The Gateway Motorsports Park just outside St. Louis, Missouri has been a record-breaking venue ever since its opening in 1997, and when you combine it with cool, autumn weather conditions, it can be a recipe for history.
With weekend temperatures peaking only in the low 80s on Friday and hovering in the 60s throughout Saturday’s rounds of qualifying, the groundwork was certainly laid — and it didn’t take long for the record books to take a beating.
That morning, Top Fuel standout Leah Pritchett, driving her Mopar-backed Dodge Challenger Drag Pak, marched into uncharted territory with the first official seven-second run in the history of the Factory Stock Showdown and Stock Eliminator divisions. But Pritchett didn’t just break into the sevens — she kicked it down with authority, clocking a 7.936 at a speed-record 172.98 mph.
Not to be outdone, Pritchett’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate, former Pro Stock star Mark Pawuk, who returned to the sport this season following a 12-year hiatus, did one better in his Empaco Equipment Corporation-backed Dodge Challenger Drag Pak with a stunning 7.929 at 171.77 mph. The two sub-eight-second runs reverberated all the way up I-70 to Indianapolis, where a host of fellow Factory Stock Showdown competitors were competing at the NMCA World Street Finals and listening on intently to the performance goings-on at Gateway.
Later that afternoon, Pro Modified heavy-hitter Mike Castellana — during a final qualifying session that saw few others improve on their earlier performance — sealed his name atop the order with a stunning 5.676 at 255.39 mph. That run, the quickest in the history of the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, supplanted his own 5.685-second national record set at Houston in the spring of 2017. Castellana’s Al-Anabi Performance Camaro, tuned by drag racing legend Frank Manzo, was the first legal NHRA Pro Mod car into the 5.60s and has ventured below 5.70 more than any other driver, having done so at four different events over the last two seasons (Jose Gonzalez is only other driver to dip into the sixties).