Tulsa: Saturday qualifying summary

Career-Best Pass Puts Hagan on Nitro Funny Car Pole in Tulsa Terry McMillen (Top Fuel), Mike Castellana (Pro Modified), Laurie Cannister (Alcohol Funny Car) and Pete Berner (Pro Stock) also claim ...

Tulsa: Saturday qualifying summary

Career-Best Pass Puts Hagan on Nitro Funny Car Pole in Tulsa

Terry McMillen (Top Fuel), Mike Castellana (Pro Modified), Laurie Cannister (Alcohol Funny Car) and Pete Berner (Pro Stock) also claim #1 qualifier honors at IHRA Sooner Nationals

Tulsa, Ok. (Aug. 23, 2008) -- Matt Hagan knows he is defying all logic. After competing in the Pro Modified class for two winless seasons, Hagan, a Christiansburg, Virg. resident, decided to move up to the Nitro Funny Car class for the 2008 IHRA Knoll Gas Nitro Jam schedule.

He seems to have found his niche in drag racing.

Hagan has won two national events this season and, after claiming the #1 qualifier position as well as securing both IHRA Last Man Standing five-point bonuses available in Tulsa, has inched closer to current points leader Terry Haddock.

"We're creeping up in the points," Hagan said. "We made a crew chief change, brought John Smith in to tune the car with his father Paul consulting, and it's starting to pay off. This is my first year in a Nitro car and I'm in the points chase...things like that are not supposed to happen. We're going up against the best drivers in the world out here and we're holding our own. It's a lot of fun."

Hagan used a career-best pass, a 4.994 at 306.26 mph, to claim the top qualifying spot at the Skull Shine Sooner Nationals presented by Wolverine Boots and Academy Sports + Outdoors. Haddock is right behind him, ending up #2 on the ladder, with a 5.098/283.97 pass.

"(Crew chief) John (Smith) tuned the car down a little for the run tonight because he wanted to go for the points, and it still ran a good number," Hagan said. "This team is really working hard. It's kind of funny, it seems like the faster the car goes the easier it is to drive. Hopefully it will be really easy to drive tomorrow when eliminations start if you know what I mean."

Hagan will square off with #5 qualifier Steven Macklyn in the first round while Haddock will take on #6 qualifier Todd Simpson.

Terry McMillen (Elkhart, Ind.) fired a huge 4.692/308.99 opening salvo during evening Top Fuel qualifying Friday. That number stood up after two Saturday qualifying sessions at Tulsa Raceway Park, and he will be the top-qualified car heading into Sunday's elimination rounds.

"Doug Kuch has this car running very well," McMillen said of his crew chief, who he brought on board for the Mopar Canadian Nationals at Grand Bend Motorplex in July. "The team is working hard and the goal is to go rounds Sunday. We want to put on a good show for the great fans in Tulsa. We also want to put on a show for our sponsors, Amalie Oil and Trick My Truck."

Trick My Truck, the popular Country Music Television show, came on board as a sponsor for McMillen's Hoosier Thunder Motorsports team this season. Tulsa Raceway Park provided the venue for a Trick My Truck reunion of sorts as numerous trucks that were "tricked out" on the show were on display over the weekend at the Sooner Nationals.

"It's great having the Trick My Truck guys here," McMillen said. "They are all huge motor sports fans and they're having a blast."

McMillen will face Edmonton resident Tim Boychuk, who qualified fifth, in the first round of eliminations Sunday. Bruce Litton (Indianapolis, Ind.), who entered the Sooner Nationals second in points, will square off with #6 qualifier Bobby Lagana Jr. Top Fuel points leader Spencer Massey (Fort Worth, Tex.) needed a big Saturday evening qualifying run to move from the wrong side of the bump spot into the field. His 4.719/310.48 put him #4 on the qualifying sheet and set him up to face car owner Mitch King, the #8 qualifier.

Mike Castellana (Westbury, N.Y.) is on a hot streak, and he is making a charge towards the top of the Torco Pro Modified points standings. His nitrous-assisted 1968 Firebird shattered the Tulsa Raceway Park track record Saturday night, posting a 6.029 at 235.72 mph. This number was also good enough to put him #1 on the final qualifying sheet and earn him his second five-point bonus of the event. His quickest winning pass of the Saturday evening qualifying session earned him Eaton Aeroquip Pro Mod Madness honors.

"The car has been very consistent," Castellana said. "The motor is running well and we're making the right tuning calls. We feel really good, really confident, heading into Sunday. It always takes consistency to win one of these things, you have to consistently get down the track."

After starting the season strong, reaching the final round at two of the first four 2008 national events, Castellana fought through a bit of a slump. But after qualifying #1 in Martin two weeks ago and reaching the final round before nailing down top qualifying honors in Tulsa, the team seems to have righted the ship.

"It's kind of been an up and down year," he said. "We were going well, then lost it for a bit, now think we've found it again. Hopefully we can keep it going."

Castellana entered the Sooner Nationals second, behind Kenny Lang, in the championship points chase. Lang had a 477-430 advantage, but by claiming 10 bonus points and 16 points for qualifying #1 Castellana cut into Lang's advantage. Lang qualified #6 on the sheet, earning 11 points, so his lead prior to Sunday's elimination rounds will be 32 points.

Someone who does not have to worry much about points is Alcohol Funny Car driver Laurie Cannister. The Johnstown, Ohio resident has won five national events this season and came to Tulsa with an astounding 204-point lead. She continued her dream season by finishing on top of the AFC qualifying sheet at the Sooner Nationals.

Her 5.825 pass at 241.89 mph was a full four hundredths of a second quicker than #2 driver Tom Carter (Victoria, Tex.). Cannister will face Larry Dobbs, the #5 qualifier, in the first round of eliminations Sunday.

"We were on a pretty good pass Saturday night but we shook the tires," Cannister said. "It seems like this track is better when the weather is hotter. The track was awesome this afternoon, but when it cooled off this evening it wasn't as good."

Cannister knows she, along with her car tuner and husband Dale, have some work to do to get ready for eliminations Sunday.

"We've been having tire-shake problems lately," she said. "That's soething we really have to figure out."

Carter will go up against defending world champion Mark Thomas in the first round Sunday. Paul Noakes and Dale Brand rounded out the top half of the field, qualifying third and fourth respectively.

Pete Berner (Crete, Ill.) is doing everything he can to keep the Torco Pro Stock championship race interesting. He came to Tulsa third in the points behind front-running Jeff Dobbins and second-place Frank Gugliotta. But his qualifying efforts Friday and Saturday evening in Oklahoma made the statement that the points race is going to come down to the wire.

Berner cruised to the top of the qualifying sheet with a 6.403 pass at 218.87 mph, putting his 2008 GXP in the top qualifying spot for the third time this season. He also grabbed five bonus points for being the quickest winning car during Saturday evening qualifying...his second five-point bonus of the event.

"The difference between Jeff Dobbins, Frank Gugliotta, John Montecalvo and myself is just a few rounds, so picking up the bonus points and qualifying well is very, very important," Berner said.

Montecalvo was second on the sheet with a 6.410/217.84 pass while Dean Goforth (6.415/218.19), Dobbins (6.418/217.21) and Gugliotta (6.420/215.55) rounded out the top five.

"All the guys out here are going at it tooth and nail," Berner said. "We're all leaving everything we have on the track, doing everything we can to run good numbers."

The Skull Shine Sooner Nationals will conclude Sunday, Aug. 24. Professional eliminations will begin at 11am. Final eliminations are scheduled for 4:30pm.

-credit: ihra

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