QUALIFYING SESSIONS RECAPS
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (2:26 p.m.): Unlike yesterday, when the Pro Stock Motorcycle session was interrupted by rain, today’s round was completed, and defending Atlanta winner Eddie Krawiec is the early leader with a solid 6.849 pass on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson. Krawiec held off last week’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals winner, LE Tonglet, who is second-quickest with a 6.858, while Chip Ellis, riding for Georgia-based Junior Pippin, also found the 6.8s with a 6.864 for the third spot. With one run remaining, two-time world champ Matt Smith sits in the eighth spot with a 6.947, while former Indy winner John Hall sits on the bump spot with a 7.079.
PRO STOCK Q1 (2:40 p.m.): Pro Stock teams got their first shot at Atlanta Dragway this afternoon, and Houston winner Bo Butner leads a tightly-bunched field with a solid 6.572 in his Butner Auto Camaro for the top spot. Butner ran last in the session and edged teammate Jason Line from the top spot after Line ran a 6.585. The third member of the KB team, Greg Anderson, was off the pace slightly after his Summit Camaro spun the tires to a 6.671. Jeg Coughlin Jr., the low qualifier at the last two events on the tour, holds the third spot with a 6.590 while Chris McGaha, the winner a week ago at the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, continued his performance surge with a 6.598 in the Harlow Sammons Camaro. The top half of the field is very competitive with just .043-second separating the field. Drew Skillman is currently eighth with a 6.614.
TOP FUEL Q1 (2:58 p.m.): Steve Torrence carried the momentum of last week’s Charlotte Four-Wide win to Atlanta Dragway, where he put his Capco Contractors dragster into the top spot with a solid 3.738. Torrence, in his ongoing battle with the multi-car Don Schumacher Racing team, leads after one run over reigning champ Antron Brown, who powered to a 3.745 in his Matco Tools dragster. Eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher heads into the final session in the third spot with a 3.778. Perhaps the most surprising run of the session came from Terry McMillen, who put his Amalie Oil entry into the fifth spot with a 3.789. Points leader Leah Pritchett dropped a cylinder in her Papa John’s dragster and slowed to an eighth-best 3.862. The Team Kalitta entries of Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon, and Troy Coughlin Jr. went a combined 0-for-3 with none of the drivers completing a full run.
FUNNY CAR Q1 (3:35 p.m.): Conditions at Atlanta Dragway proved to be a challenge for Funny Car crew chiefs with just a handful of cars making representative runs in Saturday’s first session. Nobody did a better job of negotiating the track than 16-time world champ John Force, who put his Peak Camaro into the provisional No. 1 spot with a 3.969 at 307.65 mph. The only other driver to receive a three-second time slip was Tim Wilkerson, who powered to a 3.974, 314.39 in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang. Courtney Force was third quickest with a 4.015 and received a bonus qualifying point despite a slowing 256.36 mph speed. For the first time in recent memory, none of the four Don Schumacher Racing Dodges completed a full run. Tommy Johnson Jr. is the quickest Schumacher driver with an eighth-best 4.731 in the Make-A-Wish Charger.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (4:20 p.m.): There was plenty of bumping and shuffling in the final Pro Stock Motorcycle session as the 16-bike field is set for tomorrow’s final eliminations. Melissa Surber got into the field with a 7.017 but was quickly bumped out by Angie Smith, who rode to a 6.906. The Arana family made a statement with two of the three quickest runs of the round. Hector Jr. scored three bonus points with a 6.866, while Hector Sr. was third-quickest with a 6.867. Jerry Savoie split the Arana family with a 6.867, but his speed was faster than Hector Sr. Eddie Krawiec remained in the top spot with his earlier 6.84-second run, ending Savoie’s string of five-straight poles.
Round one pairings (lane choice first): Eddie Krawiec vs. Steve Johnson; LE Tonglet vs. Cory Reed; Chip Ellis vs. Karen Stoffer; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Mike Berry; Jerry Savoie vs. Matt Smith; Hector Arana Sr. vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Andrew Hines vs. Angie Smith; Joey Gladstone vs. Angelle Sampey
PRO STOCK Q2 (4:38 p.m.): For the fourth time in his career, Bo Butner has qualified atop an NHRA Pro Stock field. Butner did not improve in the final session, but his earlier 6.572 held up for the top spot. In the final session, Drew Skillman was quickest with a 6.583 in his Skillman Auto Group Camaro, while Chris McGaha was second quickest with a 6.593 and Erica Enders and Jason Line tied for the third-quickest with matching 6.603 runs. Enders got the final bonus point thanks to her faster speed. The abbreviated qualifying produced some unexpected drama when Greg Anderson failed to make the top half of the field for the first time in more than a year. The father-son duo of Shane and Tanner Gray also qualified opposite each other and will race in the first round.
Round one pairings (lane choice first): Bo Butner vs. Wally Stroupe; Drew Skillman vs. Mark Hogan; Jason Line vs. John Gaydosh Jr.; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Shane Tucker; Chris McGaha vs. Greg Anderson; Erica Enders vs. Alan Pruisensky; Tanner Gray vs. Shane Gray; Vincent Nobile vs. Allen Johnson
TOP FUEL Q2 (5:05 p.m.): The top spot in Top Fuel changed hands when Tony Schumacher guided the U.S. Army dragster to a 3.736 to bump Steve Torrence down to second. Torrence had a shot to reclaim the lead but missed by a slight margin with a 3.738. Those were the two quickest runs of the round. Antron Brown grabbed the final qualifying bonus point of the session with a 3.741. One of the most impressive performances of the day came from Terry McMillen, who backed up his earlier 3.789 with a consistent 3.781. McMillen will have lane choice in round one when he takes on Mello Yello points leader Leah Pritchett. Kalitta Racing teammates Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon both showed solid gains from earlier with runs of 3.765 and 3.784, respectively.
Round one pairings (lane choice first): Tony Schumacher vs. Brittany Force; Steve Torrence vs. Smax Smith; Antron Brown vs. Troy Coughlin Jr.; Clay Millican vs. Terry Haddock; Doug Kalitta vs. Chris Karamesines; Terry McMillen vs. Leah Pritchett; Shawn Langdon vs. Pat Dakin; Bob Vandergriff Jr. vs. Scott Palmer
FUNNY CAR Q2 (5:36 p.m.): For the fourth consecutive race, Courtney Force earned a green hat that identifies her as the low qualifier in the Funny Car class. Force drove her Advance Auto Parts Camaro to a track-record 3.893 to move into the top spot for the 14th time in her career. Force has not been ranked lower than fourth at any event this season. Earlier in the session, Matt Hagan had taken the top spot following a 3.930 run. Tommy Johnson Jr. and reigning Mello Yello champ Ron Capps also solidified their spots in the field with runs of 3.937 and 3.955, respectively. Jim Campbell did not run in the threes, but the driver of Jim Dunn’s Dodge did secure a spot in the top half of the field with a 4.024 best. Sunday’s opening round figures to be a bit of a wild card since most of the drivers in the bottom half of the field did not get down the track on either run, including Del Worsham, Jack Beckman, J.R. Todd, Cruz Pedregon, and two-time 2017 runner-up Jonnie Lindberg.
Round one pairings (lane choice first): Courtney Force vs. Jeff Diehl; Matt Hagan vs. Cruz Pedregon; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs Jack Beckman; Ron Capps vs. J.R. Todd; John Force vs. Del Worsham; Tim Wilkerson vs. Jonnie Lindberg; Jim Campbell vs. Dave Richards; Chad Head vs. Robert Hight
The Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals marks a special anniversary for points leader Leah Pritchett: It was at this race last year when she first joined the Don Schumacher Racing team.
Pritchett had begun the season driving for Bob Vandergriff Racing, but after Vandergriff had to park his team after the spring Las Vegas event, Pritchett teamed up with Bobby and Dom Lagana at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals to keep her season hopes alive. She drove DSR’s dragster, backed by FireAde, in Atlanta last year, because Ron Thames had already committed to sponsor her for four races last season. After skipping the Topeka event, she reunited with FireAde and the Laganas for the Epping event, then rejoined DSR for Englishtown and Bristol and stayed with the team through the balance of the year and qualified for the Countdown for the first time.
“The past year might not have happened without Ron Thames,” said Pritchett, who has won three of this year’s six titles. “If Ron didn’t get this wild ride started, those other doors might not have opened for me and my team at DSR.
“When I get into our Papa John’s dragster I’m racing for my team and all the people who have made this dream come true.”
Looking for a dark horse in tomorrow’s eliminations? Terry McMillen would be a good choice after two great runs today. McMillen kicked things off with a 3.789, then improved to a 3.781 in the second session. That has McMillen sitting sixth in the order entering race day with lane choice in his first-round match against points leader Leah Pritchett.
“We’re finally figuring out some clutch stuff on this car, and it’s really coming around,” said crew chief Rob Wendland. "I’m just really proud of my guys.”
Added McMillen, “I’ll tell you what, Rob Wendland, he just lied to me. He just told me he was going to put a soft tune-up in this thing and get it to go A to B, but I’ll tell you what, if that’s his soft tune-up, we’re in for a long, long weekend, baby.”
Quote-of-the-day honors go to Charlotte winner Steve Torrence, who paced the first session with a 3.738 and used his time on the mic to do a little smack talk, saying, “Uh-oh, uh-oh, it looks like these Capco boys might have found something. Come on, pizza man!”
Del Worsham will never forget the Southern Nationals, and what it’s meant to his career. It was at Atlanta Dragway in 1991 that he won the first of what is now 39 NHRA national titles, but at that time his family-operated team was running on fumes in the financial department.
As they went to Atlanta, the team was preparing to shut down operations after the race and return home looking to save money to, hopefully, return to action that summer. Instead, the 21-year-old went on to defeat Mark Oswald (now Antron Brown’s co-crew chief) in the final to become the youngest winner in Funny Car history. It also provided the money the team desperately needed to fund the remainder of the season, which would include a second win and Rookie of the Year honors.
“Atlanta means a lot to me,” said Worsham. “Atlanta was going to be my last race on the tour. Basically, my dad and I were out of money. We thought we’ll go to Atlanta, then we’ll go home and try to save some money to race in the summertime. We won the race, and basically that $20,000 is what propelled us to keep going and to where I am today.”
Courtney Force enters this weekend behind the wheel of a car different than the one that carried her to three consecutive No. 1 qualifying efforts, all of which set new track records. The new mount comes after Force’s Advance Auto Parts entry veered into the wall in the opening round of last weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway, ending her day in the first round for the second time in the last three events.
“We have a car that is flying and really just needing to figure out how to get it fixed up for first round,” Force said after Sunday’s race. “We keep having this problem where it’s trying to spin down, and I am hoping we can get it solved. I thought we did after Houston. We have a fast car, which isn’t a bad problem to have, but we just have to slow it down enough to get it through these rounds.”
The spare car is one that was tested last year in Indianapolis, though the back half has been raced previously — in Atlanta. The primary car heads back to the race shop and will be ready for competition again later this year.
“I feel good about it because we have already tested with this chassis and body in Indianapolis a while back and we know this Camaro is good as well,” said Force, now seventh in Funny Car points standings. “The chassis didn’t look like it was in bad shape or anything but we are going to take it back and just check everything before we try and run a race with it.”
Robert Hight has his hands full on his first run of the weekend when a mechanical malfunction caused his Auto Club entry to shoot sideways on both his burnout [animated gif] and at the hit of the throttle on the run itself. According to the team, a broken rocker arm on the right side of the engine was the root cause of the troubles. With the broken rocker arm, that meant the engine was exerting force on the left side but not the right, and that’s why the car shot right in both instances.
Last year, the KB Racing team, with drivers Greg Anderson, Jason Line (pictured), and Bo Butner, were dominant at almost every track on the tour thanks in large part to an early advantage they established over the competition with their electronic fuel injection program. Nowhere were they more dominant than Atlanta Dragway where Anderson, Line, and Butner qualified Nos. 1, 2, and 3 in the field, and Anderson and Line raced for the trophy with Line grabbing the win. Line and Anderson have met in the Atlanta final in each of the last two seasons and have a combined seven victories in the Peach State.
“Every racetrack is in our wheelhouse, but KB Racing has really had some good races at Atlanta Dragway,” said Line, who also had low elapsed time and top speed in Atlanta last year. “I like going there, but over the last two races we’ve had some issues that haven’t helped our cause, that’s for sure. That’s part of the game, though, and part of the mechanical challenge. We just have to work through it.”
Line is referring to last weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, where he was only fifth-quickest in qualifying and lost in the second round.
“We aren’t quite as good as we were last year, and we’re certainly doing better than some other teams out there, but we have room for improvement,” said Line. “We are a capable group, no doubt about it, and that means we go to every race knowing that we can win.”
There’s no question that nobody in the Pro Stock pits were happy about missing the two qualifying runs yesterday, but that was especially true for Vincent Nobile, whose team entered the event with a new engine under the hood and therefore hoping to get as many runs as possible to sort it out and get it fully dialed in. The good news for Nobile, however, is it appears the new powerplant can be competitive. Nobile clocked a 6.613 on his first run of the weekend, which was ultimately good enough for a top-half start.
“That’s not a bad run. We got down the track and finally are not behind the eight-ball,” said Nobile after that early pass. “Unfortunately, we’re only going to get one more run today. We’ve got a new bullet in this thing, so we wanted to get a little bit more information on it, but you know what, we’ve got a great group of guys, some smart brains. We’ll see what we can do.”
If things had gone according to the original plan, fans in Atlanta would not be seeing Chris McGaha this weekend, but winning has a way of making a racer change his or her plans. After scoring the Wally last weekend at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, McGaha decided to stay on the road and try to grab another trophy for his mantle. With the last-minute change in plans, though, that meant McGaha came to Georgia down on manpower due to previous commitments.
“We’re here. I don’t know what else to say. We’re just here,” said McGaha, who will start race day from the No. 5 slot after recording a best of 6.592 in today’s two sessions. “We’re down one guy, ‘Steve O.,’ and he didn’t radio in to me just then because he’s not here. He’s in Odessa, [Texas], so I want to give a shout-out to him and my wife and kids.”
Rookie Andie Rawlings returns to action this weekend for the first time since making contact with the guard wall during her professional debut at the Gainesville season-opener. According to team owner Greg Underdahl, who owns and tunes the bike that Rawlings leases, the decision to return came after an encouraging test session in South Carolina a week ago.
“We worked on a lot of different things; mostly technical stuff involving her ridings style and I could see that she made a lot of improvements,” said Underdahl. “You have to remember, Andie weighs less than 100-pounds so she’s got the heaviest bike out here. She doesn’t have the body weight to throw the bike around so she’s got to be very careful that it’s pointed straight, and to catch it early when it does decide to make a move left or right. She didn’t do that in Gainesville and she ended up in the wall. We worked on all of that stuff when we tested, and there was a noticeable improvement. That’s why we decided to come here.”
Rawlings is looking forward to getting back on the bike and continuing her learning process.
“We’re excited to be back and to have the opportunity to do that with minimal damage, so it was an easy turnaround,” said Rawlings, during a pit interview Friday. “Our personal goal for our program this weekend is to definitely make four clean passes. Hopefully, the weather will hold up so we’ll get that opportunity first of all. That’s our goal: to go from A to B and improve every pass. At the end of it, we’ll talk about everything that happens.”
Unfortunately for Rawlings, her first run was not a clean, A-to-B pass. She slowed to a 9.98.
After sweating bullets and needing last-ditch efforts to make the field at the first two events this season, Angelle Sampey enters the final day of Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals qualifying breathing much easier after a strong opening shot. Sampey rode her Precision Service Equipment Victory to a 6.904 in the lone Friday session, and that has the three-time world champ slotted No. 1 in the order entering the final two sessions today.
“What about that drama for the last two races? I’m going to let somebody else have that drama from now on,” said Sampey. “I am so happy to get in on the first run because God knows what’s going to happen with this weather. We may only get one shot, and I’m just happy to be in the race. I can’t say enough about Team Liberty and the crew. They haven’t had a whole bunch of sleep, maybe about three hours since Charlotte. We blew up a bunch of engines, and literally they worked all night long one night until 7 o’clock in the morning. This S&S engine is ready to go rounds I think if the driver can keep her head on straight. We’ll see how it goes.”
Chip Ellis has added motivation to do well this weekend because team owner Junior Pippin is on-site at Atlanta Dragway, and Ellis certainly got things started off on the right foot, riding his Buell to a 6.937 that placed him fourth after the abbreviated first round of qualifying.
“This bike’s really fast. Mr. Pippin’s gave me the opportunity to ride this thing, and our crew chief, Lon Moyer, is doing a great job tuning it,” said Ellis, who also noted the run wasn’t 100 percent perfect. “This track has a tendency to drag you to the wall, and I didn’t compensate enough in the axle to make it go straight. At least we got one in today. Glad Mr. Pippin’s here with us hanging out.”
Eddie Krawiec ended the day in the No. 1 spot after posting a 6.849 during the first session today, but it was quite an adventure for Krawiec and his crew to get to that point.
“We had a little trouble with my motorcycle before this [first] run,” said Krawiec. “We went and started it up this morning, and it just kept shutting off, shutting off, having problems. We switched all the electronics, everything on this motorcycle, including the engine. That run was for my crew. Andrew [Hines] helped, busted butt, and we got the bike turned around and back together. All I wanted to do was go A to B and go 6.9-something and get in the show, but it shows you how good our team is.”
Prior to the start of today's qualifying, Atlanta fans got the opportunity to learn more about the nitro-burning vehicles they would later see on track at NHRA Nitro School, hosted by NHRA's Alan Reinhart and former Top Fuel and Funny Car world champ Del Worsham.
With the exception of a partial Pro Stock Motorcycle session, Friday’s qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals was a washout, which means that Professional teams will have just two runs in which to set the fields for Sunday’s final eliminations.
The provisional leader in Pro Stock Motorcycle is three-time world champion Angelle Sampey, who rode her Precision Service Equipment entry to a 6.904. At the first two events in Gainesville and Charlotte, Sampey had to wait until the final session to get in the field, but it appears that will not be a problem this weekend. The only other riders in the six-second zone were Hector Arana Sr. (6.911), Matt Smith (6.934), and Chip Ellis (6.937). The riders who did not get a run include reigning world champion Jerry Savoie and Harley-Davidson teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec.
There are 16 cars on the grounds in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock, so everyone who is entered will qualify. That being said, where each racer qualifies will likely play a major factor in how far they advance on Sunday. So far in 2017, 20 Professional winners have been crowned, and none of them have been seeded outside the top half of the field. Nitro winners Leah Pritchett, Tony Schumacher, and Matt Hagan and reigning Pro Stock world champ Jason Line have all won from the No. 1 spot.
The J&A Service Pro Mod class did complete one full session on Friday, and Charlotte winner Mike Castellana is the early leader with a 5.73 in his Frank Manzo-tuned Al-Anabi Performance Camaro. Castellana ended up in the sand trap after the run, but the car was not seriously damaged.