From Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Doug Kalitta. Alexis DeJoria. and Troy Coughlin Jr. collected the victories in the inaugural Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, which took place during Saturday qualifying at the NHRA Arizona Nationals.
The Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge brings competitive racing to the qualifying schedule at 12 regular-season events during the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series campaign, pitting semifinalists from the previous race – in this case, the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals -- against each other in a pair of rematches, with the two winners then matching up in the final qualifying session.
The Top Fuel final pitted the top two Arizona Nationals qualifiers and it was the No. 1 qualifier, Kalitta, who earned a double Saturday celebration as his Mac Tools dragster streaked to a 3.86 win after Mike Salinas’ dragster lost traction at halftrack.
"We certainly appreciate the opportunity to run this race and for Mission Foods put the money up and it's a cool challenge,” said Kalitta. “It's great to get new sponsors into the effort. On that run it left good until about half track and then started giving it up and I was just like, 'Oh man, I hope Mike doesn't go around me,' and fortunately I got to the end there and the win light was on, so that was that was good. i haven't seen a win light come on in the final for a little while there, we're super happy.”
In the opening Top Fuel round, where only two dragsters made it own under power in the entire qualifying session, Salinas was one of them as he repeated his semifinal victory over Leah Pruett, clocking a 3.752. Pruett, who smoked the tires in Gainesville, expertly pedaled to avoid a similar fate when her car broke traction but still fell behind with a 4.337.
Kalitta meanwhile had reversed the outcome of his Gainesville semifinal loss to Steve Torrence in a weird race that was precipitated by Torrence double-stepping the throttle on his Capco Contractors dragster and red-lighting (-.204 reaction) alongside Kalitta who, as he did in losing in Gainesville, smoked the tires but nonetheless was the automatic winner this time.
DeJoria, who her first Funny car title at this track in 2014, defeated her Toyota teammate J.R. Todd in a one-sided match as her Bandero Premium Tequila Supra ran 3.91 after Todd smoked the tires at the green.
“It's really incredible to be able to do this at this racetrack where I got my very first nitro Funny Car when in 2014," she said. "To be the first Mission #2Fast2Tasty winner is really incredible; it just makes better memories of this track and they just keep coming. I have such huge respect for both opponents that I raced today — Matt Hagan and J.R.— they're both obviously championship winners and very good drivers. There track's been a little tricky this weekend, so just to make it down the track was a big deal. It wasn't pretty at the top end but we got it down there and just do that is really cool.”
In round one, DeJoria avenged her painful Gainesville loss to Matt Hagan, blasting to low e.t. of the second qualifying session with a 3.980 after Hagan’s Gatornationals-winning Dodge Power Brokers charger dived toward the centerline as it neared the 1,000-foot mark, slowing him to a 4.078.
Todd repeated his victory over Chad Green but unlike the all-three-second affair in Gainesville this one turned into a costing match after both drivers ran into traction woes. Green’s Bond Coat entry suffered enough mechanical damage that it automatically deployed the parachute, allowing Todd to coast to a 5.33 to 7.49 win.
Coughlin, winner of the season-opening Gatornationals, remained unbeaten in head-to-head matchups, winning both of his pairings to take the cash in the JEGS.com/Elite Camaro. Coughlin closed out the victory with a decisive 6.572 to 6.603 conquest of Greg Anderson, who got off to a slight lead in the final.
"Cloud nine would be an understatement,” said Coughlin. “What an honor to be the very first winner of such a neat race. My guys saved me there. Greg was just a taste better up front and my guys in the engine shop and Mark Ingersoll and Tim Freeman and everybody in the crew chief lounge saved me there in the final with some good smoke."
In the opening Pro Stock round, Coughlin repeated his Gainesville conquest of Dallas Glenn, this time nipping him on a 6.567 to 6.572 margin, while Anderson reversed the outcome of his Florida outing, besting Mason McGaha, 6.575 to 6.623.
Kalitta and DeJoria pocketed $10,000 while Coughlin netted $7,500. Each challenge winner also earned three bonus points that will be added to their point total to begin the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. The runner-ups (Salinas, Todd, and Anderson) got two points and the quickest losing semifinalist — Pruett in Top Fuel, Hagan in Funny Car, and Glenn in Pro Stock — earned one point.
The NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park continues with eliminations Sunday at 11 a.m. Television coverage of the event will continue on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) with a second qualifying show Sunday at noon ET. Eliminations will air Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.
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Photo's: NHRA / National Dragster