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Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Saturday Notebook

Billy Torrence earned his first career No. 1 qualifier, while Robert Hight held onto the Funny Car pole at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Erica Enders grabbed the Pro Stock pole, as did Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
18 Aug 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Brainerd Hero

Preview | Features | Results

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

hectorjr.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (1 p.m.): For the second straight session, performance rivals Hector Arana Jr. and Eddie Krawiec ran the exact same e.t. – this time a 6.904 – and again Arana earned the additional bonus point thanks to his superior speed, 196.22 to 194.91. Neither of them was able to surpass Matt Smith’s Friday-leading 6.852; Smith slowed this session to a 6.954, only good for the seventh-best of the round after dominating both sessions Friday. Andrew Hines got the final session bonus point with a 6.921 after his Harley initially lost fire on the line, then was finally restarted.

erica3.JPGPRO STOCK Q3 (1:15 p.m.): As she did in Q2 Friday, Erica Enders had the best run of the opening session Saturday, a 6.610 that was only a thousandth of a second slower and shows the consistency of her Elite Camaro as she seeks her first No. 1 qualifying effort since the 2015 season. Chris McGaha again was second best and remains No. 2 on the qualifying sheets after a Friday-matching 6.613 while defending event champ Tanner Gray posted a 6.615 to jump to the No. 5 spot in the field.

torrence.JPGTOP FUEL Q3 (1:45 p.m.): After failing to even crack 100 mph on either run Friday, points leader Steve Torrence reasserted himself and the Capco Contractors team with a 3.786 to lead the lead and the field. The next best e.t. of the round was shared by three drivers as Tony Schumacher, Billy Torrence, and Leah Pritchett all ran 3.818 but were ranked in that order due to their respective speeds of 326.87, 325.53, and 323.04 mph, meaning that Pritchett missed out on any session bonus points. The first 11 cars are all qualified in the 3.80s or better with one session to go.

hight2.JPGFUNNY CAR Q3 (2:15 p.m.): Already leading the field with his Friday passes of 3.971 and 3.989, Robert Hight stuck another dagger into their hearts with an even-better 3.959 to solidify his No. 1 qualifying effort. Tim Wilkerson inched his way into the Countdown to the Championship top 10 Wilk entered the event three points behind 10th-place Bob Tasca III and picked up two points Friday and then two more in Q3 with a 3.991 that moved him to third in the field, behind Hight and Matt Hagan (3.990 from Friday). Shawn Langdon had the session’s third-best pass with a 4.013.

matt3.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q4 (3:54 p.m.): Matt Smith snagged his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and his first on his brand-new EBR body on the back of the first quarter-mile pull he made on the new piece. Smith made a strong pull in Q4 (6.877) and scored three bonus points but did not improve on the 6.852 that scored him his second green hat of the season. He’ll race Jim Underdahl in the first round of eliminations Sunday and could meet up with his wife, Angie Smith, in the second round if she takes out former champion LE Tonglet in her first-round matchup. 

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Matt Smith vs. Jim Underdahl; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Eddie Krawiec vs. Ryan Oehler; Andrew Hines vs. Karen Stoffer; Jerry Savoie vs. Steve Johnson; Mark Paquette vs. Hector Arana; Joey Gladstone vs. Angelle Sampey; Angie Smith vs. LE Tonglet.

kramer.JPGPRO STOCK Q4 (4:10 p.m.): Deric Kramer was the star of the final session of factory hot rods, charting a 6.613 with the American Ethanol Camaro to earn three bonus points. Alex Laughlin, who had earned bonus points in two of the previous three session with his Chevy-powered Dodge Dart hybrid, earned some more with a second-best 6.623 with a consistent Greg Anderson (previous times of two 6.626s and a 6.627) third best of the session with a 6.629. There’s going to be some interesting first-round pairings with Anderson facing longtime rival Jeg Coughlin Jr. and teammates Tanner Gray and Dave Connolly squaring off.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Erica Enders vs. David River; Chris McGaha vs. Mark Hogan; Alex Laughlin vs. Alan Prusiensky; Bo Butner vs. Fernando Cuadra; Tanner Gray vs. Dave Connolly; Deric Kramer vs. Vincent Nobile; Jason Line vs. Drew Skillman; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Greg Anderson

oldbill.JPGTOP FUEL Q4 (5 p.m.): Billy Torrence, competing in just his sixth race of the season and his first since early June, collected his first career No. 1 qualifying spot after racing his Capco Contractors dragster to a 3.784 to steal the top spot from his son, points leader Steve Torrence, by just .002-second. Brittany Force had the session’s next-best pass, a 3.804, while Steve-o was next with a 3.809.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Billy Torrence vs. Terry Totten; Steve Torrence vs. Bill Litton; Antron Brown vs. Luigi Novelli; Clay Millican vs. Chris Karamesines; Mike Salinas vs. Doug Kalitta; Brittany Force vs. Richie Crampton; Tony Schumacher vs. Terry McMillen; Leah Pritchett vs. Scott Palmer

DSC_2457.JPGFUNNY CAR Q4 (5:30 p.m.): Seattle champ Ron Capps joined the three-second brigade with a 3.969 that was the quickest pass of the final session but not good enough to get around race-long qualifying leader Robert Hight, whose Q3 3.959 finished atop the pack, all of which were qualified at 4.081 or quicker (Jonnie Lindberg on the bump spot), making it one of the quickest Funny Car fields in NHRA history. Hight wasn’t the quickest of the session but his 3.994 was still worth two points and was his fourth straight three-second pass in qualifying. Tommy Johnson Jr. made his best run, a 4.003, for the final bonus point and the No. 5 spot in the field.

First-round pairings (lane choice first): Robert Hight vs. Jonnie Lindberg; Ron Capps vs. Cruz Pedregon; Matt Hagan vs. Jack Beckman; Tim Wilkerson vs. Courtney Force; vs. Del Worsham; Shawn Langdon vs. Bob Tasca III; Jim Campbell vs. John Force; J.R. Todd vs. Bob Bode
 

M_Smith.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE NO. 1 QUALIFIER MATT SMITH: "The bike is working well so far. We tried something a little bit different in Q3 and the bike bogged real bad, so we went back in Q4 and changed some things and we ended up running low e.t. of the round again. Overall this new EBR is pretty fast. We have a good package right now and we should be fast tomorrow. I just can’t say enough about the little people that are helping us right now from Elite Performance to Matt Stockseth to Denso to Lucas Oil. 

"We have a very fast bike and we should be very fast going into the Countdown. The top 10 know that I’m here to play. We started the year with a DNQ on someone else’s bike and right now we’re in the No. 6 spot."

E_Enders.JPGPRO STOCK NO. 1 QUALIFIER ERICA ENDERS: "It’s definitely been a long road for us since our back-to-back championships which we capped off in 2015. The Dodge stuff for us in 2016 was a struggle and then we were just getting our feet wet again in 2017. Obviously I’ve got the one win this year in six final rounds but really my whole team from Jeg, Alex and Vincent have gotten it done this year. It was exciting to get the green hat for my team, though, they were really excited about it. That means a lot to me. 

On her Racepak computer being fixed for Q3: "Today we had data both runs. It ended up being a bad SD card, just like the crappy little thing you put inside of your camera. I kind of joked with my crew chief that we run better without a computer because we ran better yesterday, but he does a great job just like my entire team does."

B_Torrence.JPGTOP FUEL NO. 1 QUALIFIER BILLY TORRENCE: “I just knew that (Steve Torrence) would come around me, but he just didn’t make it that time. It felt real good to get the No. 1 qualifier. It’s a big deal for that Capco team to be No. 1 and No. 2 in qualifying. That’s Capco strong right there. We intend to do that exact same deal in the finals tomorrow. We want to have a pair of Capco cars going head to head. 

“The car that I have under me is a pretty cool deal, but it also puts some pressure under me because I have such a great team over there with Dom and Walt and all them. I just don’t want to be the weak link.”

R_Hight.JPGFUNNY CAR NO. 1 QUALIFIER ROBERT HIGHT: (Crew chief) Jimmy Prock thought we were going to be able to improve in the third qualifying session, which is what we ended up doing. I’m actually surprised that others didn’t improve during that session. Conditions were good, but we got all but one point in qualifying and I’m pretty jazzed. This is the time of year that you have to have your stuff together and it seems like we do. 

On being consistently fast: “That’s what this is all about. We were No. 1 here last year but didn’t get the win, so we have to go a step further this year. I think without a doubt we’re better at this point than we were a year ago. We were on our way last year, but we’re in a really good spot right now.

Saturday recap: Billy Torrence secures first Top Fuel No. 1, while Robert Hight, Erica Enders and Matt Smith go to the top. 

FEATURES

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Mike Salinas trails 10th-place racer Scott Palmer by 30 points with two races remaining to make up ground before the Countdown to the Championship begins. A great weekend at the CatSpot NHRA Northwest Nationals in Seattle put Salinas within striking distance and showed how dangerous the Scrappers Racing team can be when it has all its ducks in a row. 

That’s what Salinas wants his team to do every time it shows up at the track. At this point, that high-watermark performance has been seen only in flashes. While Salinas picked up three bonus points in the third qualifying session in Seattle and reached the semi’s, the dragster makes it down the strip quicker than 4 seconds in fewer than 50 percent of its runs. When it does, it averages an e.t. of 3.829 seconds. That’s quicker than Scott Palmer, but slower than the class average e.t. (3.822). 

“We’re coming here to run, we’re not messing around,” said Salinas. “If we’re not No. 1, we’re not okay with our performance. We’re doing better, but the damn car has so much performance in it. It’s crazy and it’s going to be good. Today we want to go faster, and we want to get up to the No. 1 position.”

“I’m working on my reaction times and on my driving, too. I need to get consistent on my end. I’m very calm and relaxed. We just need to go do our jobs and have some fun. That’s honestly what we’re here to do is to go and have some fun. This is my first time racing in Brainerd and we’d like to take a trophy home.”

Salinas enters the third qualifying session qualified No. 3 with a 3.797 hit, just .008 second slower than No. 1 qualifier Antron Brown. He’s reached one final round this year and it feels like a matter of time before he makes it into another one. 

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Del Worsham earned his fifth round win of the season at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals with a 3-second run, his first since the pass that qualified him for the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals. That turned heads for a couple of reasons. Not only did Worsham defeat Funny Car points leader Courtney Force, it also signaled a return to form for the veteran tuner/driver. 

“The car is running a whole lot better,” said Worsham. “I have a car that I bring out with the expectation I can win now. I’m not coming here half cocked anymore, so it’s kind of in our hands now.” 

Worsham is sitting on the bump spot with a 4.495-second run, which he attributes to a bit mistake made during Friday qualifying. That should be corrected, and he hopes to power his Lucas Oil Toyota Camry into the field in the third qualifying session. 

“I went back to my old timers, the old pneumatic stuff,” said Worsham. “You have to shut one off when you open one because there’s an overlap period there. Well, I had three of them open at once and that messed the whole thing up. Up to the 300-foot mark it was exactly the same run as that 3-second run I made in Sonoma. So, if I can get it off the line today I should be okay.”

The starting line at Brainerd International Raceway has given some spectacular numbers thus far, so expect Worsham to move up off the bump spot in the third qualifying session. If he doesn’t, he’ll be back to make another hit in Q4. 

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Tim Wilkerson entered the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals just three points out of a Countdown to the Championship spot. That’s a good news / bad news situation for the owner / tuner of the Levi Ray and Shoup Funny Car. It helps that Wilkerson and assistant crew chief Tim Hartman have the flopper running significantly better as of late, and two of the first three passes at Brainerd International Raceway have been in the 3-second range. 

A car that couldn’t find a 3-second run with a sonar to start the season is now qualified in the top half of the field and looks like a threat to win a race. That says a lot about Wilkerson’s odds of qualifying for the Countdown yet again. To do so, he’ll have to at least outrace current No. 10 racer Bob Tasca III, which will be no easy task at this point of the season. 

“We have a better car now than we did at this time last year,” said Wilkerson. “It's really responding well, and it's listening. I've been saying that the train is on the track and everyone knows it, so we're going to Brainerd to do as well as we did in Seattle, if not better, and it's just going to continue to get better from here. We have a good car, and we've had some good races.”

He’s getting down the track quicker than 4.2 seconds 50.6 percent of the time at an average elapsed time of 4.051 seconds. That’s slower than the class average (4.028) but Wilkerson is moving in the right direction over the past five races, which is important as the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis approach. At the very least, Wilkerson is going to be in contention the rest of the season. For now, that’s a start. 

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Erica Enders earned three bonus points and the provisional No. 1 qualifier position in Pro Stock despite a malfunctioning Racepak computer during Friday qualifying. That’s more impressive than it might sound to the uninitiated. Enders made the fifth-best run, a 6.627, in the first qualifying session. When the Chevy Camaro arrived back at the pits the team found none of the data from the run had been recorded. 

“It records all of our data, so my crew chief (Rick Jones), had to tune my braille, as he calls it,” said Enders. 

That worked out just fine for the Melling Performance team, as Enders picked up nearly two hundredths of a second on her second pass and snatched the No. 1 qualifying spot from Chris McGaha. The computer didn’t work on the second pass either, which is a problem moving forward, but the team can take some pride from the work they did between sessions to get the Camaro pointed in the right direction. 

“All our crew chiefs work together, but it doesn’t help (in a situation like this) because it’s not the same data that my car gets,” Enders said. “So, we watch a ton of footage and then go by what they see when I leave the starting line. That’s kind of the most crucial thing as far as wheel speed is concerned. Then it’s me hitting me that 1-2 gear change, it’s getting the front end up, all those things. They did a lot of watching and I did a lot of explaining about what I was feeling in the car.”

The vast experience of Jones and Enders working together helped get the duo on the same page in time for a run that currently has the two-time world champ on the top of the heap. Now she’ll see if she can get her first No. 1 qualifier since 2015. 

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Even Alex Laughlin was surprised by the great pair of runs his Chevy-powered Dodge Dart made during Friday qualifying. The Elite Motorsports racer ran a 6.625 in Q1 and bettered that by making a 6.613 in Q2 to land in the No. 3 position, behind Chris McGaha only on speed. That’s the kind of performance the team was hoping for when they borrowed a Dart body from the Kramers ahead of the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. 

“When I got to the end and I was told what my time was in Q1 it didn’t really mean anything to me because I’ve only raced here one time, so I didn’t know if that was going to be a good or bad time,” said Laughlin. “But when that held up for No. 3 in the session I knew we had a race car again.”

All of Laughlin’s experience in a Pro Stocker has come in a Camaro, so the biggest adjustment in those two runs came inside the seat. 

“I felt comfortable going into it, I’ve driven a lot of different stuff so I’m kind of used to that uncomfortable feeling,” said Laughlin. “It was definitely weird after I got strapped in and everything and that’s when it hit. I’m pulling up to do my burnout and I stab the line lock and I’m thinking, ‘crap where’s the pressure gauge? Oh, there it is.’ Because it’s in a different spot. Then, I’m looking for the tack. The only thing is it’s tougher to see out of the Dart than the Camaro.”

The review on the car overall is glowing, though. Laughlin says for the first time in a long time, he feels excited about the rest of the weekend. Crew chief Marc Ingwersen didn’t take much time to get acclimated with the combination machine, and while it might be a longshot for Laughlin to get into the Countdown to the Championship he can at least chase his first win of the season. 

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tonglet.JPGExcuse LE Tonglet if he isn’t up for high fives or handshakes this weekend. The winner of the most recent stop on the Pro Stock Motorcycle tour is a little under the weather right now. That doesn’t mean he’s not ready to go racing, far from it. Despite a couple of so-so passes on Friday, Tonglet is confident the Nitro Fish Suzuki will be ready to go on Sunday. 

“I honestly don’t worry that much about qualifying,” said Tonglet. “By the time race day rolls around, we’ll be ready to go.”

Tonglet earned his third-straight win at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals and now sits 78 points behind Andrew Hines in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings. That’s well within striking distance of the top spot before the Countdown to the Championship begins. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, of course, given how well the Harley-Davidson rider has performed this season. 

“It seems like I’m the only one who can get by Eddie (Krawiec) this year,” said Tonglet. “It’s tough to pick up points when they’re making it to the semi’s every race.” 

To get to Hines, Tonglet has to pass by Krawiec. Tonglet pointed out his performance in Indy matters even more than his racing in Brainerd thanks to the points-and-a-half on the table at the U.S. Nationals. Still, getting back to the final (and winning) at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals wouldn’t hurt Tonglet’s chances of entering the Countdown in pole position. 

It would also (probably) help Tonglet feel a little better. Well, it can’t hurt, anyway. 

PREVIEW

Racers left Brainerd International Raceway on Friday feeling there was more left on the table. The good news is there are two more qualifying sessions available with similar conditions at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals for teams to take advantage of. 

A_Brown.JPGAntron Brown picked up right where he left off after winning at the last stop on tour in Seattle. The three-time Top Fuel champion made a 3.789-second hit to gain the provisional No. 1 spot by a thousandth of a second over Clay Millican. Those three bonus points mean a lot to Brown, who may not be running for the No. 1 seed but is certainly looking to move up the standings before points lock following the U.S. Nationals. 

R_Hight.JPGCurrent Funny Car No. 1 Robert Hight has the same mindset. He might not catch Courtney Force, but he can still make up ground in the Funny Car standings before the end of the U.S. Nationals. Hight made two solid runs (3.971, 3.989) but felt there was more in the track during the second qualifying session. Conditions won’t get that good again on Saturday, but crew chief Jimmy Prock certainly can find more in the Auto Club Chevy Camaro. 

E_Enders.JPGErica Enders made a huge improvement from the first session to the second session despite problems with her Racepak computer throughout the first day of qualifying. Her 6.609-second pass has her .004 second ahead of Chris McGaha and teammate Alex Laughlin, who’s running a Dodge Dart with a Chevy engine for the first time this season. Enders is chasing her first No. 1 qualifier since the 2015 Norwalk event and her second victory of the season. She’s on the right track – but getting the Racepak working wouldn’t hurt, either. 

M_Smith.jpgMatt Smith debuted a brand-new EBR to great effect Friday, setting the track speed record with a hit of 198.47 mph and a pair of runs at 6.852 and 6.854 seconds. He holds a solid two-hundredths lead on the Pro Stock Motorcycle field heading into Saturday and the confidence he can go even quicker. That’s great news for Smith, and troubling for the rest of the class. Still, riders from Hector Arana Jr. to the Harley-Davidson duo of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines all felt they underestimated the track during the second qualifying session. That means they’re expecting to step up Saturday.