QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS
PRO STOCK Q3 (12:45 p.m.): After struggling during both of Friday’s qualifying runs, hometown favorite Erica Enders gave her fans something to cheer about after driving his Melling/Elite Camaro to the quickest pass of Q3. Enders added three bonus points to her total after a 6.551, 209.95. She did not improve upon her 6.548 best from yesterday, but was the quickest driver of the 16 that made runs. Fellow Texan Chris McGaha was the second quickest of the round with a 6.552, 209.92 in his Harlow Sammons Camaro and Las Vegas champion Vincent Nobile also scored a bonus point after a 6.560, 209.98 in the Mountain View Camaro. Greg Anderson’s 6.492-second run from Friday was not challenged largely due to warmer and more humid weather conditions. Unless the qualifying order changes in Q4, Enders will race Nobile in Sunday’s opening round.
TOP FUEL Q3 (1:20 p.m.): With a 3.703, Tony Schumacher came within a few ticks of Brittany Force’s Friday-leading 3.701 for low e.t. of what may be the day’s only session (weather permitting), he and crew chief Mike Neff getting all of that run to back up Friday passes of 3.711 and 3.777. Force had the next-best pass of the session with a 3.716 and both had some daylight between them and the third-best run of 3.745 put down by Leah Pritchett, who now sits fifth with Billy Torrence (3.737) and Antron Brown (3.740) between her and the top two.
FUNNY CAR Q3 (1:23 p.m.): Several more Funny Car drivers posted three-second runs during Saturday’s qualifying including Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., Tim Wilkerson, and Courtney Force, who took over the top spot with a surprising 3.911 in her Advance Auto Parts Camaro. Force shut off early with a 295.14 mph speed, but she was still quicker than anyone else in the session and banked three bonus points. Matt Hagan, Friday’s leader, also made a solid run with a 3.931, 311.20 in his Pennzoil Dodge and Cruz Pedregon remained consistent with a 3.947, 299.33 in his Snap-on Toyota. With one more run remaining before the field is set, 16-time world champion John Force is not a part of the field. Force was bumped out of the show by Shawn Langdon and he’ll have to run quicker than Richard Townsend’s 4.523 in order to get back into the field. Ron Capps is also near the bottom of the order with a best of 4.332, 277.72 in his NAPA Dodge.
PRO STOCK Q4 (4:01 p.m.): Not a single Pro Stock driver was able to improve his or her elapsed time during Saturday’s final qualifying session so there was no shuffling in the field, but the last tune-up run before eliminations could often be an indicator of who has the best chance for success on Sunday. To that end, Jeg Coughlin Jr. might have the best chance to win his first race in the fuel injected era after driving his JEGS.com Camaro to a 6.539, 201.24, the best pass of the round. Coughlin was the low qualifier and a runner-up a year ago in Houston. Drew Skillman also collected two more bonus points with a competitive6.555, 210.14 while Chris McGaha was third-quickest in the session with a 6.557, 209.92. McGaha tied Deric Kramer in elapsed time but earned the point thanks to a slightly faster speed. One of Sunday’s most intriguing match-ups will feature Elite Motorsports teammates Vincent Nobile and Erica Enders. Nobile, the winner of the last event in Las Vegas, is also a two-time winner at Royal Purple Raceway.
Round one pairings (lane choice listed first): Greg Anderson vs. Steve Graham; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Alan Prusiensky; Tanner Gray vs. John Gaydosh; Vincent Nobile vs. Erica Enders; Jason Line vs. Rodger Brogdon; Chris McGaha vs. Matt Hartford; Drew Skillman vs. Bo Butner.
TOP FUEL Q4 (4:30 p.m.): Leah Pritchett swooped in and stole the No. 1 spot from Brittany Force on her final qualifying lap, blasting her Mopar machine to a track-record 3.680 for the eighth No. 1 qualifying spot of her career. Tony Schumacher was second-quick for the round with a 3.713 to complete an amazing string of runs (3.777, 3.711, 3.703, and 3.713) while Billy Torrence (3.744) picked up the final bonus point. Force, who could muster only a 3.787, skipped to the No. 2 spot while Schumacher slid to third.
Round one pairings (lane choice listed first): Leah Pritchett vs. Terry Brian; Brittany Force vs. Terry Haddock; Tony Schumacher vs. Bill Litton; Billy Torrence vs. Kebin Kinsley; Antron Brown vs. Terry McMillen; Clay Millican vs. Mike Salinas; Doug Kalitta vs. Richie Crampton; Scott Palmer vs. Steve Torrence
FUNNY CAR Q4 (4:50 p.m.): Reigning world champ Robert Hight took over the top spot in Funny Car qualifying after he made the quickest run of the final qualifying session with a 3.894, 317.27 but the big news came from Hight’s teammate, 16-time world champion John Force, who failed to qualify for the first time since the 2008 Charlotte event, a span of 222 races. Force was never able to make a full run in his Peak Camaro fell off the pace in Q4 and slowed to a 5.344, missing the relatively soft 4.31-second bump spot. Hight became the first driver to run in the 3.8s at this year’s NHRA SpringNationals and will face Todd Simpson in tomorrow’s opening round. Other drivers to score bonus points in the final session included Jack Beckman and Cruz Pedregon, who each ran 3.918. Beckman got the additional point for his faster top speed, 314.31 to 301.94.
Round one pairings (lane choice list first): Robert Hight vs. Todd Simpson; Courtney Force vs. Jeff Diehl; Matt Hagan vs. Ron Capps; Jack Beckman vs. Richard Townsend; Cruz Pedregon vs. Del Worsham; Tim Wilkerson vs. Shawn Langdon; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. J.R. Todd; Jonnie Lindberg vs. Bob Tasca III
PRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER GREG ANDERSON: “I feel good. I’m excited. So far this has been a great weekend. We knew after yesterday that the humidity was going to pick up and the conditions weren’t going to be as good so pretty much felt that [6.492 run] was safe. Now, it looks like it’s going to dry out again tomorrow; the weather will be cooler and we should pick up and run fast again. I’ve got the table set. It’s just the way we want it. We got the green hat and now it’s just up to me to go out and get that yellow [winner’s] hat.
"I've been stuck at second round this year, but I breezed past it in the K&N Horsepower Challenge out there in Vegas, and we had a great day. Unfortunately, on Sunday, we got bit second round in the main event. The bottom line in Vegas was that we just made one mistake on Sunday, and you can't make any mistakes. But a mistake is an easier fix than a slow race car.”
TOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER LEAH PRITCHETT: “We knew we needed to lay one down, and the numbers we had in our packages before that told we should be able to produce that. I knew by 100 feet that we had that part right and then when we got to the second quarter of the track and it had a nice little quiver in my mind it was, ‘That’s it; that’s that high-speed quiver that we’re going after,’ and then it started moving. I needed to keep it in the groove and as it headed to the finish line I said in my mind, ‘If this isn’t No. 1 I don’t know what is.’ It felt great.
“I want to dedicate this No. 1 qualifying effort to Steve Plueger [car owner on her championship-winning Nostalgia Funny Car, who passed away recently]. The feeling we have of doing well, obviously he’s filtering it down from heaven to us. He didn’t build my chassis but he was an inspiration of the true hardcore racer that lives in all of us.”
FUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER ROBERT HIGHT: “This track has been tricky but we ran a 3.92 off the trailer on Friday so we had a handle on it. We were feeling a little too aggressive last night in Q2. I had one of the best sixty-foot times I’ve ever had but it wouldn’t hold. Jimmy [Prock, crew chief] has changed the balance of the car and I can definitely tell that it has more traction. Every run we’ve made I know that if it sticks, we can run low E.T. Last night was the big one; I think we let one slip away there but it’s going to be a whole different ball game tomorrow.
“I’m bummed the boss [John Force] didn’t make it in [the field]. That’s quite a streak he had going but there is no one who is better at rallying the team so I’d know he’ll be there getting us all to step up tomorrow. He’ll fix the issues he has with his car and he’ll be back in Charlotte next week. I’m not worried at all.”
The good news for Clay Millican and crew chief David Grubnic is that they have a very quick and fast race car in Doug Stringer’s Parts Plus/Great Clips dragster, which set the national record earlier this season at 3.62.
The bad news is that they only have a very quick and fast car.
“It’s like the car only has one speed: fast,” said Millican, who didn’t make it down the track on either run Friday. “When it goes, it’s a rocket, but it’s out of control. ‘Grubby’ is still trying to figure out how to calm the car down without hurting itself. A couple of times where he’s backed it off, it puts out holes [cylinders] and the engine doesn’t like it and we don’t have the [parts] inventory to do that.
“Of all the problems to have, I’d rather have this than trying to figure out how to go 3.62, but I’m not the one who has to figure this out either,” he said. “I’m happy we’re going to get some more runs today; we could use them.”
Scott Palmer had a great opening day with the Tommy Thompson Motorsports/CatSpot dragster, posting back to back passes of 3.78 and 3.76 to finish Friday in the No. 5 spot.
Like a lot of teams, his is battling the new asphalt laid for the final 330 feet of the racecourse after the concrete launch pad.
“We were spinning pretty hard down there,” he reported. “On that .76 we had our fastest eighth-mile ever [3.009 at 287 mph]. It wasn’t dangerous but if it hadn’t run that good early I probably would have lifted. I knew it was fast so I went ahead and ran it through but it only went 316 [mph]; that should have been about 325.
“The only thing can do is take away power down there to try to stop it from spinning, which actually helps us smaller teams because the big teams can’t put all of their horsepower down. Heck, I wish all tracks were like this. For once, we’re one of the teams who has the combination to run fast, plus we have a lot of history on running in marginal tracks at match races.”
Kebin Kinsley couldn’t have been happier with his first pass Friday, nor more disappointed. In what was his first full pass in Roger Hennen’s RoadRage Top Fueler since the Dallas event last fall, Kinsley powered to a 3.77, only to have the run disqualified after a part came off the car and struck the timing block.
“It was the tiny filter that goes on the clutch can; can you believe that?” he said. “I’m a gutterball guy when I bowl yet I can hit a freaking foam block at 300 mph with a little filter.”
The team met with NHRA officials about the ruling, but the run was disallowed. A Friday night 5.35 got them into the field in the No. 15 spot with chances to improve today.
“It’s part of the game; what are you going to do,” he said. “The good news is that we got a full run – we didn’t make a full pass earlier this year in Phoenix because of tire shake – so that was amazing and, of course, we got the data from the run. We’ll just go out there today and try to put down another good one.”
The NHRA SpringNationals will probably be the last time that NHRA fans see Del Worsham until the Western Swing after the popular dual-class nitro threat issued a press release Friday night about a “planned hiatus.” At this point in time, Worsham has plans for a return to NHRA competition at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals, July 27-29 at Sonoma Raceway in California.
In some ways it’s one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, but in other ways it’s one of the easiest,” said Worsham, who has run the season’s first five events. “I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re underfunded and kind of piecing this thing together. We had a little bit of a rough start, performance wise, in Pomona and Phoenix but we fixed the issues and we've been really consistent and real contenders at the last two races. I expect no less here in Houston.
“What I need now is time. These cars are expensive to run, even when things go perfectly, and in addition to that they consume almost all of your time when you have a small organization like ours. I work on it, service it, drive the transporter, tune it, and I drive it. My dad and I have a very talented, loyal, and hard-working crew, but I need to put 100 percent of my focus into continuing some conversations we’re having with a number of companies that already see what we have to offer. Hopefully, we can start a few additional conversations, as well. We will have the car ready to go, so if we can land a partnership we’ll be able to race at a moment’s notice. Otherwise, we’ll aim for Sonoma.”
Veteran crew chief Lance Lance Larsen and the team have been working hard on sorting out clutch and other issues that have made the learning process of Townsend, who previously raced a Nostalgia Funny Car.
“It’s all about the clutch,” he said, sharing a long-held lament in the nitro pits. “In our car, we’re not getting enough movement on the throwout bearing. It’s been going out about 500-600 feet and dropping cylinders and just mowing through the clutch. We’re wearing about double the clutch than everyone else is. We found a few glitches that we’re getting taken care of.
Townsend, who scored his first career round win in Houston, upsetting former world champ Jack Beckman, is excited about the prospects.
“We’re getting close; I can’t complain,” he said. “We’re not hurting anything, and Lance is going a good job just taking us a baby steps. A team like ours can’t afford to hurt a bunch of parts; that would kill us. As a driver, just for self-gratification, I want that A-to-B solid pull.”
“We’ve been somewhat conservative, try to run in the .0s,” Larsen added. “We have the equipment to run in the threes. We can’t learn anything going 100 feet and smoking the tires. We still haven’t given him a car good enough to go to the other end.”
The team also has a new set of headers that will provide more front-end downforce to combat the car’s propensity to carry the front tires for 300 feet, further complicating the rookie’s efforts.
“You could drive the nostalgia car all over the track and it would mostly go where you steered it; not these things,” he shared. “You can have your hands crossed up and the car not turn. And there’s such a small window in these cars, you’d better get out of it as soon as you’re in trouble because even after you lift it’s still going to go in that direction for another 100 feet.”
After Houston, the team will sit out a few events before returning to run in Topeka, Bristol, Sonoma, Seattle, and perhaps Indy.
Even before he ran a 3.963 to land in the top half of the field during Friday’s two qualifying sessions, Cruz Pedregon was more than pleased with the new chassis he’s debuting this weekend. Pedregon is debuting his new race car, which was built by Don Schumacher Racing’s in-house chassis shop. The car was originally slated to go to Tommy Johnson Jr., but Pedregon was able to purchase it earlier this year.
“We got this car a while ago and we made a few changes to suit our program and so far, I’m really happy with it,” said Pedregon. “We made two runs in Las Vegas on Monday [after the Four-Wide Nationals] and we liked it so we decided to stick with it for this weekend. On the first run yesterday, we spun a little down track but we went further than most people did. And, we can fix that. Last night, I thought we were going to be able to run even quicker but I had a problem getting the car into reverse so we lost the run. The blanket got jammed up against the [reverse lever] and I couldn’t get it unstuck. It was probably only off by a quarter-inch but that all it takes. I hated to lose a run but that’s an easy fix.”
On Friday, Pedregon also ran the same Snap-on Toyota body that he last ran during his infamous wheelstand during the 2016 fall Las Vegas event. He has replaced that body for Saturday’s two runs after discovering a damaged body strut.
“That’s the wheelstand body and obviously it’s seen a bit of trauma,” Pedregon said. “We just wanted to try it and now we’re going to go back to one of our other bodies. The bottom line is that I like where we’re sitting right now.”
Between his red-light lost in the final round of the Denso Spark Plugs Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas and the loss of a close friend, Tommy Johnson Jr. has had a couple of weeks he’d rather forget but he’s hopeful that a successful outing in Houston will help right the ship for the Make-A-Wish team.
“I still don’t feel like I red-lighted in Las Vegas,” said Johnson, who threw away what would have been an almost certain victory. “I did stick it in a little bit [in staging] as I always do in final rounds and I felt like I crushed it, but I still don’t think it was enough to red-light. That’s just my opinion. I’ll tell you one thing; if I had to do it all over again, I’d do exactly the same thing and I’d be happy to accept the consequences.”
On Friday in Houston, Johnson ran a 4.157 at just 242.76 mph on his first run and shook the tires under the lights during Q2.
“On the first run, we hurt a piston and the pan pressure switch activated and shut the car off,” Johnson said. “All I knew was that my foot was still on the throttle and the car shut off. I came back and asked my crew if they shut it off and they said no. That was just the switch doing its job which is a good thing because it helps limit the damage and helps make sure we don’t oil the track. Then, last night, we just shook the tires which is pretty much what everyone else in Funny Car did. We’ll be better today.”
It didn’t take long for Alex Laughlin and his Hot Wheels Car Care team to realize something was not right once they began their normal warm-up routine on Saturday morning. Laughlin and the Elite Motorsports team discovered they had a wounded engine in the frame rails of their Camaro so they spent the better part of the next hour changing powerplants before Q3.
“We had the porcelain come off a spark plug on last night’s run and it must have pinched a piston ring,” said Laughlin. “We didn’t find it until this morning which is strange because we normally do a leak-down test every night and that would have told us we had a problem. We checked it this morning and one cylinder was leaking 70-percent so that engine had to come out. It’s a shame because we’re at the start of three-straight races and that engine now has to go back to [Elite Headquarters] Oklahoma to get repaired. The good news is that we found it before we tried to run it again. If that happened we probably would have blown it up. It’s an easy fix but it’s also a logistical nightmare to shuffle engines all over the country.”
Speaking of logistics, Laughlin confirmed that this will be has last race with the Hot Wheels Car Care colors on his Camaro. He’ll be wearing a new wrap representing Tige Boats at the next event in Charlotte next weekend.
“This year, we’re scheduled to have 11 different wraps on this car,” said Laughlin. “It’s great to have that much support but I spend a lot of time working on branding. When we change wraps everything has to be approved and we’ve also got to order new hero cards, crew shirts, a new fire suit and hats and everything else. It’s a big project but it’s what keeps us out here so I’m grateful for that.”
Jeg Coughlin Jr. is racing his third different car in the last three events but based on his preliminary results, he may be sticking with this one for a while. Coughlin drove a flat black Jerry Haas-built Camaro in Las Vegas but when he arrived in Houston he switched to another Haas car, this one owned by Pro Stock veteran Larry Morgan. On Friday, Coughlin made two of his best runs of the year including a 6.504 that is currently good for the No. 2 spot behind Greg Anderson.
“This car does feel a little bit different from some of the others I’ve driven,” said Coughlin. “It pulls a bit downtrack and it feels very stable. I guess you’d say the ergonomics are a little different from the car I had been driving. Alex [Laughlin] tested it last week and when I got here, I just pulled the [custom fitted] seat out of our old ’13 Dodge and put it in this car and made my first run. Changing cars was not at all what we had in mind this year but we know the effort that we’ve put in to this program and we need to do what is necessary to get results. I ran that Jerry Haas car last week in Las Vegas and we didn’t get the results we were looking for. I talked to Larry on the phone a week or so ago and he said, ‘You’re welcome to my car if you think it will help.’ I really appreciate the gesture.”
Coughlin, who was the low qualifier and runner-up at last year’s NHRA SpringNationals in Houston, is hoping for a similar result this season, particularly in light of his success during Friday’s qualifying runs.
“The first run was great, and we were very satisfied with the way our JEG’s/Elite Camaro ran,” said Coughlin. “We thought we could clean it up a little on the second run and maybe pick up a hundredth or so but the car wanted to drift a little and we actually lost some performance. Still, I’m very happy with our results so far. It’s been a while since I had a car that I really felt that I had the chance to make something happen and I definitely think we’re in that position this weekend.”
NHRA fans haven’t seen much of Rodger Brogdon for the couple of seasons but with a national event in his backyard, and a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to race a KB-powered Camaro, the Tomball, Texas native couldn’t resist. Brogdon hasn’t raced in Pro Stock since the 2015 Chicago event so he decided to use Friday’s two runs to re-acquaint himself with a 210-mph Pro Stock Camaro. After three runs, Brogdon is the No. 12 seed in the field despite a very respectable 6.546, 206.29. He’s driving the same car that carried world champ Bo Butner to several of his wins last season.
“I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t say I missed it,” Brogdon said. “Racing was such a big part of my life that I figured that I would run this weekend and see how it goes and maybe run two or three more races before the year is over and make a decision on weather I want to race next year or not.”
Brogdon’s decision was made easier thanks to his favorable lease agreement with the KB team, which has supplied a car, engine, and crew for his one-race venture. Brogdon only needed to bring his helmet and fire suit in order to drive the car. His NHRA competition license was still current.”
“We talked at the beginning of the season about me coming back out maybe in the middle of the year. I have so many things going on in my life right now with the business I’m running. I have a new manufacturing business and we are making a lot of parts for the aerospace industry. I’m really busy with that and I told KB Racing maybe I will just race Houston and hopefully a couple of more before the year is over. I haven’t been to one dragstrip since my last race. I thought it would be good if I stayed away.”
Despite cloudy skies and a threatening forecast, the pits at Royal Purple Raceway were packed with Texas race fans eager for the second day of qualifying.
NHRA’s Alan Reinhart and Bob Tasca crew chief Eric Lane taught some fuel-racing basics to interested fans in the pits during the popular Nitro School feature.
Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen and Texas nitro hero Richard Tharp are part of this events NHRA Legends Tour honorees. They met fans and signed autographs during the traditional Mello Yello autograph session.
Las Vegas Four-Wide Nationals winners Vincent Nobile and J.R. Todd also were featured in the Mello Yello autograph session.
The sparks were literally flying in the camp of Funny Car veteran Del Worsham, who was making some tubing adjustments on his Toyota-bodied entry.
Top Fuel world champ Brittany Force and the Monster team seem to have fully recovered from their Pomona crash leading the field into battle Saturday.
Drivers have been wrestling with the new top-end asphalt, leading them to some emphatic descriptions of their wheelwork. Just ask Tommy Johnson Jr. ...
... Or Tim Wilkerson
Clay Millican has good company this weekend, his dog, Iggy, who's so famous he has his own Facebook page. Millican was no dog in Saturday qualifying, uncorking a 3.746 in Q3.
John Force suffered his first DNQ in almost a decade in Funny Car. That last time he failed to qualify was 221 races ago in Charlotte in 2008.
Jet cars once again were part of the show, bringing down the house to close the day.
Friday night’s qualifying at the NHRA Spring Nationals was a mixed bag for NHRA pros with several teams making impressive runs while others struggled to adjust to the combination of premium weather conditions and a new track surface. A Saturday forecast that includes a chance of precipitation adds to the dram for teams that have yet to make a representative run. Regardless, two more runs are on the schedule for Saturday and every team at Royal Purple Raceway will be looking to take advantage of them.
Reigning Top Fuel world champion b would seem to be one of the most content racers in Houston after driving her Monster Energy dragster to a strong 3.701, 313.80 to lead the field. Force debuted a new car this weekend, which is her third race car in the first five events of the season. At the end of the day, she edged eight-time champion Tony Schumacher, who wheeled the Army dragster to a 3.711, 322.73 for the provisional No. 2 spot. A total of ten Top Fuel drivers are in the three-second zone but defending event winner Leah Pritchett is not one of them. Surprisingly, perennial low qualifier Clay Millican is also in the bottom half of the field after two early shut-off runs,
So far in 2018, there have been four different Funny Car winners in the first four events but Pomona champ Matt Hagan is looking to halt that trend this weekend. Hagan, who is sporting the bright yellow colors of Pennzoil on his Schumacher Racing Dodge this weekend, blasted to a 3.913, 308.78 on Friday evening to lead the 18-car field. Hagan admitted that he shut off early on both of Friday’s runs so that would indicate a possible room for improvement on Saturday. Robert Hight, Jonnie Lindberg, Bob Tasca III, and Cruz Pedregon also found the threes on Friday and none of those four drivers have registered a win so far this season. Lindberg has been particularly impressive with runs of 4.006 and 3.927 in Jim Head’s Mustang.
While many of NHRA’s nitro team struggled on Friday, that was clearly not the case in Pro Stock where K&N Horsepower Challenge winner Greg Anderson led both sessions with a pair of 6.4-second runs in his Summit Racing Camaro. Anderson was the only driver in the 6.4s but the top 14 drivers are all in the 6.5s which makes for one of the tightest fields of the year. Anderson’s closest pursuer is five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., who is racing his third Camaro in the last three races. Coughlin, who was the low qualifier and a runner-up at last year’s Houston event, posted a 6.504, 212.36 for the No. 2 spot. The top eight drivers are separated by just .036-second with Deric Kramer’s American Ethanol Camaro holding down the No. 8 spot with a 6.528. Also noteworthy, reigning world champ and current points leader Bo Butner finished Friday outside the top half of the field after a tenth-best 6.532.