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NHRA Nitro Spring Training Thursday Notebook

The second day of NHRA Nitro Spring Training finished with Antron Brown, Matt Hagan, and Erica Enders on top in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock as teams sought valuable data ahead of the 2018 NHRA Drag Racing season.
01 Feb 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
News

NHRA Nitro Spring Training at Wild Horse Pass Motorspsorts Park will shift into high gear Thursday as teams in a number of classes will take to the track in pursuit of knowledge and confidence prior to the Mello Yello season opener next week in Pomona.

A number of cars made runs Wednesday, highlighted by Clay Millican's 3.79 in Top Fuel and Matt Hagan's 3.88 in Funny Car, but most teams were just shaking off the winter rust on Day 1 and will turn up the heat today.

Here's a chronological look at the day's action.

Clay Millican was first up with the Parts Plus dragster, but smoked the tires early and coasted to a 7.45.

laughlin.jpgA trio of Pro Stockers followed, led off by two-time former world champ Erica Enders, who clocked a 6.559 and Alex Laughlin, who recorded at 6.590. Vincent Nobile launched on an even better pass with a .968 60-foot time, but lifted not long after. Laughlin is still sporting the Speed Society livery he debuted at last year's Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Leah Pritchett, who wowed everyone at last year's test session here with the unofficial quickest pass in Top Fuel history,  3.65, then returned to win the NHRA Arizona Nationals here, took a Pennzoil-schemed car to the line and made it 300 feet before shaking and spinning; she lifted and coasted to a 5.171,

Funny Car newcomer Shawn Langdon, who made a number of passes yesterday in the good-looking Global Electronic Technology Toyota tuned by Tommy DeLago, continued his flopper education but shook the tires hard at 100 feet and lifted to an 8.126.

Courtney Force, who also ran Wednesday, came to the line with new tuner Brian Corradi, but fared no better than Langdon, shaking and lifting to a 7.494. All of these runs are coming in the left lane.

J.R. Todd, who made his Funny Car debut at testing a year ago, made it to about 400 feet in the DHL Toyota, then lifted and rolled through with a 4.558.

Tommy Johnson Jr., in the new-look Make-A-Wish Dodge, which now sports a substantial amount of white over last year's all-blue scheme, made it less than 200 feet before also shaking the tires. He ran a 6.531.

Jeg Coughlin Jr. made the first pass in the right lane and shook the tires at 100 feet. He completed his first pass of the day in 12.671 seconds. 

schumacher.jpgTony Schumacher moved right back to the left lane, but didn't find much more success. He only made it about a quarter of the way down the track before rattling his Goodyears. He recorded a 7.621-pass. 

Defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight delivered the best pass of the day so far with a solid 3.88 hit. He may have dropped a cylinder down track, but that stands as far and away the most impressive run so far.

John Force followed that up with a 4.028 while taking out the last orange dividing block. The 16-time champion was on a good run, but lifted early as he drifted toward the center line.  

The first pass of 2018 for Doug Kalitta made it to about half track. The Mac Tools driver made a 5.194 pass in the left lane before going up in smoke. 

torrence-white.jpgIn a rare side-by-side run, Millican did not improve on his earlier run as he rattled to a 7.943 in the right lane. Steve Torrence, in the left lane, darted to a 3.77 despite having a cylinder out at about half track and lifting early. 

Antron Brown made a clean 3.816 run, but shut off at around 800 feet. That's back-to-back smooth runs in the left lane by Top Fuelers, and is the first pass of the day by the three-time champion. AB is still running last year's paint scheme; word is that the 2018 livery will debut at the national here in a few weeks.

Torrence, now driving the second of two dragsters the team has on hand this weekend, did not make as successful a pass as his previous run. Driving the black dragster with white trim, he made a 4.357-second pull. 

townsend.jpgNostalgia Funny Car racer Richard Townsend made a licensing run at 4.632 seconds in the left lane. His all-white flopper, tuned by Lance Larsen, had holes out most of the way down the strip. 

Cruz Pedregon continued the parade of cars in the left lane, but only made it about 300 feet for shaking the tires loose. He ran a 5.932 in his first pass of the day. 

Jack Beckman made his first run of the day, and second run of testing, a 4.572-hit. "Fast Jack" made it to about half track before losing traction, an improvement on yesterday's run, which lasted only about 60 feet under power. 

The good news is that Nobile picked up almost an entire second in his second run of the day. The bad news is that he only ran a 13.735 in the right lane, breaking up a long streak of cars powering through the left lane. So, there's still work to do. 

_NDE4561.JPGHis teammate, Enders, had no such problem. She picked up four-thousandths of a second (6.555) and blasted to 210.28 mph. That's far and away the best Pro Stock run of the day. 

Jonnie Lindberg, making his first run of the day, ran out steam at about 700 feet, but still managed to get to the strip quicker than 4 seconds. He made a 3.96 pass. 

2016 Funny Car champion Ron Capps, now running with a six-disc clutch, shut off a little past 300 feet and coasted to a time of 5.052 in the left lane. 

Pritchett jumped to the top of the unofficial Top Fuel leaderboard with a 3.74. That amounted to a full-second improvement on her earlier pass. 

Defending Top Fuel champion Brittany Force shut off early and coasted to a 4.964-second pass in the right lane in her new-look Monster Energy chassis. 

Former PDRA Pro Mod racer Chad Green, who made his first licensing laps in a nitro car at this event last year in Tim Wilkerson's Ford, made his first pass of the afternoon, again in Wilk's machine, and despite losing power at around half-track made it to the stripe in 4.148 seconds. Green, who completed licensing last year in Charlotte, is expected to drive today and tomorrow before Wilkerson jumps into the saddle Sunday. 

Langdon made his second run of the day and shook the tires about as hard as possible in the right lane. He idled to an 8.376-second pass, and is certainly getting the full range of learning experiences available while in his brand-new Funny Car.

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Coughlin made a big improvement on his earlier run, throwing down a 6.619-second pass. His Elite Motorsports teammate Enders is still the Pro Stock leader, but that's an encouraging sign for the veteran driver. 

Johnson improved on his earlier run with a 3.938-second hit in the right lane. He shut off at around 800 feet (par for the course so far today) on a clean run in the Make-A-Wish Dodge. 

Deric Kramer, newly with KB Racing and making his first run of the day, shoved the clutch back in early. He made an 8.49-second pull in his American Ethanol Camaro, with Jason Line keeping a watchful eye from the starting line. 

Making her second pass of the day, Courtney Force lifted early and coasted to a 4.414-second pass. That's an improvement on her earlier run (7.494).

Matt Hagan made his first pass of the day and lifted early to the tune of a 3.94-second hit. The new-look Mopar machine  ran in the right lane. 

Defending Pro Stock champion Bo Butner hit the gas for the first time Thursday, reaching the stripe cleanly with a 6.602 run. That wasn't enough to top the unofficial leaderboard (Enders still holds the best time with a 6.555), but it's a solid first entry for Butner in his all-white Camaro. 

Bob Tasca III rolled up to the line, presumably to make his first pass of the day, but was shut off before he could stage the car. He's making his full-time return to NHRA Drag Racing under the Ford Motorcraft banner. Update: Tasca suffered a fuel leak, which forced him to be shut off. 

_NDE4541.JPGTodd got very close to the wall as he got down track, but he did pick up some time on his previous pass. The driver of the DHL Funny Car made a 3.995-second run in the right lane. 

The all-time leader in Top Fuel wins made a statement run, despite the chutes coming out early. Schumacher made a 3.717-second pass to take over the unofficial Top Fuel lead, passing teammate Pritchett while running in the right lane in his new-look U.S. Army dragster. 

Laughlin (right lane) and Nobile (left lane) faced off in another rare side-by-side run, with Laughlin making the better pass this time around. Laughlin ran a 6.58, while Nobile shut off early again, clocking in at 9.246. 

Millican shut off early again, failing to get under the 7-second bar. He made a 7.054-second pass, just a bit quicker than the 7.943 he ran earlier in the day. 

Hight didn't improve on his bar-setting 3.88 from earlier in the day. The defending Funny Car champion shook the tires at about half track and coasted to a 4.44. 

Brown gave the right lane a go in his second pass of the day, but this time he only made it about 200 feet before going up in smoke. The result was a 6.649-second pass. 

A solid pass for the 16-time champ. John Force made a clean, 3.963-second hit in the right lane at 305.22 mph. He shut off a little early, which is the norm for all Nitro cars. 

Kalitta made a clean, solid run in the right lane (3.729), improving on his first pass of the day. The Mac Tools driver lifted before he hit the stripe, but established himself among the top of the heap. 

salinas.JPGMike Salinas made his first pass of the day in his Scrappers Racing dragster and made it just past half track before shaking the tires. He recorded a 4.28-second pass in his orange and black machine. 

Torrence, back in his dragster this time, shook the tires early and ran a 6.238. In three runs (in two dragsters) he has yet to best his 3.77-second pass. 

Nothing doing for Pritchett on her third try of the day. This time the Mopar driver didn't make it to half track, resulting in a 4.891-second pull. 

Richie Crampton's first run of the day was shut off early. The driver of the Kalitta Air dragster, now a full-time driver for Kalitta Motorsports made a 5.521-second run.

Torrence, now driving the primarily black dragster belonging to his father, didn't make it 100 feet under power. The resulting time was 8.401 seconds. 

Kramer made a much stronger pull in his second run of the day, a 6.646 pass in his American Ethanol Camaro. The green Chevy made a full pull under power and stands as one of the better efforts of the day. 
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The second pass recorded by Beckman only made it to about half track. The new-look Infinite Hero machine made a 4.813 pass at 164.95 mph, a little off the 4.572 recorded earlier in the day.

After running cleanly to about 700 feet his first time out, Lindberg and tuner Head found the limit the second time out and shook the tires early to the tune of a 6.911 pass. 

Langdon made his best pass of the day, a 5.189-second run that had the chutes out by the time the car made it halfway down the track. 

capps.JPGCapps bounced back with his second run of the day, a 4.057-second pass. He shut off at about 700 feet, but improved on his first run of the day, a 5.052. 

Nobile made what was probably his best run of the day, but a malfunction in the timing equipment means the 6.271 that popped up on the scoreboard is unfortunately inaccurate. 

Johnson recorded a solid 3.913 pass, but shut it off early. Something similar can be said of Courtney Force's 4.161 run immediately following Johnson. 

brittany.JPGDefending champion Brittany Force rattled the tires and went up in smoke, resulting in a 5.954-second pass. 

Another Pro Stock side-by-side gave us another great pass, this time by Laughlin (6.612), but not so much from Enders (7.026), who just might have found the edge.

Matt Hagan laid down the best pass of the day in Funny Car, a 3.879 that surpassed the 3.88 ran by Hight. So, the big throw down battles between crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and Dickie Venables might continue in 2018. 

Millican shook the tires again in his third run of the day, though he did pick up a little bit of time. His 6.522-second pass got him under the 7-second mark for the first time. 

Todd made another solid pass, this one a 3.966-second run. He previously recorded a 3.995, so the second-year Funny Car driver is picking away at his tuneup.  

butner.JPGThe second pass of the day by Butner didn't bring the same strong results as his first. The defending Pro Stock champ dropped a couple of hundredths of a second, going from 6.602 to 6.623. 

Green's second lap in Wilkerson's car turns ugly when the blower backfires at halftrack after an apparent quick pedal job.

Schumacher got to about half track before suffering a serious explosion. The U.S. Army Dragster coasted to the stripe, recording a time of 4.287 seconds. 

As was the case Friday (and, actually, where isn't it true?) the runs started picking up as the track cooled down, and Brown seized control of Best Run honors with a straight and clean 3.714 at 328.46 mph. The sun isn't exactly setting into the west, but its also not beating down on the track anymore.

With only about an hour's left of running, Terry McMillen and crew chief Rob Wendland made a late-day debut but smoked the tires virtually at the hit of the throttle and the Amalie machine coasted to a 10.969.

tasca.JPGTasca's second lap of the day is a marked improvement over the first as the orange Ford rolls to an easy, early-shutoff 4.066 at just 266 mph.

Coughlin continued to improve with the yellow Camaro, cranking up a 6.593 alongside Kramer, who posted a 6.635.

Hight, gunning to get back low e.t. in Funny Car, rattled the tires to a coasting 7.165 in the Auto Club Chevy.

Torrence, driving his dad's dragster, went into early tire smoke and ran a 7.197. 

Pritchett shook the tires early and ran a 6.141. 

Enders rattled the tires and then coasted to the finish line at 10.475 seconds. 

Nothing doing for Langdon in his fourth pass of the day. This one rolls in at 5.881 seconds as the now Funny Car driver has to shut things down early. 

Townsend made it past half track with the flames up as the sun began to set at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, but that's about all he got under power. He clocks in at 5.861.  

Kalitta didn't make it past 300 feet under power, as his engine shut off abruptly. His 5.134 came in as the second-best of his three runs of the day. 

lindberg.JPGLindberg made it about 150 feet before the new-blue Head Inc. Toyota went up in smoke, He coasted to a 6.286.

Crampton made a big improvement with his second run of the day, running a 4.273 in the left lane. That's been the favored lane for Nitro machines all day. 

A flash of flame before half track spelled trouble for John Force, who recorded a 5.361 on his final pass of the day. 

Butner improved on his last pass, but couldn't quite record his best mark of the day with a 6.62-second bolt to the finish line. That will wrap up the day for the defending champ. 

Another side-by-side run for Laughlin (right lane) and Nobile (left lane) ends with the Speed Society driver on top. A 6.585 for Laughln as had to shove the clutch back in. He recorded a 10.137.

Capps smashed the gas and recorded his best time of the day (3.886). That also ended up as one of the best Funny Car passes of the day. 

Beckman didn't fare quite as well. He shook the tires early and then coasted to a 7.092.

Johnson also failed to grab traction after the first 100 feet of the race track, rattling and rolling to a 7.726.

Salinas ended the night with an early shutoff run that improved on his earlier pass at 4.006. 

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antron2.jpgThe headline coming out of last year’s Spring Training was unofficial quickest runs in Top Fuel and Funny Car, by Leah Pritchett and Courtney Force, respectively, but according to most teams, big numbers aren’t the goal at all this year, nor should they be the measuring stick heading into Pomona.

“No one is going to run to the stripe; once you get to halftrack you pretty much know what it will do out the back door,” explained Antron Brown. “All you do is tear stuff up after that.”

“The rest of the run after halftrack is just a factor of how quickly you got to halftrack,” echoed Steve Torrence. 

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In what undoubtedly was one of the biggest offseason moves, Mike Neff has been given the important task of getting the sport’s all-time winningest Top Fuel driver, Tony Schumacher, back to the top of the pack after back-to-back eighth-place finishes. Neff left the John Force Racing camp over the winter to join rival Don Schumacher Racing and to tune the flagship U.S. Army dragster. He replaces longtime crew chief Mike Green and will work with Phil Shuler, who worked with Green last year. Neff has worked on Top Fuel cars before, but has never been the main tuner on one.

neff.jpg“I’m learning a lot,” he said after two days of testing. “Right now, I’m just picking and choosing what to work on. What Mike had ran good, so I started with most of all of that. I’ve made some changes in the engine and will be able to pick up where they left off. The engine combination between Top Fuel and Funny Car is different so I can’t just start making ‘Funny Car changes’ to it. The clutches are similar but also different. The parts are all the same, just applied, adjusted, and timed differently. Learning how big or small of ad adjustment is what I’m going to have to learn.

“My goal is just to leave here with some confidence about the adjustments I’ll need to make in Pomona and for the rest of the season and feeling good about making it run what it needs to run,” he said. “I’d like to see it be competitive with what everyone else is running from session to session. I’d like to be in the ballgame when we leave here.”

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torrence2.jpgEveryone knows that Torrence Racing has two Top Fuel cars; we just didn’t expect to see Steve Torrence driving both. Last year’s winningest Top Fuel driver is pulling double duty today and yesterday, wheeling his own Capco dragster and the one that will be run by father, Billy, this season, Steve-o is in a white over black livery, while Billy’s car is the opposite. The cars are brought to the staging lanes as a pair, making it easier for Steve to hop right into the second car.

“It definitely makes suiting up worth it,” joked Torrence, who spent the winter decompressing from a grueling racing season and the rigors of the family pipeline business on the family’s 5,200 acres of land in Encinal, Texas, near the Texas/Mexico border. “When you can make a run, get out of the car, then come right back and get into the other car without even taking off your suit, that’s a lot of fun.

“After today, we’ll have four runs on each car, and we’ll sit down and go through all of the data and make sure everything is going right,” he said. “My dad will be here tomorrow to take over driving his car, so we’ll probably make three or four runs with each car then.”

Torrence’s chassis is a brand-new Morgan Lucas Racing piece; the car that they ran to close the season after their momentum-wrecking Dallas accident is now the backup. Billy’s car is a 2017 MLR chassis that only has on it the laps that Billy made in Dallas last year.

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antron.jpgLosing co-crew chief Brian Corradi over the winter to the rival John Force Racing camp was surely a setback for former Top Fuel world champ Antron Brown and Mark Oswald, but the Matco team is hoping not to miss a beat thanks to the promotion of Brad Mason to assistant crew chief.

“Losing Brian was hard because he was part of the braintrust, but Brad was in on all of the decision making that went on last year, plus he was the guy who was hands-on with the car every week in the shop,” said Brown. “Mark and Brian weren’t physically in the shop a lot, and would mostly just fly into the races, but Mark’s been at the shop a lot this winter.

“We’re just trying to get our feet wet and two new crew guys and some guys in some new positions. We’re just working on getting everything in sync so we can pick up where we left off last year, and hopefully make it even better.”

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Clay Millican is one of the early front-runners in the Most Runs category, with he and crew chief Dave Grubnic putting down four runs Wednesday and at least as many again today. They were first in line this morning when testing began at 10 a.m.

“We don’t get to test very often, so we’re making the most of it,” said the current national record holder. “Our runs yesterday we to learn this new [Don Schumacher Racing-built] chassis with what we would have run with last year’s car, then we start working on Grubby’s real agenda.”

The duo impressed Wednesday with a halftrack shutoff that still yielded an impressive 3.79 time slip with early numbers of .813 (60-foot), 2.08 (330), and 2.95 (660); Millican figures it would have been a 3.67 or so had he “stomped on that loud pedal” to the finish line, which he doesn’t plan to do at all this weekend. 

“We don’t have enough parts to risk hurting them by running it all the way down,” he explained. “Plus we’re learning everything we need to know by then. Once the clutch system is locked up and the fuel system is there, you know where you’re at.”

It’s important to make the most of the first couple of days because the team will be testing tires for Goodyear on Saturday. The team tested twice for the tire manufacturer last year

“Those Goodyear engineers love working with Grubby because he’s so analytical,” said Millican. “But those runs are going to be just past halftrack, too."

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Testing got off to a rough start Wednesday for Bob Tasca III and new crew chief Eric Lane after a pit-area oversight led to a engine failure and big explosion that “junked” the team’s first-line Mustang body, according to Tasca, who will make a full season tour for the first time in years this season. The good news was that the run was a “beautiful” run to that point, giving Lane confidence in his setup as he takes on his first starring role as crew chief. Thursday also got off to a rough start when they were shut off on the starting line due to a fuel leak.

Lane, assistant crew chief for years on Ron Capps’ championship-winning Dodge, is not only adapting to the new six-disc clutch (as are Tobler and Capps) but both have experience when the six-disc was run for one event a few years ago. Additionally, Lane has installed him own fuel system on the car and the team is running a Boss-branded engine block built for them by Don Schumacher Motorsports (a division of Don Schumacher Racing) that is similar to the normal block that is run by all of the DSR teams but has a different main-bolt design.

“Our primary goal this weekend is to get everyone up to speed,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of experienced crew guys, but they haven’t worked together. After that we just want to make some good runs, some low-3.90s and high-3.80s and see how we stack up going into Pomona.”

Tasca’s operation is now also based out of Brownsburg, Ind., assuming the building previously rented by Bob Vandergriff Jr., which puts them in heart of Nitroville, USA.

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tj.jpgAs the winners of the 2017 season finale in Pomona, you’d image that Tommy Johnson Jr. and crew chief John Collins came into testing with a little bit of swagger, but the fact that the Iowa natives won the event in their first outing with a six-disc clutch only made it sweeter. In fact, Collins figured it out so quickly that they’re already in experimentation mode.

“Pomona was just about making it go; this weekend we’re just playing around with it to see what it does,” said Johnson, the 2016 championship runner-up in Don Schumacher Racing’s Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger. “We were really happy with how it’s all gone. We put it in for Monday testing after the Las Vegas event – literally took the clutch right out of Antron Brown’s dragster. It was weak the first run, we put three grams of primary [weight] on it and it went right down there.

“We actually were pretty happy with our five-disc setup until we ran out of our preferred discs around Brainerd, so the handwriting was on the wall. The six-disc does so much better job of heat distribution that the clutch wears evenly from run to run, which, obviously, makes the crew chief’s job a lot easier.”

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Deric Kramer’s switch to a Camaro with KB Racing power is going according to plan so far. After a pair of laps at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park outside Phoenix, Kramer is already feeling right at home in his “first” brand-new race car. 

“So far so good, really good, yeah,” said Kramer. “It’s usually more we’re coming here to learn something (when we’re testing), yeah. But given this is a brand-new race car, there’s definitely some… if we move the car this much, this is how much we expect it to move. We kind of need to know how much it moves incrementally, stuff like that.” 

There’s a lot of elements at play with Kramer’s weekend of testing in the desert, given his new car, new (to him) engine as a life-long Dodge driver, and his new team given that he’s in his first year as a KB Racing customer. Kramer is as cool a customer as ever, seemingly unphased by any of this as he awaited his second pass of the day. 

“It’s just been one-and-a-half passes so far, but it’s been good,” said Kramer, who ran a 6.646 on his first pass right next to defending champion, and now teammate Bo Butner. He’s also getting comfortable with his new shift points in the Camaro, which he says are set up nearly identically to what he was running previously. 

“For me it’s just a number, we figure out how long it takes me to shift and we go backwards from there,” he said. “It’s pretty straightforward. We know it takes me two-tenths of a second to shift, so we just go backwards from that point.”

At this point, still very early on in the testing process, Kramer has every reason to be happy with the direction he’s heading in. His car may be brand new, but his crew is nearly identical to what it was last season. He’s also getting tuning help from the team that brought home the last two Pro Stock championships. Kramer cautioned he’d wait until Pomona to see where things stand, but so far so good for the American Ethanol team.