Smith Wins, Hall semis at Norwalk

story and photos by Tim Hailey (except where noted) compiled from releases from NHRA and others

Matt Smith may have won the race, but John Hall (above) was fairly pleased with his own Norwalk result. Second year NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Hall has established points paying consistency, going to the semifinals this past weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio. Add in his recent win at the inaugural New England Nationals in New Hampshire, and you’ve got a breakout season for Hall—a Connecticut real estate investor with a long history of racing no-bar bikes in the former AMA/Prostar series.

Hall and his Matt Smith Racing/Viper Motorcycles Buell were quick right off the trailer in Norwalk, running a 6.95 that was good enough for second in the first round of qualifying. “Then we kept getting bumped down a little bit,” Hall said about the next two qualifying rounds. But when he improved to a 6.942 at 193.07 mph in the final round, he was able to turn the tables around a bit. “We matched Adam Arana on ET but beat him on MPH, so he got bumped down.”

Hall finished fourth in the qualifying order and Arana (above)—whose fortunes seem to have paired with Hall’s this year—was fifth.

The opening eliminations round opponent for Hall was Mike Berry, who got a slight .005 advantage off the line. But Hall’s Buell had the right combination and while Berry backslid, John improved and took the round. “We had a good tune-up,” said Hall. “We improved from 1.08 to a 1.06 60 foot time. We just had the right clutch set-up for the track right then and I hit my shift points.”

eliminations round 1
(W) John Hall .047 rt 6.924 at 190.86 mph
Mike Berry .042 rt 7.119 at 187.00 mph

Then came a round 2 match-up with Arana, the runner-up in Hall’s final round win at New Hampshire. The Norwalk result was similar, with Arana again posting a -.070something redlight. “Adam’s definitely an up and coming star in the sport and I’m happy to get all the wins I can against him while I can,” said Hall. “He’s never raced anything before this year and he’s improving leaps and bounds every race.”

eliminations round 2

(W) John Hall -.010 rt 6.959 at 191.32 mph
Adam Arana -.079(R) rt 7.159 at 160.19 mph

“I’m always relaxed,” Arana said. “I don’t know. I have no excuses; I just messed up. That’s really all I can say. The bike was awesome, second-fastest in round one. It was a good run and I was happy and confident. I just messed up again, and John did an awesome job in the second round. I’ll learn from it and get better. It seems like John’s got my number.”

The next round was also a New Hampshire rematch, but this time the result went the other way. While Hall was able to race past teammate and tuner Smith in Epping, this time he got snuffed. “I had some tire shake the top of first gear, which sent me out of my groove a bit and I short shifted 2-3 pretty badly,” said Hall.

eliminations semifinal
(W) Matt Smith .051 rt 6.965 at 192.44 mph
John Hall .045 rt 7.066 at 189.84 mph

Smith (above) went on to win the final over Star Racing’s Scotty Pollacheck and joined his dad Rickie in the Norwalk winners circle.

This summer has become a very successful stretch for the Matt Smith Racing/Viper Motorcycle team. “We’ve been to three straight finals with two wins,” said Hall, who also noted that his former Star/Sovereign team has been similarly successful and that the Aranas started the season in near dominant fashion. “Any of the16 bikes in the field can win a race.”

Currently fourth in points behind Smith and ahead of last year’s teammate Pollacheck, Hall is looking forward to continuing the team’s run in the NHRA’s upcoming western swing. Hall thanked Matt Smith Racing, Viper Motorcycle Company, Rush Racing Products, Red Line Oil , PJ1 , S&S Cycle , Mark Stockseth Racing and Worldwide Bearings

“Our team has had an awesome three weeks on the road,” Star Racing owner George Bryce said. “We have both motorcycles running great right now thanks to the hard work of everyone at our Star Racing shop, our shipping department and our track crew. Our team has provided the labor, parts and horsepower to deliver a final and a No. 1 qualifier this week and a win last week.”

Throughout the past three back-to-back NHRA Mello Yello Series races, Sovereign-Star Racing Buell driver Michael Ray (above) has claimed a national event win for the team at Chicago and No. 1 qualifying positions at the other two races in Epping, N.H., and Norwalk. Ray also posted the low ET and high mile per hour of this past weekend’s Norwalk event with his No. 1 qualifier run of 6.912 seconds at 194 mph, which set a new Pro Stock Motorcycle speed record for Summit Motorsports Park. “I think our team is definitely a class leader at this point, and it all boils down to how prepared we are. In this sport, you have to be good to even compete at this level. You have to be the best to rise to the top, and Star Racing is showing how they’ve been one of the best for over 25 years. It may have taken the team two years to work our way back to the top after taking time off, but now we have the best people in the business to keep us out front and moving forward,” Ray said.

Ray’s teammate, Pollacheck, also had a successful weekend at Norwalk on his S&S Cycle-powered Buell, qualifying at No. 10 and then driving his way to the final round of eliminations on Sunday against No. 8 Buell driver Matt Smith. As Pollacheck advanced to his third final round this season, he also claimed the low ET for the semifinal round.

“We need to give lots of credit to the guys at the (Star Racing) shop that are turning those engine parts around in such a short amount of time to get it back to the racetrack. Also, our crew at the track, Ken (Johnson), Chuck (Kennedy), Andrew (Schulz) and Chaz (Kennedy), are doing an awesome job, especially since they’ve had their hands full keeping everything working properly while they’ve been on the road,” Pollacheck said.

No. 1 qualifier Ray faced No. 16 Buell driver Shawn Gann in round one eliminations on Sunday and claimed the win with a 6.941 against Gann’s 7.010. No. 10 Pollacheck also took the round one win with a 6.941 run against No. 7 Harley-Davidson V-Rod rider Andrew Hines’ 6.995.

In round two, Ray posted the low ET and the top speed for the round with his 6.934/193 pass, but it was not enough to drive around Smith’s big lead at the starting line and his 6.955/192. Pollacheck advanced to the semifinals after taking a single run in round two when No. 15 Suzuki driver Michael Phillips was unable to make the pass.

Pollacheck went on to set the low ET for the semifinal round with his 6.947/192 win against No. 11 Harley-Davidson V-Rod rider Eddie Krawiec’s 6.999/189 pass.

Smith and Pollacheck faced off in the final round of eliminations, where Pollacheck’s 7.008/191 was not enough to overcome Smith’s 6.954/192. Even though Smith took the win, Pollacheck was still grateful for the positive results that his team experienced over the weekend. “It was really good to get back in the groove of things again. It seemed like we were struggling with my bike for a couple of races there, so it was definitely nice to feel like we were ahead of the curve again,” Pollacheck said.

After another successful weekend at the racetrack, the Sovereign-Star Racing teammates are both in the top five of the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle points standings for the season. Ray remains in the No. 2 position, while Pollacheck moved up one spot to No. 5 after his final round appearance in Norwalk.

“I had mentioned before that these past four races were like a mini version of the Countdown to the Championship. Our team came out of them with two wins out of three final round appearances and two No. 1 qualifying positions. I think we gained more points than anyone else in these four races. So, in my mind, we won this mini scrimmage championship run, and I’m looking forward to keeping it going at Denver,” Ray said.

The Sovereign-Star Racing Team would like to thank the following sponsors: Sovereign, Star Racing, Americus Motorsports Complex, S&S Cycle, Daytona Sensors, Worldwide Bearings, CP Pistons, Cometic Gaskets, Quality Tire, and Uncle Hal Gottspeed Racing.

The NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycles race next July 19-21 at the Mopar Mile High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Denver, Colorado.

In a thrilling side-by-side final round duel, NHRA Funny Car driver Johnny Gray picked up his fourth win of 2013 on Sunday with a victory against Ron Capps. In the championship round, both Gray and Capps powered their Dodge Chargers to identical times of 4.103 seconds, but Gray posted the quicker .061 reaction time to win by .006. Gray’s Pitch Energy Charger went 314.02 mph in the final round, while Capps, who was making his 400th career start, had a run of 314.09 in his NAPA Auto Parts Charger. “Everybody said it was back-and-forth all the way down the track, and it was just a great drag race,” said Gray, who won for the first time in Norwalk. “You just can’t say enough for what my crew does for me and (Sunday) was my day. We came to Norwalk and the car never missed a step. When I get a race car like this, it’s really hard to screw it up.”

After a series of frustrating races, Gray’s team replaced the entire front half of his 8,000-horsepower Funny Car heading into Norwalk and the move paid off in a major way. Gray, who qualified No. 4 and went as quick as 4.047 during eliminations, climbing back to second in the points standings. Gray outran Alexis DeJoria, Chad Head and defending Funny Car world champion Jack Beckman to reach the final round against his Don Schumacher Racing teammate. “We struggled pretty good for about three races,” Gray said. “We were getting a little frustrated because we threw everything but the kitchen sink at the car and it just wouldn’t respond. Now it’s going right down the race track and doing everything we want it to do. (Crew chief) Rob Wendland just does an awesome job.”

Matt Hagan maintained the points lead in the super-tight Funny Car class, while Capps, the No. 3 qualifier, climbed to fourth. Gray is now a perfect 4-0 in finals in 2013, picking up his seventh career victory in the process.

In Top Fuel, Khalid alBalooshi (above) claimed his first victory of the season and second of his career, knocking off No. 1 qualifier Doug Kalitta in the final round in his 8,000-horsepower Al-Anabi Racing dragster. AlBalooshi covered the distance in 3.935 at 271.30 to knock off Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster, which went 4.215 at 268.54.

Since losing 12 straight times in the first round to open his career a year ago, alBalooshi has responded with three final round and three semifinal appearances. AlBalooshi also secured the seventh spot in the Traxxas NHRA Shootout (the eighth spot will be determined by a fan vote). “The last race I lost in the first round last year was at this track, and this week I won my first trophy (in 2013) at this track,” alBalooshi said. “I’ve been looking forward to this race for a long time, especially when I was in Englishtown in the final with our teammate (Shawn Langdon).”

Langdon jumped past Tony Schumacher for the Top Fuel points lead, while alBalooshi maintained his sixth position. Kalitta jumped up to fourth with his first finals appearance of 2013. AlBalooshi beat defending world champion Antron Brown, Chris Karamesines and Clay Millican to reach the final round, going as quick as 3.811 and as fast as 320.97.

“From the first week when Shawn won the first race, I’ve been thinking, ‘Oh, I need to be in the Traxxas Shootout. I need to be in the Traxxas Shootout,’ ” said alBalooshi. “I keep seeing, ‘Oh, there’s only one opening for the Traxxas Shootout, only one.’ When I made the final I knew that whoever won, it would be done, and I’m lucky to finish this deal.”

Mike Edwards, the current points leader in Pro Stock, claimed his fourth victory in 2013 and 38th for his career by knocking off defending world champion Allen Johnson. Edwards’ Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro posted a 6.616 at 209.56 while Johnson slowed to a 15.969 at 52.46 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger.

“I just could never get a handle on this place, but it sure feels good to finally come here and win a race,” said Edwards, who posted his first win in Norwalk. “Hats off to all my guys for another tremendous job this weekend. We made a really nice run in the final, and we were very proud of that. I just hope we can keep the wheels on this thing and keep the momentum going.”

Edwards, who set the track speed record of 209.92 in qualifying, beat Mark Hogan, Rickie Jones and two-time Norwalk winner Vincent Nobile to advance to the final round and earn lane choice against Johnson. Johnson jumped back to second in points with his sixth finals appearance in 2013. “Having lane choice was huge, very huge for me,” Edwards said. “I had a car that could really go down the right lane, and when we got lane choice for the final, that really helped.”

Rickie Smith won his second straight race in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Series, took over the points lead, and shared a special moment with his son and Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor Matt Smith at the seventh annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. The race is the sixth of 10 races in 2013 for NHRA’s popular 250-mph doorslammer touring series.

Rickie stayed red-hot in his nitrous-injected IDG Chevy Camaro, beating Mike Castellana and his nitrous-injected Al-Anabi Racing Camaro in the final with a time of 6.103 seconds at 240.77 mph. Castellana finished with a 6.159 at 238.60. “It’s been a heck of a day and we worked pretty frantic the entire time,” said Rickie Smith, who was also the No. 1 qualifier. “I figured both of us may shake in the final and these cars are a handful, but once I got to around 1,000 feet I felt pretty good. When I didn’t see him, I wasn’t going to lift.”

Rickie then shared the winner’s circle with son Matt, as he won for the first time in 34 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle. It also marked the first time they have ever won an event together. “I’m fortunate to have been blessed during my career. It’s hard to pull these wins off at the same time, and it’s just a major accomplishment to do this with my son.”

The second straight victory also sent Smith into the points lead as he jumped defending world champion Troy Coughlin, who lost in the first round in his Chevy Corvette. The King, N.C. native’s road to victory started with a 6.010 at 239.40 in a first-round win against Chris Juliano. He followed that up by going 5.924 at 243.85 against Danny Rowe and advanced to the final round by powering past Von Smith with a 5.933 at 242.80.

The next NHRA Pro Mod Series race takes place on Aug. 28-Sept. 2 at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

EARLIER: Still Ray at end of the Day in Norwalk

Michael Ray improved on his No. 1 time from Friday, going 6.912 at a track-record speed of 194.77 to take the top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle on his Sovereign-Star Racing Buell. Ray, who is also the most recent winner in the class, earned his second No. 1 qualifier in 2013 and will meet Sean Gann in the first round of eliminations for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. “The tune-up was just flawless and (crew chief and team owner) George (Bryce) said I good job riding on that pass,” Ray said. “We’re just really, really clicking right now and when you keep seeing the momentum moving forward, it’s an awesome thing. We went up there with a first-round of eliminations tune-up and it was an awesome performance. To see the team going in this direction, it’s an awesome feeling and we’re just going to try to bring back another Wally on Sunday.”

Hector Arana Jr. broke through on his Lucas Oil Buell, running a 6.939 at 192.69 in the final qualifying session to finish as the No. 2 qualifier. “It has been a big team effort this weekend,” Arana Jr. said. “The last run it all came together. It was a perfect qualifying session. We were low of the round, 6.93 in the heat and in the worst conditions. We are ready to come out swinging. Watch out for tomorrow. We learned what not to do and what to do for Sunday.”

Steve Johnson’s 6.941 at 193.16 on his Suzuki from Friday kept him in third, while Epping winner John Hall improved slightly in Q4 but stayed fourth. Epping runner-up Adam Arana is fifth and will face L.E. Tonglet in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. Tonglet was the rider Arana beat for his first career round victory in Englishtown, N.J., four races ago. Norwalk is also the site of the first career victory for Arana’s dad Hector Sr. in 2008. “I am ready for tomorrow,” Arana said. “I got my first round-win against L.E., so I hope to continue that. L.E. is a good rider and is very smart, so I can’t slack. I need to be on my game. I just have to go up there and focus, cut a good light, and try to hit my shift points. It is all I can do. I can’t focus on what they are going to do. I need to focus on my lane because it’s the only thing I can control.”

If Hector Arana Sr. needs any inspiration on Sunday, he needs only to look up the Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying chart. Sons Hector Jr. and Adam qualified No. 2 and No. 5, respectively, topping their dad’s No. 9 effort, but Arana knows he can do better. “My sons did an excellent job, so therefore I am happy,” Arana Sr. said. “We made some changes and it did not work out. I made some mistakes myself, but the way I look at it is better struggle today than tomorrow.”

Arana made identical 6.967-second passes in the first and second qualifying sessions on Friday, with his top speed of 192.71 mph coming in Q1, which counts for his qualifying spot. He did not improve on Saturday. “Today was the rider’s fault,” H1 said. “The rider wasn’t all there. Yesterday everything was there and it ran two consistent runs like bracket racing. Hopefully we’ve learned for tomorrow.”

Arana will face No. 8 qualifier Matt Smith in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. Smith made a top lap of 6.965 seconds at 191.67 mph. Defending event winner Andrew Hines will meet Ray’s teammate Scotty Pollacheck in an opening-round matchup.

Trickie Rickie Smith finished as the No. 1 qualifier in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Series, racing to his first No. 1 qualifier of 2013. The race is the sixth of 10 races in 2013 for NHRA’s popular 250-mph doorslammer touring series. Rain postponed Saturday’s scheduled first round of eliminations to Sunday at approximately 9 a.m.

Smith, who won the most recent Pro Mod event at Bristol Dragway, had the top time on Friday with a run of 5.910 seconds at 243.94 mph in his nitrous-injected IDG Chevy Camaro, and nobody could top that during Saturday’s qualifying session. Second in points, Smith will face Chris Juliano in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.

Mike Castellana finished as the No. 2 qualifier in his nitrous-injected Al-Anabi Racing Camaro with a 5.918 at 240.77 and will meet Bill Lutz in the first round. Current points leader and defending world champion Troy Coughlin powered his turbo-charged Chevy Corvette to the third position with a pass of 5.922 at 244.07.

Following in the fourth spot is 2013 event winner Mike Janis, who drove his Valvoline Camaro to a 5.961 at 242.63. Harold Martin and his 5.962 at 237.25 rounded out the top five. Clint Satterfield, who finished seventh in qualifying in a BAC Enterprises Pontiac Firebird, maintained the fastest run at 245.27.

Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta earned his fifth No. 1 qualifier of the season and 36th of his career on Saturday, and will try for his first victory of the season on Sunday. John Force (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also will lead their categories as the No. 1 qualifiers at the 13th of 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events in 2013.

No driver improved on Kalitta’s pass of 3.767 seconds at 327.74 mph that came on Friday in his 8,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster and broke the track record in both categories. The 36th No. 1 qualifier of Kalitta’s career also moved him to fifth overall in Top Fuel history. The Ann Arbor, Mich. resident, who is seeking his first win since 2010, is the only driver in the top five in points in Top Fuel, Funny Car or Pro Stock without a victory in 2013, a tag he hopes to remove on Sunday at his home NHRA track. Kalitta meets Troy Buff in the first round of eliminations. “We’re real happy to be that No. 1 qualifier and be in this position,” Kalitta said. “Hopefully we can turn it into a win. We just have to take it round-by-round and see if we can keep it going.”

Points leader and Chicago winner Tony Schumacher kept his U.S. Army dragster in second with a strong 3.778 at 320.74. Clay Millican had Saturday’s most impressive showing in the class, powering his Parts Plus dragster to a 3.789 at 327.27. It kept him in the third position, but Millican, who was the runner-up to Schumacher last week in Chicago, was the only driver in the 3.70s on Saturday. Defending event winner Spencer Massey will face off with David Grubnic in the opening round.

“I’ve got a ton of confidence in my guys,” said Kalitta, who is also seeking his first career victory in Ohio. “They’ll know what to do to get it down the track. It’s going to be an interesting day, but we loving running here in Norwalk. The Bader family always does a great job at the facility.”

John Force lights up Norwalk (photo by Gary Nastase)

Force’s track-record time of 4.021 at 317.72 from Friday wasn’t matched during Saturday’s two qualifying sessions, giving the 15-time world champion his third No. 1 of the season, second in the last three weeks and 143rd of his career. Force has also advanced to the finals of the last three events in his 8,000-horsepower Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. He will race Blake Alexander in the first round of eliminations. “We proved we could run well, but (Sunday) is going to be anybody’s race,” Force said. “The track was good, but we fought the elements of the heat. We wanted to see how far we could push it (Saturday), but we’ve got a race here to win and that’s what it’s all about.

“We are just out there trying to do everything we can so we can go from A to B. It was warm yesterday too when we ran that 4.13 seconds in the heat. When it cooled down we stepped up and ran that 4.02 which was the track record. The track was good. You fight the elements like the heat today. We wanted to see how far we could push it today. We know we will pull her back in the first round and we will. We have a race here to win.”

Robert Hight and his Auto Club Mustang, which posted a track record speed of 318.77 on Friday, qualified second behind his John Force Racing teammate with a 4.030. Sitting in the third slot is Ron Capps, who powered his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger to a 4.040 at 316.82. “Every track is a little different, but we’ve got good race cars,” Force said. “Robert is running well and (daughter) Courtney (Force) has a good car. I just love racing here. It’s a cool deal.”

“Today’s runs were all about getting ready for tomorrow. This Auto Club Ford Mustang has been coming around the last couple of races. I am not over confident by any stretch but I am excited to be racing tomorrow. Running that 4.09 was just what we wanted to do. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) was looking at the data and we think there was a little more out there. (Bob) Tasca (III) will be tough and we are battling to stay in the Top Ten,” said Hight.

The first round match-up between Ford Mustangs will be an epic tilt as Hight is fighting to hold onto his spot in the Top Ten where he has a seventeen point lead. He came into Norwalk with an even slimmer three point lead but thanks to his strong qualifying effort he was able to pad that lead going into Sunday’s eliminations. “We got a lot of bonus qualifying points and almost earned a round just in qualifying. We need to string some more qualifying weekends like this together. We earned eight qualifying bonus points and then earned seven for being the No. 2 qualifier. You string a couple weekends like that together and we will be in good shape,” said Hight, a finalist at the Topeka national event earlier this season.

“You look at the fans that come out here and it was pretty hot today. They have been great all weekend and we want to put on a good show. We want to go rounds tomorrow and you have to win the first round to have a shot at winning the race. It sounds simple but the first round will be a huge round.”

In Pro Stock, nobody could match Johnson’s run of 6.592 at 209.75 from Friday, giving the defending world champion in the class the No. 1 qualifying spot for the first time in 2013 and 29th time in his career. The driver of the Team Mopar Dodge Avenger also qualified No. 1 in Norwalk for the second straight year. “I think we’ve closed the gap performance-wise on (points leader Mike Edwards),” said Johnson, who has three wins in 2013. “This is what I call ‘getting after it time.’ Hopefully we can do well (Sunday) and keep pushing to try and secure that No. 1 position going into the (Countdown to the Championship).”

Edwards kept the track speed record of 209.92 in his I AmSecond/Interstate Batteries Chevy Camaro, and his 6.601 gave him the No. 2 position as well. Jeg Coughlin, the most recent event winner in the class, finished as the No. 3 qualifier in his Dodge Avenger with his run of 6.614 at 208.91. Defending Norwalk winner Vincent Nobile, who qualified No. 6, will take on Steve Kent in the first round.

“We made one good run (Saturday) and one bad run, and I think you’ll see pretty close to the same conditions Sunday,” Johnson said. “We will have to adjust accordingly, but I think we’ve got a pretty good set-up and we feel good about (Sunday).”

EARLIER: Ray’s Momentum continues on Day 1 in Norwalk

Michael Ray (above) ran a 6.926 at 193.68 on his Sovereign-Star Racing Buell to take the initial top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Should that run maintain the top spot, it would be the second No. 1 qualifier of 2013 for Ray, who is the most recent event winner in the class. “Not too shabby out of the truck,” Ray said on Twitter. “Those are the runs that you better make count out here. We are going to see what happens last session…”

What happened was that Ray’s Buell slowed 5/100ths. “We were surprised that it ran well with the broken valve springs,” Ray said. “At first, we weren’t planning on running the second session, but [team owner] George [Bryce] decided to go for it to gain some data for Saturday morning’s first session, which is expected to have cooler conditions.”

Steve Johnson, who had the best run in the second qualifying session, went 6.941 at 193.16 on his Suzuki to surge to second ahead of New England winner John Hall, currently third on his Viper Motorcycle Company Racing Buell after his pass of 6.593 at 192.96.

Ray has jumped to second in points, winning two of the last three races in the class. If he remains the No. 1 qualifier, it will be the second time in three races that has happened for a rider who continues to build momentum in his breakout season.

Rickie Smith kept up his red-hot pace in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Series, racing to the qualifying lead on Friday. The race is the sixth of 10 races in 2013 for NHRA’s popular 250-mph doorslammer touring series.

Driving his IDG Chevy Camaro, Smith, who won at Bristol Dragway in the most recent Pro Mod event, put together an impressive 5.910 at 243.94 mph in his nitrous-injected Camaro.

Mike Castellana and his nitrous-injected Al-Anabi Racing Camaro ran a 5.918 at 240.77 to take the second spot. Current points leader and defending world champion Troy Coughlin sent his turbocharged Chevy Corvette to the third spot after his pass of 5.922 at 244.07.

Should Smith, who is second in points, hang onto the top qualifying position, it would give him the No. 1 qualifier for the first time in 2013 in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.

Following in the fourth spot is 2013 event winner Mike Janis, who powered his Valvoline Camaro to a 5.961 at 242.63. Rounding out the top five is Harold Martin, who drove his Corvette to a 5.962 at 237.25. Clint Satterfield, who is currently qualified seventh with a 5.984, posted the fastest run of the day at 245.27 in a BAC Enterprises Pontiac Firebird.

John Force has advanced to the final round in the last three races, and his hot streak continued on Friday as he raced to the qualifying lead in Funny Car. Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Allen Johnson also were qualifying leaders at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Series event, the 13th of 24 in the 2013 season.

Force powered his 8,000-horsepower Castrol GTX Mustang to a leading performance of 4.021 seconds at 317.72 mph, setting a new track E.T. record in the process. If Force’s performance holds through Saturday’s two qualifying sessions (11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.), it will be his third No. 1 of the season, second in the last three weeks and 143rd of his career, the most in NHRA history. “We’ve got a good race car right now,” said Force, who has jumped from 10th to third in the points standings during his recent run. “There’s a bunch of great race cars in this class and to get the low time, I’m happy. We’ve been trying a lot of stuff and we’re just working well as a team.”

To get back on track this season, Force gave a lot of credit to crew chief Mike Neff, who was the Funny Car winner at Norwalk in 2012. “Mike Neff and Jon Schaffer have given me a good car,” said Force, who is still looking for his first Norwalk victory. “Neff’s really got a lot of talent and he really helped me calm down. This new car, you’ve got to finesse it and we’re really working well as a team.

“You really feed off the fans here at Norwalk. They love racing, they’re a great crowd and it’s great to put on a show for them. I have been coming to Norwalk for 18 years. I have won a lot of these Night Under Fire match races. I learned a lot about racing here. The Bader family, I call them the PT Barnums, they are the best promoters in the world. Bader said to me it is not just drag racing it is entertainment. That is what you do.”

Force’s teammate Robert Hight took his Auto Club Mustang to the second position thanks to a 4.030 at a track record speed of 318.77. Ron Capps powered his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger to the third position with a strong run of 4.040 at 316.82.

“It’s definitely coming around. Right now points are everything and we have to stay ahead of everyone that’s behind us to stay in that top 10. Every run where we can pick up points in qualifying and go rounds on race day is huge. Today, we made five points on Tasca (Bob, III) and that’s exactly what we needed to do,” said Hight who sits 10th in the Mello Yello Funny Car point standings.

“I’m proud of my crew chief, Jimmy (Prock), that he didn’t just give it away tonight. We were low ET the first run. You know, we could have gone up there swingin’, trying to run in the threes, because that kind of is his style. He played it safe and we came up a hair short against John,” said Hight. “Just like last week when we lost to Capps, I told my guys, right now, when I lose on race day, I don’t want to lose smoking the tires, I want to lose going down the track making runs. If you throw out that run from last weekend when (Matt) Hagan and I got shut off, my Auto Club Ford Mustang has gone down the track every single run and ran 4.0’s. I’m proud of my guys. We need to do it twice tomorrow and see where it shakes out.”

Hight’s night time run may not have earned him the track elapsed time record but his monstrous speed of 318.77 mph grabbed the track speed record for the 2009 Funny Car champion. “A track speed record is huge, but you can look at the incrementals and there’s more out there. Mike Neff ran almost three mph faster than us at half-track, yet we had the top speed. So, if we get ours to run through the middle like he did, you can run 321 mph. You see all these numbers, but there’s room for improvement. I’m excited because we’re not right out the ragged edge and we can run better,” said Hight.

Kalitta paced Top Fuel with a 3.767 at 327.74 in his 8,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster, breaking the track record in both categories. It was also only one of three runs in the 3.70s on Friday. Kalitta, who is seeking his first win of 2013, will claim his fifth No.1 qualifier this season and 36th of his career if the time holds. “The conditions were good and I’m real proud of my guys,” Kalitta said. “They’ve been making that dragster run and we were real happy to rip off a good run in qualifying. The facility is just awesome and the place was packed. It was pretty cool to see.”

Points leader and Chicago winner Tony Schumacher was the first to reach the 3.70s on Friday, sending his U.S. Army dragster to an impressive 3.778 at 320.74 that currently puts him second. Clay Millican and his Parts Plus dragster went 3.795 at 323.66 to place him in third.

But Kalitta topped everyone under the lights, setting the track records on the final pass of the night. “It was just a good capper to a great night and I’m just real proud of everyone,” Kalitta said. “We are all just real hungry to do well. We’re making great strides and that’s starting to show. We’ve been working real hard on things and we’re getting it narrowed down to where we can continue to run more consistent.”

In Pro Stock, Johnson, the defending world champion, took command in the second qualifying session, running 6.592 at 209.75 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger. If it holds, it would be the first No. 1 qualifier this season and 29th of his career.

“After the sun went down, the track just got awesome,” said Johnson, who was the No. 1 qualifier at Norwalk in 2012. “Last year we ran really well here and the car just loves this track.”

Mike Edwards managed to break the track speed record in his I AmSecond/Interstate Batteries Chevy Camaro, running 6.601 at 209.92, but Johnson snuck past the current points leader in what was the next to last pair of the second session.

Jeg Coughlin, coming off a win in Chicago, is currently in the third spot, going 6.614 at 208.91 in his Dodge Avenger. With teammate Coughlin also running well, Johnson, who has three wins in 2013, is excited for the remainder of the weekend.

“We’re gaining on (Edwards) a little bit and I think we made some progress (Friday night),” Johnson said. “The last few races we’ve pretty much matched him engine-wise and we’re figuring out some things on the car. It’s going to be a knock-down, drag out for a while.

“It’s going to take consistency. You have to do your job as a driver, but everything has to be perfect in Pro Stock.”