered Cashion Fishing Rods ’19 Mustang. Jeremy Huffman built on success in testing by recording a 4.058 at 178.14 in his 3V Performance-powered ’10 Cobalt to qualify third. 

PRO 632

Past Pro 632 world champion Amber Franklin qualified No. 1 at the season opener, but a semifinal exit had her looking for redemption going into the Mid-Atlantic Showdown. She got a little bit of that on Friday night when she laid down a 4.133 at 171.49 in her Musi-powered “OG Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro to collect a second consecutive No. 1 qualifier award. 

“It feels good to get two No. 1s back to back,” said Franklin, who thanked partners like Pat Musi Racing Engines, Red Line Oil, and Hoosier Racing Tires. “I let the team down last race, which is never a good feeling as a driver, so I definitely want to redeem myself. They give me a good ride and I’ve got to do my part tomorrow on race day. If I can just do my part on the tree, I think we can go plenty of rounds and hopefully turn on all the win lights this time and take home a win.”

Longtime Pro 632 standout Walter Lannigan, driving for Chris Holdorf in his Nelson-powered Dewitt Custom Concrete ’10 GTO, ran a 4.174 at 174.05 to qualify No. 2. Jayme Thompson wasn’t far behind with his third-ranked 4.175 at 168.60 in Meade Baldwin’s “Rodzilla” ’69 Camaro. 


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Past Pro Jr. Dragster world champion Ethan Steding earned the first major accolade of his “big car” career when he ended Pro Street qualifying as the No. 1 qualifier in his roots-blown P2 Contracting “College Fund” ’24 Camaro. Nearly half of the 16 cars in the class ran in the 3-second range, but it was Steding’s 3.939 at 195.45 in the Todd Tutterow-tuned hot rod that appeared at the top of the qualifying order. 

“This means the world to me,” said Steding, the son of Pro Boost star Kurt Steding. “With the WYO Motorsports guys backing me, and P2 Racing, I knew everything was going to go good. Two weeks ago at GALOT, everything went well. Without my dad, though, I definitely couldn’t be doing this, along with WYO, Ty-Drive, Noonan, and my mother. I’m really excited for race day. These guys here [in Pro Street], though, they’ve been doing it way longer than me, so I know I got something on my back for sure, but I believe we’re ready. I think we can take on these guys.”

Two-time world champion Tim Essick qualified second in his ProCharged “Brown Sugar” ’18 Mustang with a 3.944 at 189.95. Steding’s fellow rookie, Dan Norris, charged to a 3.959 at 170.67 in his roots-blown ’22 Mustang to qualify third. 


Derek Mota, who qualified No. 1 at the last three races of the 2023 Super Street season, has continued to lead the way in qualifying at the first two races of the new season. The Peabody, Massachusetts-based driver steered his turbocharged East Point Recovery Centers ’93 Mustang to a 4.618 at 164.65 in the final session. That run solidified his position at the top of the order, which he established with a 4.626 in the first session. The performance bolstered Mota’s confidence in his hot rod after making offseason changes to fit the 2024 rules. 

“Tonight, we’re much happier,” Mota said. “We struggled at GALOT with some converter issues because of the weight. We knew we had to go there with data that we had. We ordered some stuff when we left there, put it in Wednesday night here, came out [Thursday] and made some good laps in the heat of the day and tonight. The car is just getting faster and faster. It’s my team behind me and my sponsors and just everybody involved in this program. We’re never going to stop working. Whatever it takes. We’ve just been trying stuff and trying to get our car back, and I think we got it now.”

“Wheelstand Dan” Whetstine qualified second with a 4.657 at 156.77 in his ProCharged “Red Velvet” ’90 Mustang. Reigning world champion Blake Denton charged to the third spot in his nitrous-fed ’76 Camaro with a 4.685 at 154.86. 


Past Elite Top Sportsman world champion Tim Molnar recorded a 3.717 at 201.49 in his nitrous-fed, Albert-powered ’68 Camaro to top the 16-car field. Fellow Ohioan Glenn Butcher in his Albert-powered ’69 Camaro ran a 3.737 at 198.03 to qualify second. Bryan LaFlam ended up third with a 3.761 at 196.42 in his supercharged LaFlam Motorsports ’67 Mustang. 

Massachusetts-based Top Sportsman racer Jeff Simons just missed out on the Elite field, but his 3.952 at 182.48 in his ’69 Camaro put him on top of the Top Sportsman 48 field. 


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Top Dragster was set to have a third qualifying session before the early evening rain showers led to schedule adjustments. After two sessions, Frank Falter IV in his supercharged “Candy Man” ’22 Miller dragster topped the Elite Top Dragster field with a 3.706 at 202.82. Virginia’s own Brian Anderson in his ProCharged ’23 Race Tech dragster qualified second with a 3.732 at 193.52. Michael White and his 3.768 at 190.94 in his ProCharged ’15 Maddox dragster rounded out the top three. 

By just four thousandths of a second, Tony Elrod came up short of making the 16-car Elite field, but he did secure the No. 1 spot in Top Dragster 48 on the strength of his 3.859 at 187.39. 

On-track action at the Kaeser Compressors Mid-Atlantic Showdown presented by Classic Graphix will begin at 9 a.m. starting with Jr. Dragster final qualifying, followed by sportsman and Jr. Dragster eliminations. Pre-race ceremonies and pro eliminations are set to kick off at 2 p.m.

Saturday tickets are available for $30. Kids 5 and under get in free, while discounted Junior tickets are also available. Tickets can be purchased at or at the gate. 

Fans at home can watch the full event live on the official livestream through

This story was originally published on April 20, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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