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NHRA New England Nationals Friday Notebook

Leah Pritchett leads Top Fuel qualifying in Epping, while Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson also hold Friday poles at the NHRA New England Nationals.
06 Jul 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Epping

Preview | Features | Photos | Results

QUALIFYING ROUND RESULTS

2018_Anderson_Greg_Action.JPGPRO STOCK Q1 (4:37 p.m.): Greg Anderson still hasn’t won a race this season, but his string of strong qualifying attempts appears to be intact after he posted a 6.580 to lead the pack after the first round of qualifying in Epping. Anderson is seven-thousandths quicker than Erica Enders while Vincent Nobile was third-best of the round with a 6.592, 209.72. Norwalk winner Tanner Gray is also among the leaders after a solid 6.594, 209.56 in his Valvoline Camaro.

2018_Hight_Robert_Action_0.JPGFUNNY CAR Q1 (5:21 p.m.): Robert Hight made the only three-second run of the first round of Funny Car qualifying with a 3.979, 324.44 in his Auto Club Camaro. Hight’s reward is not only three bonus qualifying points but also the right to be the last car in line during tonight’s second qualifying run. Hight leads the field over Norwalk winner Matt Hagan, who posted a 4.012, 304.67 in his Sandvik Dodge while John Force is third after one run thanks to a 4.021, 316.30. Courtney Force, who has been the qualifying leader at six of the last seven events, broke the tires loose at half-track and slowed to a 6.71 in her Advance Auto Parts Camaro.

palmer.JPGTOP FUEL Q1 (5:50 p.m.): They don’t hand out Wallys after the first round of qualifying, but Scott Palmer will certainly be pleased with finishing in the No. 1 spot with a 3.83-second pass. That earns the CatSpot Kitty Litter team three bonus points with another session to go on Friday. With that said, the session will not be winning any beauty contests as only five dragsters made runs quicker than four seconds and, as you’ve deduced, none in the 3.70s. So, there’s certainly room for improvement in the evening session. Clay Millican (3.869) and Terry McMillen (3.872) also earned bonus points while Steve Torrence is at the bottom of the field. 

vinny.JPGPRO STOCK Q2 (7:33 p.m.): As expected, there was significant improvement across the board in Pro Stock with ten runs that were quicker than the 6.580 that Greg Anderson used to lead the first session. One thing that did not change was the top spot after Anderson blistered the New England Dragway clocks with a 6.517, 211.73 to secure the provisional top spot. Anderson scored all six qualifying bonus points available on Friday and he is trailed by Vincent Nobile, who ran a 6.528, 211.20 in the Mountain View Camaro. Erica Enders, the defending event winner in Epping, is also in the top three with a 6.535, 211.03. The top eight qualifiers are also quicker than Drew Skillman’s 6.553.

hagan.JPGFUNNY CAR Q2 (7:59 p.m.): Matt Hagan finished the first session as the No. 2 qualifier in the Funny Car field but dominated the second with a 3.932, 322.04 to claim the provisional pole on Friday night. Hagan was one of six drivers to run in the three second zone including teammates Jack Beckman and Ron Capps, as well as Shawn Langdon, John Force, and Q1 leader Robert Hight. The biggest surprise of the day involves Courtney Force, who has been the top qualifier eight times in the first 12 races. Force did not get to the finish line under power on either of her runs and begins Saturday’s qualifying as the No. 10 seed.

leah.JPGTOP FUEL ROUND 2 (8:51 p.m.): Leah Pritchett stepped up in a big way to earn three points and move into the No. 1 spot with a 3.742-second pass. The driver of the Mopar Top Fueler was followed closely by Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher (3.744) and friendly rival Steve Torrence (3.756). Things didn’t go so well for her other teammate, Antron Brown, who’s down all the way on the bump spot with a 6.5 time. Scott Palmer made another solid run (3.803), picking up three-hundredths of a second and staying in the quick half of the field. Both Brittany Force and Clay Millican bounced back with a couple of strong passes to get into the top five. 

G_Anderson.JPGPRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER GREG ANDERSON: “It was nice way to start. We all watched the weather and we knew it was going to rain but it was going to stop by two or three o’clock. By the time we ran my crew chief said the humidity was going to start dropping like a rock and it did. We came out on the first run and the humidity kept diving and diving and when that happens you get what we call perfect conditions for a Pro Stock car. When you get those conditions, you had better be on your game and you had better hope you brought enough to the starting line. I made a really, really nice run. I honestly felt like we got all we could get there. It's not very often a driver gets out of a car and says that was a perfect run we got all we could get. I don’t think we’re gonna find much wrong when we go back to look at the computer.

“Qualifying is important. You want to set yourself up as best you can on the ladder to give you the best shot on Sunday. No. 1 is going to be the best spot. We’re as good as we can be on the ladder. Bottom line is that on Sunday we have to execute. We’re going to get it right. It’s just a matter of time. We need to stop making the mistakes we’ve made all year. It’s a knock-down drag-out brawl out there.”


M_Hagan.JPGFUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER MATT HAGAN: “It all starts with going down the track on Q1 being in the back of the pack on Friday night. Coming off that race win two weeks ago in Ohio we brought some of that confidence over here. So far, we’re just building on it. It feels good. On that run, it was loose and loose is fast. I could feel the rear-end coming around. I thought if I touch it right now it will knock the tires loose. It’s just a seat of the pants feel. I felt like we got a lot of it early. The bottom line is that we got all of it. It was a good run and we’ve got something to work off of. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

“These things are very humbling. You appreciate it for what it is. There are a lot of ups and downs with this stuff and not a lot of in-between. The thing that’s important is that we’ve hit our stride. We tested a new body on Monday and it went really well. We’re jumping up and down about Force’s headers. They have an advantage right now. With our bodies, we can’t lay them back the way we want to. With this new bodies we’ll be able to make those changes. They have a huge competitive advantage over the rest of the field where now we’ll get back to a level playing field. As good as our car is running right now with what we’ve got, I think there’s only good things to come in the future.”

L_Pritchett.JPGTOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER LEAH PRITCHETT: "We've been looking forward to this. That last ride was wild. It was really made up of a lot of last minute decisions from coming up to the water box and watching the cars go down the track in front of us to the ever-changing conditions and all that. It's really having that full level of confidence that once you see the crew chief make changes to the car that I get more confidence myself to do my job. It's just about flickering the bulb to death so I can the lowest elapsed time possible."

"The thing about the first low session is that we had the best 60 foot and 330 foot time (even though we smoked the tires), and that's a situation we haven't been in for awhile. It's been about four races since we had a good Q1 and a lot of changes have been made coming into this race. So, I reacted on the track the same way anyone would. During Q2 the car was sucking towards the inside of the track and I reacted the same way anyone would: I stayed with it as long as I could. It could have been a few thousandths quicker but I'm still very happy with that run. 

FEATURES

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Kalitta Motorsports got a strong start to the 2018 season, winning four of the first 10 Nitro Wallys, but has failed to get into the Winner’s Circle since J.R. Todd won in Houston. His win at the NHRA Springnationals made him a back-to-back Funny Car winner at the fifth race of the season, but the following seven races have been less kind to the Kalitta contingent. 

Doug Kalitta hopes to turn things around at the New England NHRA Nationals, a track Kalitta Motorsports is looking to win at for the first time. The veteran racer opened the season with a win at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals and still sits in fourth place. He’s looking for his first No. 1 qualifier at the Epping track, which would be the 50th in his career. 

“I am really excited to get to Epping,” said Kalitta. “The fans always pack the place out and the racing is great. My Mac Tools team is ready for a rebound and we are looking for a solid race this weekend.”

Kalitta drives the ninth-quickest dragster based on elapsed time average (3.819). That’s just a little slower than the Top Fuel class average (3.812), but the driver of the Mac Tools Dragster gets down the track 80 percent of the time. That’s well above average (52.3 percent) compared to his fellow Top Fuel competitors. 

Still, that hasn’t turned into race-day results for Kalitta as of late. He lost in the first round in Norwalk and the second round in Bristol. Kalitta reached the final in Richmond, but lost to Steve Torrence, his third final of the season. He’ll look to get his second win of the year in Epping. 

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Brittany Force reasserted herself by winning the NHRA Springnationals Top Fuel Wally in Houston. The numbers also indicate the 2017 Top Fuel champion has returned to her winning ways following her season-opening wreck at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals. But sitting eight place in the standing halfway through the season isn’t where Force and the Monster Energy team want to be. 

“We are determined to step up our game and keep moving up that ladder,” said Force. “We qualify well but have been struggling on race day. After some testing in Norwalk this team is feeling confident going into the rest of the season and ready to bring home another win.”

Force’s average elapsed time (3.78) is third best in the class, just .002 second behind class leading Steve Torrence. Another thousandth of a second separates Torrence, Tony Schumacher and Force. That’s how tight the game is right now at the top of the Top Fuel table. The difference is consistency, an area Force isn’t exactly a slouch in. 

The Monster Energy car is getting down the track about 54 percent of the time, just behind the 62 percent mark Torrence and Schumacher enjoy. That’s been enough to keep Force from picking up those extra rounds on race day. That’s why Schumacher has steadily moved up the standings while Force is stuck near the bottom of the table. 

“Our 2018 season definitely got off to a rough start after wrecking at the opening race of the season. While I recovered for two weeks between races, my Monster Energy team went to work with our (Force American Made) shop in Indy to build a new car,” Force said. “Our teams take the entire off season for a project like that, but these boys got the job done just four races later and, when we debuted our new car in Houston, we took it all the way to the winner’s circle.”

That difficulty is worth acknowledging. While the worst of that change is likely behind Force and company, some of the inconsistency they’re experiencing may come down to new pipe. Time will tell. 

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Audrey Worm didn’t have the weekend she wanted in Norwalk, but the racer who recently signed on with Edelbrock showed up to Epping with her usual enthusiasm. That comes as little surprise given the progress she’s made this season both on the track and off of it. 

“This season has been great,” said Worm. “Well, breaking the input shaft on the clutch kind of stinks, but everybody came together and helped out on that. People offered to sell us the parts we needed, and we worked on it all this week and just finished it up today.”

Worm got her first round win of her career earlier this season and hopes to pick up more of those with more backing. She’s also looking to make the cut at more events while ultimately chasing the first win of her career. 

“This year we’re looking to qualify at more events and go to some more rounds,” she said. “We’d like to win a race obviously, but next year we’re looking to bump it up to more races and eventually be full time by 2020.”

Picking up that Edelbrock sponsorship was a big help in that department, and it’s making waves on social media, too. 

“Everyone’s been loving it so far,” said Worm. “They’ve been saying they want to buy shirts and get parts from Edelbrock and all this stuff on social media just because they’ve come on board, so that’s been a win-win for us for sure.”

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Robert Hight’s Auto Club Camaro is one of the quickest and fastest Funny Cars in the sport but anyone who knows crew chief Jimmy Prock should know that the car is constantly evolving. To that end, Hight’s team made major changes to their engine combination before the most recent race in Norwalk and they’re hoping to refine that combination at this week’s Epping events.

“We were running bigger cylinder heads, a different camshaft and a different supercharger to start the year because we were trying to go faster and set records,” Hight said. “Jimmy decided to go back to what we ran last year, the same stuff Courtney’s running right now, because with the NHRA’s new track prep, we just can’t run as hard as we want to."

Hight has three runner-up finishes this year in Pomona, Houston, and Topeka before winning his first event in Chicago. Despite his recent race day success, Hight is ready for more consistency throughout the weekend and is confident they’ll find now that they’ve adjusted.

“I have a lot of confidence because we ran this same combination all last year,” Hight said. “It’s not like we’re putting something foreign in there. [Brian] Corradi [co-crew of Courtney Force’s Advance Auto Parts Chevy] and those guys took what we had over the winter and that’s what they’ve been running. They’re going to be hard to catch but I don’t want them to slow down. We’re fourth now and we still have plenty of time before the Countdown.”

On Monday after Norwalk, Hight tested the old/new combination and was satisfied with the results.

“Testing went well,” he said. “We made several passes, had a chance to work on some things, and by the end of the day were happy with what we had.”

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Cruz Pedregon appeared to be off to the races following his slump-busting win at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals win in Charlotte. But since that race, which Pedregon followed by a semifinal exit at the seventh race of the season in Atlanta, the Snap-On Tools Toyota Camry has fallen down the standings. Pedregon arrives in Epping in 11th after failing to qualify in Norwalk. 

“We’ve kind of stumbled the fast few races, but I think we had a really good setup for the tracks that were around 100-120 degrees,” Pedregon said. “Then we went to the tracks that were around 140 degrees and it’s taken a little bit different setup. We’ve been working on it, but unfortunately we only got two shots in Norwalk last week (because of rain).”

“We of all people needed all four shots because we were changing things up. We just want a car that’s good in all heat cycles. Other than that we’re good.” 

The team picked up round wins in both Richmond and Bristol in spite of a body-destroying explosion at the Virginia NHRA Nationals. That left Pedregon with only two bodies: The Frankenstein body on his chassis right now, and a heavier show-car body in the trailer. 

“We’re still recovering a little bit from that explosion,” said Pedregon. “We’ve got two bodies that we’re mounting ourselves right now and we’re expecting to have at least one of those delivered to us in Denver.”

Those bodies, which will be similar to what Pedregon started this season with, should add a little bit of performance to the team. More importantly, Pedregon feels the Aaron Brooks-tuned race car is turning a corner after failing to qualify in Norwalk. Racers won’t have to contend with a 140-degree race track in Epping, but humidity will be a factor this weekend. 


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After a frustrating outing in Norwalk that resulted in his second DNQ of the season, Jonnie Lindberg boarded a plane and returned home to Europe for some much-needed rest.

“I needed a break,” Lindberg said. “We only got two runs in Norwalk and we shook the tires both times and because of that, we didn’t get to race on Sunday. It was good to go home for a few days and see my family but it wasn’t exactly a vacation because I was still at a dragstrip working.”

After leaving Norwalk, Lindberg first went to Finland for the latest round of the FIA European Drag Racing championships in Alastaro. He tunes several Pro Mod cars in Europe and his business, Lindberg Motorsports, imports parts for many other competitors around the world. After some family time in his native Sweden, Lindberg boarded a flight from Stockholm to Copenhagen to Boston. He arrived in Epping Wednesday evening.

“This is an East Coast race so the flights weren’t that long; I don’t really even feel tired,” said Lindberg. “It was great to get away but right now I’m focused on working with Jim [Head, team owner] to get this car right and start winning some rounds. We’ve had a tough time in the middle of the season but it’s not too late. We know that when this car make a good run it can be very competitive. We just need to get back to the point where we’re doing that consistently.”

Heading into Epping, Lindberg finds himself in 12th place, 65-points behind tenth-ranked Bob Tasca III. With six races remaining before the start of the Countdown to the Championship, Lindberg feels that he can make the top ten, but also admits that he has little room for error.

“I certainly can’t afford another DNQ,” he said. “I just need to win a few rounds; maybe a couple semifinals on the Western Swing. Indy is also points-and-a-half so we might need to take advantage of that. Top ten is always our goal. It’s the reason we’re out here.”

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While he’s still seeking his first round win of the season, John Gaydosh isn’t at all disappointed in the performance of his Pypes Performance Pro Stock Camaro. Since entering an engine leasing agreement with Chris McGaha and the Harlow Sammons team, Gaydosh has qualified solidly for each of the seven events he’s attended this season and the 6.59 he ran in Houston is comparable with some of the best runs of his career.

“The McGaha family has been a Godsend for me,” said Gaydosh. “Chirs and [dad] Lester have done everything they’ve said they were going to do and then some. Not only that, but they’ve also given me competitive power and for the first time in my career, I have a back-up. If I happen to hurt an engine, we’ve got another one that we can put in the car and it’s a competitive piece.”

Gaydosh has qualified either No. 13 or No. 14 at every event this season but he believes he’s capable of more. The biggest issue, he says, is getting his chassis adjusted to handle the newfound power of the Harlow Sammons engines.

“The power curve is so much different that we’ve had to make a lot of changes in the car,” said Gaydosh. “We’ve been changing [four-link] bars and clutch settings trying to find the sweet spot. At the last race in Norwalk, we made a big bar change right before the first round. I like the fact that they’re willing to work with me to make the car right. We literally had nothing to lose so we went for it.

“I’ve had a bunch of rounds where I’ve left on my opponent and just watched them drive by me,” said Gaydosh. “I want to be able to stay ahead of them. We’re making progress and more importantly, I’m having fun.”

 

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During his championship season in 2017, Bo Butner was never ranked lower than fourth at any point in the season and he was either first or second at the last 20 of 24 events. Butner won the 2018 season-opener in Pomona but he’s struggled since. Starting the second-half of the season, he is ranked No. 7 in what has become an increasingly competitive Pro Stock class. Despite the apparent differences, Butner isn’t the least bit concerned about his ability to defend his title.

“All of us have raced a long time, so you do know those times are going to come,” Butner said. “Nothing is forever, but as long as everybody is working to get better, everybody is great. We’re going to stick with it. The pressure makes you better. If you’re going to fold, it’s the wrong sport and the wrong class. We want to get back into being a top four car. We just have to get our car back and get back in a groove.

“That car, it’s the same car that won the championship so I know it’s there,” Butner said. “We have to find it, but we just have to get it back. Greg [Anderson] is running very good, but Jason [Line] and my car have struggled. It’s not a secret. You can see it in qualifying and in points. But the year is not even close to over. I think if you stay in the top six starting the Countdown you’ve got a shot.”

In addition to his Pomona win, Butner has a runner-up in Gainesville and he’s coming off a semifinal finish at the most recent event, the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk.

“Going to Epping, it’s a place that’s always packed and it’s a great fanbase,” Butner said. ‘They’re great people and they love this deal. The fun fans are what make it worth coming out to race. To have a competitive car that’s capable of winning it gives you a boost, and I want to get that before we go out West. You have to be capable and able to win, and that can make for a good month.”

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In addition to his 79-career wins and six NHRA championships, Jeg Coughlin Jr. has also won at least one national event title at 24 different facilities. Coughlin has won at each of the current events on the Mello Yello series tour except for Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, and New England Dragway. Coughlin missed his shot to win in Norwalk two weeks ago, but after winning two of the last four Pro Stock events, he figures he’s got a good shot to add another track this weekend.

Coughlin, along with Elite teammates Erica Enders, Vincent Nobile, and Matt Hartford, have combined to win half of the season’s first 12 events, including Coughlin's own triumphs in Chicago and Bristol. That’s a far cry from 2017, when Coughlin went winless and Elite drivers won just two events.
 
“We weathered a pretty long storm at Elite but the guys never gave up and they completely turned the tide beginning at this year's Gainesville race,” Coughlin said. “We've absolutely been on a tear ever since. Check the stats and you'll see there's been an Elite car in nine straight finals and we've all combined to win six races so it's definitely been a great stretch.”

If nothing else, the increased competitiveness has done wonders for Coughlin’s state of mind.
 
“It's exciting to pull into the track knowing you have a great chance of winning. It's still not easy by any stretch, but knowing you have the car underneath you to match the talent you have in the pits and back at the engine shop, that certainly gives you a lift. Two Pro Stock wins and a couple of quarterfinal finishes is not bad at all, and when you throw in the Super Comp trophy we earned [in Richmond] we have plenty of reasons to smile. It seems the biggest competition we're running into these days is our teammates so if we can figure out how to stay out of each other's way early in the day we can keep this incredible run alive.

“I'd love to get a win up here [in Epping],” Coughlin said.  “We have everything we need to get it done and it's my wife Samantha's birthday this weekend so we're already going to be in celebration mode.”

PHOTOS

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Jack Beckman salutes the crowd ahead of qualifying on Friday.

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There's never a dull moment during Top Fuel Harley racing. 

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CatSpot racing has its (cats) eye on you.

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James Maroney makes his Top Fuel debut. 

PREVIEW

The New England NHRA Nationals follow up the biggest marathon of the Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series schedule. So, consider this the closest thing to a respite teams get to a respite on tour this season because the Western Swing is just around the corner and the Countdown to the Championship looms large. Get comfortable, because one of the most intimate events in the United States is about to get under way.
 
S_Torrence.jpgAnd it’s an event Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence has yet to win. That’s not that surprising given the relative youth of the event and his career as a bona fide contender. Torrence enters every race as a favorite this year (perhaps the favorite, if we’re being honest), but Blake Alexander scored the most recent Wally on tour. He won’t be in Epping to go back-to-back, but Top Fuel looks a little more right now than it did when Torrence was loading Wally after Wally onto his jet and heading back to Kilgore. Still, every race feels like his to lose – even if it’s to a lesser degree.

C_Force.JPGThat’s also true for Courtney Force, to a point. The Advance Auto Parts team certainly has the points lead to back up that kind of talk as Force leads second-place racers Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan by a staggering 250 points. Beyond that, her wins haven’t been the wacky, wobbling tire-smoking type we’ve seen from the majority of the class this year. That’s not to smear what everyone else is doing – that’s to compliment the tuning of Brian Corradi and Dan Hood, and the driving of Force. It’s a long way from over, but it certainly looks like everyone has some work to do to catch up with the red Funny Car.

T_Gray.JPGIt didn’t take long for Tanner Gray to become a championship contender a year ago, so the second-year racer leading the points after 12 races doesn’t come as a huge shock. That is, if you forgot how rough the start of the season was for the Valvoline Pro Stock team. Yes, he won the third race of the season in Gainesville, but boy was it ugly (don’t take our word for it – as Gray). The rebound from Gray Motorsports is an under told story this season (sorry), but it won’t be if the rookie and crew chief Dave Connolly capture a title in their second year working together.