Hight Rises, Records Fall in Sizzling Saturday of NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals Qualifying
A sun-lit Saturday of NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals action at zMAX Dragway saw more records shatter amid an enthralled crowd of race fans witnessing a 44,000-horsepower spectacle of speed at the Bellagio of drag strips.
Robert Hight ascended to the top spot in Funny Car qualifying with a 3.883-second, 325.92-mile-per-hour pass in his final run on Saturday. Hight, the Funny Car points leader and zMAX Dragway's winningest Funny Car driver, will go for his fourth victory in six races this season when eliminations get underway at noon on Sunday.
"Pretty amazing," said Hight, who claimed his fourth No. 1 qualifying honor this season and 64th of his career. "Sixty-four No. 1 qualifiers are a lot, but I don't think I've ever had a car this dominant. … It makes my job easy, because I know that this car will go fast down the track as long as I don't screw it up. I screwed it up Friday and ran a 3.92. That 3.88 was out there and we got it. When you have a car that's as dominant as mine and you leave on time, you should be in the final.
"(Being successful at zMAX) really shouldn't give me confidence, because everything changes from year to year. For whatever reason, some drivers like certain tracks and I love this one. … I go all over the country and everybody asks me, 'What's your favorite race track?' It's zMAX, without a doubt. It's the nicest facility. It has the nicest fans. Out of all the places we go, Charlotte's one of the places I would live."
Mike Salinas' 3.687-second, 327.43-mph run from Friday held up as the best in Top Fuel.
"We're expecting to win on that team," Salinas said. "With this group, they're pretty amazing. They're really good at what they do. I'm just the guy who gets to drive the car."
Saturday's action saw plenty of new names rise to the forefront of zMAX Dragway lore as the 10th four-wide weekend unfolded.
Karen Stoffer eclipsed her best career run in Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying, claiming the No. 1 spot with a 6.793-second pass at 197.91 mph.
"It's pretty big for me," Stoffer said. "What was more impressive for me was how we did it with a 6.79. That was a record for me, (elapsed time)-wise, and to get the green hat (for the top qualifier) at the end was pretty huge."
No. 7 qualifier Matt Smith blazed a trail of his own with a top speed of 200.32 mph - the first Pro Stock Motorcycle pass to eclipse the 200-mph mark in track history.
Jose Gonzalez' Pro Mod qualifying run on Friday - an 5.657-second, 257.14-mph result - remained the gold standard after Saturday, but Erica Enders' 260.41-mph pass set a national record for speed. Enders earned the No. 8 seed for Sunday with a 5.755-second run.
The forecast for Sunday's eliminations features plenty of sun, as drivers and teams gear up to duel for a coveted four-wide Wally.