ELIMINATION ROUNDS RECAPS
TOP FUEL ROUND 1 (11:20 a.m.): There were quicker cars in the first round of Top Fuel, but nobody won a tighter race than Brittany Force. She beat Mike Salinas, who also gets tuning help from Alan Johnson, by .0001 second to move to the second round on her birthday. The defending champ will get lane choice against Antron Brown, who beat Clay Millican in the first stanza. Steve Torrence ran the quickest time in the first session, a 3.843-second run, while Tony Schumacher was a few hundredths behind him.
Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Leah Pritchett vs. Terry McMillen; Brittany Force vs. Antron Brown; Tony Schumacher vs. Richie Crampton; Steve Torrence vs. Shawn Reed
FUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (11:30 a.m.): The top eight qualifiers in Funny Car all advanced to round two with one notable exception. Tim Wilkerson, who struggled in qualifying, found his groove in the opening round and drove his Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang to a narrow 4.09 to 4.13 win over J.R. Todd’s DHL Toyota. Wilkerson wasn’t the only driver to find the 4.0s on a warm track. Low qualifier Matt Hagan set the pace with a 4.066 and DSR teammates Jack Beckman and Ron Capps also won with runs of 4.075 and 4.083, respectively. In the battle for the No. 10 spot in the points standings, John Force helped himself with a win against Jonnie Lindberg while Bob Tasca’s promising weekend came to an end when he lost a tire-smoking battle against world champ Robert Hight’s Auto Club Camaro.
Round two pairings (lane choice first): Ron Capps vs. Robert Hight; John Force vs. Shawn Langdon; Jack Beckman vs. Tim Wilkerson; Matt Hagan vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.
PRO STOCK ROUND 1 (11:55 a.m.): The first round of Pro Stock had a little bit of everything including upsets, red-lights, holeshots, and a thrilling moment for championship contender Tanner Gray. Gray left first against veteran Kenny Delco but his Gray Motorsports Camaro shook the tires. Gray managed to recover the run but flattened a right front tire at the finish line. He was able to get the car stopped without incident, but he was unable to catch Delco, who logged his first round win of the season. Several other drivers from the bottom half of the field also advanced including Chris McGaha, Matt Hartford, and Jason Line. The other drama came when Vincent Nobile’s parachute deployed on the burnout. The Mountain View crew, led by crew chief Brian “Lump” Self, got the chute repacked quickly and Nobile made what was then the best run of the round with a 6.551 to defeat Gaydosh. Erica Enders set the pace with a 6.537 in her win against Alan Pruisensky.
Round two pairings (lane choice first): Greg Anderson vs. Chris McGaha; Erica Enders vs. Matt Hartford; Drew Skillman vs. Kenny Delco; Vincent Nobile vs. Jason Line.
TOP FUEL ROUND 2 (1:16 p.m.): All three Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel Dragsters moved to the semifinals, but the quickest dragster was driven by points leader Steve Torrence. He made a 3.878-second pass to grab lane choice against a tough customer in Tony Schumacher. Teammates Leah Pritchett and Antron Brown will face off on the other side of the bracket as Brown looks to get healthy and Pritchett hopes to snag her second win of the season. All four winners got to the stripe quicker than 4 seconds as crew chiefs seemed to get the hang of New England Dragway.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Leah Pritchett vs. Antron Brown; Steve Torrence vs. Tony Schumacher
FUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (1:21 p.m.): Shawn Langdon made it to the semifinals for the fourth time this year and the first time since Topeka when he upset 16-time champ John Force in a thrilling 4.134 to 4.204 battle. Langdon will be joined by DSR drviers Matt Hagan and Ron Capps, and by Tim Wilkerson, who downed Jack Beckman in the best race of the round. Wilkerson drove to a 4.245 to hold off Beckman’s 4.252 by just a hundredth of a second. Capps and Langdon tied for low elapsed time of the round with 4.134-second efforts.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Ron Capps vs. Matt Hagan; Shawn Langdon vs. Tim Wilkerson
PRO STOCK ROUND 2 (1:35 p.m.): The second round of Pro Stock eliminations began with a good old fashioned pedal-fest after Drew Skillman and Kenny Delco both shook the tires on the starting line. Delco recovered more quickly and made it to the semifinals for the first time since the 2016 Englishtown event with an 8.308 to Skillman’s 10.430. Chris McGaha won his second-straight round on a holeshot when he banked .05-second against Greg Anderson and held on for a win, 6.585 to 6.574. Erica Enders and Vincent Nobile also moved on to the semifinal round.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Chris McGaha vs. Kenny Delco; Vincent Nobile vs. Erica Enders
TOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:37 p.m.): Antron Brown is back in a final for the second time this season and the first since the four-wide event in Las Vegas. That’s a long time for the former champion, who will meet one of his best friends in the sport and frequent on-track rival: Steve Torrence. It will be the 34th meeting between the two and Torrence has won the last three head-to-head matchups that have taken place in a final. Brown doesn’t get to pick the lane, but he’s got to be feeling good just to be back in familiar territory again.
FUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (2:42 p.m.): Matt Hagan will have a chance to win his third event of the season and second consecutive after beating teammate Ron Capps in a crucial semifinal round. Hagan is now 4-0 against Capps after a 4.114 to 4.122 win over the NAPA Dodge. Hagan also banked .02-second off the starting line. Hagan, who also won in Pomona and Norwalk, will take on a surprising Tim Wilkerson, who made it to the final for the first time this season with a 4.118 win over Shawn Langdon’s 4.144. Wilkerson, who sat out the fourth qualifying session after damaging an two engines, is in the final for the 40th time in his professional career and he’s got 20 wins and 19 runner-up finishes.
PRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (2:46 p.m.): After a pair of holeshot wins in the first two rounds, Chris McGaha’s magical weekend in Epping continued after Kenny Delco fouled. The race was decided early, and McGaha and Delco both coasted across the finish line after shaking the tires. McGaha will race defending Epping champ Erica Enders, who defeated her teammate, Vincent Nobile, 6.567 to 6.580. With her win over Nobile, Enders is now the leader in the Pro Stock standings.
LUCAS OIL SPORTSMAN RESULTS:
Final round results for all classes:
Anthony Bongiovanni def. Tom Boucher
Randi Lyn Shipp def. Howie Smith
Mike Robilotto def. Timmy Markoglu
Ken Bowers def. Justin Lopes
Peter Maduri def. Bryan Sawyer
Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs.com
Debby DiGenova def. Rebecca Miller
Top Sportsman presented by Racing RVs.com
Dave Testa def. Brian Conrey
Pro Stock Sled
Tiina Duncanson def. Brian Garbus
MICKEY THOMPSON TOP FUEL HARLEY (3:39 p.m.):
Doug Vancil def. Jay Turner
PRO STOCK FINAL (3:42p.m.): Chris McGaha’s magical run through the Pro Stock field in Epping culminated with the seventh national event win of his career and second this season after Erica Enders red-lighted in the final. McGaha won the first two rounds on holeshots against Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Greg Anderson, and then coasted to a win over Kenny Delco in the semi’s. In the final, he ran a 6.570, well behind Enders’ 6.549. McGaha drove his Harlow Sammons Camaro to a win at the second event of the season in Phoenix but had struggled recently with round one losses in three of the last five events. McGaha has now solidified his spot in the top ten with five events remaining before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin in Reading. Enders, looking to defend her 2017 Epping title, has been to the final in four of the last six events with her Melling/Elite Camaro, but has finished as a runner-up in all of them.
FUNNY CAR FINAL (3:50 p.m.): The first final round meeting between Matt Hagan and Tim Wilkerson went to Hagan, who bagged his third win of the season and second-straight in Epping in a thrilling 4.156 to 4.181 side-by-side battle. Hagan, who was also the winner of the most recent event in Norwalk, ran the table in Epping by qualifying No. 1 and winning four Sunday elimination rounds against Terry Haddock, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Ron Capps. Appearing in his 52nd final round, Hagan now has 29 wins in his career with the Schumacher team. Wilkerson, in a final round for the first time in the 2018 season, is now 20-20 in final rounds in his Funny Car career.
TOP FUEL FINAL (3:55 p.m.): Steve Torrence defeated Antron Brown in a final round for the fourth time in a row, improving his head-to-head record against his good buddy to 4-5 in finals. Torrence also leaves with the points lead (he, uh, led entering the race, too) and continues to look like a world beater in the Top Fuel category. The two left on time but Torrence had the quicker dragster.
PRO STOCK CHAMPION CHRIS McGAHA: “Whoever said Pro Stock wasn’t entertaining? When thing happen like they did today, it’s got to be entertaining even if I’m not the one doing it. That was a crazy day. I win the first two rounds on holeshots and then I had to race Kenny Delco and I’m not gonna lie. He scares the daylights out of me. He’s beaten me I don’t know how many times. When my car shook, I was kind of surprised but I’d already seen him red-light. I saw his car go by the Christmas Tree and it looked like a Comp race because he was so early. My car started shaking but I knew better than to get back in it and hit the wall or take out a cone. I just calmly went down there.
“In the final they gave it to me. They really did. I don’t know. Maybe the first two rounds helped with the final. Maybe they knew we were gonna swing for the fences but we more or less hit a foul ball. That [6.57] was kind of what we thought we could run. We shook in the semi’s and then did something we’ve never done before in Pro Stock which is to actually get more aggressive with it. I went 6.57 and she went 6 54 so basically they had us beat but just didn’t get it done. I’ll just come right out and say it, that was some [outhouse] luck for us. To look at this class and see that Greg [Anderson] and Jason [Line] still haven’t won a race yet. That’s pretty serious but it shows that even a guy like me has a chance.”
FUNNY CAR CHAMPION MATT HAGAN: “I’ve got a good race car. We were number one qualifier as well. It’s just Dickie Venables. He’s smart and you give him enough runs and enough opportunities and he’s gonna figure it out. I think that’s why he’s been in the sport for 50 years and he’s someone I want to be around as long as possible. He works hard, and this is his life and it just shows on the race car. There’s luck too. That last lap was like a dirt track car. It was sideways and I could hear Timmy over there. That’s what makes it exciting. It’s a fuel Funny Car and you never know what you’re going to get. I’ve never had the same lap back-to-back. This car has just been going down the race track. We turned four win lights on in Norwalk and we turned four win lights on here and we went down the track every lap in Norwalk and every lap here. I pretty much have what you’d call a bracket car in a fuel Funny Car.
“I’m proud of my guys. They just haven’t had any mistakes. They’ve been doing a great job wrenching. We’re trying to chase down Courtney [Force]. She’s got so many No. 1 qualifying points we’re going to need to win a lot of races. The thing about it is, coming into the second half of the year I would rather be starting to come together than do it at the beginning of the year. I’m really feeling good about it. Confidence in my guys. Confidence in my driving. That’s it in a nutshell.”
TOP FUEL CHAMPION STEVE TORRENCE: “You don’t look at the numbers until the end of your career because if you get to thinking about how many wins and how many finals you’ll distract yourself. It’s just like Antron. You look at that lopside win-loss record we had against the guy and it gets in your head. He’s like a brother to me. He’s a best friend but that sucker was in my head and I had to get him out of it. Those numbers mean something; they really do but not right now. You need to concentrate on the task at hand and keep moving forward. With the changing track prep we’re trying to adapt and I think Richard [Hogan] and Bobby [Lagana, co-crew chiefs] did an excellent job. We just had to go back in the archives and back it down to go down these race tracks. They’ve done an unbelievable job and give me a race car that went down the track every time and was low for every session today.”
“The one that mattered most was the last one but I didn’t do a very good job. I had to get my mind right and get up on the wheel. You’ve got to dig deep and go for it because these guys; Tony and Antron are not eight-time and three-time world champs for no reason. We got the job done and we’re going back to Texas with a Wally.”
Terry McMillen is chasing the second win of his career in what is by far the best season of his career thus far. He credits much of his success to crew chief Rob Wendland.
“I think the whole key to the success has been with Rob Wendland,” said Wendland. “What he’s done so well is that he gets everybody organized. Believe it or not that’s the most critical part of what we all do out here is get organized. We have time constraints because of TV and everything and we don’t have 500 miles to fix the problem. We have to be perfect for that 3.8 seconds or it’s going to be a catastrophe.”
That starts with getting the team organized, which allows Wendland to make changes to the car as needed.
“What he’s brought to this is just organizing the team and then getting everyone on the same page and then getting everybody to tell him everything on the same page and then getting everybody to tell him everything that’s going on with the car,” said McMillen. “He makes his tune-up decisions based on everyone doing their jobs exactly the way they need to.
If one thing changes within that equation, it throws everything off.”
Next for the Amalie Motor Oil team is to try to pick up a little bit of speed. That comes with caution, of course, especially with the new track prep.
“We want to run faster, but we have to be very conscientious of what we have because we can’t hurt ‘em,” he said. “We also want to be able to maintain what we have and have the best available parts as we head into the Countdown. I truly believe we can win a championship just by getting to the final three or four times. We don’t have to win a race necessarily.”
Mike Salinas doesn’t take much solace in the success he’s accumulated in his relatively brief career. The fiercely competitive racer from San Jose reached his first final round just a handful of races ago, but Salinas is hungry for more.
“It’s not even close (to enough),” said Salinas. “None of this stuff is good enough. I was on the phone from 1-4 a.m. on
Friday night because this stuff is not even close to good enough. I’m not satisfied very easily, and this stuff is not good enough and it might not ever be good enough.”
Presented with the prospect of finally winning a national event, Salinas quickly countered.
“We’re gonna win more than one. I can guarantee you that. But the bar is going to continue to move.”
“That’s why my kid is in Indy getting her deal ready. That’s why I’m trying to get my deal ready, so that she doesn’t have to deal with any of this stuff. I’m the test dummy for all this, which is okay. We’re really close. Alan Johnson is doing a good job, Dough Kuch is doing a really good job. We’re so close it’s a good job.”
He enters this race in a Countdown spot, but it’s going to be a dog fight to stay there.
Scott Palmer is in the midst of the best season of his career, something evidenced by taking a look at the standings. Another indicator? The driver who has a technical alliance with Steve Torrence and the rest of the Capco Contractors contingent is becoming more of a team car all the time.
“We just put a whole new fuel system in. Like, look at this,” Palmer said, pointing to a counter. “We had that in the car for the last year and a half. We just bolted a brand new fuel system into the car this morning. Dom runs it, Billy Torrence and now we run it and Steve is the last in line.”
That’s a change from the way things used to be. When Palmer first began his technical alliance with the Capco Contractors team, the stream of information was decidedly one way. If crew chiefs Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana could help the CatSpot team, they would. It didn’t go the other way around. Now, with Palmer in a better situation, that’s changed.
“Now with Jason McCulloch here he’s working with Bobby and Hogie and them,” said Palmer. “He was used to working with Hogie last year because McCulloch did some work on Brittany’s car last year. That’s making it a lot easier for us to communicate with them without us becoming a distraction.
“The final pair of the night was us and Steve. If you don’t think they’re really helping us, just look at that.”
Ron Capps, who’s NAPA Dodge is wearing a special paint scheme this weekend to honor the Intrepid Fallen Heroes fund, was solid throughout qualifying in Epping with a best of 3.978 on Friday but Capps was likely more impressed with his runs on Saturday, where a 4.099 and a 4.040 have given tuner Rahn Tobler a solid baseline for what figures to be a sunny Sunday at New England Dragway. Capps will have to be at his best in round one since his “reward” for qualifying No. 4 will be a match with points leader Courtney Force. Capps isn’t exactly thrilled about the draw, but he also understands that it’s a perfect opportunity to make up ground in the standings.
“That’s the way it goes sometimes,” Capps said. “The way I see it is we’ve been trying, we have six races to make up ground, and we want to be No. 1 going into the Countdown. It’s a long shot with her way out in front of us, but there’s only one way to do it and that’s take care of business ourselves and try to get that team out early. We don’t ask to race them, they’re a great team but there’s our chance now to make some ground up. The sooner she can go out on race day, the more Mello Yello points we can make up. It’s not a team you want to see early in the day. People are saying ‘oh you have to race Courtney’ but I’m certainly thinking they’re probably a little more nervous having to race the NAPA car than we are them.”
For the record, Force leads the Funny Car class with 1,038 points entering the Epping race while Capps is No. 6, 282 points back.
So far this season, Courtney Force has been nothing short of spectacular in qualifying. Through the first 12 events of the season, the Advance Auto Parts driver has been the top qualifier eight times and has not been ranked lower than fourth at any event. Dating back to the 2017 season, Force also qualified in the top half at every event except for the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, where she suffered a rare DNQ. In Epping, Force managed a best of 4.165 through four runs on Friday and Saturday, and as a result, she’s starting from the No. 13 position.
“Our Advance Auto Parts team struggled a little bit in qualifying this weekend,” Force said. “This isn’t where we wanted to go into race day but I think we’ve definitely learned some things throughout our four qualifying runs that will benefit us tomorrow. I think we learned a lot in qualifying and we’ll be ready to go. It’s going to be a tough one but we’re ready for it and we’re excited.”
As a reward for her qualifying performance, Force will be paired with 2016 world champ Ron Capps, who was fourth-quickest with a 3.978 in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge. Surprisingly, Force and Capps have raced just once before this season. Capps turned on the win light in Gainesville after Force smoked the tires.
“We’ve got a tough first round match-up with Ron Capps but I think there’s no other person we’d rather face and we’re excited to take him on,” said Force. “We were able to take him out last year here to get to the finals. He’s shown that he’s got a pretty consistent race car here but we’ll be ready to take him on.”
Rahn Tobler knows the NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car team, piloted by Ron Capps, will very likely not lead the flopper standings heading into the Countdown to the Championship this season. His hope is the car will at least enter the Countdown in a position to do some damage, much like it did the last two seasons.
“We’re only 33 points out of second place right now because no one else, other than Courtney, has been able to put together a consistent run this year,” said Tobler. So, maybe we don’t go into the Countdown No. 1 this year like we have the last three years. We’re not going to be, which I’m okay with. It doesn’t really matter. You can go in No. 10 to be honest as long as you have things together when the time goes around.”
Capps picked up a first round win against Force and looks equipped to earn his second win of the season at the NHRA New England Nationals. The 2016 Funny Car champion has a consistent race car that has only looked better since Tobler switched back to a five-disc clutch ahead of the recent four-race swing. Tobler spoke about battling both new track prep and the recent header change in addition to going back and fourth between clutch systems.
“I think the headers have provided a tremendous change and I feel I can quantify that now that I have the five-disc clutch back in the race car,” said Tobler, who feels he can better tackle the header change now.
“We’re in the field at least of everybody else other than Courtney,” he continued. “We averaged better than them in Bristol. They have a good car but they’re certainly beatable and if people have their stuff together they can beat them.”
The NAPA car certainly proved that today.
For Chris McGaha, living in Odessa, Texas; far away from traditional motorsports hubs like Charlotte and Indianapolis, has always presented its own unique challenges. McGaha doesn’t enjoy the easy access to some of the facilities and technologies that other teams have and the Epping event, represents perhaps his biggest challenge each year.
“My rig hasn’t been home since Topeka; that’s six races ago, and we’re 2,200-miles from our shop so this race is the furthest distance we go each year,” said McGaha. “We have the ability to ship engines and ship parts back and forth but it’s not the same as having your car and truck sitting in your shop. We’re definitely looking forward to getting back this week and taking a few days to get things sorted out before we head off to Denver, which is actually one of our closest races.”
During the recent four-race Eastern Swing through Chicago, Richmond, Bristol, and Norwalk, McGaha managed a semifinal and a quarterfinal finish, but a pair of early losses cost him a couple of spots in the points standings. He entered the Epping race in the No. 8 spot. After changing engines, McGaha turned in a solid qualifying effort during the New England Nationals with a 6.547. Although he’s ninth in the field, he’s just .03-second behind leader Greg Anderson.
“We made a decent run on Saturday morning after we went back to our old DRCE4 engine,” said McGaha. “We ran that in testing earlier this season in Phoenix and it’s pretty good. That engine has been around for a while and eventually I think everyone will have to start using it. It’s good because GM made the block to work with either the DRCE two or three heads.”
Looking ahead to Denver and the upcoming Western Swing, McGaha is suppling engines to Steve Graham, who figures to be very competitive since he’ll have essentially the same equipment McGaha has. There is also a chance that the Harlow Sammons team will debut their new COPO Camaro in Super Stock.
“The COPO is done, and we’re going to test it next weekend,” McGaha said. “We’ll see how that goes. Maybe we’ll bring it to Denver. I think that would be fun. I’m also looking forward to racing with Steve. We should get some good data from his car. It should be almost like having a two-car team. That could really help our program.”
While teammate Greg Anderson continues to collect green low qualifier hats at a rapid pace, Jason Line’s qualifying struggles remain a mystery. After solid outings in Bristol and Norwalk, where he was sixth and second, respectively, Line finished qualifying in Epping as the 11th ranked driver in the field, and will take on Alex Laughlin in round one. On the bright side, Line’s best of 6.564, is only a few hundredths off the pace set by Anderson, who led all qualifiers with a 6.517. Line also made his best run on Saturday, when conditions figure to more closely match what racers will experience on Sunday.
“We picked up a couple thousandths [on Saturday] with my car, and we're moving in the right direction,” said Line. “We didn't run as fast as we should have, and we just didn't get a good grip on the racetrack today – but we're looking to change that tomorrow. It will be a challenge, but it's one we're certainly up for. This is a great facility, and the fans here are super supportive. We're happy to have the two Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaros on opposite sides of the ladder tomorrow, and hopefully, that works in our favor.”
Line opened the season with back-to-back finals in Pomona and Phoenix, and he was ranked No. 2 in the Mello Yello standings even after a round one loss in Gainesville. Since then, he’s won just four rounds of competition and he’s dropped to tenth. With just six events remaining before the start of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs (including Epping), Line understands that he doesn’t have much of a margin for error moving forward.
“I haven't made much of an impact here [in Epping] in the past when it comes to final rounds or wins, but hopefully we can change that this year,” said Line. “I'd like to check this one off the list, and we've been making improvements steadily these past few races. This could be where we turn it around. That would be a nice boost at this point in the season. We could use it.”
Earning two bonus points during Saturday’s final qualifying session thanks to his very competitive 6.538-second runs, Drew Skillman figures to have plenty of confidence heading into final eliminations at New England Dragway. If that wasn’t enough, Skillman is also riding a wave of three-straight semifinal finishes in Richmond, Bristol, and Norwalk behind the wheel of his Skillman Auto Camaro.
“I’d feel a lot better if they were three-straight wins but this is Pro Stock and that just doesn’t happen very often,” said Skillman. “Our car is better right now, but it’s far from perfect. We’re still trying to find the sweet spot. We’ve made some nice runs lately but not enough of them. Or at least not when they counted the most.”
For Skillman, the low point of the 2018 season came in Houston where he lost in the first round to Bo Butner. Following that event, he was ranked No. 9 in the Mello Yello standings. Since then, he’s made steady progress with four semifinals to move to fifth with six events remaining before the start of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
“I don’t want to say we’ve sucked this year but we still haven’t win a race; we haven’t even been to a final and I think we should have been able to do that by now. We definitely should have gotten there at least once. We just need for things to fall into place. Maybe a little but of luck wouldn’t hurt.”
Antron Brown gets ready for race day.
Brittany Force gives a lucky fan an autograph during pre-race ceremonies.
A really easy way to get to the race track.
Fans sold out New England Dragway for the second year in a row.
NHRA legend Al Segrini joined Brian Lohnes on the SealMaster Track Walk.
Local racer Bob Tasca III took the stage with his sons during driver introductions.