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NHRA Nitro Spring Training Saturday Notebook

Leah Pritchett (3.664), Matt Hagan (3.841), and Erica Enders (6.570) had the best runs on the final day of pre-season testing at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
03 Feb 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
News
Antron Brown

Doug Kalitta, Courtney Force, and Erica Enders set the bar yesterday in the third day of testing. Now, some new faces (like Greg Anderson) enter the fray as fans join the action for the first time in 2018 NHRA NItro Spring Training. You can catch up on what's happened so far by reading yesterday's notebook, and follow along with today's runs below. It can't hurt to check out the NHRA Twitter and Instagram accounts, either. 

greg.JPGGreg Anderson gets the day going with a silky smooth 6.612-second pass. That's pretty much on par with what the KB Racing Camaros have done all weekend (though it's a little off the pace of what the Elite Motorsports Camaros have done). A nice start to the day. 

Clay Millican had a rough start to his morning, as the tires shook violently as soon as the Tennessee-native hit the gas. He recorded a 10.705-second pass. 

After a bit of a layoff, Scott Palmer made a pass that lasted until about 600 feet until running out of steam. He made a 4.018-second run. 

Tommy Johnson Jr. shook the tires before half track and ran an 8.814. 

Paul Lee, who 14 months ago suffered a near-fatal heart attack, is back behind the wheel, and made a pass in J.R. Todd's DHL Toyota. It had a cylinder out early, but the racer still raced to a 5.06-second lap. For more on Lee's insirational, feel-good story, click here.

hagan_0.JPGThe first side-by-side run of the day came with Chad Green (in Tim Wilkerson's Funny Car in the left lane) against Matt Hagan (pictured in his usual Mopar Funny Car in the right lane). Hagan threw down the best pass of the day so far (3.843) while Green had a cylinder out and clicked the car off at about half track (4.853).

Leah Pritchett (right lane) made a quick run (3.664) but the real eye-popping number was the speed (334.73). That would be the fastest speed of all time if made under official conditions. She did it with teammate Antron Brown in the left lane (3.787). Check out Pritchett's comments here.

Vincent Nobile made a clean 6.585-second pass while up against his teammate Erica Enders. She squared the tires early.  

Doug Kalitta (right lane) made it about halfway down the track before losing traction, and Tony Schumacher didn't make it much further than that. He ran a 6.084. 

hight_0.JPGRobert Hight appeared to shut off early, but the defending Funny Car champ was on a good run. He has the second-best flopper run of the day (3.921).

Steve Torrence got his day started with a 3.835-second pass. Not too shabby for the Capco boys on a run that was shut off early. 

Anderson picked up some time on his second pass of the day. The Pro Stock runner up ran a 6.595, bettering his 6.612 that kicked off the day. 

Shawn Langdon and Ron Capps made their first passes of the morning, and neither held on for the full pass. Langdon shook the tires loose a bit later than Capps, and ran a 4.264. Capps made a 5.606 lap. 

beckman_0.JPGJack Beckman (left lane) made the second-best Funny Car pass of the day in his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger next to Courtney Force, who shook the tires loose midway through her pass. Beckman's 3.918 is only behind the 3.843 ran by Hagan, while Force's 4.618 leaves the Advance Auto Parts team with something to work on. 

Billy Torrence (left lane) and Brittany Force (right lane) got their first passes of the day, and while Force got further down the track under power, neither experienced much success. 

John Force got to about 300 feet before losing traction. 6.034-second pass for his first of the day. 

Jonnie Lindberg shook the tires and rumbled to a 6.376. 

Terry McMillen lost traction at about half track and ran a 4.978. 

Bo Butner hopped into Harry Hruska's Pro Mod car and made a 7.574 pass that was aborted early. Butner has no plans to compete in Pro Mod this season but has agreed to help Hruska in testing to shake down the car. Pro Mods start their season in Gainesville in March.

crampton2.jpgNext up Richie Crampton ran his best lap of the weekend, a 3.867, next to Millican, whose second pass of day picked up a few seconds but still resulted in massive tire shake. 

Greg Carrillo rattled the tires early and coasted to a 6.395-second pass. He has yet to make a full pull during testing. 

Jeg Coughlin Jr. made his first run of the day, a 6.615-second pass that put him among the top three Pro Stock racers.

Bob Tasca III made his first pass of the day, a 3.944-second pass in the right lane, with Cruz Pedregon in the left lane (4.336). Pedregon got a little up-close-and-personal with the wall, but got out of the throttle and coasted to the stripe.   

Lee made his second run of the day, another planned shut off, and this time ran a 4.156. He plans to make a full pull in his third and final run of the afternoon. 

Mike Salinas made a nice, clean run in his Scrappers Racing dragster to the tune of a 3.733 pass. 

Anderson's third pass of the day was a bit of a step back, as the red Summit Chevy Camaro ran a 6.64. 

tj2.jpgThe second run of the day for Johnson resulted in the second-best Funny Car pass of the day. His 3.911-second run provided more solid data for the still new-to-them six-disc clutch setup for the Make-A-Wish team. 

Enders got back in the swing of things with a strong 6.572-second pass next to teammate Nobile, who looked to be on a strong run. A timing error on his car led to the scoreboard displaying a 6.24. That time won't hold up. 

Pritchett followed up her unofficial record-breaking run with a tire-smoking 4.521.

litton.jpgAlcohol Dragster regular Bill Litton made a lap in the Worsham Racing Top Fueler, carrying his Litton Financial colors. Del and Check Worsham are not running their Funny Car here so they can concentrate on Litton, who will drive their car at several events later this season (Steve Chrisman will run the Worsham dragster at the first two events). Litton previously raced the Worsham dragster on the Western Swing in 2016. The car shook on the launch and he coasted through to a 10-second lap. Worsham will be making an announcement early next week of his sponsorship for the WInternationals.

kalitta2.jpgKalitta made it to 300 feet before losing traction. He ran a 4.694, losing a little time off his first run of the day. 

Palmer whacked the throttle and then idled down the track in a cool 11.44 seconds. That's (probably) not what the CatSpot team drew up. 

In his second run of the day, Schumacher left some parts on the track and ran a 7.748.

Hight ran the second-best time of the day with a 3.88-second haul. Looks like Jimmy Prock and the defending champ have things clicking. 

nitro.jpgAfter running a refrigerator-white body the first two days, newly licensed Richard Townsend, rocking a brand-new body with a slick Nitroholic graphic, ran a 4.353. He had a cylinder out early and took his foot off the gas at about half track. The Toyota body, like the chassis, formerly belonged to Tony Pedregon and is one of three in the team's possession.

Brown had a hole out right at the hit and idled down the track to an 8.099.

Brittany Force rocketed down the track to the second-quickest pass of the day in Top Fuel (3.73). Billy Torrence was alongside her and made a 4.352 pull after losing traction a little before half track. 

hh.jpgButner made another run in Hruska's Pro Mod, this time taking it all the way to half track. The result? Butner made it to the stripe in 6.221 seconds. 

Wilkerson lost traction a little before half track, resulting in a 4.953-second pass. 

Langdon continued to get seat time in his new Funny Car, this time up against someone with a lot of experience in a Funny Car, John Force. Langdon had the chutes out early (6.904), Force got a little bit further (4.901).

clay2.jpgMillican with another short-blast tire test for Goodyear and a 6.22 roller while Crampton, after two days of half-track efforts, rocketed to his second straight full run with a 3.850.

Beckman and Hagan made another couple of clean passes side-by-side. The Infinite Hero car ran a 3.991 while Hagan dropped a 3.963. 

Lindberg worked hard to corral his Funny Car, resulting in a 4.463 lap. Capps improved on his earlier time with a 3.90-second run. 

Next up was side-by-side Pro Stock action in the desert. Coughlin squared the tires almost immediately, and Anderson shoved the clutch back in a little past half track. He recorded a 7.536 on his fourth run of the day.  

Lee came back up and made a solid pass of 3.909. That was an improvement on his previous run of 4.156. 

brian2.jpgTerry Brian made his first run of the day and continued to progress in his licensing process. He made a 4.051 pull. 

Courtney Force had a hole out at about half track and still ran a 4.04. That improved on her previous best of the day, a 4.618. 

In his second run of the day, McMillen vastly improved with a 3.798. That was his best run of the weekend by a wide margin.  

Litton's second pass of the day went much smoother than his first, to the tune of a 3.978-second pass. 

line.jpgJason Line made his first appearance of testing (at least, in a race car). The 2016 champ ran a 6.738, which was a bit off the pace of the rest of the Pro Stock cars that made it under power to the stripe before him. 

Pritchett ran a 3.782 in the right lane, continuing her stretch of solid performance during testing. 

cruz3.jpgPedregon made a stout run, a 3.894 at 330.2 mph. That's the first run in the 330s for Pedregon.

Anderson cruised to a 6.654, still a few hundredths off his best of the day (6.595). That was his fifth pass of his first day of testing. 

The second run of the day for Carrillo was a move in the right direction with a 4.452. That's a pick up from the 6.395 he ran earlier in the day.  

Butner made another run in Hruska's Pro Mod, this time with less fruitful results. A hard shove to the right forced Butner to give it up early, resulting in a double-digit time slip. 

A great run from Langdon, his best of the day (3.901), moved him into the top five. The new Funny Car driver is looking more and more comfortable with each run he makes. 

jeg3.jpgCoughlin got right back into the groove he set at the beginning of the day, running another 6.615. That's not quite up to snuff with the rest of his Elite Motorsports teammates, but it's back on the right track.

Nothing doing for Brittany Force on her third pass of the day. The defending champ smoked the tires early and rolled to a 7.422-second pass. 

Crampton (3.9) shut the car off at about 700 feet, while it appeared Kalitta (4.186) lost traction at around half track. 

Neither Johnson nor Beckman improved on previous runs, but the pair of DSR Funny Car racers made clean, consistent runs. Johnson ran a 3.917, while Beckman posted a 3.959.

billy.jpgBilly Torrence made a great pass (3.742) next to a very solid pass (3.752) from Brown. Those both cracked the top five for Top Fuel. 

Line improved on his time from earlier, but was still off the pace a bit with a 6.664. 

Another solid run by Tasca, who notched a 3.965. That's not quite up to what he ran earlier today (3.944), but crew chief Eric Lane looked happy with the performance. 

Anderson hit the strip yet again. This time the former champ ran a 6.63, which while better than his teammate Line's run, doesn't hold up against the runs made by Elite. 

Lindberg's Funny Car kicked the tires loose about 300 feet into his ride, resulting in a 5.035-second pass.

Salinas goes up in smoke as soon as he hits the gas. 9.314-second pass. 

anderson2.jpgAnderson came up for his sixth run of the day, making up for lost time from Thursday and Friday, but shut off at half-track to a 7.71.

Butner with an impressive 5.815 at 254.47 another run in Hruska's turbo Pro Mod Camaro. Just his fourth run in the car.

Both Coughlin (6.613) and Line (6.644) made their best runs of the day, though neither can get into the 6.50s.

After letting Paul Lee run the car on a trio of passes earlier today, J.R. Todd got back in the saddle of the DHL Toyota for one final shot and carded a test-best of 3.908.

Hight made a strong early pull before clicking it at halftrack and still ran 3.986 at just 251.72 mph.

Litton's third pass in the Worsham dragster is a 3.925 trip to the stripe at 308 mph.

Langdon continued to look right at home in his new ride with a 3.946, his fourth three-second pass in testing.

palmer2.jpgPalmer, in his fifth lap on the CatSpot team's new six-disc clutch, makes a seven-cylinder pass at 3,999.

If Johnson Jr. made a wish for his best run of the day, it came true with a 3,905, his third straight three and fifth of testing.

Capps and Tobler show that they have a strong grasp on the six-disc clutch with a testing-best pass of 3.866.

John Force was off to a good pass before it squirmed loose at halftrack and he coasted to a 4.149.

With the sun fully behind the grandstands and the starting line in shade, Summit/KB Racing teammates Anderson and Line paired off with Anderson edging his squadmate, 6.616 to 6.618.

Top Fuel champ Brittany Force closed out her testing ledger with her best pass, a 3.692 at 328 mph.

Beckman made it a perfect four-for-four in three-second passes for the day with a 3.931.

Coughlin with his fourth 6.61 in five passes and a best-of-day 6.611.

tasca4.jpgTasca's final passed ended just 300 feet in with a tire-rattling 6.990.

Carrillo with the best pass of his Top Fuel career, but a fun that ended early with a broken blower belt: 4.247 at 206.92.

With the sun fully set and header flames dancing, Salinas closed out his testing weekend with an up-in-smoke 7.32. Still a strong weekend for the Scrappers team with a air of 3,73s.

Brian closed out the Spring Training event with another Top Fuel licensing pass with a 4,133,

Current best Saturday and overall runs:

TOP FUEL

Driver Saturday best Overall best
Leah Pritchett 3.664 3.664
Doug Kalitta 4.186 3.688
Brittany Force 3.692 3.692
Tony Schumacher 6.089 3.714
Antron Brown 3.752 3.714
Billy Torrence 3.742 3.718
Mike Salinas 3.733 3.731
Steve Torrence 3.835 3.739
Blake Alexander DNR 3.755
Clay Millican 4.212 3.795
Terry McMillen 3.798 3.798
Richie Crampton 3.850 3.850
Bill Litton 3.925 3.925
Scott Palmer 3.999 3.999
Terry Brian 4.051 4.051
Greg Carrillo 4.247 4.247
 

FUNNY CAR

Courtney Force 4.040 3.839
Matt Hagan 3.841 3.841
Rop Capps 3.866 3.866
Robert Hight 3.880 3.880
Tommy Johnson Jr. 3.905 3.884
John Force 4.149 3.894
Cruz Pedregon 3.894 3.894
Shawn Langdon 3.901 3.901
Chad Green/Tim Wilkerson 4.853 3.904
Jonnie Lindberg 4.463 3.904
J.R. Todd 3.908 3.908
Paul Lee 3.909 3.909
Jack Beckman 3.918 3.918
Bob Tasca 3.944 3.944
Richard Townsend 4.353 4.096
 

PRO STOCK

Erica Enders 6.570 6.555
Jeg Coughlin Jr. 6.611 6.568
Alex Laughlin DNR 6.580
Vincent Nobile No time 6.592
Greg Anderson 6.595 6.595
Bo Butner DNR 6.602
Jason Line 6.618 6.618
Deric Kramer DNR 6.635

 

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leah3.jpgIt took more than five years, but someone finally broke Shawn Langdon’s long-standing Top Fuel speed mark of 334.15, which was recorded at the Reading event in 2012 but not backed up for a national record. (Brittany Force holds the current national record at 333.66 mph). Leah Pritchett, star of last year’s test session here and winner of the NHRA Arizona Nationals, blasted to a speed of 334.73 mph on a 3.78 pass Saturday morning to become the unofficial fastest driver in the class. 

“We struggled out of the box, took us until the fourth day to be able to put down a full pass; it was awesome,” she said. “I was smiling ear to ear. It was smooth and felt so incredibly great. We took the pieces of 10 runs and put them together and made it stick

“We have a really good baseline for these conditions. It's warm and will probably be even warmer in Pomona, so we think we'll see a testament to all of this testing in Pomona. We've got a good foothold on the tune-up; man, we really needed that.”

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lee2.jpgWhen Paul Lee buckled into J.R. Todd’s DHL Toyota this morning, it’s something that everyone who knew him doubted they’d ever see.

The morning of Dec 13, 2016, started out pretty good for Lee. Fresh off a successful trip to the PRI Show to attract new sponsors for the nitro Funny Car operation that he finally had accumulated, and which had shown promise in his late-2016 passes, Lee, a former event-winning Alcohol Funny Car racer, was already looking forward to 2017 as part of the Kalitta Motorsports operation.

Everything changed in a heartbeat – when his heart stopped beating, the result of a “widowmaker” heart attack, a complete blockage of the left coronary artery. Fortunately for Lee, owner of McLeod clutches, he lives across the street from a fire station, and EMTs were at his door within four minutes, which saved his life.

It was a sudden and stunning turn of events for a guy who was proud of his low cholesterol and blood pressure readings, and had no history of smoking or drug usage.

“I thought I was as healthy as could be,” he said. What he didn’t realize was he had inherited his grandfather’s hereditary risk of heart disease. Before it had really started, doctors told him his nitro Funny Car days were over.

“I was OK with it, once they told me how lucky I was to even be alive,” he said. “I felt like It was dying because, well, I was. I had raced a long time, and had some success, and I was OK with it. I was happy just to be alive.”

Since that fateful days and the surgery that implanted three stents and a defibrillator, Lee has been doing everything in his power to rehab one of the body’s most important organs, and in November got the thumbs up from his doctor, Kelly Tucker, of the Orange County Heart Institute.

To make sure that Tucker truly understood the harsh environment of Funny Car racing, Lee invited him to the Auto Club NHRA Finals, which raised a few concerns. They continued to work on rehab before facing a major concern: worry that the strong electronic signals from the high-powered magnetos might interfere with the defibrillator that had been installed on Lee’s heart.

lee3.jpgDel Worsham was kind enough to offer his car up for a test, which was conducted at Worsham’s Southern California shop. With the engine fired and Lee in the cockpit, and the defibrillator wirelessly sending data to a laptop, the unit passed with flying colors.

The doctor filed a report with NHRA, pronouncing his faith in Lee’s condition, which resulted in the reinstatement of his license. As Lee buckled into Todd’s car, he first strapped on a lightweight carbon fiber vest, with a bubble over the heart area to protect it during the massive negative Gs of parachute deployment. Pro Stock Greg Anderson wore a similar vest while recovering from his heart surgery in 2014.

Although Lee’s own car remains intact and waiting for him, decisions of a full resumption of his career wont come until after this weekend. Not that he’s not eager to get back at it.

“If I can do it I have to try,” he said. “I don’t want to be 80 years ago and regret it because this is my life, this is what I worked my whole life to do. If I can do it, I’m going to try.”

Lee's first pass, a planned early shutoff, went off without a hitch, and he followed with a 4.15 halftracker then a a flawless-looking 3.90. Paul Lee is back!

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jrt.jpgJ.R. Todd is relinquishing the cockpit of his DHL Toyota today to Paul Lee, but the talented former Top Fuel racer, who made his Funny Car debut at year ago at this event, has to be thrilled with what he accomplished over the first two days, including three three-second passes and helping Shawn Langdon make a similar jump from Top Fuel to Funny Car.

“This time last year I was pretty nervous,” he reflected. “I didn’t know at all what to expect and I was just learning every run down the track. I’m still learning, but now I’m working on things to make myself a better driver inside the car.  Before I just wanted to get comfortable and work on things like my reaction time. Now I’m thinking what can I do inside the car to make myself better.  
 
“It’s amazing what running a year in these cars can do for you. They’ll still ground you, though. Shawn put it best when he said, ‘It’s like playing a video racing game and you make it to the expert level and it’s really hard to play, that’s what driving a Funny Car is.’ “

Todd’s rookie season in the class  was impressive, with two wins, including the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, but he’s got his sights set much higher this year.
 
“My goal is to go out there and win as many races as we can,” he said. “Ideally, you want to set yourself up better for going into the Countdown than what we did last season.  You want to be somewhere around the top five going into that first Countdown race. We just need to work on our consistency. We started the season off slow, but came around during the summer, but then went back into a slump in the Countdown. We found a lot of things wrong with the car mechanically in the off-season and we think we’ve adjusted those issues.  That should set ourselves up better for 2018.”

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goodyear.jpgGoodyear technicians have been on hand all weekend and today are doing tire testing with a number of nitro teams on a tire with a new compound and some small design changes. Clay Millican and Dave Grubnic are their lead testers, but tires are also being given to the Don Schumacher Racing and Kalitta Racing camps. The new tires are not expected to be introduced this season.

Technicians also are implementing some aerospace technology with a wheeled device pulled behind a pickup that measures the track’s grip over the entire race course, instead of relying on the small samples traditionally gathered by crew chiefs using hand-held “grip-o-meters.”

The device, which is used to certify airport runways under different weather scenarios and as a gauge for when a runway needs to be resurfaced, has been used on the NASCAR circuit for quite a while.

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cruz2.jpgCruz Pedregon has had mixed results over a handful of runs, with a best of 3.969 on a run that he felt could have been a high-3.80s had not he lifted early when a high G-load caused his foot to come off the throttle just enough to deactivate the timers.

“We’ve been trying a bunch of stuff these first two days, none of which really worked out, so today we’ll be going back to our normal setup, what we expect to run in Pomona,” he said. “Our car ran good last year at Las Vegas and we kind of stumbled in Pomona, so we’ll look to get back on track. We’ll try to make four runs today if we can.”

Pedregon has a new car built, but it wasn’t ready in time for testing.

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erica2.jpg“We’ve had our first couple of good days in two years,” was Erica Enders’ summation of Thursday and Friday as the Elite Motorsports team headed into their third day

Enders had the best runs in the class both days (6.555 and 6.568, respectively) with teammates Jeg Coughlin (6.593 and 6.568) and Vincent Nobile (6.592 best on Friday) all ahead of the rival KB Racing team.

While Enders comment might be a bit of an exaggeration – she did, after all, win the NHRA New England Nationals last season – it’s understandable why the Richard Freeman-led team is happy with their progress so far.

The team also tested extensively in Florida for a week but were hampered somewhat by temperatures that dipped into the 30s, but it gave them a good direction. Enders also is working diligently on her class-leading reaction time average now that the team has their clutch dialed in.

Like a majority of the Pro Stock teams, the Elite crew will resume testing Monday and Tuesday after taking Super Bowl Sunday off.

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Two days of testing Thursday and Friday have veiled consist but mostly frustrating performances for the KB Racing team. World champ Bo Butner was mired in the low 6.60s over seven runs while the Elite team was consistently in the 6.50s and although new engine customer Deric Kramer made solid runs in his first race with Chevy power, they were in the 6.63-6.64 range. Greg Anderson didn’t make his first test run until this morning, and the 6.612, although nice from an off-the-trailer perspective, still wasn’t in the 6.50s (he did run 6.59 later in the day). Jason Line’s rig is still en route – expected to arrive by noon –held up more closely regulated rules for big rig travel.

“We’re slow,” Line allowed. “I think that the Elite cars are running is what we should be running. For us and Deric it what just about starting to work together, and I think he’s going to be fine. I think he’ll win some races this year.”

“We’re not sure yet what’s going on with our car,” said Butner. “The car is exactly the same way we ran it at Pomona but were down six- to eight-hundredths. That’s a bunch. The other cars are outrunning us at every incremental down the track. That’s not normal. We’ll figure it out.”

The team plans to continue testing Monday and Tuesday to prepare for Pomona.

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