The top two seeds fall early at the start of the rain-delayed countdown in Reading

By | September 18, 2023

nhra rain maple grove

Two NHRA top seeds fall early as the countdown opensNHRA/National Dragsgter

  • Before the showers arrive, a lot of drama unfolds at Maple Grove Raceway that interrupts the opening countdown.

  • The only driver to advance to the final round, Doug Kalitta, hardly missed a beat Sunday after his Top Fuel dragster tire shattered, causing major damage to the main car during Saturday qualifying.

  • The seed pair no. 1 comes out soon.

  • Tony Stewart will face Madison Payne in Top Alcohol Dragster’s rematch of the Las Vegas finale they won last fall.

  • The eliminations continue on Monday. The race will be broadcast Monday on FS1 at 9:30 pm ET.

Rain was a big winner Sunday at the interrupted Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania.

However, top Funny Car qualifier Bob Tasca III was right in his prediction Saturday night that fans “could see some big upsets” in this first of six Countdown to the Championship events.

The NHRA began eliminations an hour early, hoping to avoid a storm front that was expected to arrive in the mid-to-late afternoon. Ultimately, a rain delay robbed the racers of daylight, racing temperatures and a chance to show off their full strength on an NFL-adjacent FOX broadcast.

Instead, eliminations will continue Monday at 10 a.m. and at Maple Grove Raceway. The final day’s action will air Monday at 9:30 pm ET on FS1.

Doug Kalitta Nhra

Doug Kalitta advanced to the Top Fuel final despite a tire problem that caused damage to his dragster Sunday.NHRA/National Dragsgter

Kalitta is still not sure why the tire got shredded, but he continues to win

Top Fuel’s Doug Kalitta still isn’t sure what caused his right rear tire to blow and the rear wing and chassis of his main Mac Tools to fail on Saturday as he completed his 3.748-second, 332.10-mile qualifying pass hours at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania.

“The tire has no defects. There was nothing wrong with the tire,” said Kalitta Motorsports general manager Chad Head. “The car didn’t malfunction during the race, but something caused the tire to explode. We don’t know what caused the tire to explode.”

Nonetheless, this forced his team to scramble to prepare a backup car overnight on Saturday.

None of that seemed to faze Kalitta, who got into his car – one without a cockpit roof that he was starting to get used to this season – and won the first three rounds Sunday in dramatic fashion.

In the only weather-permitted passage after the long rain delay, Kalitta knocked out Leah Pruett to reach her third final round in seven contests. After another brief interruption, Tony Schumacher and Steve Torrence lined up for the semi-final to see who would face Kalitta in the final. Then it started raining again. By then, track conditions had worsened.

The drama started much earlier that day.

In his opening round bout against Josh Hart, Kalitta recorded a bout-low elapsed time with a pass of 3.658 seconds at 335.73 mph. (He was faster than No. 1 qualifier Justin Ashley’s 3.687 seconds.) In the second round, Kalitta ambushed Kalitta Motorsports teammate Shawn Langdon and won by seven thousandths of a second.

“I’m super excited. My guys gave me a great car,” Kalitta said. “There are some really close races here. It’s time to step up and get behind the wheel. After the first-round win, he said: “I wasn’t sure what to expect. He looks different from [inside], not having a canopy. It was nice. It’s one of my old faithful cars.

With the help of Langdon’s Kalitta Air Careers team, the crew worked late Saturday night to prepare the backup car while a truck was already on its way from the Ypsilanti, Mich., repair shop to recover the car main broken down.

Robert Hight KOs Matt Hagan in Monster Match

Robert Hight, ranked No. 3, defeated No. 2 Matt Hagan by a ten thousandth of a second Sunday in the quarterfinals. That is 0.0001 of a second.

Hight said of Hagan and his Dodge: “This is the car you’re going to have to beat for the championship. You will have to beat him week after week. You don’t expect to send those guys to the second round. But when these opportunities arise, you have to follow through.

Seeds no. 1 on the countdown lose early

Top Fuel’s Justin Ashley and Pro Stock’s Dallas Glenn retired early. Ashley, also the No. 1 qualifier in his class who enjoyed a solo pass in Round 1 when opponent Scott Farley’s car failed to fire, got a rude awakening in Round 2. Tony Schumacher, on the 12ththThe top-seeded Countdown driver defeated him to end a seven-game losing streak in the first round.

Ashley said: “It’s disappointing. In the end, for that team, I’m happy for them. They’ve struggled all year. That’s part of racing, as disappointing as it is, the sport has so many ups and downs.”

In Pro Stock action, Glenn picked the wrong time to start his first bad season. He handed the first round victory to Cristian Cuadra.

jianna evaristo nhra

Jianna Evaristo took on the role of giant assassin on Sunday, taking out Gaige Herrera in Pro Stock Motorcycle.NHRA/National Dragsgter

Jianna Evaristo once again has the number of dominatrix Gaige Herrera

Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Jianna Evaristo has made great strides this season since aligning with Matt Smith Racing. She is now a giant killer.

She eliminated the leader, the No. 1 qualifier and the seemingly unstoppable Gaige Herrera in the quarterfinals. In the previous 33 elimination rounds, he had lost only three times – and one of those he had lost was to Evaristo. He also beat him in June in the second round in Norwalk, Ohio. Thus, she became the only runner this season to beat Herrera more than once. Steve Johnson (at Bristol) and Matt Smith (at Indianapolis) were the other two.

Tony Stewart earns rematch with Madison Payne

Tony Stewart advanced to the final round of the Top Alcohol Dragster competition Sunday against Madison Payne in a rematch of the Fall 2022 finale in Las Vegas. She won that one.

Stewart won the Division 1 race here at Maple Grove Raceway in August and a Division 3 event in May at Indianapolis.

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