QUALIFYING ROUNDS RECAPS
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q1 (4:11 p.m.): Andrew Hines, desperate to make up ground on his teammate, Eddie Kraweic, banked three much-needed points after leading the first Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying session of the weekend. Hines rode his Harley-Davidson Street Rod to a 6.802, 196.15 to take the provisional pole. He is followed by defending world champ and race winner Jerry Savoie, who rode his White Alligator Suzuki to a 6.817, 197.28 and last week’s low qualifier, Scotty Pollacheck, who is third after a 6.802, 196.15. Points leader Krawiec ended the session as the No. 5 rider after a 6.846, 194.74.
PRO STOCK Q1 (4:22 p.m.): More than a few Pro Stock racers had trouble getting down the track during Friday’s first session mostly due to tire shake and tire spin. Among those who did make full runs, points leader Bo Butner emerged as the early leader after a 6.542, 210.70 run. Butner holds a slim lead over Drew Skillman, who is second-quickest with a 6.547, 211.43. Greg Anderson matched Skillman’s performance, but his 211.06 mph speed was slightly slower. Tanner Gray was one of the drivers who shook the tires. The championship contender slipped to a tenth-best 6.627, 209.39.
FUNNY CAR Q1 (5:38 p.m.): There are two new track records at Gateway Motorsports Park, and they’re owned by Robert Hight. The driver of the AAA Funny Car put on a show at his sponsor’s race with a pass of 3.845 seconds at a speed of 338.6 mph. He did it right next to the second-quickest pass ever made at the park. Ron Capps earned two bonus points with a 3.852, while Jack Beckman was the third quickest with a 3.873. If that’s a sign of things to come… well, you’re not going to want to miss tonight’s second session.
TOP FUEL Q1 (6:14 p.m.): It wasn’t quite the battle royale that Funny Car was, but there’s a new Top Fuel elapsed time record after the first session. Clay Millican ran a 3.707 to grab that record while earning three bonus points in the process. Brittany Force (3.714) and Steve Torrence (3.721) rounded out the top three, and it took a 3.775 (courtesy of Leah Pritchett) to get into the quick half of the field. The session didn’t get off to a great start, with a handful of cars kicking the tires loose early. As a result, Richie Crampton holds the bump spot with an 8.453-second pass. Expect that to change when the second session rolls around.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (7:20 p.m.): Andrew Hines managed to hold on to the top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle while Scotty Pollacheck racked up three more qualifying points with a 6.835, 194.18, the best run of the round. Jerry Savoie was second-quickest with a 6.835 and LE Tonglet grabbed the last bonus point with a 6.841 for a Suzuki sweep. Hines was on pace to possibly improve his run but his Harley-Davidson spun the rear tire down track. Points leader Eddie Krawiec clocked a 6.857, backing up his earlier 6.846.
PRO STOCK Q2 (7:42 p.m.): The top spot in Pro Stock changed hands in Pro Stock with Greg Anderson, Jason Line, and Drew Skillman all passing Q1 leader Bo Butner. Anderson was quickest with a 6.525, 211.03 in his Summit Camaro and teammate Line was just a tick behind with a 6.533, 211.66. Skillman posted a 6.535, 211.56 for the third spot. Butner shut off early and did not improve on his earlier 6.542 pass. Championship contender Tanner Gray was also competitive with a 6.553, 210.34 run.
FUNNY CAR Q2 (8:33 p.m.): Robert Hight improved on the track-record with a 3.83, but NHRA fans will have to wait for another day to see the first 340-mph pass in history. He had to shut the car off early as he got close to the wall, but his run was good enough to stay at No. 1 in the field. Hight did that next to Ron Capps, whose 3.849-second pass was the third-best of the session, which earns the NAPA Auto Parts driver another bonus point. John Force (3.832) is the No. 2 qualifier, while Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.897) holds up the quick half of the field. Alexis DeJoria ran a career best on both ends with a 3.863 time and a 333.16 speed. That got her into the quick half of the field.
TOP FUEL Q2 (9:04 p.m.): There’s a new national record in Top Fuel. Clay Millican just lit up the scoreboard at Gateway Motorsports Park with a 3.631-second pass at 330.39 mph. That brought a big smile to crew chief David Grubnic, who has been chipping away at this tune-up for a long time. The independent team picked up six bonus points on Friday, and is looking to move up in the standings in the Countdown to the Championship. His pass is miles better than the 3.68 run by Tony Schumacher and the 3.681 completed by Doug Kalitta, the No. 2 and No. 3 qualifiers. Kalitta set a new speed record (331.85) at Gateway Motorsports Park, while his elapsed time was a career best.
It hasn’t been an ideal start to the Countdown for Leah Pritchett. The pilot of the Papa John’s dragster bowed out in the second round in Reading, a week after getting bounced in the first round in Charlotte. That puts her behind the eight ball as we reach the midpoint of the Countdown to the Championship.
"One of our biggest successes at Maple Grove (Reading) was finding what was wrong with our race car gremlin-wise," she said. "We feel comfortable that we have our hot rod back."
Pritchett ran a 3.825 against Steve Torrence in a second-round defeat, but her dragster quick just before the finish line. Crew chief had the car running well on a warm race track before that, as Pritchett ran a 3.760 in the first round. With cool weather projected at Gateway Motorsports Park, the conditions seem ideal for Pritchett to come out swinging.
"This is such a highly critical weekend. It's coming down to the wire," she said. "We need to qualify near the top like we have most of the year and win rounds. There's 16 rounds of racing left that leaves and a lot of points on the table and we plan on getting most of them."
The current Top Fuel elapsed time record holder (3.64) has a chance to better that tonight. First thing’s first: Getting the car down the race track solidly in the first session to establish a baseline. Pritchett enters the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals in seventh, so those three bonus points she can accrue in each qualifying session are very valuable.
When Ashley Sanford got the call from Santino Rapisarda, the crew chief for the Rapisarda Dragster, she was understandably ecstatic. For the second time, she was going to get to drive a Top Fuel Dragster. That excitement had not disappointed by the time she arrived at Gateway Motorsports Park and sat in the dragster previously driven by Wayne Newby.
“I got in the car, and they didn’t have to change anything,” said Sanford. “It was perfect.”
She was recommended for the position by Dom Lagana, who owns the Nitro Ninja car she licensed and got her Top Fuel debut in. Lagana had previously agreed to drive the Rapisarda dragster, but after reaching the semifinals in Reading, he decided to bring the Nitro Ninja machine to St. Louis. That left the seat open.
“I’d let her drive our car again, she did a great job,” said Lagana. “She was hanging out with them when she was in Charlotte hanging out in our pit, so she already knew everybody. It’s a similar pit to ours in that it’s a family team, and they’re just out here to race.”
Sanford was a part of the quickest Top Fuel field of all time at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, and there’s a chance she’ll do it again this weekend. That’s if she qualifies of course, which is no guarantee. The Rapisarda dragster qualified No. 13 last weekend and lost in the first round, so they’re looking to bounce back.
“We expect good things from (Ashley),” said Rapisarda. “We’re giving someone young a shot who knows what it takes to do it, and fully appreciates it. We’re hoping we can give her a good race car tonight.”
Scott Palmer is looking to take put a not-so-effective Dodge NHRA Nationals in the rear-view mirror. His dragster broke on the starting line against Tony Schumacher, robbing him of taking a shot against the winningest driver in Top Fuel history. So, he’s ready to get back into the swing of things on the first day of qualifying.
“We’re gonna try to run a 3.75 or better, that’s our goal,” said Palmer. “We’ve got the Indy setup in it, with a little bit milder weather. We’ll run a 3.75-78 better in the first run, and then see if we can better it in the second run.”
If everything goes according to plan, Palmer will be switching from a five-disc to a six-disc clutch before the Dallas event (coming up next on the NHRA schedule). That switch will come with some data from buddy Dom Lagana, who made the change to a six-disc clutch during the Reading event.
“He can test because he won’t lose any ground,” Palmer said of the non-Countdown racer. “That’s going to help us a lot. So, when we put it in, the learning curve is going to be a lot less.”
All of that is good news for Palmer, who is running in his home race this weekend.
The good news for Matt Hagan: He got past the first round for the first time in four races at the Dodge NHRA Nationals. The bad news is he fell in the semifinals to teammate Ron Capps when his parachute deployed early. He was already trailing Capps at that point, so the malfunction may have been a nonfactor, but it serves as a microcosm of how the past month has gone for the Mopar team.
Hagan broke on the starting line against Cruz Pedregon in Brainerd as the No. 2 qualifier, smoked the tires against Jim Campbell as the No. 1 qualifier at the U.S. Nationals, and bowed out to Robert Hight at the Countdown-opening event in Charlotte after qualifying 11th. That’s a nightmarish series of races for a two-time champion.
"We definitely need to pick up the win this weekend and the thing about rolling into a racetrack with Dickie Venables in your corner is that you know you can,” said Hagan. “We just have to go out and make it happen."
There’s no bonus points for setting a national record, but that speed record might be on the table given the weather conditions forecasted at Gateway Motorsports Park. That could provide a moral boost, if nothing else, to Hagan and his team heading into race day. Four of his five first-round exits have come in the last six races – if anyone could use a pick me up, it’s Hagan.
Racing for a championship brings plenty of pressure, as does racing at your sponsor’s race. Robert Hight will be doing both at three of the final four races in the Countdown to the Championship. The president of John Force Racing drives the AAA Funny Car, and is looking to get back in the winner’s circle as the NHRA tour descends on the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Hight said. “Those guys in St. Louis really get behind us, and they’re all good folks. It’s one of my favorite cities, one of my favorite tracks. We want to go in there and put on a good show for them. We’ve won there before, so we know how to do it. I’m proud to have AAA on for the next couple races: St. Louis and Dallas. I hope we can get in the winner’s circle and have them join us.”
He'll also be chasing the elusive 340-mph mark. Hight has hit 339 before on multiple occasions, and with good weather on the horizon, that 340 seems to be within reach. With crew chief Jimmy Prock in Hight’s corner, fans are in for a treat whether his Camaro breaks a speed record or not.
“It’s a lot of pressure, because you’ve got a great race car, and you don’t want to screw it up,” Hight said. “You’ve got to go up there and make perfect runs. You want to win a championship? That’s what you’ve got to do. We are all up to the task.
“It’s pretty cool when Jimmy Prock can up there and tell you within a hundredth or two what the thing’s going to run. That’s not easy to do especially when you’re trying to run that hard. If you’re being conservative, that’s one thing to go up there and be consistent. But to do it and be quick – it’s an art.”
Hight has earned 185 of a possible 260 points through two races, second only to teammate Courtney Force’s 194. That’s a great start to the Countdown no matter how you slice or dice it, but the driver wants more. The driver has come close to perfect weekends in the past, notably in Seattle when he nearly snagged all the bonus points while also winning the event, and he’ll be chasing the same in St. Louis while trying to track down Ron Capps.
That starts with making a couple of solid runs on Friday.
Cruz Pedregon will be driving with a different setup in his Snap-On Tools Funny Car tonight. For the first time in three years, his Toyota Camry will be back with a five-disc clutch. After struggling to find success with the six-disc clutch, the veteran Funny Car driver and first-year crew chief Aaron Brooks decided to go back to the setup he won eight races with over three seasons.
“You have to do whatever is best for your car, and I feel like, in my heart, this is the right way to go,” said Pedregon. “From 2010-13 we won something like eight races, and since then we’ve won one. I’m not a mathematician, but the math doesn’t quite work out in our favor in that respect.”
Pedregon qualified for the Countdown to the Championship in the No. 10 positioned, but has just six round wins this season. That’s not good enough for the former champion, nor for Brooks, who have championship aspirations. Those have been more or less shelved for this season, said the racer, who is already thinking about gearing up for next year.
So, consider the first qualifying session of the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals something of a test session for the Snap-On Tools team. Pedregon remains confident he and Brooks will get a handle on this Funny Car eventually, even if it doesn’t happen at the St. Louis Event, nor at the Dallas event he’s had so much success at in a couple weeks.
“You can pick it apart, and people will critique it, but this is a bottom line business,” said Pedregon. “It doesn’t matter how you get there, but you need to get there.”
Update: Pedregon ended up in the net on his first run after his parachutes failed to deploy on his first run of the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. He got out of the car unscathed, but that's not how he wanted this event to get started.
Tanner Gray claims that he’s already exceeded even his most optimistic expectations for his debut season in the Pro Stock class, but not that he’s in the middle of the Countdown with a team that is easily good enough to win the championship, he realizes that it might be time to re-evaluate his goals. Gray led the standings after his win at his home event in Charlotte, but he’s dropped to third after an early loss last week in Reading.
“I am not worried about being in third,” Gray said. “We are right where we want to be. We are one point out of second place and a little over two rounds out of first. We still have four races left and there is the possibility of a lot of movement in the Countdown. My guys have the experience that we need to secure a championship and I am confident in their experience.”
Confidence isn’t an issue for Gray. In fact, there have been times this season when fans and fellow competitors have mistaken his confidence for arrogance. He maintains that he’s just a teenager who’s been afforded a great opportunity to pursue a championship.
“We are more confident now then we were at the beginning of the season that we have what it takes to get it done,” Gray said. “Winning the champions
When it comes to the art of “not thinking” Bo Butner is an acknowledged master. That certainly applies to the current battle for the Mello Yello Pro Stock championship. Butner knows that he’s the points leader, but beyond that, he’s not thinking about much.
“I don’t think. I just drive,” said Butner. “I just try to go rounds. I don’t sit there with a calculator and count points and I don’t think about this situation or that situation. If you do that, it’s really easy to get confused. I just don’t think that way.”
Butner won the Lucas Oil Comp championship in 2006 and he learned a few valuable lessons from that battle. Butner won the title by just nine-points over Sal Biondo and his then partner Jeff Taylor was just 19-points back. David Rampy was also in the mix until late in the season.
“I learned a lot about racing for a championship that year,” Butner said. “I learned not to look back I learned to not worry about who was chasing you. I hope that everything I learned that year will help me this time around.”
Regardless of the outcome, Butner is clearly one of NHRA’s most improved pro racers. Since his first win in Houston, Butner has won four of the last 16 events and he’s compiled a 48-16 round win record this season.
“It’s the old story; I wish I knew last year what I know now,” Butner said. “I’d like a re-do on 2016 but like I said earlier, I don’t spend much time looking back. I’m just worried about this race and seeing what we can do here.”
On Friday morning, while some of her fellow Pro Stock racers were sleeping in or playing a quick round of golf, Erica Enders was at Gateway Motorsports Park racing her Omaha Track COPO Camaro in the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown. Enders made two runs before noon. She opened with an 8.556 but failed to improve ont he second after she spun the tires and missed the quick eight-car field. With the Factory Stock event behind her, Enders can now focus on winning Pro Stock at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, a feat she’s pulled off twice before.
“We're feeling like we're on a bit of an uptick after posting two good runs Sunday in Reading and then you add in the fact we're going to St. Louis, one of my all-time favorite tracks, and I can sense a little excitement in the pit,” said Enders. “We're being realistic about where we are and what we need to do, and we're still fighting hard. We've had a great string of successes at Gateway. We won there in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013. Then we earned the pole in 2014. We went back to the finals in 2015 and finished as runner-up, so yeah, it's a great track for us.”
Enders is also keen to remember that St. Louis is the place where her Pro Stock career official began more than a decade ago.
“Back in 2004 at St. Louis we announced that I would be racing Pro Stock,” Enders said. “It was a moment I'll never forget. Finally getting to that point in my career was so huge. To go from a kid in the garage with my dad handing him wrenches to racing Juniors, to running a bunch of different sportsman cars, and then finally turning pro, it was a dream come true. It's never been easy and we had plenty of struggles along the way but we persevered and reached the top of the sport in 2014 and 2015. Now our focus is on getting back to the top of the mountain and we won't give up until we do.”
Entering the third of six Countdown events, Enders remains in sixth place in the Mello Yello world rankings. Mathematically, she’s still in the running for a third title, but realizes that climbing past the leader will be a tall order.
“We have tested and tested these cars and we keep finding little things that make us better,” Enders said. “The tire change really threw us a curve but we can't complain because everyone is dealing with the same components. I say it all the time and I've never meant it more, but there is no other team, no other group of people I would rather be with in this journey. Hopefully I can reward my guys with a trophy or two before we're done this year.”
After his early loss in Reading, LE Tonglet has fallen 71-points behind Eddie Krawiec in the battle for the Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle title. Tonglet knows that he can’t afford to fall much further behind the three-time champ this weekend, but he’s not about to lose sleep over it.
“I don’t spend a lot of time counting points and figuring out who needs to do what,” said Tonglet. “I just worry about riding the bike and trying to win rounds. If we win this race, and we’ve got a bike that can do that, we’ll be just fine.”
Tonglet also addressed last weekend’s starting line controversy following his race against Hector Arana Jr. Tonglet, and his team owner Jerry Savoie, felt that Arana took too much time to stage. Afterwards, Savoie, wasn’t afraid to express his displeasure, throwing a few choice words in the direction of Hector Arana Sr.
“We let the start their bike first because we know they take their time getting up there,” said Tonglet. “I even had a problem getting my bike going to it took me an extra minute or two. I really don’t care; I don’t get rattled but our Suzuki is different than their Buell. Our engine is completely covered so it gets hot quicker. I was just worried about my engine getting too hot.”
Tonglet also offered a few words of caution, directed at Arana, and anyone else who’d try to play staging lane games against him.
“Try that stuff with someone else,” he laughed. “Guys like me and Joey [Gladstone] and even Eddie [Krawiec]. We’re not going to fall for it because we’ve all raced different bikes in different series. At this point, I think I’ve seen it all.”
If you’re handicapping the 2017 Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, don’t sleep on Andrew Hines.
That’s the message that the five-time champion wants to send to his competitors, even though he admits that winning a sixth title is beginning to look like a longshot. After some mid-season struggles with the team’s new Street Rod bikes, Hines entered the Countdown as the No. 6 seed. He improved to fourth after the Countdown opener in Charlotte but has slipped to fifth after a round two loss in Reading. Hines is now 120-points behind his teammate, Eddie Krawiec. In other words, he has to make up six rounds with 16 rounds left in the 2017 season.
“This is a make or break weekend,” said Hines. “We’re six rounds back but basically that’s only four if you count Pomona. If it wasn’t for the points-and-a-half in Pomona, we’d be in trouble but I can still win this. If I won the last four races, I’d almost get there, even if Eddie was in every final with me. I’d just have to make up a round and a half in qualifying. Like I said, it’s not going to be easy, but it’s doable. The short story is that I can’t afford to give up any more ground to Eddie.”
For Hines, the bigger issue right now is the performance of his Screamin’ Eagle Street Rod. At the last three events, he’s been a couple of hundredths behind Krawiec. He claims to know why, but can’t seem to bridge the gap between the two bikes.
“My tune-up is more on the edge than Eddie’s,” Hines said. “His bike is much more forgiving. At times, that could work in my favor but lately it hasn’t. We also found a broken spark plug on my bike so that probably hurt me at Reading a little bit.
“Honestly, I’m mostly concerned about winning as a team. As long as Eddie or I can win the championship; that’s what matters most. I still want to see us both fighting for it at the last race, but no matter why, I’ll support him.”
Five days after the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading and Scotty Pollacheck is still upside down over the one that got away. For the first time in his career, Pollacheck earned the coveted green hat as the low qualifier, and he figured to have a legitimate shot to win the race on his Underdahl/Stoffer Racing Suzuki. Pollacheck’s long-awaited shot for a win ended in the semifinals when he lost on a holeshot to points leader Eddie Krawiec. Rubbing salt in his wounds, Pollacheck made the best run of the round with a 6.886.
“I’m just sick over it,” said Pollacheck. “I absolutely could have won that race. We’ve had an issue all year [with reaction times]. We can’t seem to get the bike to leave. We can kill it in the sixty-foot times, but my lights have not been where I want them to be. We tried a new program this weekend and it’s only been one run, but it seems to be working. My bike is awesome. I just need to put it all together.”
Pollacheck picked up where he left off in St. Louis with a 6.820, 195.28 that is good for the No. 3 spot in the field so he expects to have another shot at a victory this weekend.
“Our tune-up is solid and we’re closer to a win than I’d been at any other time this year,” Pollacheck said. “We’re running right with the Harley-Davidson bikes now. At mid-season, we were a couple of hundredths ahead of them but that’s different. They brought out their new chassis and they were struggling. Now that they have their stuff together, the fact that we can run with them says something about our program.”
Robert Hight throws out the chutes after a record-setting run.
Smoking the tires during the Sam-Tech Factory Stock Showdown.
The Lucas Oil TV team takes a look at Hector Arana Jr.'s bike.
Drew Skillman gets ready to make his opening pass at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Two races into the Countdown, there’s still everything to race for as the NHRA tour heads to the Midwest for the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals. There have been seven different winners so far, with parity reigning in the professional classes in the early going of the NHRA playoffs. After a pair of warm races to start the Countdown, cool weather is on the horizon at Gateway Motorsports Park, which means records are vulnerable. Buckle up.
Steve Torrence didn’t capture his eighth Wally of the season, but he did leave Reading with the points lead. The Capco Contractors team continues to impress, even when it doesn’t win. Torrence fell to Brittany Force in their first final-round meeting, but holds a 22-point lead over Doug Kalitta entering the St. Louis-area race. His four round wins in the first two races of the Countdown put him right on pace with the number of round wins defending Top Fuel champion Antron Brown had two races into the 2016 Countdown to the Championship. All Torrence needs to do to keep up is earn a victory this weekend: No problem, right?
|Driver||Initial Seed||Charlotte Result||Reading Result||Current Position||Change|
Funny Car points leader Ron Capps' title defense is off to a fine start. After losing in the quarterfinals in Charlotte, Capps bounced back by winning in Reading. He captured his first-ever championship in 2016 without winning an event during the Countdown, so the NAPA Auto Parts driver has already taken a step forward from where he was a season ago. Add that to his career-high seven victories, and Capps looks poised for another title run. That is, if he can hold off Courtney Force, who has reached back-to-back finals, and her teammate Robert Hight, who sits in second place.
|Driver||Initial Seed||Charlotte Result||Reading Result||Current Position||Change|
|Tommy Johnson Jr.||5||E2||E2||6||-1|
Bo Butner and Greg Anderson finally put a stop to the Gray Motorsports monopoly on Pro Stock. Well, more specifically Allen Johnson and Greg Anderson ended Drew Skillman and Gray’s runs, respectively, but Butner left Reading with the Wally and the points lead. What a difference a year makes. Butner entered 2017 without a win, and now boasts four victories, including a pair against teammate Anderson. He’s also back in first place, while Anderson and Gray nip at his heels. The pair trail Butner by 41 and 42 points respectively, giving the Floyds Knobs, Ind. native a little bit of a cushion entering the Midwest Nationals.
|Driver||Initial Seed||Charlotte Result||Reading Result||Current Position||Change|
That’s a far cry from the cushion currently enjoyed by Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Eddie Krawiec, who has been literally unbeatable since race day at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. The Harley-Davidson rider has won three races in a row, launching him to a 71-point lead over LE Tonglet. His 239 points earned through the first two Countdown races are just 21 away from perfection (the maximum a racer can earn in a race is 130), and that has put the heat on the rest of the field. Pro Stock Motorcycle arguably boasts the tightest competition in NHRA Drag Racing, but Krawiec is threatening to run away with a title early. We bet a few other riders have something to say about that, though.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
|Driver||Initial Seed||Charlotte Result||Reading Result||Current Position||Change|
|Hector Arana Jr||3||SF||SF||3||0|