QUALIFYING ROUNDS RECAPS
FUNNY CAR Q1 (7:15 p.m.): Another qualifying session begins, and another ends with Courtney Force sitting in the No. 1 spot with the Advance Auto Parts Camaro. Force, No. 1 qualifier at seven of the first 11 events this season, ran 3.935 to hold a healthy advantage over No. 2 qualifier, Bristol winner Ron Capps, who ran 3.961. Matt Hagan sits third at 3.981 with John Force the final three-second car at 3.991.
TOP FUEL Q1 (7:55 p.m.): Like sister Courtney, Brittany Force ended the first session in the top spot after posting a 3.776 with her Monster/Advance dragster. Tony Schumacher and points leader Steve Torrence both 3.792 with “the Sarge” getting the No. 2 spot with his better speed, 330.63 to 327.82. Ohio nitro veteran Pat Dakin, who has his original Top Fuel partner from the 1970s, Gary Rupp, in attendance, also impressed with a 3.83, good for No. 7 behind the above, as well as Clay Millican (3.800), Antron Brown (3.805), and Mike Salinas (3.815).
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q1 (7:58 p.m.): Chicago winner Matt Smith continued his recent hot streak by riding his Victory-bodied bike to a 6.866, 195.39 to claim the provisional No. 1 spot after the first round of qualifying. Smith, who has been the No. 1 qualifier 26 times in his career, holds a sizable advantage over Angelle Sampey, who overcame recent struggles including a pair of DNQ efforts with a 6.899, 193.24 on her Liberty Racing Buell. Five-time world champ Andrew Hines overcame what he called a “rookie mistake” to salvage a qualifying bonus point after his 6.911, 194.58 was third-quickest for the session. As Hines prepared staged his Harley-Davidson, he was instructed to shut off due to a few drops of rain. Once he re-fired his bike, Hines staged with the bike in neutral. Realizing his error, he quickly shifted the bike into low gear and managed to complete the run. After one session, 12 of the 20 bikes in the field have run in the six-second zone.
PRO STOCK Q4: Due to the weather forecast, combined with cooling temperatures, NHRA called a halt to all racing action before the Pro Stock session could begin. Racing resumes Saturday.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER MATT SMITH: “It was good to get the first run down. I was low here last year. I went 6.82 on Saturday. This Victory bike has been hateful for the last four or five races since Charlotte. We have a top three bike every weekend, day in and day out. In Atlanta, I had a fast bike and I red-lighted in the semi’s. I also should have gone to the final last week in Richmond. The bike is doing its job. I have a new body coming. I should have it after this race. I might really have some good news after that.
“I looked back at last year and used a tune-up that was close to the same. There was a lot of water in the air so I loaded the same map. I was a little conservative. We were a little slow in 60-feet but low in E.T. and half-track speed. This has always been a good track for me. Me and dad [Rickie] won here on the same day.”
FUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER COURTNEY FORCE: “Honestly, going up there I was a little surprised we were going to lay down a number like that. With the rain coming in, I was just looking for a clean run from A to B, but Brian Corradi and Dan Hood saw the numbers that were being put on the board and I could see the look in their eyes that they were ready to go for it. It was awesome to put a 3.93 on the board like that.
“Rolling up on that pass, I had a talk with my crew chiefs and looking at the weather, I said I think it’s pretty obvious I have to get this thing down there. I was trying to listen to how everyone was running and they seemed to all be making pretty clean passes. I heard Hagan and Capps make two pretty great runs, and I knew that we were going to turn it up. It was great to be able in the back of the pack to see how everyone else was running on this track, since the conditions are so different coming from Chicago and Richmond, but it was a great start to the weekend."
TOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER BRITTANY FORCE: “With the [uncertain weather forecast] that was very important for our team to get the run in. You don’t know how many runs you’re going to get before raceday so we always want to make the best we can. The conditions were right, it was cool, but I was surprised it put a .77 on the board and that it stayed in the No. 1 spot because we still had some tough competitors behind us who could bump us down.
“I was back in the staging lanes and heard [sister Courtney Force] go right to the top in Funny Car and it’s pretty exciting to share a No. 1 with her. We’re hoping to hang in there all weekend and go for a win. That’s one thing we’d both love to do, to double up, especially because we have matching cars this weekend.”
Tony Schumacher made his milestone 150th career final round in Bristol last weekend a winning one, upping his money-round record to 84-66 (56 percent), with his final-round victory over first-time finalist Mike Salinas. Schumacher has a history of giving him first round wins to people, but that’s usually in the opening round, not the final.
“We’ve been in 150 final rounds, and people are going to win some of those against us,” he admitted. “When you race in the final round, you have to be calm, relaxed, do your job and get that win. At the end of the day what you don’t want to do is say you could’ve had more wins, but you’ve left something on the table. We’ve had times when we’ve lost on a holeshot, times we’ve done different things and got outrun – there’s always going to be a reason why you didn’t win, but you’ve got to minimize that. We try to be the best we can, try to be a machine and just replicate what we do best.
“I’ve had season’s where we’ve won 15 races before. I think my legacy will be when people ask me later in my life what was it that helped you get through all that. It’s that I was good at adversity. We’ve talked about this so many times. We’re going to win races and we are going to go through dry spells while you are learning. But you don’t fire people or point fingers. You rise to the occasion. You lead the team. You keep their confidence up. We’ve been saying for weeks, guys we’ve got a great car. When the time comes, we’ll be there. We’re always in the fight at the end of the year, let’s just get through this. You can sit there and complain and come up with excuses why we weren’t winning rounds and ultimately races, but the bottom line is we just had to figure it out.
"I would not want to race against us for the next bunch of races. We have a great U.S. Army car. Seriously, I’m calm and cool. The U.S. Army boys have a handle on this race car and we’re going work as hard as we can to keep this momentum going.”
Top Fuel rookie Audrey Worm is now officially “all-in” in her pursuit of a career in professional drag racing. She has a new sponsor in Edelbrock, who joins the Leverich Racing/OutRunPD team at this event, she now has her own professionally-designed “hero cards,” and – given the choice to stop missing time at work to go racing or lose her job -- she quit her day job, working as a clerk for the Pennsylvania state police to concentrate fulltime on fulfilling her dream.
The addition of Edelbrock – her first major backer -- will allow the team to upgrade some equipment and replace other parts lost when their rig was burglarized before the Atlanta event. It also will allow them to add a race, the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, after which she also hopes she’ll walk across the stage at the Mello Yello Awards Ceremony as the winner of the Road to the Future award as the year’s top rookie.
The Norwalk event also is a big one for Worm, who suffered a tire-shake-related concussion at her last outing, in Topeka, that forced her to sit out the final qualifying session and miss the field. She’s spent the last few weeks getting back into physical shape and adding additional ISP padding to the roll cage.
“I feel really good,” she said. “We think it happened in Q2, and then the burnout in Q3 aggravated it. I came back to the pits and was nauseous and had a killer headache and was sensitive to light. Dr. [Phil] Surface, NHRA’s doctor, knew right away what it was. I felt pretty bad for about a week, a little dizzy, and had to stay away from bright lights and screens – it really killed me not to go on my phone or the computer – and slept all day, and it cleared up pretty well.
“We’re really looking forward to the rest of the year. We want to keep qualifying and maybe winning some rounds [she won her first round at the four-wide event] in Charlotte,” she said. “Our goal this year is to learn as much as we can and be the top rookie. That would be amazing.”
Edelbrock has jumped in to help market Worm and the tea; check out this new YouTube video produced by Edlebrock that includes an interbiew with her and her father.
Top Fuel veteran Luigi Novelli, who won his first round of racing in 12 years earlier this season in Chicago where he took out pints leader Steve Torrence in round one2, is back to try to take down another big name in Norwalk.
Novelli was especially proud of his all-volunteer crew for getting the car turned around and ready for the second round.
“They did it perfectly, and we didn’t even need any help [from other crews],” he said. “We were actually one of the first cars back up there. They’ve been with me forever and work good together.”
Novelli knows that this best bet – probably his only bet – is to make sure his car goes from A to B and rely on his more powerful opponents to make a mistake, as Torrence did.
“We know we can’t outrun them – our best run is a 3.86 – so we just try to do the best job we can and worry about our own lane.”
Fans will get to see Novelli later this year with a schedule that also includes Brainerd, Indy, and St. Louis, with another race to be named to make up for missing Topeka, which was supposed to be his first race this season until the turbo in his 18-wheeler went out just a few miles into the journey.
After blowing his favored “El Chingon” Camry body to smithereens in a qualifying explosion two weeks ago in Virginia, Cruz Pedregon will be relying on the body he calls “Frankenstein until he gets his newer Toyota bodies tinned, wrapped, and mounted,
The car got its monstrous nickname as the result of its creation, which kind of embodies the lab of Dr. Frzankenstein himself.
The body is an amalgamation of parts from the Snap-on body that Pedregon damaged in a high-speed brush with the guardwall in the shutdown area during qualifying at the Phoenix event in 2013 and parts of the American Racing Wheels Toyota that brother Tony (now NHRA on FOX’s analyst) launched into space earlier that season in Pomona (as seen at right). The car had both sides molded back together to create a light, race-ready body.
Like his contemporary, Rahn Tobler over in the NAPA camp at Don Schumacher Racing, John Collins has made the switch back to the five-disc clutch in his Tommy Johnson Jr.-driven Make-A-Wish Charger. The move has worked out great for Tobler and driver Ron Capps, who won in Bristol last weekend, their first win since moving to the six-disc earlier this year.
Collins actually switched to the six-disc - favored because it has more clutch surface area to prevent the discs from welding together under stress and heat -- at the end of last season and Johnson won the Auto Club NHRA Finals their first time out, but the change to a new car in Virginia and NHRA’s new track prep wasn’t working out for them.
“In the first round in Chicago, the car had been slow from one second to 1.8 and we didn’t change anything and it got real quick there for no reasons and started spinning the tires; that’s the six disc.
“This car, which we got right after Chicago, hooks a lot better, so we thought this was the right move,” he explained. “We’re just going at it easy right now, but it seems to be working out. It’s going down the racetrack and we’re working on getting it back to how it was last year. We made a lot of good runs with the five disc the last couple of years.
“Plus, we left the old car totally intact, so if we get into real trouble with this car and combination, we can switch right back to that car.”
Del Worsham will have both of his Funny Cars in action this week, with him driving the primary car and John Smith, as he did in Virginia, driving the second car. The team’s Top Fueler, normally driven by Bill Litton, is parked for this weekend.
Smith comes into the event hot off of a Nostalgia Funny Car runner-up two weekends ago at NHRA’s Holley National Hot Reunion in Bowling Green, Ky., where he wheeled his family’s Entertainer entry.
“We ran good and got to the final, but did a big wheelie and then the car unloaded once it got on the wheelie bar,” he said. “We ran 5.84 and 5,88 on a 140-degree track but [final-round opponent Dan] Horan had run a .75 in the first round, so the old man [former Funny Car driver Paul Smith] wanted to run a .70s in the final but it stood up on the back wheels, I drove it as long as I could.”
Worsham, who is going race-to-race trying to keep the team going while he works on major sponsorship, will also run both Funny Cars later this year in a match race in Illinois, and also continue to tune Litton, who already has two rounds wins to his credit this season, at select events throughout the season.
Rob Bruins and Eddie Krawiec share a unique distinction among NHRA racers for winning championships without the benefit of a race win. Bruins won the 1979 Top Fuel title and Krawiec scored the first of his four Pro Stock Motorcycle championships in 2008 and neither driver won an event in those seasons. Greg Anderson currently leads the Pro Stock standings, but he is winless so far on the season. As much as Anderson would like to add a fifth Mello Yello championship to his resumé, he absolutely does not want to join Bruins and Krawiec.
“The bright spot is we’re leading the points, so the season can’t be too bad, but it’s disappointing we haven’t won,” said Anderson, who has 90 career wins. “I felt like we’ve underachieved. There’s a lot of great cars and there may be 12-13 different winners this season, but we want to make sure we win one. We just haven’t made the perfect calls on Sunday. We have to do a better job of managing the race track. We’ve been great this year in qualifying, but just a little off the mark on Sunday. That’s what we’ve got to fix. Qualifying has been great and I can’t complain about our power, but we have to change things on Sunday. Our theory here for success has been to win races. That’s how we judge ourselves.”
Anderson has been outstanding during qualifying, posting seven No. 1 qualifiers in 11 races, but hasn’t been able to take that final step during eliminations. He knows he has a car capable of winning multiple times, but Anderson also realizes his team must start finishing the job when the opportunity arises. Fortunately, for Anderson, the Norwalk event is just the half-way point of the season, so he has plenty of opportunities remaining in which to win a Wally. He’s also got a strong history at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park with three wins in five final round appearances.
“If we win this weekend, it turns the season into a success instantly,” Anderson said of his sponsor’s event. “It’s the biggest race of the year because of Summit and the fact it’s their 50th anniversary makes it even bigger. There’s a lot on the line with this race, but we’re good with that. I like that extra pressure and often that’s when we’re able to up our game. I don’t know why, but it’s happened many, many times. For some reason, I remember past years coming into Norwalk into a little bit of a lull, and somehow, some way this race falls our way. It’s fixed a lot of seasons for us and it needs to do that again this year. I think it can.”
Jeg Coughlin Jr. has won 79 NHRA national event titles in seven different eliminators and his victories have come coast-to-coast at 24 different facilities. Coughlin has won at least once at every current facility on the tour except for Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Nowalk, and New England Dragway, which host the next two events on the Mello Yello tour. Coughlin is in a prime position to add those two titles to his resum, since he’s in the midst of a three-race win streak that includes Pro Stock titles in Chicago and Bristol and a Super Comp win in Richmond.
“When you've gone as long as we had without winning, you reach a point where you take whatever you can get,” said Coughlin. “The last couple years were a little tiring at times and although we had our chances here and there, we never capitalized on them. Suddenly, we find our way and the entire mood changes. For five or six races now we've had a great racecar and we know it. When you feel that confidence in every corner of your racecar you know you have an opportunity to make a real impact. It's put everyone at Elite on a party wagon, so to speak, but I'm just going to stay focused. However, I'm certainly enjoying this feeling because you can never take it for granted.
“Chicago was a perfect weekend,” Coughlin said. “We qualified great and had the quickest car every round on race day. We were slightly disappointed in the Pro Stock car in Virginia because we had the quickest car of Round 1 but shook the tires in Round 2 and lost. Fortunately, we went on to win Super Comp, which is every bit as hard as Pro Stock, so that kept us on this high. Then we returned to form in Bristol. It's been a wonderful run and we don't want it to stop.”
As a result of his recent hot streak, Coughlin has made big move in the Mello Yello standings, moving from No. 11 to No. 6 in that last three events. He is currently just 152-points behind leader Greg Anderson with seven races remaining before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin.
Riding high after his wins in Las Vegas and Atlanta, Vincent Nobile has come back to earth in the last few events with just four round wins in the last four races. Nobile has dropped from first to third in the Mello Yello standings, but he’s not the least bit concerned about the performance of the Mountain View team.
“We’ve had a couple of bad races but nothing too serious,” said Nobile. “We’ve missed the set-up but we know what we missed and why we missed it. We made a bad tuning call in Richmond two weeks ago. We thought that the weather was going to stay cool and it didn’t stay cool. It got really hot and we weren’t ready for it. In Bristol, we got behind the eight-ball and didn’t qualify very well. We were eighth when we probably should have been third or fourth. We lost lane choice in the second round against Greg [Anderson] and that was the end of it. Lane choice was big at that race. I think we’re going to be a lot better this weekend.”
Nobile has a lot of reasons to be optimistic heading into Norwalk since he won the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals back-to-back in 2011-12, and also won the K&N Horsepower Challenge in 2012, before it moved to Las Vegas.
Angelle Sampey went most of her career without having to worry about qualifying for a Pro Stock Motorcycle field. That streak technically ended in 2015 when she missed the field for the fall Las Vegas race but that was due to an injury that prevented her from making all four qualifying runs. Sampey has now legitimately failed to qualify a the last two events on her Liberty Racing Buell and she’s not shy about expressing how much it hurts.”
“Not qualifying the last two races was a tough pill to swallow but that feeling has now changed to just pure determination,” Sampey said. “I’m confident that we can turn our luck around and have a great weekend in Norwalk this weekend. Our team has been working real hard and eventually it’ll turn around in our favor.”
After a promising start to the season, Sampey and her Liberty teammate Cory Reed took a step backwards at the last two races in Chicago and Richmond. Those sort of ups and downs were to be expected since the Liberty Racing team completely overhauled their engine program last winter. Veteran Pro Stock racer Larry Morgan is now building the team’s V-twin engines in his Newark, Ohio shop. Two-time Pro Stock champion Jim Yates has also been added as a team consultant. The team’s growing pains have been reflected in Sampey’s qualifying performances. She opened the season as the No. 8 seed in Gainesville but has been outside the field in the No. 19 and No. 20 spots in Chicago and Richmond, respectively.
A year ago, Joey Gladstone was a legit contender for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award as the NHRA’s top professional rookie. Gladstone won eight rounds and qualified for the Countdown to the Championship and ultimately finished in the No. 9 spot. So far, the 2018 season has not been as kind to the talented rider. Gladstone has qualified for all five races aboard his Yellow Corn Suzuki, but he’s yet to turn on a win light.
“It’s frustrating,” said Gladstone. “You leave first and get outrun. Leave first and get outrun. It’s been the same thing at every race. We really just need to start winning some rounds. We need luck and we need to start making better runs. When that happens, you’ll see a big improvement in my attitude. I haven’t been myself this year. I’m really not this miserable.”
The good news for Gladstone is that even though he’s ranked No. 14 in the Pro Stock Motorcycle points standings, he’s just 34-points behind tenth-ranked Angie Smith.
“I need to make the top ten; it’s that simple,” said Gladstone. “That’s our goal coming out here and thankfully, we still have a shot at it. Right now, I just need to get to a semifinal or a couple of second rounds. That would cure a lot of the problems around here. As a rider, all I can do is leave on time and hit my shift points and keep the bike straight. If I can do that, and I have been for the most part, then we should be okay.”
Gladstone, like many of the Suzuki riders in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, has struggled with reliability issues this season. Teammates Jimmy Underdahl, Karen Stoffer, and Scotty Pollacheck have been similarly affected.
Mike Salinas, who drove to a runner-up finish in Top Fuel last weekend in Bristol, has big plans to expand his Scrappers Racing team in the coming seasons and they revolve around his daughters, Jasmine, Jianna, and Janae. Jasmine is already a licensed Top Alcohol Dragster driver and Janae, the youngest daughter at 18, is planning to test a Pro Mod car later this year. Jianna, 20, is already well on her way to earning a Pro Stock Motorcycle license and if all goes according to plan, she’ll be racing in the NHRA Mello Yello Series next season. The fourth Salinas daughter, Jacqueline, stays busy working in the family reclycling business.
“I’m claustrophobic, so that’s why I decided to race a motorcycle,” said Jianna, who currently attends San Jose State University, and briefly raced a Jr. Dragster as a teenager. “I have a street bike and it’s a lot of fun, so I decided to try a Pro Stock Motorcycle. So far, it’s a blast. I like the feeling of being out there in the wind. There’s a lot of freedom.”
Salinas is learning the ins and outs of NHRA two-wheel racing from veteran team owners Gary Stoffer and Greg Underdahl, who have assembled a Suzuki specifically for licensing purposes. The bike is capable of high 7-second elapsed times, but it’s equipped with a slider clutch which makes it easier to ride. Coming into 2018, Salinas had zero experience on a drag bike, but she’s progressed to the point where she’s recently run 9.0s at over 160-mph.
“I have about 21 runs so far, including 18 that we made one day in Indy when it was so hot,” said Salinas. “I’d say that best case, I’m 50-percent of the way to getting a license. I have not plans to rush this and I don’t want to come out here until we all feel that I’m ready. We’re not there yet but I’m happy with the progress we’ve made. I have a long way to go.”
Stoffer and Underdahl have proven to be great teachers and Salinas has also benefitted from the advice of Stoffer’s wife, Karen, an eighth-time winner who has been a regular in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class for more than two decades.
“Karen is great; she gives me a lot of good advice and most of it is about safety,” said Salinas. “She reminds me that what goes on out here is mostly in your mind. You’ve got to have your head on straight to be able to do this well. I’m hoping to test some more after races this year including this week [in Norwalk]. I plan on going to all of the races this year except for maybe Epping and Brainerd because I'm getting ready to go back to school."
The new all-concrete Norwalk surface is meeting with rave reviews. Comp eliminator superstar David Billingsley found the starting line very much to his liking.
Rain fell towards the end of the first Pro Mod qualifying session, putting action on hold for nearly three hours.
Pro Mod pilot Bob Rahaim was one of those caught waiting to run when the wet stuff fell, but after the NHRA Safety Safari did their thing, action was able to resume.
Fans took advantage during the rain delay to descend upon Wild Bill’s Ice Cream Saloon for the world-famous $1-a-pound ice cream.
Top Fuel driver Mike Salinas was one of the many who scooped up the cool confection despite the cool day.
Richie Crampton’s DHL/Kalitta Air team warned up their dragster before the first qualifying session.
Top Fuel pilot Scott Palmer turned the tables on the National Dragster photosgraphers, whipping out his phone for a photo of them.
The Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals is the final race four straight weeks of action on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour that began in Chicago before going to Richmond, Va., and last weekend to Bristol, Tenn. According to weather forecasters/guessers, it’s going to be a weekend with one eye spent on the sky for the wet stuff and the other on the track.
Tony Schumacher broke a 15-month dry spell with his Top Fuel win in Bristol, putting the sport’s winningest fuel dragster driver on the scoreboard for the first time since the 2017 Gatornationals and giving crew chief Mike Neff his first win with the team he joined at the start of this season. Schumacher’s DSR teammate, Antron Brown, is also looking to end the four-week stretch on an up note, having made considerable progress on a crew reorganization that began at the start of the year.
Like his DSR teammate Schumacher, Ron Capps also got on the scoreboard for the first time this season with his win in Bristol, which was his first since last fall in St. Louis. Capps’ crew chief, Rahn Tobler, switched back from the ubiquitous six-disc clutch to his familiar five-disc unit in Topeka and the results have been obvious. John Force is the next obvious choice on the comeback tour. He’s run in Norwalk a lot as he’s a match race favorite here, so maybe this weekend is his weekend.
Through the first 11 races of the season there have been eight different winners in the Pro Stock class and surprisingly, Summit drivers Greg Anderson and Jason Line are not among them. If there is ever an opportune time for Anderson to break his winless drought it would be this weekend. Racing at his sponsor’s event, Anderson has enjoyed tremendous success in Norwalk with three wins in five final rounds since 2008. Anderson has been to the final of the last three NHRA national events at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. For all of Anderson’s success, the man of the hour in Pro Stock is rival Jeg Coughlin who has won two of the last three Pro Stock events including last week’s race in Bristol. Coughlin has won national event titles at 24 different tracks but is winless in both Norwalk and Epping, the next two events on the NHRA Mello Yello tour.
There have been just five events this season for competitors in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class and so far the only repeat winner is reigning champion Eddie Krawiec, who earned titles in Gainesville and Charlotte. Former champs Jerry Savoie, Matt Smith and LE Tonglet have also earned victories. Tonglet scored at the most recent event in Richmond when he rode his Nitro Fish Suzuki to a final round win over five-time champion Andrew Hines. Tonglet figures to be one of the favorites this weekend since he is also the defending event champ at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. Smith, the 2010 and 2013 Norwalk winner, has also enjoyed a resurgence lately aboard his S&S-powered Victory entry.