ELIMINATION ROUNDS RECAPS
TOP FUEL E1 (11:58 a.m.): The fireworks began early in Epping after Terry McMillen suffered a huge engine in the second pair of the round, resulting in a lengthy delay and a loss to No. 12 qualifier Scott Palmer. Tony Schumacher is the only driver to win eight Top Fuel championships but he’s also the only nitro racer to lose to Smax Smith, who pulled off one of the biggest upsets in this or any other year when he defeated the U.S. Army dragster. Schumacher left first by a visible margin, but smoked the tires at half-track and Smith tallied his first career NHRA win with a 4.200 in the Leverich family dragster. By comparison, the rest of the round was relatively tame with wins by Brittany Force, Leah Pritchett, Antron Brown, Shawn Langdon, and Troy Coughlin Jr.
Round two pairings (lane choice first): Steve Torrence vs. Leah Pritchett; Scott Palmer vs. Antron Brown; Brittany Force vs. Troy Coughlin Jr.; Shawn Langdon vs. Smax Smith
FUNNY CAR E1 (12:30 p.m.): The upsets that began in Top Fuel carried over to the Funny Cars, which feature three bottom-half cars advancing. The biggest upset of the opener was No. 16 qualifier Mike Smith defeating top qualifier Robert Hight. Neither car made a clean run, and they were side-by-side at the stripe with Smith nipping Hight in a 4.32 to 4.36 contest. Tommy Johnson Jr. and Del Worsham also won from the bottom half of the field. Courtney Force had low e.t. of the round, clocking in at 3.914 in what was her first full run since the massive engine explosion Friday.
Round two pairings (lane choice first): Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Mike Smith; Matt Hagan vs. Del Worsham; Courtney Force vs. Cruz Pedregon; Bob Tasca III vs. Ron Capps
PRO STOCK E1 (12:40 p.m.): The madness and upsets that defined the first round of the NHRA New England Nationals wasn’t confined to the Nitro classes. Kenny Delco scored his first win of the year after Greg Anderson’s Summit Camaro slowed and Jeg Coughlin Jr. long acknowledged as one of Pro Stock’s best starting line driver, suffered a rare round one loss at the hands of teammate Vincent Noble. Nobile won by a 6.586 to 6.558 count in a race that was decided by just four-thousandths at the finish line. Even more bizarre was Tanner Gray’s round one win against Val Smeland. Gray, the low qualifier, shook the tires and coasted to a 14.715 for the win after Smeland’s car stalled in the staging beams. Bo Butner, Drew Skillman, Erica Enders, and Jason Line also carded wins.
Round two pairings (lane choice first): Tanner Gray vs. bye; Drew Skillman vs. Kenny Delco; Bo Butner vs. Vincent Nobile; Jason Line vs. Erica Enders
TOP FUEL E2 (1:34 p.m.): Points leaders Steve Torrence and Leah Pritchett clashed in the second round of the New England Nationals with Pritchett gaining a 3-2 upper hand in their fifth meeting of the season. Both cars smoked the tires, but low qualifier Pritchett recovered to advance to the semifinals. Pritchett’s first two runs of the day have resulted in elapsed times of 5.232 and 4.332. Pritchett will not have lane choice when she races teammate Antron Brown in the semifinals. The other half of the final four will include Shawn Langdon, who will face Brittany Force.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Antron Brown vs. Leah Pritchett; Brittany Force vs. Shawn Langdon
FUNNY CAR E2 (1:50 p.m.): Funny Car is down to Don Schumacher Racing vs. Courtney Force after Tommy Johnson Jr., Matt Hagan, and Ron Capps advanced along with the driver of the Advance Auto Parts Chevy. Hagan was quickest of the round at 3.94 seconds, but Force and Capps weren’t far behind with both recording 3.95s. Force was .007-second quicker than Capps, giving her lane choice in their semifinal bout.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Matt Hagan vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.; Courtney Force vs. Ron Capps
PRO STOCK E2 (1:50 p.m.): Tanner Gray hasn’t run fast enough to get a speeding ticket in the first two rounds but he was able to advance to the semifinals. Gray shook the tires in the first round against Val Smeland, who stalled on the starting line and he shook again on his quarterfinal bye run but he remains in competiton. Bo Butner, seeking his third win of the season, also advanced on a single after Vincent Nobile’s Mountain View Camaro stalled in the pre-stage beams. Butner did not get distracted and drove to a 6.532 to make the quickest run of the round. Erica Enders stopped Jason Line on a small holeshot and Drew Skillman reached the semi’s for the third time this season following his win against Kenny Delco.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Bo Butner vs. Erica Enders; Drew Skillman vs. Tanner Gray
TOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:47 p.m.): Brittany Force and Antron Brown will race for the New England Nationals. Force wheeled her Monster Energy dragster to a 3.731 in her win over Shawn Langdon, who encountered a problem on the starting line in his Global Electronic Technologies dragster while Brown, the winner two weeks ago in Topeka, moved into his fourth final of the season following an impressive 3.707 to 3.735 win against DSR teammate Leah Pritchett.
FUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (3 p.m.): It will be a classic JFR vs. DSR final round in Funny Car after Courtney Force and Matt Hagan won their semifinal matches to advance to the final. Force ran low e.t. of eliminations, 3.895, to defeat Ron Capps and end his round-win streak at 17 straight. Hagan won the intramural battle with fellow DSR runner Tommy Johnson Jr., 3.96 to 4.09. Force, who won the inaugural event here in 2013, will have lane choice against Hagan, who has yet to win here at New England Dragway.
PRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (3:05 p.m.): Tanner Gray will have the opportunity to be the first three-time winner in Pro Stock this season while Erica Enders will have the opportunity to win for the first time since the 2015 season when the two rivals meet in the Pro Stock final. Gray did not get down the track in his first two rounds but he found his groove in the semifinals with a 6.549 to 6.560 win over Drew Skillman. Enders made it to her second final round of the year on the strength of her driving with her second-consecutive holeshot win. Enders cut a .008 light to stop Bo Butner, 6.553 to 6.533.
LUCAS OIL SERIES CHAMPIONS CROWNED:
SUPER STOCK: Byron Worner, far lane, def. Bryan Worner
STOCK: Dave Ficacci def. Thomas Auger
SUPER COMP: Rick Dorr def. Ray Fredricks
SUPER GAS: John Labbous Jr. def. Chuck Rothermel
SUPER STREET: Brian Sawyer def. Karri Khoury
TOP DRAGSTER: Deborah DiGenova def. Scott Hall
TOP SPORTSMAN: John Benoit def. Matt Harper
TOP FUEL HARLEY FINAL: Tii Tharpe, near lane, claimed his first win of the season in the NHRA Mickey Thompson Top Fuel Harley series when he defeated Ricky House in the final round. Tharpe rode his SPEVCO Inc. Harley to a 6.248 in the final to defeat House, who trailed with a 6.464. Earlier this season, House rode his Javalina HD bike to a win in Phoenix. House was also a runner-up at the Pomona season-opener.
PRO STOCK FINAL (4 p.m.): For the 22nd time in her career and first time in a year-and-a-half, Erica Enders, far lane, claimed a Pro Stock Wally. Enders defeated rookie Tanner Gray in the final, 6.534 to 6.550 to become the seventh different winner in nine events this season. In the final round, Enders also tied the top speed of the meet with a 213.16 mph run in her Elite Motorsports Camaro.
FUNNY CAR FINAL (4:05 p.m.): Matt Hagan, far lane, collected his third win of the 2017 season when he outlasted Courtney Force to win the NHRA New England Nationals. It was Hagan’s first win in Epping and the 25th of his career. That breaks a tie with teammate Jack Beckman for ninth on the all-time Funny Car wins list. Hagan saved his best race-day run for last, powering to a 3.897 to defeat Courtney Force, who slowed to a 3.92 after running low e.t. of eliminations in the semifinals.
TOP FUEL FINAL (4:07 p.m.): In a thrilling side-by-side final round decided by just seven-thousandths of a second, Brittany Force, far lane, claimed her first win of the season after driving her Monster Energy dragster past reigning champ Antron Brown, 3.716 to 3.728. Force, who now has four career wins in 13 final rounds, locked up her spot in the Traxxas Top Fuel Showdown alongside Brown, Leah Pritchett, Steve Torrence, and Tony Schumacher.
After running career-best numbers twice during qualifying, Terry McMillen expected to have a long day on Sunday with his Amalie dragster but those plans changed after an enormous engine explosion in round one. McMillen pedaled the car early in the run and the engine exploded in a huge fireball that cleaned the supercharger and injector hat off the top of the engine. McMillen was able to climb out of the car without assistance, but he was clearly frustrated, throwing his gloves in anger. Scott Palmer, who is battling McMillen for a spot in the top 10, claimed the win with a 3.915.
“That was crazy,” said McMillen. “I apologize to the fans and all the teams behind us. It hit the tire a little bit and when I went back at [the throttle] it still had fuel in it and it was all over after that. It’s tough because our team was working so well. It bites but we’re going to regroup. I have to thank DSR and everyone else who helps us and gives us some direction. I have a good group and we’ll get to Englishtown and we’ll be fine.”
Shawn Langdon’s season-best 3.724 on Saturday afternoon came with a heavy price tag after the Global Electronic Technology dragster blew an engine at the finish line.
“It’s junk,” said Langdon. “I think it broke a rod or a rod cap or something. Right at the finish line the motor revved up and the pan pressure spiked and then it dropped to holes [cylinders]. Then it popped and the rods came out. I didn’t realize how bad it was until we got back to the pits.”
The Kalitta Motorsports team had a new engine installed before they left the track Sunday night and performed their normal fire-up routine Sunday. Langdon was able to continue his pursuit of a top ten spot when he drove to a 3.753 to defeat Dom Lagana’s competitive 3.816.
“When you race a nitro car you’re going to hurt an engine from time to time and I’ve had my share of them,” Langdon said. “Knock on wood, I have never done that in my Super Comp car. That would really suck.”
Low qualifier Leah Pritchett was not aware that she was getting a bye run in the first round until long after qualifying was over. Besides the obviously advantage of a free pass into the quarterfinals, Pritchett and her crew are also grateful for the opportunity to test a set-up they might otherwise not have used.
“We can go for lane choice in the second round and we could even shoot for the national record if we think it’s out there,” Pritchett said. “You have a lot of options when there’s no one in the other lane. I thought we had 16 cars here and I really wish that was the case. I don’t like getting a bye run but if it happens to work out that way, we’re happy to take advantage of it. Hopefully we can learn something that will help us win the race.”
Following the lengthy delay due to Terry McMillen’s oil down, Pritchett overpowered the track on her bye run and surrendered lane choice to her favorite opponent, Steve Torrence in round two. Pritchett and Torrence are ranked 1-2 in the Mello Yello standings and they’ve raced four times so far this season with each driver taking two wins.
Courtney Force may have qualified No. 2, but the truth is her qualifying outing here in Epping was nothing short of a disaster. On the 3.84-second run that earned her that high start, Force suffered a massive explosion that destroyed her primary car, pushing her team to the back-up. Though the crew did a great job in getting the car together and ready to run, there were certainly some growing pains. First, a break issue in Q2 pushed Force’s car to the wall, ending with a light tap, on the burnout. Then, on Saturday, Force smoked the tires on both attempt, sending her into race day without a full run on the new mount. Force corrected that in the opening round when not only did she make a full pull but did so in 3.91 seconds, the quickest time of the first round, en route to victory over Jim Campbell.
“That’s definitely a great round for our Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro team,” said Force. “I’m really proud of my guys, pulling out that spare car after our explosion on Friday qualifying and getting it fixed up. I mean, don’t think I wasn’t cringing a little bit when I got down to the finish line for the first time since the explosion, and I’m really happy to see that win light there, and hopefully, we can get going some rounds today and make it a good day. It’s been a rough weekend, but I’m excited to see if we can pull it off.”
Mike Smith scored the feel-good win of the first round of competition when he wheeled the New Englander entry to victory over No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight. Both Smith and Hight had troubles on their passes, but Smith was able to stay in front and win by two-hundredths.
“It’s way cool,” said Smith. “We’ve been coming up here and working with these guys, and it’s become a family deal every year. We had a feeling. You got to get ’er down the racetrack, and that’s what we did and got us a round-win.
“It was tight. He was there, but I didn’t see him, so we took it all the way.”
Tim Wilkerson barely made it off the starting line in the first round before tire smoke trailed his Levi, Ray & Shoup entry, but while to the naked eye, it may have looked like a regular, run-of-the-mill tire-smoking effort, the truth is a mechanical malfunction caused the problems and ended his day.
“It had a clutch flow stuck open,” said Wilkerson. “That happened to us last year once and we figured it out, but that was during qualifying. This year it had to be during a run on Sunday. Then we came back and checked it, and it looks like it had already blown the piece of junk out of it that got stuck in there. We couldn’t get any of them to leak, so we’re going to disassemble the entire unit, clean every piece of junk out of it, and start over again. What happens is we set that clutch bearing in a specific spot, and if it moves before the car launches, then it sees more clutch than it’s supposed to. When I let my foot off the clutch after the burnout, it moved 75-thousandths, then when I let my foot off the clutch to stage, it moved another 75-thousandths, so the clutch is actually 150-thousandths further back than it’s supposed to be. It won’t go down the track like that.”
Round-wins have been a little hard to come by for Cruz Pedregon over the last couple of seasons, but the two-time world champion and his Snap-on team have been making notable progress on getting their Toyota dialed in and competitive. That showed in qualifying when Pedregon ran a 3.89 to qualify seventh, his second top half start of 2017, and it certainly showed in eliminations today when Pedregon recorded his first-round win of the year and ran a 3.95 and a 3.99 on his two passes. Though the 3.99 wasn’t enough to advance him the semifinals, it kept Pedregon side by side with Courtney Force.
“That [round-win] was big,” said Pedregon, who defeated Tim Wilkerson in round one. “It’s just a round-win, but that’s good for us. We’ve got a good car, a good team, we’re well-financed even though we’re a single-car team. We’re getting it together with Aaron [Brooks] and the team. It’s big. We’ll just take it one at a time and see what happens.”
Alan Prusiensky did not make the final qualifying session on Saturday but he had a good excuse for his absence. After damaging his only Mopar Hemi engine on Friday, Prusiensky and crew chief Gary Taylor made the five-hour drive to their shop in Rockaway, N.J. to rebuild the engine. Arriving at 2 a.m., they worked until 8 a.m. and then made their way back to Epping. Prusiensky made it in time for Q3 and recorded a respectable 6.765 on an early shut-off run of only 182 mph. He elected to sit out the final session in order to prepare for Sunday’s first round.
“We changed everything,” said Prusiensky, who builds his own engines. “Rods, crank, pistons, rings, bearings; all of it. I think we used the same oil pan and that was about it. We didn’t get any sleep at all Saturday night. We’ve been running slow lately but I think we’ve figured out what’s been killing us.”
Although he returned in time for eliminations, Prusiensky wasn’t able to advance after he red-lighted against Bo Butner. The former Comp driver was also cautious regarding his performance, noting that he’s still got a few mechanical issues to resolve.
“We’re still down about 20 horsepower from where we were and its going to take some time to get it back,” he said. “We’re here and that is a lot better than driving home and missing the first round. Racing Pro Stock is as hard as it looks but without my crew it would be impossible. I’m not going to quit unless I can quit on top so that means I might be here for a while.”
On Sunday, Bo Butner celebrated his 50th start in the Pro Stock class and despite his early struggles, the former Comp champ’s stats stack up favorably with some of the class’ all-time greats. In addition to his two wins, Butner entered Epping with seven runner-up finishes and nine semifinals to his credit. Butner also came to New England sporting an impressive 62-47 (.569-percent) round win record.
“Fifty races; that flew by,” said Butner. “That’s about two full seasons and it doesn’t seem like it has been that long. I guess it means that I must be having fun; which I am. It doesn’t’ seem like 50 races but when I think back to the first one [Atlanta 2015], I think about how much I’ve learned since then. I’ve said this before but Pro Stock is without a doubt the toughest thing I’ve tried in racing. It’s much harder than it looks and it doesn’t exactly look easy from the outside.”
Butner added to wins to his total with wins against Alan Pruisensky and Vincent Nobile. In the latter race, Butner was surprised to get a single after Nobile’s car stalled out in the pre-stage beams.
“I didn’t know what was going on but I knew Vincent wasn’t playing games,” Butner said. “I just tried not to get distracted and we ended up making a pretty good run.
Counting his two wins today, Butner already has 19 round wins this year which is leads teammates Greg Anderson (16) and Jason Line (12) who both went out early.
Vincent Nobile isn’t exactly sure what caused his Mountain View Camaro to stall on the starting line against Bo Butner in the quarterfinals but the initial post-mortem pointed to a faulty crank trigger that killed the ignition just before he staged.
“As soon as I pulled into stage, it died,” Nobile said. “It happened to me once before in Brainerd and it was the crank trigger and I’m going to assume that’s what got us this time. It sucks but that’s the way our luck has gone this year. We just can’t seem to catch a break.”
Epping behind him, Nobile’s thoughts quickly turned to next week’s racer at his home track in Englishtown, N.J. At that event, Nobile will pull double-duty by driving in Pro Stock as well as Comp Eliminator. Nobile will make his sportsman racing debut behind the wheel of former champ Vinnie Barone’s A/Street Roadster.
“It should be interesting,” Nobile said of his debut on a full Christmas Tree. “I’m just going to go out there and relax and try to have some fun. I know Vinnie is going to give me a good race car. I just need to figure out how to drive it.”
It's race day at the NHRA New England Nationals. Following are the first-round pairings: