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John Force, Doug Kalitta & Erica Enders Lead After 1 Qualifier At The Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals

On an evening of cool temps and ideal track conditions, Force, Kalitta & Enders stand at the top of their respective ladders as others may have pushed a little too far.

John Force and the PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS mastered the conditions to earn the provisional No. 1 spot Friday at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

Sitting fourth in points, John Force handled the PEAK Chevy to a stout 3.854-second pass at 330.47 mph, just three thousandths off the track record elapsed time. The PEAK Camaro will pick up three valuable bonus point for being quickest of the session.

"Sad to come here without Bruton Smith. I think all the racers feel that way. Have to thank his family for moving forward and keeping us racing at these great race tracks that let us come up here and run those numbers. There’s a stack of drivers behind me who can run that or better, especially if we have similar conditions, everyone will turn up the wick tomorrow,” Force said. “This PEAK Chevy is coming around, got a lot of work to do here in the middle of the Countdown. Danny Hood told me it was going to run mid-3.80s and it really went, moved around a little past half-track but I think I was over steering. Really good job to my crew chiefs, Danny Hood and Tim Fabrisi and the whole brain trust over at John Force Racing.”

Funny car championship favorite Robert Hight currently sits in the #3 position with an 81-point lead in the Funny Car standings. Hight and the Auto Club team picked up another bonus point with their 3.864-second pass at 331.45 mph.

“I said we had to pick up points every qualifying run and we did just that. Not a bad start to the weekend for the Auto Club Chevy. Tomorrow afternoon will be important for race day, hopefully similar conditions,” Hight said. “We got it down there and have a good starting point. Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham and the whole Auto Club team have done a great job and they’ll keep it going.”

In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta took the top spot right after the voice of the NHRA, Alan Reinhart shared with the crowd that they needed to keep their eye on Kalitta this weekend. "I am not going to guarantee that he will win, but keep your eye on him this weekend" Reinhart called out during his announcing duties.

After testing on Monday at Maple Grove Raceway, Kalitta and his team made the most of it on Friday evening making the fastest pass of he evening at 3.694.

"We've just changed a bunch of stuff around before Indy," he said. "We've tried a couple of different things all year long, just trying to keep improving on what we're doing. And, and we really stumbled across some stuff that I think Alan and Brian were real happy with, so we left there super excited.

The conditions were perfect, really for what we're all out here doing. We had a lot of confidence going up there for that run and, I was just really happy that he ran when it ran. Obviously, we're getting down to the wire here and we're obviously a team that's trying to go rounds and stay in this Countdown, so that was a great effort for us on the first day."

Josh Hart made sure to show the field that he is ready to be the repeat champ of the event and stake a claim to the championship by running a stout 3.702 in his R+L Carriers rocket, placing him in the provisional #2 spot exiting Friday.

With Justin Ashley earning the 3rd spot, many were questioning if Brittany Force and her David Grubnic / Mac Savage tuned hot rod would again make the fast pass of the weekend with the cool conditions.

Many were surprised that her run left her in the 4th spot after a 3.712-second pass at 297.29 mph.

“Qualifying here in Charlotte and zMAX Dragway. In the first session this Flav-R-Pac dragster was on a killer run but it moved around down there, got too close to the wall and I had to pull my foot out of it. It still put 3.71-seconds on the board, which currently puts us No. 4,” Force said. “We know we can get the car down there, we get two more runs tomorrow so our plan is to definitely step it up and get us back to the top.”

Last weeks Top Fuel winner, Austin Prock didn't fair well in his first pass of the weekend.

Prock and the Montana Brand / RMT dragster would drive into smoke side-by-side with Steve Torrence, shutting off to run only 5.887 at 107.70.

“Not the way this Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team wanted to start out here but we will come back swinging tomorrow,” Prock said. “I'm confident we will be able to get into the top half and stay. Looking forward to the next shot at it.”

In Pro Stock, while the motorcycle's have the weekend off their colleagues in the cars are battling for the championship and the competition remains stiff.

Last weeks number one qualifier, Bo Butner provided some excitement, or a lack thereof by having his run disqualified before having the chance to even make a pass.

With the evening sun in a precarious position, Butner was unable to see the tree as the glare from the sun impacted it's visibility. Chalk this one up to Mother Nature's timing as we never had the opportunity to see Butner's Johnson's Horsepowered Garage Chevrolet Camaro make it down track.

"It just puts us behind a little bit," said Butner, who was initially perturbed but settled into acceptance as his hard-working JHG team prepared their Chevrolet to be stabled for the night. "I'm not saying we can't run really good tomorrow, but you have to go A to B and get qualified. That's what we'll have to start with, and then hopefully the second run we can improve."

"In 30 years, I've never been in the position of not knowing if the other driver is staging or not," said Butner, who entered the event No. 9 in the Pro Stock standings. "I'll mess up a lot, but I don't usually mess up staging. I thought something was wrong. But our JHG Pro Stocker is going to be good. It's still the same car we had in Reading where we went No. 1. We would like to have gotten that run in tonight, because it's probably going to be the best session. But it doesn't matter, as long as we can get in, we can win from any position."

Butner's Elite Motorsports teammate, Erica Enders, earned the provisional top spot for the day, and in her pressroom interview expressed that she, too, could not see if her opponent had fully staged. After Butner's misfortune, though, the teams behind him were prepared and had their crew alert them over the radio when their opponent was fully staged.

Enders continued to pile up the points in her “Drive For Five” championship chase, going low in the first session with a 6.513 in her Elite Performance Camaro, a solid two-hundredths up on U.S. Nationals winner Greg Anderson’s 6.533.

After winning last week at Maple Grove, Enders does not appear ready to slow down or release any of the pressure she is forcing on her competitors.

"It definitely felt awesome," she said. "When I let the clutch out, you can kind of just tell when you're on a run. Greg and I were pretty equal to 60 feet. We just transitioned much better in the back half, but after looking at our clutch setup, we definitely had some more in that round. My crew chief said if we could fix everything that was wrong that run and go out tonight and make another run, it would go 49.

"It's super significant to run that fast and have two hundredths on the No. 2 spot. All of these baby points matter during the Countdown, so our goal coming in is to just accumulate as many points as we can."

With hometown favorite Anderson holding down the second spot, his KB Racing teammate Dallas Glenn sits third with a 6.537, just ahead of Aaron Stanfield, who ran a 6.540 for the fourth spot.

Competition at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway, the second of six NHRA Countdown to the Championship races, continues with qualifying Saturday at 2:15 and 6:00 p.m. Eliminations are slated for Sunday at noon. Television coverage of the event will be on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) and continues with a second qualifying show Sunday at 2 p.m. ET with eliminations coverage at 3 p.m. ET.

See a full recap of the evening from Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor:

See Friday's photo gallery from NHRA National Dragster staff:

Photo: NHRA

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