© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2003
GAINESVILLE -- Doug Kalitta earned the No.1 qualifying position in Top Fuel on Saturday at the NHRA Gatornationals. Kalitta took the lead in the last qualifying session, .002 seconds ahead of first-day leader Brandon Bernstein, with a pass of 4.535 seconds at 326.08 mph.
It was Kalitta's third consecutive race earning the top spot. He is the fourth driver to qualify first in the season's first three races. Gary Beck (1983), Joe Amato (1989) and Blaine Johnson (1996) also did it.
"Those are some great names to follow after that statistic, I didn't realize that we had accomplished that along with those folks," Kalitta said. "That's a great tribute to the horsepower that our car is making right now and Connie Kalitta, our crew chief."
The 16-car Top Fuel field is the quickest in NHRA history, eclipsing the mark set in 1999. Legend Shirley Muldowney will face Kalitta in the first round of today's eliminations.
Kalitta is winless this season.
FUNNY CAR: Tony Pedregon secured his second No.1 qualifying position of the season and was the only driver to keep the top spot from Friday.
"It was a good run," Pedregon said. "This particular track has got somewhat more of a crown than probably most tracks that we race. So you notice a lot of cars, especially Funny Cars, kind of sashaying around."
Pedregon, who posted a run of 4.811 at 317.57, thought he could have squeezed more out of it. He said he gained an advantage as it got later and cooler.
"It sure beats No.2 or being No.16 or especially No.17," Pedregon said. "A pattern in the Funny Car division is that the qualifying is a lot closer."
PRO STOCK: Top qualifier Bruce Allen set a track record with a run of 6.777 and 202.33. It surpassed Ron Krisher's mark of 6.821 at 203.37 set last year.
"The temperature was cooler than it had been the day before so we knew that we had a real good opportunity to improve," Allen said. "With (Friday's top qualifier) Greg (Anderson) already in there we knew we had to make a good run to get ahead of him."
PRO STOCK BIKE: Angelle Savoie earned the 32nd top qualifying position of her career despite riding a relatively new bike. Savoie clocked 7.160 at 182.03.
"We had a great run. That was my fourth pass ever on my new Suzuki," Savoie said. "We made some test runs in Bradenton where (teammate) Antron (Brown) road the bike for me to make sure it was okay."
MISCELLANY: Rhonda Hartman-Smith and teammate/husband John "Bodie" Smith will face each other during the first round of Top Fuel eliminations. ... Legendary drag racer Don Garlits of Ocala clocked a career-best 323.04 but did not qualify. ... In Sportsman racing in Orlando, Largo's Corky Markwart was the Super Comp champion with a 8.914 at 166.82.