Topeka Scott Kalitta is No. 1 -- and driving to stay that way.
Kalitta, from Chelsea, Mich., turned in a pass 302.52 mph and 4.660 seconds -- the quickest run in National Hot Rod Association history -- to lock up the No. 1 qualifying spot the top fuel category of the Sears Craftsman Nationals before an estimated 27,500 fans on Saturday at Heartland Park.
"It felt like a pretty good run," said Kalitta, the leader in the tight Winston series points chase. "But I didn't know for sure."
Kalitta, Chuck Etchells in funny car, Kurt Johnson in pro stock and John Myers in pro stock motorcycle claimed the top professional-class qualifying spots for today's eliminations. The elims begin at 11 this morning. The final round will be televised live on cable channel 30 from 5 to 6 p.m.
Kalitta was one of eight qualifiers to break the 300-mph barrier. He entered the event on top of the series standings with 1,263 points. Cory McClenathan is right behind with 1,197 points.
Kalitta could pick up another 20 points if he backs up his run today within 1 percent to establish the national elapsed-time record. But the mark is the last thing on Kalitta's mind.
"I'm just thinking about going rounds," he said. "If the record comes, that's just icing on top. But it would make things easier on us. Twenty points is 20 points."
Kalitta's run could have been faster. About 3 1/2 seconds into his pass, he dropped a cylinder. His eight-cylinder machine finished the run on just seven.
"If we don't put a cylinder out at 3 1/2 seconds, who knows," Kalitta said. "I was at 262 (mph) at the eighth-mile. That's right up there with the fastest eighth-mile speeds."
Etchells, of Putnam, Conn., put up some pretty good numbers, too. He made his final funny car qualifying pass at 4.981 seconds and 300.60 mph.
"That was real fun," Etchells said. "That's the first time I went 300. I was really surprised at the 300. ... I knew at half-track I was running four seconds. But the 300 is real amazing."
His fast pass bumped Whit Bazemore, who held the pole for the first three rounds, into second. The bump was a blow to Bazemore and his shoestring budget.
"He's never been the No. 1 qualifier. Nobody in the pit area works as hard or is as dedicated as Whit and his team," Etchells said. "We're happy we got the money (for being No. 1 qualifier). ... But I kind of feel bad for Whit."
In pro stock, meanwhile, there's no keeping up with the Johnsons. Kurt Johnson made his pass in 194.84 mph and an event-record 7.046 seconds. His father, Warren, the current series points leader, qualified third at 195.99 mph and 7.029 mph.
"It was just a matter of luck," Kurt Johnson said of his record-setting pass. "The air changed so much."
The Johnsons are on opposite ends of the bracket, meaning they will only meet today if they advance to the finals. A Johnson has won the pole for 14 of the 17 events this season.
"Every time we run side by side, I do really badly," Kurt Johnson said. "Hopefully we can change that tomorrow."
The Johnsons are the only father-son combos today. Scott Kalitta will meet his father, Connie, in today's first round.
In the other pro category, Myers made his pass in 174.92 mph and a track-record 7.584 mph.