Leah Pritchett and Courtney Force showed the boys how it’s done on Day 2 of Nitro Spring Training at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, setting the pace in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively.
Photos by Marc Gewertz, NHRA National Dragster
Leah Pritchett and Courtney Force showed the boys how it’s done on the second day of Nitro Spring Training at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, setting the pace in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively.
Force had the day’s “wow!” moment when she powered her Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro to a 3.804, unofficially the quickest elapsed time in Funny Car history. Pritchett, meanwhile, charted a dazzling 3.677, unofficially the fourth quickest in Top Fuel history.
Pritchett’s fine outing continued her love affair with Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, where last season she scored her first career Top Fuel win, continued into 2017 as the driver of the Papa John’s dragster for Don Schumacher Racing had the day's two quickest passes.
Tuned by Todd Okuhara and Joe Barlam, the gold dragster was the class of the fuel dragster field, preceding her 3.67 with a 3.685.
“I’ll be honest, it’s pretty cool, but ultimately, it’s not Pomona, right?” said Pritchett. “It’s not qualifying. What it means to me is all the hard work that the Papa John’s team has put in this entire off-season came to fruition. Now for us, it’s about our incremental numbers. Yes, we clocked our best career time, 3.68 this morning. We were like, ‘Alright, that’s good’. Yesterday we had even better numbers, and then today we solidified it with our 3.67, another career best e.t. for me. It means a lot, but one thing for sure that I’m focusing on this year is not getting ahead of myself, on not getting too hyped up on those things. That’s because Todd Okuhara and Joe, they know what they’re doing, they spent a lot of time on creating power for this motor, and now it’s finally starting to show. So that’s what it means to me is that they’ve done a kick ass job and now we’re putting it on the track.”
National record holder Steve Torrence joined Pritchett in the 3.6-second range with 3.691 from his Capco Contractors dragster.
Doug Kalitta put down a pair of fine runs in the Mac Tools machine at 3.703 and 3.716 while Brittany Force was not only quick but consistent with a quartet of passes: 3.739, 3.734, 3.729, and a final (and best) 3.704.
Force and crew chief Danny Hood were spectacular Friday with four full passes, three of which topped the sheets. In addition to her jaw-dropping 3.804, she also recorded runs of 3.841, 3.847, and 3.865.
"It's a pretty crazy experience," Force said. "It was exciting to hear the guys come on the radio and tell me what the car ran. I didn't think I heard them correctly, so I didn't get overly excited at first. I know this Advance Auto Parts Camaro made a good pass, but I didn't think it was a 3.80. It's crazy, and even though it is an unofficial national record since we are testing.
"I'm still excited about it. That's a huge number for us to put on the board. We made two 3.84 passes today, which is pretty awesome. We are excited to be able to deliver this kind of performance for Advance Auto Parts. We are thrilled to be running so good in testing. I'm ready to get the season going."
Reigning world champ Ron Capps also had a good day, clocking passes of 3.854 and 3.861. Force’s teammate, Robert Hight, was in the mix, too, with a best pass of 3.859.
Here’s a chronological look at the day’s action, which will be updated throughout the day.
Clay Millican gets the day going with the Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster, making a nice three-quarter-track pass of 3.81 at just 258 mph as the team continues to work on its consistency.
Tony Schumacher, whose 3.705 was Thursday’s second-best pass, puts down a solid 3.72 at 302 mph, but the run in punctuated by a sizeable fireball right in the lights that leaves the blower askew and oil on the track.
Tommy Johnson Jr. makes the first Funny Car run of the day and it's a good one, a solid 3.892 at 324.44. That's the second quickest run, behind only Robert Hight's Thursday 3.886.
Matt Hagan makes a good launches but shakes the tires shortly after and shuts it down to a coasting 7.52.
Jack Beckman makes an effortless-looking 3.889 pass at a strong 330.15-mph clip as the team continues to refine its six-disc clutch combo.
And the hits just keep on coming as Brittany Force powers the Monster dragster to a 3.729 at 325.92.
Leah Pritchett, who is breaking in a Papa John's dragster this weekend, does her burnout but then is shut off on the starting line. The team is also working on some new blower parts and clutch discs, and working in some new crewmembers.
Ron Capps sets the new standard for Funny Car testing with a 3.861 at 326.56 in the NAPA Charger.
Steve Torrence, who made two good low-3.8-second passes Thursday, busts deep into the .70s with a 3.718 in the Capco Contractors dragster.
After Robert Hight shakes his way to an 8.12 and license-hopeful Chad Green clicks off Tim Wilkerson's Mustang early to a 7.57, Courtney Force resets low e.t. of Funny Car testing with a 3.841 at 329.26 in her Advance Auto Chevy. Behind Courtney, John Force suffers the same fate as Hight and coasts to an 8.36.
After a trio of early shutoff passes Thursday, Doug Kalitta goes the distance with the Mac Tools machine, powering to a sashaying 3.716 at 328.82.
Thursday's low e.t. setter, Antron Brown, is on a strong-looking pass (.829, 2.105) but clicks it off just pass the 330-foot clocks.
Del Worsham makes his first appearance of testing in a car very reminiscent of Frank Manzo's Lucas Oil-backed Alcohol Funny Cars. His first pass ends early in tire shake.
Troy Coughlin Jr., who took a wild ride Thursday night when the SealMaster dragster dropped cylinders and shot him towards the guardwall, takes another excursion out close to the wall just past half-track but gathers it back in and coasts across to a 3.903.
After a couple of planned early shutoffs Thursday, Alexis DeJoria and team plan to make some full runs today, but this won't be one of them, as she has to lift at the 330-foot mark and runs 5.35.
Millican's first left-lane attempt of the day ends at about 300 feet as he's forced to lift.
Terry Totten is working on his Top Fuel license in his TNT Motorsports dragster. Don "Mr. Magoo" Sosenka is helping Totten with the car this weekend. I'll have more on him in the Notebook later. Totten's first attempt ends after the burnout, as he is unable to get the car, which has loads of new and updated equipment, into reverse after the burnout.
Pritchett returns after her earlier aborted attempt and delivers a knockout punch of 3.685 at 327.19 in the new Papa John's dragster. If this were an official event, that would have tied for the eighth-quickest pass in class history. She's had some strong 60-foot leaves this weekend, including an .826 on this pass.
Hagan, who made a sizzling 286-mph pass to halftrack Thursday, gets up to just 282 this time, and runs a 3.912, his best of testing so far.
Brittany Force has a bracket car. After running 3.739 on her first shot today, she follows with a 3.734 despite a cylinder going wet at the finish line.
Torrence also shows that he's locked into the low-3.7-second zone as he follows his earlier 3.71 with a 3.749. Top Fuel in Pomona is going to be tough!
After Hight makes it 0-for-2 with tire shake before the 60-foot clocks, teammate Courtney Force makes it 2-for-2 in 3.8-second runs, backing up her earlier 3.841 with a 3.865.
Green again doesn't make much progress on his licensing attempts in Wilk's Ford, shaking and smoking just past the 60-foot mark.
John Force has been driving Funny Cars longer than most active drivers, and that experience showed here as he expertly pedaled through some early tire shake and powered the Peak Chevy to a 3.981 at 330.63, one of the best Funny Car runs in the trickier left lane.
Versatile show Jeff Arend makes his first appearance of testing. After spending the last few days helping Steve Plueger sort out the clutch of his venerable old Impala, Arend makes a good launch on a planned shutoff, but tire shake makes it an even shorter run than planned.
A weird run for Beckman, who's up in smoke within one tire revolution. As he idles down the track the engine starts popping and banging, and finally a burst panel lets loose just as he comes to a stop on the track at the 660-foot mark.
Tommy Johnson Jr. rattles the tires hard in the left lane and coasts through to an 8.918. With three three-second passes in six attempts, the Make-A-Wish team still has to be happy so far.
Kalitta shows that he'll be a handful this year, too, following up his earlier 3.716 with a 3.703 that's the third-quickest run of testing.
Cruz Pedregon makes his testing debut with new crew Aaron Brooks, but there won't be a lot of smiles in the Snap-on pits as the car only goes a few feet before breaking traction.
No left-lane love for Brown either, as the Matco Tools dragster lights the tires almost at the hit.
Todd collects his first three-second Funny Car time slip as the DHL Toyota romps to a 3.909 in the left lane.
Todd is followed down the track by the guy drove the DHL car last year, as Worsham chalks up a much-improved pass. A solid launch and run before he stepped off it and threw the chutes at about 800 feet en route to a 4.060 at 283 mph.
Totten gets it back to the starting line this time, solving one problem, but the run ends early with tire shake just after the 60-foot mark.
Another strong, steady pass for Millican with an early shutoff at about 700 feet, coasting to a 3.886 at just 246 mph.
DeJoria gets in her first full run since her accident in Las Vegas, a competitive 3.904 at 318.09. She may have even clicked it a bit early.
Pritchett, who holds low e.t. at 3.68, spins hard at the hit and coasts to a 12-second lap.
Torrence and the Capco team continue to impress, this time with a 3.691 that trails only Pritchett's earlier 3.68. The Richard Hogan- and Alan Johnson-tuned beast has gone down the track on five of six runs over the weekend with passes of 3.83, 3.82, 3.71, 3.74, and now the 3.69.
"Bracket Brittany" Force makes her third (and best) low 3.7-second pass of the day, a 3.729 after earlier runs of 3.739 and 3.734. Like Torrence, she's 5-for-6 on full runs. Looks like Johnson is the common denominator there.
After two misses earlier in the day, Hight gets all of this one with a strong 3.859, 330.63 from the Auto Club Camaro. The run is second only to the 3.841 recorded by teammate Courtney Force.
That stat lasts five minutes. Hight's run is now the third quickest run of testing after Courtney Force blisters the track to a 3.847 at 331.28. Crew chief Danny Hood says that they're just refining the great tune-up they had last year, making small adjustments that obviously have paid off. Runs today of 3.841, 3.865, and 3.847 after a 3.89 Thursday. "As good as everyone else is running, we just need to keep running quicker, so we'll keep tinkering," he said.
Just before Force, Hagan tried again but failed to make it down the track, shaking to a 7.34.
John Force follows his team cars down the track but basketballs the tires on the Peak Chevy just 100 feet out. He's got just one three-second pass to his credit in six shots so far and only two runs that could made it to halftrack under power.
After two previous moves to the right under power, the Kalitta team rescaled Troy Coughlin Jr.'s SealMaster dragster between runs and made some weighting adjustments, but the car again shows a tendency to go right as it heads downtrack. As he nears the centerline, the rookie wisely shuts it down and run 3.90 at 249 mph.
Brown makes his best run of the day, a 3.727 at 320.28, though as it turns out, his first run of the day may have been the real killer. For details, check out the Notebook below.
Hard tire shake and a disappointing 8.85 time slip for Tommy Johnson Jr. this time around.
Little better results this time around for rookie Green as the Wilk machine makes it to 330 feet, but it starts to head towards the timing blocks so he clicks it off.
After a little bit of a lazy launch (.892), Beckman chugs his way to a 3.98 at 322.42, down a tenth from their run earlier in the day.
Kalitta's perfect string of low-3.7-second passes ends 150 feet out as the Mac Tools dragster drives up into tire smoke.
Three-time NHRA national-event-winning Super Comp driver Greg Carrillo makes his testing debut in his new Top Fueler. Carrillo, who lives in nearby Glendale, Ariz., won the NHRA Arizona Nationals at this track in 1991. Carrillo has had his eyes on Top Fuel for some time but waited for the economy to recover before venturing out. He's trying to upgrade his license and, if successful, hopes to compete at this year's Phoenix event. Unfortunately for the rookie fuel pilot, his car has to be put off on the line after the burnout as a small oil leak develops at the pump.
Todd can't follow up his earlier three-second pass as the DHL Toyota is up in smoke before the Tree.
Arend's second pass goes considerably better than the first and makes it successfully to the 330-foot timers before he shuts it off to a 4.75. Not a bad effort for a car that suffered serious front end chassis damage at last year's fall Las Vegas event, where a wheelstand led to a broken front suspension that put driver Jon Cpps hard into the wall.
Pritchett and crew chief Todd Okuhara turn some heads as they reset their own low e.t. with a 3.677 blast at 323 mph. It's unofficially the fourth quickest pass in class history.
DeJoria is up in smoke almost immediately and coasts the Patron Toyota to a 14-second e.t.
Another case of one that might have gotten away as Hight rips past the 660-foot timers at 284.62 mph, but shuts it off not long after. The result is a 3.927 at just 272 mph.
For the sixth time in seven tries over two days, Brittany Force goes the distance, this time with her best clocking, a 3.704 at 321.65. The team's stated goal coming into testing was consistency, and it looks like it's mission accomplished.
Courtney Force drops jaws across the world with a 3.804, unofficially the quickest pass in Funny Car history. Her 660-foot speed was a stunning 289.20 mph; trap speed was 333 mph. Force has the three quickest times so far in testing: 3.804, 3.841, and 3.847.
Carrillo is back for another shot, and makes a solid half-tracker with a 4.42 e.t. Veteran tuner Glenn Mikres is calling the shots on the car.
Capps makes his best run of the day, a 3.854 that backs up his earlier 3.861. Behind Courtney's trio of killers, he's next quickest. The champ looks ready
The hits just keep on coming as John Force makes his best run of the two days with a 3.889.
Hagan also clocks his best of testing, taking the Mopar Express Lane Charger to a 3.935.
Todd's last shot of the day gets him to 330 feet before the tires break loose, but he smartly catches it and rolls to a 5.37.
Tommy Johnson Jr. has a good-looking run under way before the Make-A-Wish Charger hikes the front end two feet off the ground, forcing him to abort.
Swing and a miss for Kalitta on his final shot of the day as he loses traction immediately.
Yet another right-hand turn for Coughlin at the big end. He lifts, gathers it back up, avoids a brush with the guardwall, and clocks a decent 3.802 at just 281.77 mph.
Schumacher finally make his return to the track after a volcanic engine explosion earlier in the day that damaged the bodywork on his Army dragster. "The Sarge," who was second quickest on Thursday with a 3.70 and ran 3.72 on his blow-up pass, runs 3.784 on an early shutoff pass at just 274 mph.
Beckman makes his third three-second pass of the day, a 3.878, testament to the progress of his new tuning team.
Pedregon closes the second day of testing with a 400-foot blast and a 4.53 e.t. All told, there were 70 nitro passes today, with a large percentage being full runs.
Testing continues and concludes Saturday at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
Alexis DeJoria is back in action and feeling good after having to sit out the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals with a concussion suffered when her Tequila Patron Toyota made hard contact with the guardwall during final qualifying in Las Vegas. After two planned early shutoffs that yielded a best of 4.00, DeJoria is confident and plans full runs today.
“The concussion symptoms lasted almost two months, but I feel great now,” she said. “It’s just such a hard thing to get through. You just don’t feel like yourself. From the moment you wake up until you go to sleep, you feel hazy and just like another version of yourself. There’s nothing you can do for it but rest. My doctor told me I just needed to live like a cavewoman: No bright lights, no sudden movements, no phones, no social media, no electronics, and if you want to watch a movie, make it a comedy. If you’re hungry, eat; if you’re tired, sleep. Right now I feel good, and I’m excited about this year.
“Yesterday we were just shaking everything down, making sure everything is right. We changed some things to make it more like the DHL car and knocking the dust off of me, of course.”
Nicky Boninfante, who joined the crew this year after working on the DHL team last year, also reports that the team has made some changes to the headers that will provide more front-end downforce while not affecting the forward thrust offered by the layback angle or having to run more front-end weight.
Antron Brown may leave testing talking about the big one that got away after he abandoned his first pass Friday, a run that in retrospect would have bettered his Thursday low e.t. of 3.70 and even Leah Pritchett's 3.68.
Crew chief Mark Oswald says that the run was actually better than their 3.70 before Brown stepped off the gas. “We give him the option if everything is perfect to go ahead and run it all the way, but he misjudged that one a little bit,” said Oswald. “Sometimes these tight racetracks can fool you.”
“We started out of the box trying something different,” said Brown earlier. “And the next run we did something else different. And that last run we did something else different. So, we got Brian, Mark, Brad and all of our crew, they got a list of stuff that we’re doing. So each run they’re going to keep on turning, do a little of this, do a little of that. That’s what testing’s all about. We have a great combination that worked from last year but they’re just trying to make things better. That’s why we come out and test and do what we do.”
Chad Green is making licensing runs during testing in Tim Wilkerson’s Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car working towards his nitro license. Green, who races a nitrous-fed ’63 Corvette Pro Mod-type machine on the PDRA circuit (3.90s at almost 200 mph on the eighth-mile), already has an Alcohol Funny Car license after attending the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School.
Although Green, who hails from Midland, Texas, does not have immediate plans to race in Funny Car he’s looking down the road at least a year with hopes of making the circuit.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and the right opportunity came around to do it with Tim,” he said. “I’d love to do this full time, but we’ll see how it goes. We’re still running to run Pro Mod this year and do this and see what happens.”
Asked what advice Wilkerson had given him, the words were simple and direct: “Relax, keep calm, respect the car, and stay safe.”
Chris Bennett was hoping to finish his nitro Funny Car licensing during the test session, but unexpected problems have forced them to scuttle those plans.
Bennett, whose father, Jeff, has owned nitro cars for years, has competed previously on the Nostalgia Funny Car circuit and in a fuel altered, but is realizing a lifelong dream in trying to run a “big show” car. The Bennetts have teamed with longtime family friend Brad Miner and tuner Scott Gaddy (who previously worked for the Doug Herbert and many others) to make that dream a reality with their No Mercy Racing Impala. (pictured, from left: Jeff Bennett, Miner, Chris Bennett)
The car made its debut at last year’s spring Las Vegas event with Jon Capps driving, but Bennett tested in the car after that event as well as after the fall Las Vegas event and also put down some laps in Robert Schwab’s car at Rocky Mountain Raceways. The retired Air Force pilot, who today trains drone pilots, needs to run 4.70 at 230 to upgrade his license.
With a part-time, volunteer crew, even if he gets his license Bennett probably won’t make the Circle K NHRA Winternationals but will look to the NHRA Arizona Nationals for his debut, and possibly the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas after that.
Terry Totten is working on his Top Fuel license this weekend in his TNT Motorsports Dragster, a car that he has owned for 10 years and driven most recently by Rob Passey.
Totten, who earned his Top Alcohol Dragster license in Anthony Dicero’s A/Fuel Dragster, has also competed in outlaw-type races with a nitro-burning altered, and figured it was finally time for him to get behind the wheel. Don Sosenka (aka “Mr. Magoo”), for whom Totten previously worked, has come onboard to help Totten and the team sort out a whole trailer full of new and modern equipment.
“We updated to late-model fuel and-model clutch system – new clutch controller and cannon, electronic fuel regulator -- and things like that,” he said. “It’s all new to us, so we’re just going to work on creeping up on it to get some data.”
Depending on their progress this weekend, the Omaha, Neb.-based team hopes to spend some time working on its maps and data, and should make its official debut at the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston. If Totten is unable to finish licensing by then, Passey will drive the car there.
Totten needs to make two 4.50 passes to crossgrade his license.
“If I can get the car to three-quarter track and don’t drop the chute, we should be able to run that,” he said. “We may not be able to finish here, so we could test after a national event to get it finished up. That’s the plan.”