By Rob Geiger,

 Top Fuel pilot Doug Kalitta streaked to a 4.49-second pass at 329 mph to highlight opening day action at the sixth annual NHRA in Las Vegas. Kalitta (pictured) was the only Top Fueler in the 4.4-second zone. Similarly, Funny Car racer Gary Scelzi was all alone in the 4.7 range with a class-leading 4.79 at 325 mph. Warren Johnson topped Pro Stock with a 6.82 at 201 mph.

Perhaps the biggest news coming out of Sin City at the halfway point of professional qualifying is the drivers who are not in the field. In Top Fuel, points leader Tony Schumacher finds himself outside the top 16 with two rounds of time trails to go. His Funny Car teammates, Whit Bazemore and Ron Capps, are also in need of better times if they plan to play on Sunday. Phoenix winner Allen Johnson is a big surprise on Pro Stock's needs-to-improve list.

Doug Kalitta

Kalitta's crowd-pleasing run wasn't a total shocker as he'd run a steady 4.60 in the heat of the day to start his weekend. Still, any pass in the 4.4-second range is impressive and this one was no different, kicking off a big starting-line celebration among the Mac Tools crew.

Larry Dixon continues his recent run of success with a second-best 4.504 at 330.39 mph, which was the fastest run amongst the dragsters. Morgan Lucas and "Hot Rod" Fuller followed the lead duo at a safe distance. Lucas went 4.548 in his Lucas Oil rail, while Fuller posted a 4.557 in the David Powers dragster.

Making their professional debuts, "Fast Jack" Beckman and Ben Marshall looked good, securing the seventh and eighth spots on the grid. Beckman had a 4.610 in his Menards hot rod and Marshall a 4.619 in the StriVectin-SD dragster.

Schumacher, the No. 1 qualifier at the last two events, is joined on the first day DNQ list by Dave Grubnic and Steve Chrisman. They'll need to pass John Smith's 5.129 at 207.72 mph to have any chance at the trophy.

Gary Scelzi

A very busy Scelzi has his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T on the provisional pole with the day's only 4.7-second Funny Car run, a 4.797 at 325.06 mph. He also has the Meer Capital Investments Top Alcohol Funny Car in second place in that class, posting a 5.714 at 252.61 mph in the second round.

"I'm tired," Scelzi said. "This is too much work for a little fat Italian like me. I'm having a blast though. It's exciting. I haven't been in an Alcohol Funny Car in a long time and it showed, especially in Round 1.My wife said my burnouts were pathetic so I'll try to work on that tomorrow. I'm used to 8,000 horsepower where you barely touch the pedal to do a burnout. The alcohol car only makes 3,000 horsepower so you really have to stand on it to get them spinning.

"We actually slowed it down quite a bit after [Bob] Gilbertson's fire delay [early in the second session] and the run looked absolutely safe all the way down the track on the computer. The thing that's getting everybody is that you come to Las Vegas and you want to stand on it but I think the track's a little suspect right now. It's getting better with more rubber downtrack, but it's not there yet."

Points leader John Force is slightly more than a hundredth of a second back in his Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang with a best of 4.809 at 325.53 mph. A resurgent Tim Wilkerson was all smiles after streaking to the No. 3 slot with a 4.809 of his own in his Levi, Ray, & Shoup Chevrolet Monte Carlo, this one at 315.49 mph.

RaceGirl's Jack Wyatt is on the bump but quicker than seven other racers, including Ron Capps and Whit Bazemore. His time of 5.597 at 210.34 will most likely fall by the wayside Saturday.

The last pairing of the day between defending event champion Phil Burkart Jr. and Robert Hight was spectacular. Burkart provided most of the highlight reel material when his Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Toyota Celica detonated at 1,000 feet, leaving him piloting a mostly bare chassis as the body pieces scattered. Meanwhile, Hight handled the first big fire of his brief career like a pro, stopping the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang on the track and using his fire bottles to extinguish the blaze. Neither driver was injured.

Burkart will be forced to switch back to a Monte Carlo for the remainder of the weekend as the Celica body was reduced to several small pieces.

"That nose piece will look really good in a restaurant someplace," he quipped.

Warren Johnson 

"Professor" Johnson continues to rule the school in Pro Stock, laying down a 6.825 at 201.46 mph under the lights to take the early lead back to his GM Performance Parts Pontiac camp, at least for one night. Johnson has never won or been No. 1 qualifier here The Strip. W.J. has won national events at 24 different racetracks, including 19 of the 20 tracks the tour currently visits. The lone holdout is Las Vegas.

"Given the conditions we had out there that second run was just about as good as we could get," Johnson said. "I couldn't afford to push the motor any harder than we did because we only have one of these motors. Without a back-up, you have to be cautious. The rpm range with these DRCE III motors is well over 10,000 in the gear changes and the components are so light now that we don't know the limits of the performance window yet.

"I don't really know why we haven't won here yet. It's just like the tracks where we've won a lot, if you knew what it was you'd take it with you everywhere you go. I suppose it's a simple matter of adjusting to the conditions and so far we haven't done that well at this particular track."

Larry Morgan had his best Friday of the year so far by qualifying his zMax Dodge Stratus R/T in the second spot with a 6.838 at 200.92 mph. Ron Krisher followed in his Valvoline Chevy with a 6.849 at 201.22 mph, while Jeg Coughlin drove Don Schumacher's Jeg's Mail Order Dodge to the No. 4 position with a 6.854 at 201.58 mph, the fastest run of the day.

Two-time champ Jim Yates' yo-yo qualifying efforts this year have him parked on the Day 1 bump with a 6.896 at 200.50 mph. So far this year, Yates has qualified first, 14th, and seventh. Allen Johnson, Erica Enders, and six others need to improve if they want to race on Sunday.

Glen Kerunsky of Priddis, Alta. , is the No. 1 qualifier in Pro Mod after a 6.223 at 228.73 mph in his '57 Bel Air. Only 16 racers attempted passes Friday so all 16 are in the show with one round of qualifying remaining.