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Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals Saturday Notebook

Clay Millican earned his seventh Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier of the season, while Courtney Force (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) snagged the top seeds at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
28 Jul 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Sonoma

Preview | Features | Photos | Results

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

matt.JPGMICKEY THOMPSON PRO BIKE BATTLE ROUND 1 (1:04 p.m.): Scotty Pollacheck, LE Tonglet, Matt Smith, and Eddie Krawiec survived an upset-filled round one of the annual Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle. Pollacheck advanced after Jerry Savoie fouled on his White Alligator Suzuki and Tonglet defeated Denver champ Hector Arana Jr., who ran 200.02 mph on his Lucas Oil EBR, but couldn’t match Tonglet’s 6.841 elapsed time with a 6.889. Matt Smith knocked out five-time battle winner Andrew Hines with a 6.783, the quickest run of the event so far. Angie Smith nearly defeated reigning world champ Eddie Krawiec, but her Denso Buell slowed to a 6.919, allowing Krawiec to advance with a 6.848, 198.73. Smith was .04-second better than Krawiec at the 1,000-foot mark before she wounded an engine, running just 180.36 mph. Krawiec was the only higher-seeded bike to advance.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Eddie Krawiec vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Matt Smith vs. LE Tonglet

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (1:19 p.m.): Based on his performance in the opening round of the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle, Matt Smith has taken over the top spot in the field with a 6.783 on his Victory V-twin. Joey Gladstone made the second-best run at 6.815, and LE Tonglet secured a bonus point with a 6.841 on his Nitro Fish Suzuki. Jim Underdahl also turned in one of the best runs of the weekend with a 6.845, one of his best runs of the year.There was also a lot of bumping at the tail end of the field with Kelly Clontz eventually landing on the bump spot with a 6.95  Heading into the final session, 2009 world champ Hector Arana is among the riders who is not qualified for the competitive 16-bike field.  

kramer.JPGPRO STOCK Q3 (1:28 p.m.): The top spot did not change during Saturday’s third round of Pro Stock qualifying but there was a fair amount of improvement throughout the field. Deric Kramer picked up the three bonus points for the best run of the round with a 6.524, 211.43 while teammat Bo Butner also made a solid improvement with a 6.526, 211.39. The KB cars now occupy the top four spots in the field with Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Kramer and Butner as the top seeds. Jeg Coughlin Jr. also scored a bonus point after a 6.530, 212.03 in his JEGS.com Camaro. Also noteworthy is the continued struggles of Alex Laughlin who was unable to make it to the starting line for the second-straight run after encountering an engine-related issue.

tony2.JPGTOP FUEL Q3 (2:23 p.m.): Tony Schumacher didn’t move up the ladder, but he did make the best run of the round and earn three points by running the only 3.70 of the penultimate qualifying session. His 3.764 bested Steve Torrence (3.802), who made his first good run of the entire weekend. Leah Pritchett also made a strong pass (3.819) while Richie Crampton stayed consistent with his second 3.80 of the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Clay Millican remained the No. 1 qualifier, while Bill Litton climbed into the No. 14 position as Jim Maroney sunk into the bottom spot (No. 15).   

capps.JPGFUNNY CAR Q3 (2:54 p.m.): A pair of Rahn Tobler-influenced cars made the best runs of the third Funny Car qualifying session as Ron Capps surged to a 3.984-second pass to earn three points and Bob Tasca III pulled down a 4.006. Neither racer improved, but the Rahn Tobler crew chiefed Funny Car made the only 3-second pass of the penultimate session to make a great race day tune-up. Tasca, whose crew chief is Tobler protégé Eric Lane, scored a pair of points by making the second-best run of the session and was followed by a fellow Ford runner in Tim Wilkerson (4.078).  

eddie.JPGMICKEY THOMPSON PRO BIKE BATTLE SEMIFINALS (4:17 p.m.): It will be Eddie Krawiec vs. Matt Smith for the $25,000 top prize in the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle after a thrilling semifinal round. Krawiec defeated Scotty Pollacheck to reach the final round for the third-straight year and he did it in style with a 6.757 to take over the top spot in qualifying. Krawiec also barley missed a spot in the Denso 200-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle Club with a career-best 199.94 blast. In the other pairing, Smith held on to defeat defending Pro Bike Battle winner LE Tonglet, 6.803 to 6.806. Smith also recorded an impressive speed with a 198.12 effort.

stoff.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q4 (4:24 p.m.): The tailwind that helped boost performances during Friday’s opening Pro Stock Motorcycle returned in Q4 and the results were impressive. Eddie Krawiec reclaimed the top spot after a 6.757 run on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson during the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle. He was followed by Hector Arana Jr. with a 6.775, 199.88 and Matt Smith with a 6.803.  The bump spot changed several times before settling into a quick 6.925 by Karen Stoffer on her Skillman Auto Group Suzuki. Hector Arana Sr. entered the session out of the field but easily qualified after running a 6.861 on his Lucas Oil Buell. He will face off with 2016 world champ Jerry Savoie in tomorrow’s opening round.

Round one pairings (lane choice first): Eddie Krawiec vs. Karen Stoffer; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Angelle Sampey; Matt Smith vs. Ryan Oehler; LE Tonglet vs. Cory Reed; Joey Gladstone vs. Angie Smith; Andrew Hines vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Jimmy Underdahl vs. Steve Johnson; Jerry Savoie vs. Hector Arana Sr.

jeggy.JPGPRO STOCK Q4 (4:50 p.m.): It was status quo for most of the 16 Pro Stock teams in Sonoma as they made their final tune-up runs ahead of tomorrow’s first round of eliminations. Greg Anderson held on to the top spot with his 6.515 from Friday and will lead the field for the 102nd time in his career. He is now tied with the late Bob Glidden for second-place honors among Pro Stock drivers, behind Warren Johnson’s 138. The KB cars hold down the top four spots in the field with Anderson followed by Jason Line, Deric Kramer and reigning champ Bo Butner. The quickest pass of the round was made by five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., who turned in a confidence-inspiring 6.534, 211.13. Coughlin edged Kramer and Anderson, who ran 6.536 and 6.539, respectively.

Round one pairings (lane choice first): Greg Anderson vs. Joey Grose; Jason Line vs. Steve Graham; Deric Kramer vs. Alan Pruisensky; Bo Butner vs. Alex Laughlin; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Fernando Cuadra; Tanner Gray vs. Vincent Nobile; Erica Enders vs. Matt Hartford; Drew Skillman vs. Chris McGaha

smith.JPGMICKEY THOMPSON PRO BIKE BATTLE FINAL (5:40 p.m.): Matt Smith used a starting line holeshot to grab the $25,000 first place check in the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle. Smith got off the starting line first against rival Eddie Krawiec and held the lead to the finish line with a 6.793 to 6.764 victory. The win was Smith’s first in the specialty event, which featured the best eight riders in the class. Earlier in eliminations, Smith rode his Victory to wins against Andrew Hines and defending event champion LE Tonglet. Krawiec, appearing in his foruth-straight Pro Bike Battle final round, received $10,000 for his runner-up finish.

tasca.JPGFUNNY CAR Q4 (6:20 p.m.): Bob Tasca III ran right on his four-pass average (4.014) and, despite not earning any bonus points, has a car perfectly set up for race day. The Funny Car, tuned by Eric Lane, is qualified in the No. 3 position and will race Jonnie Lindberg in the first round. Both racers are battling for a Countdown to the Championship position, which will make for a thrilling first-round encounter. Jack Beckman is not in need of a Countdown spot (he’s safe) but he will meet up with J.R. Todd in the first round in a rematch one of the best races of the modern Funny Car era, which occurred at Sonoma Raceway a season ago.

First-round matchups (lane choice first): Courtney Force vs. Jeff Diehl; Jack Beckman vs. J.R. Todd; Bob Tasca III vs. Jonnie Lindberg; Matt Hagan vs. Jim Campbell; Ron Capps vs. Richard Townsend; Tim Wilkerson vs. Robert Hight; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs Cruz Pedregon; Shawn Langdon vs. John Force

E_Krawiec.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER EDDIE KRAWIEC: “I came close to going 200 [mph] and I came close to $25,000 but I botched that. It’s on me. We were having a great day but I missed it and missed 200-mph run. It was right there. I can’t stress how much the weather plays a part. You must have a tail wind. The weekend is not over. It could happen tomorrow sure. I’m happy to have a green [low qualifier] hat but I really wanted to be holding that big Mickey Thompson check at the end of the day. I just have so much going on in my head right now. This is a kick in the teeth but I’ll get over it there is still a race to be won tomorrow.

“I had a great motorcycle all day today. If you look at my three runs they were all pretty good. I ran a 6.84 on the first round but it rattled the tire. We went back to the trailer and brainstormed. Matt and Andrew [Hines] worked on the tune-up and we came back out and blistered it. That [6.757] was a nice clean run. I thought it was the run [that we ran 200-mph]. I pulled over at the top end and they told me 199.94 and I couldn’t believe it. I thought for sure it had to be over 200. I have a lot of confidence, though. I’m excited rolling into race day. I have a good bike and I just need to go out there and do my job and we’ll be just fine. Today was tough on a couple of fronts but the weekend isn’t over yet.”

G_Anderson.JPGPRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER GREG ANDERSON: “I was told I’m not tied with Bob Glidden and that’s pretty darn cool. I respect that guy. I admire him and looked up to him. We absolutely would not have this great class if not for him so it’s a heck of an honor to tie him. There is a part of me that says I’m not worthy. A small part of me would like to just stay tied with him. My career would not have been anywhere near what it has been without Bob. He was Mad Dog. He was the man. He dominated and taught us how to race. It took us years to catch on. Bob had that killer instinct. He did whatever it took to win. He just flat knew a million different ways to get it done so yes, I’m very honored.

“That’s nine low qualifiers this year but that’s not an advantage. Getting the low qualifier award on Saturday but doesn’t make you the favorite on Sunday. We have so much parity in this class being the No. 1 qualifier means you have a few thousandths over the next guy. A couple of years ago when the new rules package was announced everything tightened up. It was designed to create more parity and it has absolutely has done that.  There is just not a lot of room to work on the engine package anymore. I guarantee that the top 12 cars in this class are within five horsepower. With that, you’ve got to find a better way to tune your car because there is zero room for error. This class is the ultimate challenge in racing and that’s why we do it.”

FUNNY CAR NO. 1 QUALIFIER COURTNEY FORCE:It’s been huge. The credit is obviously owed to my entire Advance Auto Parts team that has been doing such an incredibly consistent job with it. It’s not just Brian Corradi and Dan Hood, but yeah. We had a great number yesterday and I don’t know if we were looking to improve today but we at least would have liked to be more consistent. We struggled a little but, the tire was slipping in Q3 and we dropped a hole and it shot me towards the wall. Despite that we held on to the top spot. So, job well done to my team.

TOP FUEL NO. 1 QUALIFIER CLAY MILLICAN: I have 17 No. 1 qualifiers and three wins. The ratio is way wrong. I want to improve that ratio, but I am not ever going to complain about being the No. 1 qualifier and it certainly shows that we are capable of being the quickest car here. In the third qualifying session we saw the Army car go 3.76 and we tried to push our car and the track just didn’t hold it. So, in the fourth qualifying session we just tried to get down the track. (Team owner) Doug Stringer and I just looked at the ladder and it’s really stacked on my side, but you’re gonna have to beat all those guys if you wanna win on Sunday.

FEATURES

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Leah Pritchett absolutely dominated the first race of the Western Swing and made another pair of solid runs on Friday to kick off the second race. Crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant crew chief Joe Barlam have a handle on her dragster, this week sponsored by Jeb Allen’s Palomar construction company, and Pritchett is driving the pants off of it.  

“I’m feeling very good about this Western Swing,” said Pritchett. “As long of a week as the Mile-High Nationals was for our team, it feels like it has flown by. With Denver in our rear view mirror, and a Wally on the dash, we feel good about our momentum coming into Sonoma. From one extreme altitude to sea level, the racecar components may change, but the motivation to keep winning and excel is still sky high.”

It's more than momentum fueling Pritchett’s success. After struggling to start the season, Pritchett now averages an elapsed time of 3.824 seconds. That’s still around class average (3.821) but is trending in the right direction and the dragster is getting more consistent. Pritchett gets down the track 52 percent of the time (50 percent class average) and owns the best 60-foot time average (.844, compared to an .856 class average) in the Top Fuel category.

“I know last weekend’s success was more than just magic on the mountain,” said Pritchett. “We know what it’s like and what it takes to win back to back (Pomona and Phoenix 2017) and that is what we’re focusing on. Let’s see if we can do it again.”

She’s already in a good position to do it again. 

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Mike Salinas is in the thick of a bitter Countdown to the Championship battle with Richie Crampton and Scott Palmer and currently sits on the outside of things in the No. 11 spot following the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals. The San Jose, California native is looking to get back into the playoff mix at his hometown race at Sonoma Raceway using the same determination he’s displayed all season.

“We’re gonna win man, nothing else. We’ve got our stuff settled,” said Salinas. “We had a bad air bottle last week and that’s a mistake that won’t be made again. We changed our procedures, made some personnel changes and we think we’re ready to go and we’ve got no choice. It’s all or none.” 

Sonoma Raceway is only an hour and a half from San Jose, but that doesn’t change Salinas’ mindset entering the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals. 

“Every race is the same for us,” said the Scrappers Racing driver. “(Tuning consultant Alan Johnson) expects us to win no matter where we go. He’s teaching us how to race and how to win. And when we’re going through trials and tribulations it’s not like he hasn’t been there before.” 

That partnership has clearly paid dividends since Salinas returned to racing in Topeka in 2017. Salinas made his first final in 2018 and is poised to pick up his first victory sooner rather than later. He averages an elapsed time of a 3.836 and now looks to work on his consistency moving forward. 

“He helps us with what we should to do when we drive, how to line us up, all the stuff he’s giving Brittany Force, everything,” said Salinas. “The nice thing is that he doesn’t ridicule. (He says), ‘we need to do this, we need to stop this. We’ve seen that, and we need to work on this.’ If we want to win we can’t browbeat each other, we need to be a team so when we spin the tires it has to work the same way, I can’t blame Alan for something.’

Salinas enters Saturday qualified No. 10. 

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Tony Schumacher isn’t the No. 1 qualifier, but he has one of the most consistent cars on property through three qualifying sessions. The Top Fuel pilot is qualified fourth on the back of a 3.747-second pass and made a 3.764 run in the third session. Schumacher was encouraged by his Friday night pass, but is likely even more fired up about making a great run in the heat. 

“We’ve been working on our first 60 feet for a long time and we did an .833 that got us off to a really strong start and it set the tone for a really solid run to the finish line,” said Schumacher. “We lost a real close one last weekend – one 10,000th of a second. And we knew it was going to be in the early numbers if we’re going to keep that sort of thing from happening.”

Schumacher has struggled to knock down the 60-foot timer the way some of his teammates have this season. He averages an .854 to 60 feet, which is above average (.856) but not going to cut it when chasing a championship. Steve Torrence gets to the first timing block in .846 second, and that hundredth of a second makes a big difference when trying to close down cars to the 1,000-foot marker. 

Given how successful Schumacher has been in spite of a slow car to the 60, this should have other teams shaking in their boots. Now it’s a matter of keeping everything else quick while shaving time in the early part of the race track. 

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Last year, Robert Hight set a world record at Sonoma Raceway. On Friday night, the defending world champion took a different sort of wild ride down the strip when he blew the burst panel off his Auto Club Chevy Camaro Funny Car. 

“It kind of rattled where John’s rattled. Mine went through it and I thought, ‘Alright we’re home free.’ But then, at about 200 feet it just went boom,” Hight said. “It burned No. 1 piston to a crisp and then somehow it tried lifting the cylinder head off and cross fired between one and three and that’s what blew the blower off. We don’t know why. Maybe a plugged nozzle. We haven’t gone through everything yet but somehow, No. 1 (cylinder) was running really lean.”

That made for a late night for the crew of the defending champ, who is now qualified in the ninth position with a solid chance to improve Saturday. He’s in the field on the back of a 4.051 he made during the first session. Hight has a lot of great memories from Sonoma Raceway but only one win, that’s something he’s looking to change this weekend. 

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Cruz Pedregon failed to get down the track in his “El Guapo” body on the second pass of the night after making the best run of the first qualifying session (4.032). That moved Pedregon down to the No. 8 position and set him up with a matchup against Robert Hight should things stay the same through the final two qualifying sessions. 

They probably won’t. There’s one more evening session to come at 5 p.m. for the Nitro Funny Cars and Pedregon has a car capable going in the 3-second range, even with the slightly older “El Guapo” body on board. The problem with his flopper on Friday was a fried valve spring. The team is still trying to diagnose where the problem occurred – on the run or the burnout. 

Given how early Pedregon’s ride ended (during the first 60-feet), it seems likely the problem occurred during the burnout, but the diagnosis has yet to be completed at the time of this writing. Regardless, crew chief Aaron Brooks will throw a race day tune up into the Toyota Camry Funny Car for the penultimate qualifying session before attacking the track during the hero run in Q4. 

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Richard Townsend has had an adventurous weekend driving his Nitraholic Funny Car. The old-school looking flopper smacked the wall on Friday night, lightly squishing the headers on the side of his car after his parachutes failed to deploy. 

His team was able to buff out the scratches and get his car back into working order for the third qualifying session. 
Townsend entered Saturday in the No. 10 position on the back of that 4.055-second run, but then things got interesting once again while running opposite John Force. 

Townsend made it through the lights before the burst panel on his Funny Car popped into his field of vision. That sent Townsend scrambling to keep his flopper straight – unfortunately he veered towards the wall and lightly scraped it. 

"We've got this thing hauling the mail, I just gotta start driving this thing the way I want to," said Townsend. 
The damage was minimal at most, and Townsend will be able to stay in competition without any trouble. 

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Bo Butner’s qualifying efforts in 2018 have been inconsistent at best. The reigning NHRA Mello Yello champion has been a top half qualifier at eight of the first 14 events, but he’s also been seeded as low as No. 10 at three events, which tends to make from some tough draws during Sunday’s final eliminations. In Sonoma, Butner kicked off Friday’s Pro Stock qualifying in the best way possible; with a 6.558 that was good for the No. 1 spot and the three qualifying bonus points that go with it. During the second session, which was by far the quicker of the two, Butner improved to a 6.538, but was knocked down to fourth behind teammates Greg Anderson, Jason Line, and Gray Motorsports driver Tanner Gray.

“It looks like our car is back,” said Butner. “Last week [in Denver] we were tied with Greg Anderson for low of the round in the first round, and that's a big positive for me. We missed it on our second run, but it still wasn’t half-bad. If I stay fourth, I’ll be okay with that. You can win from anywhere, but it never hurts to be in the top four or five.

Butner has enjoyed a significant amount of success in Sonoma during his still-young Pro Stock career. He was a runner-up to Anderson in 2016 and also made the final last year before falling to then-rookie Gray. He was also the low qualifier in Sonoma in 2016.

“For whatever reason, we seem to do well out West, even in my Sportsman cars,” said Butner. “I can't really tell you why, but it's awesome. I've been to the final round in Sonoma the last two years, and I'd be happy for a win. You always want to close the deal – especially if you've raced for as long as I have, you want to win at every track you go to.”

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jeg.JPGWith two Pro Stock wins and a Super Comp victory, Jeg Coughlin Jr. has already had what most would describe as a successful season and it’s likely that the six-time champion isn’t done. Coughlin enters Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions as the No. 6 ranked driver in the field after a 6.544, 209.49 best on Friday and he’s also successfully navigated the first two rounds of eliminations in Stock behind the wheel of his Dodge Challenger Drag Pak. First and foremost a sportsman racer, Coughlin decided to bring his 9-second Challenger to all three stops on the Western Swing.

“If you know me, you know that I value seat time, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a Pro Stock car or a Stock Eliminator car. I firmly believe that the more runs you can make, the better you’re going to be,” said Coughlin. “You can always learn something from any run.”

Coughlin got through the first two rounds of eliminations in Stock. He is scheduled to face Division 6 ace Jody Lang in the third round.

UPDATE: Coughlin lost to Lang's Chevy Malibu in the third round in a race decided by just .009-second at the finish line.


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Drew Skillman is easily how own worst critic so when he says he’s struggling, it figures to be an honest assessment.

“It’s true; I haven’t been driving very well for a while now and it bothers me,” said Skillman. “I’ve been chasing my tail. My shift points haven’t been sharp and my lights haven’t been great either. It’s bad because we’ve made a ton of runs so you’d think I’d be sharp but I’m just in a slump right now. I lost in the first round in Denver and that was ridiculous. There’s no way that should have happened. Normally, I shouldn’t have more than two or three first round losses in an entire year.”

Skillman isn’t a quitter and he realizes that there is plenty of time for him to right the ship and even contend for the Mello Yello Pro Stock championship. Skillman also won the Stock title in Denver behind the wheel of his Cobra Jet Mustang and he admits that was as a big confidence-booster.

“I love sportsman racing and as I said last week, that [Stock win] means just as much to me as any win in Pro Stock,” Skillman said. “It certainly isn’t any easier to win in Stock, especially as a driver. In some ways, it might be more difficult because there are so many good racers and you usually have to win six or seven rounds, not just four like you do in Pro Stock.”

Skillman feel like he’s on the verge of a big breakthrough with his Gray Motorsports-powered Pro Stock Camaro and in a sport where timing is everything, he’d be happy to wait until Indy or one of the Countdown events in order to get his first victory of the season.

“Give me a win at Indy and I’d be happy to finish tenth in Pro Stock,” said Skillman, who is the defending champ at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. “Obviously, Indy is my home event and it means that much to win it. I’d also like to find my groove in the Countdown. We’d traditionally been good late in the year and it would be big to get a couple of wins in those last six races. First, though we need to fix our issues and that begins with my driving. I need to figure out how to be .020 or better on the Tree. I think that the Stock win in Denver will be big when it comes to confidence. We’ll see how that goes.”


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A year after he was a legitimate contender for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award, Joey Gladstone is struggling to find his footing in the competitive Pro Stock Motorcycle class. Generally regarded as one of the most gifted motorcycle drag racers of all time, Gladstone is still looking for his first round win of the season after the first seven events. That would be frustrating for any rider, but for someone who leads the class in reaction time average, it’s especially maddening.

“You know how frustrating it is to leave on everyone and then just watch them drive by you?” said Gladstone. “That’s been the story all year. We’ve been struggling because we haven’t had the horsepower to compete. I’ve been in a bad mood most of the year and that’s not really who I am. This is supposed to be fun.”

Thankfully for Gladstone, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. After the Stoffer/Underdahl team installed a new engine in Gladstone’s Yellow Corn Suzuki he rode to a 6.837 that is currently good for the No. 4 spot in the field. If it holds up, it will be Gladstone’s best starting spot of the season. While his newfound power has been an asset, Gladstone also made one of the better runs of the day, thanks to a very competitive 1.04-second sixty foot time.

“We made a really good run, and we needed it badly,” said Gladstone. “We got off the starting line in good shape but there was a little room for improvement on the rest of the run. Depending on conditions, I actually think we can run quicker than we did yesterday. Our goal this year was to finish in the top ten and that’s still a possibility but I have to get moving and win some rounds.”

Gladstone entered the Sonoma round in 15th place in the Mello Yello standings, but he is just 61-points behind Hector Arana Sr. and Angelle Sampey, who are tied for tenth.

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Filed under the heading of ‘We really needed that’ Scotty Pollacheck scored a win in the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle after Jerry Savoie fouled. Pollacehck also ran a respectable 6.941, 193.60 on his Stoffer/Underdahl Racing Suzuki to help solidify his spot in the field.

“We’ve been fighting a lot of gremlins; that’s for sure but we’re steadily working through it,” said Pollacheck, who lives in Oregon, but has a lot of fans and friends on hand in Sonoma, which he considers his home event. “We ran 6.7s here last year and we just thought we’d use that tune-up and go out and duplicate it, but so far it hasn’t worked out that way. We tried that approach yesterday, and now we’re going to try something totally different.”

Pollacheck, like every other rider in the class, looks forward to the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle as much as any other event on the NHRA calendar. Pollacheck has been in the special event on two other occasions, and has enjoyed success.

“I love this race,” said Pollacheck,” It is the biggest and most prestigious race for our class and it’s a beg deal just to be a part of it. I am also a Mickey Thompson dealer at my tire store in Oregon so I have a personal and business connection there. That is a company that I can relate to. The first time I was in the Battle I qualified eighth, beat Eddie Krawiec and got to the final. Then, I lost to Eddie. Someday, I’d love to win it.”

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Last winter, Cory Reed made wholesale changes to his Liberty Racing Team in order to be more competitive and those changes have continued well into the 2018 season. Reed hired veteran Pro Stock racer Larry Morgan to build his engines over the winter and the decision yielded immediate dividends in terms of both power and reliability. After some initial success this year, Reed and teammate Angelle Sampey have continued to struggle and at mid-season, both riders are battling to earn a spot in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“We keep re-inventing the wheel over here and sooner or later we’re going to get it right,” said Reed. “We’re always trying to better our team. It’s a never-ending process. Last week in Denver, we learned a lot of things and by the end of the weekend, we felt like we had a great bike. The trouble is we only race in Denver once a year so we’ll put that information away and use it for next year.”

Reed noted that Morgan and his son Nick have successfully improved the power of their S&S V-twin engines, but that additional power came with a cost, specifically the need for an entirely different clutch and chassis set-up. The team also used two-time Pro Stock world champ Jim Yates as an advisor earlier this season but recently ended that association.

“We’ve got so much new stuff that it’s hard to keep up with it,” said Reed. “Lately, we have gone back to some of the things I learned when I was with Star Racing three years ago because we’re really trying to get our consistency back. We’ve tried every clutch on the market and we’re going to keep trying them until we find one that works. As for Jim, he’s a brilliant guy; he analyses data as well as anyone but we just felt like our program needed something different. That’s all. We’re going to test before Brainerd and make as many runs as we need to get this bike sorted out. Indy and the Countdown are the most important races of the year and we need to be ready for them.”

PHOTOS

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Drivers hand out autographs to fans at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals.

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Riders take the stage at the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle.

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Deric Kramer gets ready to drive. 

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Jr. Dragsters on display at Sonoma Raceway.

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Del Worsham joined NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart for Nitro School.

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Jeb Allen, center-left, donated $100,000 to Make-A-Wish while sponsoring Don Schumacher Racing driver Leah Pritchett's Top Fuel Dragster this weekend. 

PREVIEW

C_Millican.JPGClay Millican made a stout run (3.7) to snatch the top spot from Leah Pritchett during the qualifying session. He already owns half the No. 1 qualifier hats this season and looks poised to earn another as conditions warm on Saturday. Pritchett made a 3.727-second pass, following up her terrific showing at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals in Denver. She carried the flag for Don Schumacher Racing, as all three DSR dragsters were stupendous in the second qualifying session. Antron Brown (3.744) and Tony Schumacher (3.747) followed closely behind and will likely be favorites on Sunday. Now it’s time to see if points leader Steve Torrence can get himself off the mat after making two unsuccessful runs on Friday.

C_Force.JPGMuch like Millican, Courtney Force continued a dominant season with two strong qualifying blasts Friday. Her best run staked her to a sturdy qualifying lead (3.91) ahead of Jack Beckman (3.929), Bob Tasca III (3.95) and Matt Hagan (3.956) as Don Schumacher Racing made great strides in Funny Car as well. Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. also made the top half of the field and will look to work on their race day setups as improving on their 3-second runs will prove difficult in warmer conditions on Saturday. Del Worsham returned to competition and sits on the bump with a 4.776-second run. He will try to improve on that time to stay ahead of Jeff Diehl and Terry Haddock. 

G_Anderson.JPGAfter his stout 6.515-second run yesterday afternoon, Greg Anderson is on pace to claim his 10th low qualifier award in the first 14 races of the 2018 season. During his media center interview, Anderson noted the possibility that his run would be bettered during one of Saturday’s two sessions but if there is improvement to be had, Anderson will likely be the one to do it. Anderson’s KB Racing teammates also enjoyed a solid day on Friday with Denver runner-up Jason Line in second with a 6.517 and world champ Bo Butner seeded third after a 6.538. Deric Kramer, the fourth member of the KB team, begins the day in the No. 10 spot after a 6.560. The top 11 qualifiers are in the 6.5-second zone.

E_Krawiec.jpgFor Pro Stock Motorcycle racers, today is one of the most important days of the year since the top eight riders in the class will be competing for $25,000 in the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle. Eddie Krawiec will lead the star-studded field that also includes his Harley-Davidson teammate Andrew Hines, Hector Arana Jr., Jerry Savoie, Scotty Pollacheck, LE Tonglet, Matt Smith, and his wife, Angie Smith. Yesterday, Krawiec made the best run of the day with a 6.780 followed by Arana Jr. with a 6.803, and Hines at 6.837. Krawiec has been the low qualifier at 40 events in his career including last weekend’s Denver event.