LAS VEGAS — As the temperature goes down, the speeds go up in the world of drag racing.
As the sun set Saturday night over The Strip at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the speeds in the final round of qualifying for the National Hot Rod Association’s went into record territory.
And Fast Jack Beckman was fastest, once again.
The NHRA wrapped up two days and four rounds of qualifying for the 17th annual Toyota NHRA Nationals, the fifth of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship
The leaders from Friday’ first two qualifying rounds kept the No. 1 spots with familiar faces at the top of each of the series’ four major ladders.
Tony Schumacher, Fast Jack Beckman, Greg Anderson and Eddie Krawiec — all former NHRA season champions — were the number one qualifiers after Friday’s sessions and held onto the No. 1 seeds through Saturday in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively.
Beckman, in the final Funny Car pairing of the night, blasted off on a record run down the 1,000 foot track — hitting the finish line in 3.854 seconds at 335.57 miles an hour — a pass that was both the quickest time and fastest speed in The Strip history.
I think we have a really great car right now,” said Beckman. “The 3.85 was right what we were shooting for. We ran a 3.88 in the heat earlier today. It was 103 degrees on the track in the third qualifying session and we still ran a great time.”
Courtney Force and Robert Hight were the No. 2 and 3 Funny Car qualifiers after Friday’s first round. They held onto those spots through the next three rounds.
San Luis Obispo native Ron Capps, the defending Funny Car champion and current points leader, started and ended qualifying in the No. 6 spot.
“The 11 points we picked up for sweeping all four qualifying sessions might not help us get to first place but it could help us jump up to third,” said Beckman. “It was nice to cut into Courtney’s lead on us (Force is currently third in the season standings) and put some distance on the people behind us.”
The top three in two of the three classes were set Friday night and remained unchanged through the next three rounds.
Schumacher opened Friday’s Top Fuel qualifying with 3.673 second run at 332 miles an hour.
That was also a track record, for the quickest pass in track history.
Season points leader Steve Torrence qualified second with Clay Millican third.
Defending Top Fuel champion Antron Brown opened qualifying in the No. 7 spot but was bumped down to No. 10 on Saturday.
“It was a good car today,” said Schumacher. “This morning’s first (qualifying) race gave me a lot of confidence. We were running in the heat and it showed we were making a lot of power.”
Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson also had his best time Friday. Drew Skillman, Bo Butner and defending Pro Stock champ Jason Line were 2, 3 and 4 for all four rounds.
“This time of year, you’ve got to hit your tree, hit your shifts points. With the championship races so close, everyone gets a little tight, a little nervous but you’ve got to fight that,” said Anderson. “I feel as though I have the best job in the world every time in get into that race car. I love racing here in Las Vegas. It’s been a special weekend so far and I hope it continues tomorrow,”
Pro Stock Motorcycle was the only group that saw someone crack the top three.
Krawiec was No. 1 through all four rounds and Hector Arana Jr. was second but LE Tonglet jumped into the No. 3 spot in Saturday’s fourth round, jumping up from No. 8.
“I said last night that I wasn’t sure my time would hold up but it did,” said Krawiec. “The bike ran well all four qualifying rounds. I hope we’ll do just as well tomorrow.”
Hector Arana Sr. had the day’s biggest jump, moving up 11 spots from No. 18 to No. 7.
Final eliminations will be held Sunday.
There we no major mishaps over the two days of qualifying — no explosions or crashes but there were several minor incidents that led to some big delays.
The action was stopped for 30 minutes Saturday when the track had to be cleaned up after Mike Salinas’ Top Fuel dragster developed an oil leak and several drivers had control problems, crossing the center line and wiping out a series of safety cones which caused delays while replacements were set up and the track cleaned of debris.
And Halloween was in the air. Many crew members and fans came dressed in costumes — there were super heroes, princesses, ballet dancers and monsters, including a collection of dinosaurs — trackside, in the stands and in the pits.
With all of the championship races too close to call, the season championships will all come down to a winner-take-all weekend Nov. 10-12 at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
“It’s setting up for a fantastic finish in Pomona,” said Anderson.