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NHRA Summernationals Friday Notebook

09 Jun 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Summernationals

Features | PhotosPreview | Results

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

Hector Arana Jr.PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q1 (4:03 p.m.): Hector Arana Jr. and father, Hector Sr., grabbed the early lead in qualifying for the NHRA Summernationals. Arana Sr. rode his Lucas Oil Buell to a 6.823 for the provisional No. 1 spot and then a few minutes later, he was bumped to No. 2 by Hector Jr., who remained atop the field with a 6.810. LE Tonglet, the winner of the two most recent Pro Stock Motorcycle races in Charlotte and Atlanta, landed in the No. 3 spot after a 6.824 on his Nitro Fish Suzuki. The top speed of the session went to Eddie Krawiec who rode his new Street Rod Harley-Davidson to a 197.80 mph run. Also of note was the impressive 6.914 effort turned in by Kelly Clontz, who is making her NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle debut. Clontz ran in the 6.8s during a recent test session on her Stoffer/Underdahl-prepared Suzuki. [Detailed results]

Bo ButnerPRO STOCK Q1 (4:25 p.m.): Bo Butner, who already has two wins this season, is off to a fast start after wheeling his KB Racing powered Camaro to a 6.551 to lead the field after Friday’s opening session. “It wasn’t the best run, so I’m surprised we ran what we ran,” said Butner, who was clearly not impressed by his pass. Butner edged another driver with two wins, Tanner Gray, who was just four-thousandths behind with a 6.555. Butner’s teammate, Jason Line, who has struggled lately, made a strong run with a 6.568 to claim the third spot and earn a qualifying bonus point. Erica Enders, the winner a week ago in Epping, finished the session in the No. 7 spot after a 6.637 run. [Detailed results]

Ron CappsFUNNY CAR Q1 (4:55 p.m.): Ron Capps, whose four-race win streak ended last weekend is Epping, is back on top, at least after the first qualifying session following a 3.895 pass in his NAPA Auto Parts Charger. Nine teams ran in the threes in the first session, with Epping qualifying leader Robert Hight No. 2 behind Capps with a 3.920 and Courtney Force No. 3 with a 3.934. Fifteen cars made passes and, thanks to some passing cloud cover, 12 of them made full passes down the Raceway Park strip. [Detailed results]

Steve TorrenceTOP FUEL Q1 (5:15 p.m.): Defending event champ Steve Torrence, who was the low qualifier earlier this season in Las Vegas, put the Capco Contractors digger on the provisional pole with a 3.769, just ahead of last weekend’s Epping winner, Brittany Force, who clocked a 3.780 for the No. 2 spot. Points leader Leah Pritchett (3.788) and Antron Brown (3.790) were right on their heels. The first run of Blake Alexander’s Top Fuel debut in the Worsham Racing entry ended quickly in tire smoke, making him the slowest of 13 cars who made runs in the session. [Detailed results]

L.E. TongletPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (6:43 p.m.): LE Tonglet, the winner of the last two Pro Stock Motorcycle events, took over the top spot after day one with a 6.800 on his Nitro Fish Suzuki. Tonglet was third after the first session with a 6.824, but made a significantly better run on the second to claim the provisional pole. After a 6.810 in the first session, Hector Arana Jr., remained consistent with a 6.819 that was good for two qualifying bonus points while Joey Gladstone made a solid move upward in the field with a 6.848 on the San Marino Excavating Suzuki. Harley riders Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec each had difficulty matching their earlier runs on their new Harley Street Rod entries. Krawiec posted a 6.881 while Hines could muster only a 6.902. [Detailed results]

Allen JohnsonPRO STOCK Q2 (7:02 p.m.): Bo Butner, Tanner Gray, and Jason Line were the three quickest drivers of the round, but the most impressive run of Q2 may have come from former champion Allen Johnson, who guided his Marathon Petroleum Dart to a 6.567, 210.90. Johnson was impressed enough with the run to call is “the best run I’ve made in the fuel injected era.” Johnson finished the day as the No. 4 qualifier while Butner is the leader with a 6.551 (and a consistent 6.552). Gray has also varied by just a thousandth of a second with runs of 6.555 and 6.556. Epping champ Erica Enders, seeking to improve on her earlier 6.637, shook the tires and shut off. Matt Hartford, Vincent Nobile, and Drew Skillman also shut off early. [Detailed results]

Courtney ForceFUNNY CAR Q2 (7:35 p.m.): Courtney Force’s Advance Auto Parts Camaro, one of the season’s consistently quickest Funny Cars, broke Ron Capps’ year-old 3.870 track record with a 3.862 to lead the field halfway through qualifying. The track speed record of 326.71, set last year by Matt Hagan, was broken three different times before it ended up shattered at 332.43, set by Force’s teammate, Robert Hight. Eleven of the field's 16 entries are qualified in the three-second zone. [Detailed results]

Antron BrownTOP FUEL Q2 (7:55 p.m.): Antron Brown broke his own two-year-old track record of 3.725 with a blast of 3.713 in his Matco Tools dragster to grab the qualifying lead with two sessions to go. First-session leader Steve Torrence had been knocked down to the No. 5 spot before he got his shot at the Raceway Park track but responded with a 3.725 to get the No. 2 spot ahead of the 3.733 and 3.734 passes of teammates Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon. [Detailed results]

Friday recap: Brown, C. Force, Butner, Tonglet lead Friday fields

FEATURES

Blake AlexanderBlake Alexander will be making his Top Fuel debut at this event, as the enterprising young Virginia-based driver continues his nitro-racing efforts with the support of longtime backers Pronto Auto Service Center and Monroe.

Alexander, who for years competed at an assortment of events with a Paul Smith-tuned Funny Car, will be piloting the Worsham Racing dragster at this event after completing his licensing earlier this week at Maple Grove Raceway. Alexander had originally planned to partner with the Dote Family Top Fuel team earlier this year and made his first four licensing runs in their car before they parted company. Chuck and Del Worsham have had their Top Fuel car on the tour this year – driven at five events so far by Steve Chrisman – and were able to offer Alexander their car to continue his journey. Plans to continue the licensing on Monday after last weekend’s Epping event were scotched by rain, so they made the drive over to Maple Grove.

“I’ve always wanted to have my license in both classes just to be open to whatever a sponsor wanted,” said Alexander, whose 2016 season was limited to just this race by a broken leg. “Del and I also talked about me running one of his Funny Cars, but this is easier for him right now – he’s obviously got a lot on his plate already – plus they wanted to get the car running better."

Although he only has a handful of runs in a dragster, it’s enough to notice the difference.

“Obviously the view is a lot different but it’s also weird not being able to see the motor and know what’s going on and having to rely on the crew to tell you,” he said. “The way I sit in the car is different, too, but, on the positive side, you don’t get as dirty [from clutch dust].”

Alexander plans to run an undetermined number of events, but has a sponsor commitment for at least three more, including Dallas (Pronto is based in Texas) and Pomona.

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Smax SmithSmax Smith and the short on parts/big on heart Leverich Racing Top Fuel team come to the Summernationals on a heady high after finally recording their first round win last weekend in Epping where they knocked off Tony Schumacher in round one. It wasn’t easy or pretty. Smith was late off the line but got by tire-smoking Schumacher for the win, but the throttle stuck open at the end of the run, causing significant damage that the team was not able to repair in time for round two.

“I guess I just lost got distracted on the lights and I just left when Tony left, then I saw him drop back, and I didn’t know if he’d red-lighted or I did or what happened,” Smith said. “I just stayed in it and then the throttle hung open and it went bang. The next thing I see is the [TV crew] coming up to me; that was when I finally realized we’d won.”

The round win was the first by an English driver since Top Fuel driver Clive Skilton at the U.S. Nationals in 1977, but the chance for a second win light evaporated in the pits.

“We bent a pushrod before halftrack and with the throttle hanging open, it just went boom,” Smith explained. “We had to do a complete engine change because we had spun a bearing. We had to change one of the heads – which means changing over the rocker assemblies and port nozzles -- and repair the other one. The blower was damaged but Scott Palmer loaned us one, but we still had to repair the manifold and the injector, and the explosion also damaged the parachutes, so we had to change that, too. Oh, and the clutch linkage also broke. Even with all of that, we were close to getting it ready but fell about 15 minutes short of making it. Even though we fell short, the crowd that had gathered to watch us all gave us big applause, which was wonderful. Still, it was a great weekend and we’re excited to try to continue that momentum this weekend.”

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Antron BrownThe Summernationals is always a special event for Antron Brown, who grew up in the Garden State attending the Summernationals with his father, Albert, and uncle, Andre, who were racers. Brown also competed in motocross events at the famed facility.

 “I was pushed around that racetrack in a stroller; that’s how long I’ve been coming here,” he said. “That’s all I ever knew. I embraced it because it was fun, it was exciting. It’s always nice to go back home where you were born and raised. It’s always good to go back and see all of your friends, all the people who remember me as a kid when I was always walking around with holes in my jeans at the knees, being all greasy from head to toe. That’s what I used to do with my dad and uncle. 

“Every time I come back, I think back and remember about all those great times I had growing up. I still remember when I was 10 years old, standing behind “Big Daddy” Don Garlits as he started his car. I felt like I must have jumped 10 feet in the air. I’ve loved it ever since.”

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Ron CappsRon Capps’ impressive four-race winning streak ended at 17 rounds last weekend in Epping when he lost in the semifinals to Courtney Force, but the impact to the standings will be felt for a long time. Capps earned 473 points with those four straight wins to 261 earned by early-season points leader Matt Hagan in the same stretch,

Capps began the win streak in Houston, which he entered mired in fourth place in the standings, 93 points out of the lead. His win in Houston jumped him to second, just two points behind Hagan and his victory at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals moved him past Hagan into first by 43 points.

Subsequent wins in Atlanta and Topeka built that lead to 119 points and even though Hagan chipped away at that with his win in Epping, Capps still leads by 79 points, or almost four rounds.

"We still feel great. It's a bummer the streak is over, but with the competition in Funny Car, winning 17 rounds in a row is pretty amazing," said Capps, who made three-second passes on 14 of his 17 round wins.

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Jonnie Lindberg
Jim Head
Racing’s two-race absence from the tour – a pre-planned vacation that included a trip to Europe (a week-long, art-seeing Venice/Vienna/Prague trip with his artist daughter, Samantha) then a week fishing in the Turks and Caicos islands – didn’t hurt his team’s position in the standings too much. Rookie driver Jonnie Lindberg was in 10th place when the team last competed in Charlotte and fell just one spot, to 11th, just 28 points behind Del Worsham.

The Head/Lindberg cause was greatly helped by Alexis DeJoria’s three-race absence and the struggles of Jim Dunn's team, which DNQ’d in Topeka and lost in round one in Epping while the Head team was sidelined.

Jim HeadJust because he was an ocean away doesn’t mean that Head wasn’t keeping tabs. He recited with great accuracy some early-run numbers put up by Ron Capps in Q1 in Epping (“2.192 to 330 feet. Wow.”) and said he could recite every track temperature from every round.

Now Head can turn his attention to getting back into the Top 10 and staying there to earn Lindberg a berth in the Countdown playoffs, and hopes to seize on the warm-weather races –beginning here – on the schedule.

“I have a 3.94 car and I know what I have to do to make it run 3.80s, but now’s not the time to do it,” he said. “A 3.94 will win this race under the conditions we’re expecting this weekend.”

Lindberg and Head, who will run the full balance of the remaining schedule, also have took over their shoulders as Campbell is just two points behind them and Cruz Pedregon just seven back. DeJoria, the only driver with a chance to catch them, is 77 points back.

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Matt Hagan
Matt Hagan
and the Mopar Express Lane team, led by crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen, started off the four-race "Eastern Swing" last weekend in the best way possible with a win in Epping, but there’s still a long road ahead that continues through Englishtown onto Bristol, Tenn., and then Norwalk, Ohio.
 
"You used to think the Western Swing (in the summer) was tough and now it's like we have four in a row," Hagan said. "And these guys, we're talking like shipping parts here and there and everywhere else. I was talking to my Michael the other day and he was just like, 'Oh my gosh,' just trying to keep up with the parts and pieces that have to come in and go out and all that kind of stuff, so all the behind the scenes that you don't see that these guys have to do to make four in a row is craziness. 
 
"I used to have my own team so I understand that when on Monday and Tuesday you sit down and that's all you do is order parts. These race cars eat parts. It costs so much to make each run. It puts it in perspective. Any time you can put four races together and turn on four win lights on Sunday it's a good day. Hopefully we can do that a couple more times coming up in these next few races."

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Greg AndersonGreg Anderson has an added incentive to secure his spot in the top half of the Pro Stock field today since he plans to sit out Saturday’s third session. The four-time world champ is going to miss Q3 in order to take a quick flight back to North Carolina at 8:30 a.m. in order to attend his son, Cody’s high school graduation. If all goes as planned, Anderson will be back behind the wheel of his Summit Camaro in time for Q4.

“This is something that I certainly don’t want to miss, and I’m working every angle to make sure I’m there to see the boy walk across that stage,” said Anderson. “It’ll be a great morning, and then I’ll come back here to one of our favorite race tracks and hopefully have a great afternoon, too. The whole family is with Cody this weekend, and sure, I’m a little sad I’m going to miss the big party there on Saturday afternoon; but I’ll be there for his graduation, and we’ll just get to celebrate all over again when I get home. It’s hard to believe that Cody is already old enough and graduating, and his mother [Kim] is taking it particularly hard, but we both know that tomorrow is a day to be happy and proud. This is the next chapter of life.”

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Tanner GrayTanner Gray is a happy-go-lucky 18-year old living the dream of being an NHRA Pro Stock racer so the notion of him having a bad week is relative. Still, Gray lost the Pro Stock final in Epping against Erica Enders and then on Wednesday, he had another frustrating moment when he flipped his winged kart while leading the feature race at Millbridge Speedway.

“We had five laps to go and I was leading by a half-a-straightway and I got too close to the barrier, and flipped the kart,” said Gray, who wasn’t hurt in the mishap. “The front tire dug in and the next thing I know I’m going end over end. That really sucked because I was going to win that race. That probably bothers me as much or more than the Epping final. That was just a good close race.”

Gray had a chance to become the first three-time Pro Stock winner this season but he lost in the final to Enders, 6.53 to 6.55. Despite the loss, he’s just 35 points out of first place heading into Englishtown.

“We made change before the final and we were super-light on the clutch,” said Gray. “I left within four-thousandths of Erica so I didn’t have a bad light but we just didn’t make our best run. To be honest, I was lucky to get out of the first round last week so anything we did beyond that was a bonus.”

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Jason Line
It’s not bad enough to call a slump, but the fact that reigning Pro Stock champ Jason Line hasn’t been to a final round since the season-opener in Pomona is a major concern for the Summit driver. More telling is Line’s qualifying record. He qualified No. 1 in the first four events of the season but slipped to a season-low sixth in Houston and seventh in Epping a week ago.

“I don’t know what the problem is or I’d fix it,” said Line. “Some days I’m good, some days not so good. I can’t even say that we’re in test mode because we’re always in test mode. All I can say is that nothing lasts forever, both good and bad. One day I’m going to show up and be fast again. If keep doing what you’re doing you get what you get. We’re not standing still.”

Line was fairly impressive in Q1 in Englishtown with a 6.568 that was good for the No. 3 spot, behind his teammate, Bo Butner, and rookie Tanner Gray.

 

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Eddie Krawiec
This weekend the Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson Pro Stock Motorcycles will have an entirely new look when the Vance & Hines team officially debuts their new Street Rod model. The new bikes are a replacement for the V-Rod, that was retired last year following a successful run of nearly two decades.

“Harley-Davidson wanted to race a mode that was consistent with the new bikes that they are selling so that’s why we’re racing the new Street Rods,” said Eddie Krawiec. “These bikes have been in the works for a while but we’ve only had a chance to ride them a few times. I have ten runs total on my bike and only seven of them are full passes. So far, we’re encouraged by what we’ve seen.”

Krawiec noted that the new bikes are a bit wider than their old bikes but they also featured a redesigned front fairing and side scoops. They also appear to be shorter in the fuel tank area which could help the riders get tucked more efficiently.

“We were going to have a new chassis this year regardless of what happened with the body so it worked out that we have an all new bike,” Krawiec said. “This should be a better handling bike than the V-Rods. It might take us a little bit of time to get up to speed but we don’t have the old bikes with us so there is no going back. We’re going to use these two bikes until we get them right. Hopefully we have as much luck with them as we had with the V-Rods.”

For the record, the V-Rod design was responsible for 85 national event wins for riders Krawiec, Andrew Hines, and GT Tonglet. It also carried Hines and Krawiec to a combined eight Mello Yello series championships. In 2005, Hines was also the first rider to run in the six-second zone with his V-Rod in Gainesville.

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UnderdahlMore than a decade ago, Greg Underdahl retired as a Pro Stock Motorcycle rider in order to become a crew chief. Recently, he returned to the seat during a test session/event that was held in Maryland and ran quick enough to re-activate his license.

“We went to this race last week and I had an extra bike upstairs with me so I thought, ‘Why not?’” said Underdahl, who reached back-to-back Englishtown finals in 1998-99. “My last run was 14 years ago but I think I remembered how to do it.”

At 645 pounds, Underdahl was well over the 600-pound class minimum and he was using a small displacement 1,500cc engine yet he still managed a best of 7.49 at over 174-mph.

“All of my runs were straight down the track and that’s what I’m most happy about,” Underdahl said. “I could have run quicker if my bike was a bit lighter and I didn’t have a vacuum pump on this bike so that’s probably another tenth.”

Underdahl has qualified to re-activate his NHRA competition license, but he has no current plans to compete in a race. Currently, Underdahl and partner Gary Stoffer are fielding four bikes for riders Karen Stoffer, Scotty Pollacheck, Joey Gladston, and newcomer Kelly Klontz. Next year, Underdahl and Stoffer plan to expand to five bikes when Underdahl’s son, Jimmy, returns to the tour.

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Kelly ClontzThe latest rookie rider to graduate from the Underdahl/Stoffer School of Pro Stock Motorcycle racing is Maryland-based Kelly Clontz, who made a splash in her debut with a 6.914 in Q1. Clontz, has been racing a motorcycle for the last 15-years, and recently ran in the 6.8s in testing so her performance in Englishtown was not completely unexpected.

“That was exciting,” said Clontz. “I’ve been waiting a long time to make that first run at a national event and if finally happened. I couldn’t be happier. I made some runs in my bike with an old four-valve engine and ran 7.26 and then last week Gary [Stoffer, crew chief] flew in with our new Vance & Hines engine and we ran 6.89. That was great for my confidence.”

Clontz isn’t sure how many races she’ll compete in this year, but he’s tempted to limit her appearances to just four in order to preserve her rookie eligibility for the 2018 season.

“That [rookie of the year] has crossed my mind, but if we’re having fun and we have the budget I might be tempted to keep going.”

 

PHOTOS

PM
Pro Mod owner/driver Harry Hruska took a wild ride during qualifying when a broken transmission line created a rolling smoke bomb inside his turbocharged Camaro. Even with his vision limited, Hruska did an admirable job of keeping the car straight other than nudging the guardwall as he slowed to a stop. (animated gif)
Sportsman
As always, the staging lanes at Raceway Park were filled with some of the East Coast's best Sportsman racers.
Harley official
The Vance & Hines/Screamin' Eagle team officially unveiled their new Harley-Davidson Street Rod Pro Stock Motorcycles prior to the first qualifying session.
JDRL
The NHRA Summit Jr. Drag Racing League was launched 25 years ago at this event. A large group of Jr. racers are on hand to take part in what will be a weekend-long celebration of the anniversary.
Erica Enders
Looking more like a drifting pilot than a Pro Stock driver, Epping champ Erica Enders smoked her way through a wild, sideways burnout prior to her first qualifying pass in the Elite Chevy,
Jets
The evening closed with the jet dragsters of Elaine Larsen and Dewayne Hill thrilling the Raceway Park crowd with their fire-breathing passes.

FRIDAY PREVIEW


Brittany Force

Brittany Force’s win last weekend in Epping probably has the rest of the Top Fuel field looking over their shoulders as a car that hasn’t been much of a, well, force since Gainesville is once again a monster after endless toiling, fixing, experimenting, and tinkering by crew chief Brian Husen and Alan Johnson. Four eliminations runs between 3.71 and 3.75 got the job done in New England and made her the season’s fifth winner. Antron Brown, whom she edged in the Epping final, will have big incentive to take back the mantle at the track he calls home as he continues to close on seasonlong points leader Leah Pritchett.


Matt Hagan

Matt Hagan also made it back to the winner’s circle in Epping to regain the early season edge that carried his Mopar Express Lane Charger to victories at the first two events of the season. Hagan’s win snapped Ron Capps’ four-race win streak, but Capps is the defending event champ, so obviously crew chief Rahn Tobler knows how to win in E-Town. Hagan, Capps, and third teammate Tommy Johnson Jr, have accounted for eight of the season’s nine wins, with only John Force breaking up the party; Force has four career wins here, but none since 1999.


Erica Enders

Last week, the Pro Stock class featured it’s seventh different winner in the first nine events when Erica Enders ended her long winless drought. Could there be an eighth different winner in Englishtown? If there is an eighth winner, five-time champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. Two other notable candidates are Drew Skillman and Vincent Nobile, who is pulling double duty this weekend behind the wheel of Vinny Barone’s Comp Eliminator entry. At the front of the pack, Bo Butner currently holds a 35-point lead over rookie Tanner Gray, who is coming off a frustrating loss last week in Epping. Both Butner and Gray are looking to become the season’s first three-time winner.


L.E. Tonglet

After a month off, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class returns to action in Englishtown where 2010 world champ LE Tonglet will attempt to win his third-straight race. Tonglet and teammate Jerry Savoie raced in the most recent final in Atlanta and their Suzuki entries have been the dominant bikes so far this season. Also in Englishtown, Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson riders Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines will debut their new Street Rod bikes. The Street Rod is a replacement for the V-Rod entries that combined to win 85 races and eight world championships. Finally, last weekend, Hector Arana Sr. recorded a 200-mph speed at an independent event in Maryland. The Pro Stock Motorcycle class has been chasing the 200-mph barrier for the better part of a decade and Friday’s two qualifying sessions might offer favorable conditions.

2016 EVENT WINNERS
Steve Torrence, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock, Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST VICTORIES:
Greg Anderson,7, PS; Kenny Bernstein, 7, (4 FC, 3 TF); Joe Amato, 6, TF; Larry Dixon, 6, TF; Don Prudhomme, 6, FC; John Force, 4, FC; Jeg Coughlin, 4,PS; Bob Glidden, 4, PS; Warren Johnson, 4, PS; John Myers, 4, PSM; Dave Schultz, 4, PSM. 

TRACK RECORDS:
Top Fuel
3.725 sec. by Antron Brown, June ’15; 
329.91 mph by Massey, June ’12

Funny Car
3.870 sec. by Ron Capps, June ‘16
326.71 by Matt Hagan, June 16. 

Pro Stock
6.464 sec. by Erica Enders, June ’14.
215.55 mph by Erica Enders, June ’14.

Pro Stock Motorcycle
6.747 sec. by Eddie Krawiec, June ’14; 
199.37 mph by Hector Arana Jr., June ’15.
 
NATIONAL RECORDS:
Top Fuel

3.658 sec. by Leah Pritchett, Feb. ‘17, Phoenix; 
333.66 mph by Brittany Force, May '17, Topeka, Kan.

Funny Car
3.802 by Matt Hagan, May ’17, Topeka, Kan.
338.85 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’17, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock
6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.;
215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.

Pro Stock Motorcycle
6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.