Two-time Aussie Top Fuel champion Damien Harris entered this weekend's 51st annual Gulf Western Winternationals trailing rookie driver Kelly Bettes by 33 points. He knew if he was to gain the upper hand in a tight championship battle he needed to be spectacular.

"Santo Jr. asked me if I wanted to go for it, and I said, 'Yes, lets go for it," Harris said. "We knew we needed the extra points, and knew we needed to be No. 1 headed into Sunday."

Harris ensured a battle down to the wire for the championship as he overtook Bettes atop the qualifying leaderboard with Australian's first 3.7-second pass, a 3.784 at 325.92.

The run by Harris' standards produced a surprise result. 

"It was really loose on the top end and moving around," Harris explained. "It stuck, and I was surprised when they told me what it ran."

Bettes, who also has two championships to her credit as a sportsman racer, jumped out early as the leader in qualifying with a 3.804 but could never improve on her mark. The only way the championship contenders can meet in eliminations is the final round, which if Harris wins the first round will get a semi-final bye run. 

U.S. driver Ashley Sanford was fourth quickest with a 3.966.

Former Pro Alcohol standout turned Pro Slammer racer Steven Ham took advantage of a fierce battle for the championship to fire a salvo of his own. In the final session of qualifying, Ham drove past contenders Paul Mouhayet (5.653) and John Zappia (5.655) to claim the No. 1 seed headed into Sunday's eliminations with a 5.652 elapsed time at 255.58 miles per hour. 

"All we have been trying to do is repeat, and slowly keep dropping our elapsed time," Ham explained. "We just keep needling away at it and it keeps progressing."

The capacity crowd at Willowbank Raceway gave a standing ovation for Victor Bray, the six-time champion who has been out of competition for a year while battling an aggressive skin cancer, as he returned for two qualiyfing sessions on Saturday. 

In Pro Alcohol, where dragsters and Funny Cars run together in competition, Jon Sting ran a 5.442 elapsed time at 259.71. Multi-time champion Gary Phillips was second with a 5.461.

Chris Matheson was the leader in the Top Bike division as he straddled his McBride Special en route to a 6.347 elapsed time at 215.25 miles per hour.

Aaron Treymayne, who has all but locked up the Pro Stock championship, was the leader with a 6.976 elapsed time to beat out Sydney winner Wayne Daley, whose 6.979 was Friday's best. 

Luke Crowley finished qualifying atop the Pro Bike field with a 7.060.

Final eliminations begin at 11 PM, EST Australia.