Ken Roberts is a respected veteran motorsports journalist from the St. Louis area. His blog will be updated frequently during race weekend.



MADISON, IL – SEPTEMBER 23: Steve Torrence (2 TF) NHRA Top Fuel Dragster celebrates in victory circle after winning the NHRA AAA Midwest Nationals on September 23, 2018, at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Steve Torrence loves Gateway Motorsports Park and for good reason.

Torrence, a Top Fuel driver from Kilgore, Texas, outran Clay Millican in the final Sunday afternoon to capture his second straight win in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship in the seventh annual AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals.

It was his seventh win this season, his 15th in the his 44 starts and 23rd of his career. It was also Torrence’s second win in succession at Gateway.

“This is going to be a really hard fought war,” said Torrence, who leads Millican 2,346-2,276 in the points race. “I feel like Braveheart. I’m just going in swinging and chopping. I put 100 percent of my faith in Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr. and those guys. I’m blessed and fortunate to be part of that team and not drop the ball.

“Richard has a really good handle on it. I’m really fortunate to have a handle on it. It’s all we could have asked to start the Countdown with back-to-back wins.”

Torrence had to take out Bill Litton, Mike Salinas and Leah Pritchett to reach the final. Millican beat Shawn Reed, Antron Brown and Pat Dakin to get to the finals.

“I drive the race car,” Torrence said. “It’s the team. It’s the race car I’m in. I did my job and left on time today. It outrun everybody.”

Just before the Torrence-Millican final, the Funny Car finale involved Robert Hight and Springfield, Ill. native Tim Wilkerson.

Hight, the top qualifier, beat Wilkerson off the line and won his third race this season, 44th of his career and second at Gateway.

But Hight’s victory came at a price as his AAA Insurance Chevrolet Camaro blew up just past the finish line sending the entire body up and over the scoring pylon on the left side of the track and into the spectator area. No injuries were reported.

Hight’s car banged the left wall twice before coming to rest. He was able to get out of his car under his own power as Wilkerson rushed over to check on his fellow competitor.

Hight was able to walk under his own power but had to be transported to a local hospital where sources said he had to have his eyes flushed out because of debris.

Hight defeated Dale Creasy, John Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. to reach the final, while Wilkerson knocked off Matt Hagan, Courtney Force and J.R. Todd to take on Hight.

“I’ve been in that situation,” Torrence said. “You know what he’s going through. The good Lord had his hand over him. That’s a pretty spectacular way to win.”

But Torrence said watching what happened didn’t hurt his focus.

“No. It didn’t affect us,” he offered. “That’s what we do. We drive Top Fuel cars. They blow up. Stuff falls off. They hit things. It’s part of it. We know the risk when we get in them.”

In Pro Stock, 19-year-old series points leader Tanner Gray won for the sixth time this season beating Drew Skillman in the finals. It was Gray’s 11 win in 44 tries and first at Gateway.

Gray, who qualified seventh in his Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro, beat Chris McGaha, Erica Enders and Vincent Nobile to get to the finals. Skillman stopped Kenny Delco, Bo Butner, top qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr.

“Throughout qualifying, we didn’t run as good as we should have,” Gray said. “We never really got aggressive enough. It was pretty cool to see everybody keep their heads on straight and come into today with the only thing that matters is Sunday and fight back and get the win.

“All of us did a really good job of taking it round-by-round, not really looking big picture and focusing on what we had to do. I’m super proud of everybody over there because it’s pretty tough to do.”

It has been tough all season for Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Smith. He started the season 17th in the points and leaves Gateway with the points lead.

Smith, aboard his Elite Motorsports DENSO Auto Parts EBR cycle, took down Suzuki driver LE Tonglet in the final. Tonglet is second in the points.

It was Smith’s second triumph of the season, 20th overall and his third career win at Gateway.

“After we left Gainsville (Fla.) (early in the season), our goal was to try to get to the top 10 (in points),” Smith said. “We got the Red Rocket. When we brought it out (two races ago), man it is hateful. It helps to also find a little power and she’s got a little power too. We should be good the rest of the year.”

Smith’s race against Tonglet was close in the end. In fact, Tonglet had a better elapsed time _ 6.867 to 6.877. But Smith’s reaction time off the starting line was.008 to Tonglet’s .018.

“I wear blinders, so I don’t pay attention to what’s going on,” Smith said. “That’s how you stay focused. You get good and tucked. You see something out there you might short shift.

“I just focus on trying to make as straight a run as it could. We turned four win lights and got by.”


Robert Hight beat Springfiled, Ill. native Tim Wilkerson in the Funny Car final.

Series points leader Tanner Gray took down Drew Skillman in the Pro Stock final beating Skillman after Skillman shut the car off at halftrack. Gray also had a .004 reaction time at the start to help his cause.

Matt Smith won the Pro Stock Motorcycle title when Smith barely beat LE Tonglet by .0006 seconds.

Matt Smith took out top qualifier Chip Ellis in the Pro Stock Motorcycle semifinal and will race against LE Tonglet after Tonglet beat Jerry Savoie.

Drew Skillman took down top qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the Pro Stock semifinal and will race series points leader Tanner Gray for the Wally after Gray defeated Vincent Nobile.

Springfield, Ill. native Tim Wilkerson will race for the title in Funny Car after taking down points leader J.R. Todd in the semifinals.

Wilkerson, who last won at Gateway in 2008, will race Robert Hight after top-seeded Hight defeated Tommy Johnson Jr.


Clay Millican and Steve Torrence will square off in the Top Fuel finals after Millican took down upset-minded Pat Dakin and Torrence defeated Leah Pritchett.



Tenth-seeded Jerry Savoie took down Andrew Hines in the second round of Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations.

“I could hear him the whole way,” Savoie said. “We think we might have found something.”

Savoie will race LE Tonglet, who beat Angie Smith, in one semifinal race, while Matt Smith takes on Chip Ellis, who defeated Angelle Sampey, despite Sampey’s near perfect reaction time (.001).
Series points leader Tanner Gray was able to drive around Erica Enders at the top end after Enders cut a perfect reaction time of .000 in the second round of the Pro Stock eliminations.

Gray will take on Vincent Nobile in the semifinals, while Jeg Coughlin Jr. races Drew Skillman, who defeated Bo Butner.
Springfield, Ill. native Tim Wilkerson, seeded eighth, upset No. 3 seed Courtney Force in the second round of Funny Car eliminations.

Wilkerson will face points leader J.R. Todd in the semifinals. Todd beat Cruz Pedregon to make it to the Final Four.

Tommy Johnson Jr. defeated Bob Tasca III and will race Robert Hight, who beat his boss John Force.

Part time racer Pat Dakin continued his upsetting ways in the second round of Top Fuel eliminations as Dakin, the No. 14 seed, sent sixth-seededTony Schumacher packing.

Dakin will race Clay Millican in the semifinals.

In the other semifinal, Leah Pritchett faces series points leader Steve Torrence after Torrence swapped lanes with Mike Salinas. Torrence had been scheduled to run in the right lane, but because Torrence ran faster in the first round, he had lane choice and switched over to the left lane.


Three upsets took place in the Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations as No. 9 Angelle Sampey beat No. 8 Hector Arana Jr, when his bike shutoff, No. 10 Jerry Savoie beat No. 7 Hector Arana, father of Arana Jr. and No. 13 Joey Gladstone knocked off No. 4 Eddie Krawiec, when Krawiec jumped the start.

Other winners were Chip Ellis, Matt Smith, Andrew Hines, LE Tonglet and Angie Smith.

Second-round pairings are Ellis and Sampey, Gladstone and M. Smith, Hines versus Savoie and Tonglet faces A. Smith, wife of Matt Smith.

The seedings stayed true to form in the first round of eliminations of Pro Stock.

No. 1 Jeg Coughlin Jr., No. 2 Erica Enders, No. 3 Jason Line, No. 4 Bo Butner, No. 5 Drew Skillman, No. 6 Vincent Nobile, No. 7 Tanner Gray and No. 8 Greg Anderson were all winners.

Second-round matchups will be Coughlin and Anderson, Butner and Skillman, Enders and Gray and Line, who is looking for his first win of the season, facing Nobile.

Line ran the lowest elapsed time of the round at 6.536 seconds.

“We’ve got a chance to win,” Line said. “I’ve just got to do a good job on the starting line.”

No. 15 seeded Cruz Pedregon upset defending race champion and No. 2 seed Ron Capps, when Pedregon beat Capps off the starting line in a first-round matchup. Pedregon will face J.R. Todd in round two.

“It feels good,” Pedregon said. “We’re just lucky to get by them.”

Other winners were Robert Hight, Tommy Johnson Jr., Bob Tasca III, Courtney Force, Springfield, Ill. native Tim Wilkerson and John Force.

Second-round matchups are Hight against J. Force, Johnson Jr. versus Tasca III, Pedregon faces Todd and C. Force runs Wilkerson.


The first round of Top Fuel eliminations have begun and No. 14 seed Pat Dakin has upset No.3 seed Billy Torrence. Dakin had a .006-second reaction time off the starting line and advanced to the second round to face Tony Schumacher.

“That was a great guess,” Dakin said of his jump off the line. “I just got away with one.”

Other winners were No. 4 Blake Alexander, Clay Millican, points leader Steve Torrence, Leah Pritchett and Mike Salinas.

The other second round pairings will be Steve Torrence against Salinas, Alexander versus Palmer, Millican races Brown.

Funny Car up next.



Good Sunday morning from Gateway Motorsports Park.

It’s race day, the sun is shining, the skies are clear, the weather is cool and there is a breeze. A perfect day for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship in the seventh annual AAA NHRA Midwest Nationals at the fastest dragstrip in the St. Louis area.
Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers and riders are all competing for a prestigous Wally, the trophy drag racing winners covet.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 22 — 8:35 P.M. CDT

The second race of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship will begin Sunday morning with some drivers in the Top Ten of the four professional categories advancing to the third race in the six-race countdown and a chance to win a national championship in November in Pomona, Calif.

The elimination round begins at 11 a.m. at the Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison. Pre-race ceremonies start at 9:45 a.m.

In Funny Car, defending national champion Robert Hight won the pole with a 3.844-second, 326.16 miles per hour run in the final qualifying session. It was his third of the season and 59th of his career.

Hight will race Dale Creasy, of Beecher, Ill., in the first round of eliminations.

“We were pushing,” said Hight. “We don’t get to run a lot of big numbers like that. The tracks just haven’t been there. This one here has been. We had nothing to lose.”

While Hight was happy with winning the top spot, he was more impressed with his first qualifying run on Saturday in the heat of the day. He had a 3.908-second pass at 324.98 mph.

“That was what impressed me the most,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to be racing with tomorrow. Those are the conditions (sunny, track temperature 94 degrees, air temperature, 75 degrees and the relative humidity at 48 percent) that we’re going to be racing in. We’re not going to have candy land like this anymore.

“That’s what we need. We’ve got to have a great race setup and I think we do.”

In Top Fuel, defending race champion Steve Torrence, of Kilgore, Texas, earned his third pole of the season and 19th of his career after speeding to a 3.675-second at 327.19 mph and will face No. 16 Bill Litton, of La Jolla Calif., in the first round of eliminations.

In Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin Jr., of Delaware, Ohio, won the 26th pole of his career, with a third-session run of 6.496 seconds at 211.76 mph. He will face Mark Hogan, of Dubuque, Iowa, in the first round of eliminations.

“It felt great running in the 40s and it felt great to get the No. 1 spot going into tomorrow,” Coughlin said. “It gives us great momentum and confidence. You just take each run at a time. With the weather conditions today, we knew we were going to make more power and we did.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Chip Ellis, of China Grove, N.C., earned the pole position for Sunday’s eliminations, his first since 2015. The pole was the 17th of his career.

Ellis, who worked for Vance and Hines (owners) for five years, had a third-session run of 6.764 seconds at 196.76 mph, which held up in the final qualifying session. Ellis will race against Mark Paquette, of Howell, Mich.

“It’s every Pro Stock Motorcycle racer’s dream to ride one of those Harley Davidsons,” he said. “It’s a real honor for me and a privilege. I have a good relationship with them and they have a good relationship with me.

“They needed somebody to do some testing. They called me so here I am. I rode it in Pomona last year and I always wanted to be on a fast bike. To be able to come out here and do what we’ve done is pretty awesome.”

In Pro Mod, Mike Castellana, of Oyster Bay, N.Y., set a national elapsed time record in the fourth and final qualifying session with a pass of 5.676 seconds at 255.39 mph to earn the top spot for the first round of eliminations.

Castellana will face No. 16 Shane Molinari, Battle Ground, the first round.

Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, along with IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, were on the starting line for the third and fourth Funny Car qualifying sessions Saturday watching Courtney Force make her final two passses. Rahal is married to Courtney Force.

MADISON, IL – SEPTEMBER 21: Robert Hight (1 FC) John Force Racing (JFR) Chevrolet Camaro SS NHRA Funny Car makes a pass during qualifying for the NHRA AAA Midwest Nationals on September 21, 2018, at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire)

MADISON, IL – SEPTEMBER 22: The parachutes open, slowing Jeg Coughlin Jr (7 PRO) Jegs Chevrolet Camaro NHRA Pro Stock after his pass during qualifying for the AAA Midwest National on September 22, 2018, at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire)


For the second year in succession, Gateway Motorsports Park sold out on Saturday when an estimated crowd of 20,000 fans showed up for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.

“This event has shown three years of impressive growth,” said Chris Blair, executive vice president and general manager in a statement. “It just goes to show that the St. Louis region loves NHRA and NHRA loves the St. Louis region. In this day and age of reviewing and critiquing live event attendance, it’s great to see another win at Gateway.”

After threatening to shine earlier in the day, the sun finally broke through the clouds Saturday afternoon which led to some movement in the four pro categories after the third session (first session of the day) of qualifying in the seventh annual AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series at Gateway Motorsports.

In Funny Car, Courtney Force, of Yorba Linda, Calif., stayed on top and did not improve on her time (3.881) or speed (331.04).

But teammate and defending national champion Robert Hight, also of Yorba Linda, moved to the second spot (3.908/324.98). He had been sixth after Friday’s second session.

Hight’s jump to second pushed defending race champion Ron Capps, of Carlsbad, Calif., down to third and Bob Tasca III of Cranston, R.I. to fourth.

In Top Fuel, Clay Millican, of Drummonds, Tenn., stayed on top after session three (3.692/329.83). Steve Torrence, of Kilgore, Texas, leap frogged over his dad Billy, though, for second when Steve went (3.708/329.26) and Billy stayed at 3.717/328.06.

In Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin Jr., of Delaware, Ohio, stayed on top, but improved his time and speed after session three. He needed only 6.496 seconds to go 211.76 mph. On Friday, he went 6.516/210.54.

Erica Enders, of Houston, Texas, went to second (6.508/212.53) and Jason Line, of Mooresville, N.C., is third (6.513/212.79). Enders was third on Friday and Line had been fourth.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Chip Ellis, of China Grove, N.C., jumped to No. 1 in the third qualifying session with a time of 6.764 seconds at 196.76 mph. Ellis was third after the second session Friday night.

Andrew Hines, of Brownsburg, Ind., stayed in second but improved his time and speed after three sessions (6.782/197.74). He had a time of 6.835 seconds with a speed of 195.34 mph.

Eddie Krawiec, of Brownsburg, Ind., fell to third from first.

In Pro Mod, Mike Castellana, of Oyster Bay, N.Y., bumped native New Yorker Mike Janis (Lancaster) from the top spot in the third session.

Castellana stopped the timer in 5.716 seconds at 253.85 mph. Janis could not improve on his time and speed of Friday (5.725/248.02). Steve Jackson, of Evans, Ga., moved up to third from fourth (5.727/252.05).

Jim Whiteley, of Grand Junction, Colo., dropped from third to sixth.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 22 — 11:30 A.M. CDT

Super Gas racer Wayne Kelley, of Mount Vernon, Ind., was uninjured after being involved in a scary incident during the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series portion of the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals Saturday morning.

At the completion of his run, Kelly made contact with the left retaining wall and came to a rest near the end of the track. He exited the car under his own power.

“I went to hit the brakes at the finish line and she went straight left, like something broke or something,” he said. “I don’t know what happened but there was no way to get her off the wall. I just brushed the wall and tore up a little fiberglass, I’m fine.”

SATURDAY, SEPT. 22 — 8:30 A.M. CDT

Top of the morning to everybody from Gateway Motorsports Park where the weather is perfect for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series _ sunny skies and cool fall temperatures.

Today could be moving day in some or all of the pro categories. Today’s final session in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will set the ladder for Sunday’s eliminations, which begin at 11 a.m.

Come on out and enjoy the weather. Also come out and go to the Nitro School at 12:15 p.m. featuring Robert Hight and announcer Alan Reinhart at the Triple AAA display in Hight’s pit area.

There will be an autograph session at 1 p.m. at the Mello Yello display in the Midway with Steve Torrence, Hector Arana Jr., Vincent Nobile, Shirley Muldowney and Kenny Youngblood.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 21 — 10:33 P.M. CDT

Top Fuel driver Clay Millican is on the pole going into Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions after he held the top spot Friday night with a 3.692-second pass at 329.83 miles per hour in the National Hot Rod Association’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison.

The final two sessions on Saturday begin at 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Millican, of Drummonds, Tenn., was fastest in both sessions on Friday, but bettered his first session run of of 3.757/326.24.

MADISON, IL – SEPTEMBER 21: Clay Millican (25 TF) NHRA Top Fuel Dragster signs an autograph in the pit area during the NHRA AAA Midwest Nationals on September 21, 2018, at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire)

“Going back to last week (in Reading, Pa.), that’s nine consecutive runs were the thing has been unbelievably quick,” said Millican. “What that team is doing right now is incredible. The cool thing about being at the back of the line (the last to run) is we’re able to tune the car according to what everybody else has done.

“Man, it’s fun to drive. Heck, I’ve got the ultimate roller coaster. When you stomp on the gas it goes to the finish line. It goes really, really fast. It’s a lot of fun. The only pressure on me to not to leave before the tree is activated, hit a cone or run into the wall.

“Qualifying for me is purely fun. You’ve got to put the car where he (Australian crew chief David Grubnic) tells you to put it. To quote him exactly ‘put it right down the gut mate’. That’s what he said. That means drive it straight down the middle. There’s nothing to avoid. That’s fun for me. You just try to do your best to keep it lined up right down the middle and enjoy the rocketship that it is right now.”

Defending race champion Steve Torrence moved to the second spot (3.717/326.48). He had been third after the first qualifying run. Torrence’s dad Billy is No. 3 after a 3.735-second pass at 328.06 mph. Billy Torrence had been ninth.

Tony Schumacher, who was third after the first session, fell to sixth in session two.


In Funny Car, Courtney Force climbed to the No. 1 spot after a second session pass of 3.881-seconds at 331.04 mph. She was 11th after the first session.

Because of that poor first-round session, Force had to go out early in the second session. That gave other teams a chance to get past her but it \ didn’t happen.

“I definitely thought there were going to be other teams that got around us in Q2 (second qualifying session),” she said. “The conditions were great obviously. We didn’t have the best run (4.120/309.20) in Q1 (first qualifying session).

“We were in front of the Funny Car group to make a pass. We got to show what the track was laying down. Honestly I wasn’t sure if it was going to hold.

“Being so early, there were a lot of great teams after us. I thought there were going to be a few cars get around us. Who knows, maybe they will.”

Ron Capps stayed in the No. 2 spot and Bob Tasca III is No. 3 after a 3.915-second run at 320.58 mph. Tasca had been 14th after the first session.

J.R. Todd, who was third in the first session, fell to seventh.


In Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin Jr. moved to the head of the field after the second session with a 6.516-second run at 210.54 mph.

Coughlin jumped in front of teammate Vincent Nobile, who is second after two sessions. Nobile had a run of 6.519 seconds at 211.49 mph. Erica Enders was third in the session with a 6.521-second pass at 211.10 mph.

“As night came in and the track got cooler, the Pro Stock cars thrived on that,” Coughlin said. “The air was getting faster. Couple those together and (crew chief) Rickie Jones was able to get more aggressive.

“The car just felt amazing. It was traveling extremely well. Obviously we banged out a (6.) 51, which was good enough for low (ET).”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec stayed on top standing on his elapsed time of 6.820 seconds from the first session. He went 195.56 mph.

“It kind of sets your tone for the weekend,” he said. “It lets you know you’re in the field. You’re not going to get bumped out. More important, it lets you come out and try things (for Saturday).

“We have a really good base line. We know where home is and now we can experiment.”

Teammate Andrew Hines remained in second with an improved elapsed time of 6.835 seconds (he went down the track in the first session 6.922). Hines’ second session speed was 195.34.

Teammate Chip Ellis was third with a 6.845-second run at 192.93 mph. Ellis was fifth after the first session.

Angie Smith, who was third after the first session, dropped to sixth.

In E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Series, Mike Janis moved to the top spot with an elapsed time of 5.725 seconds in the second qualifying session. His speed was 248.02 mph. He was second after the first session.

Rick Hord also moved up a spot to second after a 5.729-second pass. His speed was 256.16 mph. Jim Whitely, who was sixth after the first session, jumped to third with a time of 5.726 at 250.55 mph.

First session leader Michael Biehle III dropped to fifth with a 5.754-second run at 255.97.

Mike Bowman, of Oak Hills, Calif., was involved in an incident during the second qualifying session of the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service portion of the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals Friday evening.

At the end of his pass in his ’69 Chevelle, the parachutes failed to open and his car came to rest in the catch fence in the sand trap.

“It felt like it made a decent run,” Bowman said. “I went to throw the chutes out, and didn’t feel like they came out. I’m fine. It’s just one of those bad deals.”

His incident caused an 83-minute delay as NHRA’s Safety Safari had to repair the heavy netting at the top end of the drag strip.

Clay Millican, of Drummonds, Tenn., was the fastest Top Fuel qualifier after the first round of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison on Friday.

Millican had an elapsed time of 3.757 seconds at 326.24 miles per hour. Tony Schumacher, of The Hills, Texas, who will become the first Top Fuel driver to compete in 500 events on Sunday, was second (3.778/324.83) and defending race champion Steve Torrence, of Kilgore, Texas, was third (3.782/323.58).

In Funny Car, defending national champion Robert Hight, of Yorba Linda, Calif., was the fastest qualifier with a first round pass of 3.957 seconds at 319.82 miles per hour.

Defending race champion Ron Capps, of Carlsbad, Calif., was second (3.966/319.22) and J.R. Todd, of Indianapolis, Ind., was third (3.977/318.99).

In first round Pro Stock qualifying, Vincent Nobile, of Dix Hills., N.Y., was quickest off the line with an elapsed time of 6.550 seconds at 210.50 miles per hour. Jeg Coughlin Jr., of Delaware, Ohio, was second (6.551/210.18) and Erica Enders was third (6.565/210.50).

Tanner Gray, of Mooresville, N.C., had the fastest speed of 211.16 miles per hour. His elapsed time was 6.569 seconds.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec, of Brownsburg, Ind., was the fastest after the first round of qualifying with an elapsed time of 6.820 seconds at 195.56 miles per hour. Andrew Hines, also of Brownsburg, was second (6.922/191.13) and Angie Smith, of King, N.C.,  sits third (6.928/190.22).

After first round of qualifying of Pro Mod, Michael Biehle III, of North Vernon, Ind., was the fastest with an elapsed time of 5.754 seconds at 255.97 miles per hour.

Mike Janis, of Lancaster, N.Y., was second (5.759/246.93) and Rick Hord was third (5.775/252.61).


FRIDAY, SEPT. 21 — 4:20 P.M. CDT

A timing issue on the right lane forced NHRA officials to temporarily halt first round Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying. After about a 15-minute delay, qualifying resumed. No word on the cause of the delay.


FRIDAY, SEPT. 21 — 3:55 P.M. CDT

Pro Modified just finished its first round of qualifying and Pro Stock Motorcycle is up next followed by Pro Stock Cars, Funny Car and Top Fuel.

Eleven-year-old Nadja Kapetanovich, of Alton, will sing the National Anthem before the start of eliminations Sunday for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.

Kapetanovich is a sixth grade student at Alton Middle School. She enjoys dance, piano, viola and performing in musicals. Her column, Nadja’s Corner, runs in the Alton Advantage paper.

She has appeared in five musicals and recently was nominated for a Best Performance Award from the St. Louis Arts For Life organization for her portrayal of Chip in “Beauty and the Beast” with Alton Little Theater.

Kapetanovich sang the National Anthem befor the IndyCar race at Gateway last month.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 21 — 9:56 A.M. CDT

The Gateway Motorsports Park drag strip is officially open after a 1 hour, 40 minute rain delay as the first round of Sportsman qualifying have gone down the track.

The order of qualifying for Friday afternoon is Stock (56 cars), Super Comp (55), 275 Radial (9), Super Stock (53), Super Gas (57), Top Dragster (40) and Factory Stock Showdown (16).

Pro Mods has 32 cars to qualify in the first round followed by Pro Stock Motorcycles (19), Pro Stock Cars (17), Funny Car (18) and Top Fuel (20).

Friday evening/night, Pro Mods, Pro Stock Motorcycles, Pro Stock Cars, Funny Car and Top Fuel will have second-round qualifying.


FRIDAY, SEPT. 21 — 9:30 A.M. CDT

Good morning from Gateway Motorsports Park where the weather is outstanding for the third of three marquee events as the National Hot Rod Association Mello Yello Drag Racing Series makes its annual stop at the fastest drag strip in the St. Louis area starting today and running through Sunday.

The seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals features the top drivers and riders in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle categories.

The stop is No. 20 on the 24-race schedule and is the second race in the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship, the NHRA playoffs.

Spectator gates open at 8 a.m. today and Sportsman class qualifying starts at 8 a.m. The NHRA Midway opens at noon.

Qualifying for the four major classes begins at 4 p.m. today with two sessions, followed by two more sessions on Saturday starting at 2:15 p.m. Eliminations are Sunday beginning at 11 a.m.

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending race champions.

“Every year you can count on the NHRA to give you a great show,” said Gateway Motorsports Park owner and president Curtis Francois said on Thursday at the NHRA press conference at Ballpark Village in downtown St. Louis.

Steve Torrence (2,219 points) is the Top Fuel points leader and Tony Schumacher and Clay Millican are tied for second (2,169).

J.R. Todd is on top in the Funny Car category (2,166), while Hight (2,143) and teammate Courtney Force (2,141) are second and third respectively.

In Pro Stock, Tanner Gray (2,183) is the leader followed by Vincent Nobile (2,165) and Greg Anderson (2,153).

Eddie Krawiec is the Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader (2,184), while Hector Arana Jr. (2,181) is second and Matt Smith third (2,147).

Shirley Muldowney, the first woman to win a NHRA national event, will be signing autographs today at 5:45 p.m. at the AAA booth on the midway and again on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Mello Yello signing session and at 1:30 p.m. in the AAA both on the midway.

Top Fuel driver Scott Palmer was hoping to do some sightseeing around St. Louis before this weekend’s race, but that didn’t happen.

Palmer, who has an MLS chassis and drives the CatSpot Organic Cat Litter dragster, had several shredded body panels fly off his car last week in Reading, Pa.

So he had to make a stop at his Indianapolis-area shop to wait for more panels to be made by fellow competitor Richie Crampton.

“When you lose as many panels as we did, you really just have to replace them all because if you try to patch an older body with a new body, you’re going to have problems,” Palmer said. “This is custom-made stuff so you can’t really go to the store and get body panels.”

Sixteen-time Funny Car champion John Force will try to win capture his 150th career victory this weekend.

Force, who drives the Peak Chevrolet Camaro, is ninth in the standings, but winning at Gateway would give him a shot at becoming a 17-time world champion.

He last won at Gateway in 2013, the same year he won his 16th world title.

“This year with the race being early in the Countdown, we can do some damage and get right back into this points battle,” said the 69-year-old Force, who is 102 points behind Todd. “I know I have a race car that can win.”

Real Pro Mode Association has been named the presenting sponsor for this weekend’s E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service.

The Pro Mod race is the ninth race of its 12-race schedule. The Pro Mods will have two qualifying sessions today starting at 3:15 and two on Saturday beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Eliminations start at 12:20 p.m. on Sunday.

Three-time world champion Rickie Smith and Mike Janis are tied for the points lead.

“We’re always thrilled to return to St. Louis where the Pro Mod class has always put on an incredible show in front of a great fanbase,” said John Waldie of the Real Pro Mod Association.