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Due to weather, the first round of Mello Yello qualifying will now begin at 3:45 p.m. Eastern

Virginia NHRA Nationals Saturday Notebook

09 Jun 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Richmond

Preview | Features | Photos | Results

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

johnhall.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q3 (12:04 p.m.): Not much shuffling occurred thanks to the high water grains on a hot and humid day in Virginia, but John Hall made a big jump to get into the field. There’s no guarantee his No. 12 position will hold, but going from a 7.081 in the first session to a 6.929 in the third is “directionally correct” as Pro Stock racer Jason Line might say. Andrew Hines made the best run of the session, a 6.858, but didn’t improve on his position. He remains No. 2, behind Hector Arana Jr., who slowed considerably and was in the middle of the pack in the third session. 

NDB_2858.JPGPRO STOCK Q3 (12:25 p.m.): Chris McGaha made the third best run of the session but he, unlike many other drivers in the penultimate Pro Stock qualifying set, improved. He ran a 6.597, one of three 6.5s in the third session, to move to eighth and set the quick half of the field. McGaha is no Greg Anderson, who continued to set the world on fire with a 6.587 (behind his pair of 6.57s Friday in better conditions), but that’s a step in the right direction. Tanner Gray grabbed a pair of bonus points with a 6.596, while Tommy Lee improved (6.591) but failed to move off the bump spot.

pritchett.jpgTOP FUEL Q3 (1:55 p.m.): Leah Pritchett and team continue to look better and better with each event, and their FireAde car had the best run of the day’s first nitro session with a 3.830 that was a thousandth of a second quicker than Brittany Force, whose car was being tuned by Alan Johnson –- normally the advisor and not the tuner –- as crew chief Brian Husen recovers from a stomach bug. Steve Torrence recovered from two sub-par runs Friday to run 3.837 to earn a bonus point. Tony Schumacher remains atop the field with his Friday 3.777 with Force second at 3.808. Pritchett’s run jumped her to fifth behind the leading duo, Terry McMillen, and Doug Kalitta.

capps2.jpgFUNNY CAR Q3 (2:55 p.m.): Showing the wisdom of their reversion back to the five-disc clutch, Ron Capps and tuner Rahn Tobler ran low e.t. of the third session with a 4.048, not quick enough to get around leader Courtney Force’s Friday 3.98 but still impressive in the heat of the day. John Force bettered his Friday 4.068 by three-thousandths of a second to get two bonus points and display some consistency while his daughter was third best in the session with a 4.074. John Smith sits on the bump spot with a 4.356 with one session to go.

NDB_3635.JPGPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q4 (2:51 p.m.): Hector Arana Jr. earned his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and 21st of his career by standing on his pass from the second session of action. That’s terrific news for the rider of the Lucas Oil TV EBR, but Andrew Hines owns the most consistent bike at Virginia Motorsports Park. He made the quickest run of the session (6.833), which matched his quickest run of the weekend. That banked him three points and a meeting with Hector Arana Sr. in the first round Sunday. Kelly Clontz clawed her way into the field for the second time this season and will race the younger Arana. 

First-round matchups (lane choice first): Hector Arana Jr. vs. Kelly Clontz; Andrew Hines vs. Hector Arana; Matt Smith vs. Cory Reed; Eddie Krawiec vs. Mark Paquette; LE Tonglet vs. John Hall; Jerry Savoie vs. Jim Underdahl; Scotty Pollacheck vs. Joey Gladstone; Steve Johnson vs. Angie Smith

NDB_3696.JPGPRO STOCK Q4 (3:09 p.m.): Greg Anderson failed to earn a qualifying bonus point for the first time this weekend. It will come as some comfort to the future hall of famer that he became a No. 1 qualifier for the sixth time this season and the 99th time in his career. Tanner Gray (6.59), Chris McGaha (6.59) and Vincent Nobile (6.591) scored bonus points in the final session and stack up fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively entering eliminations. All three of those times were slight improvements on previous runs for the racers. The entire top six is made up of 2018 Pro Stock winners – the other winner in the lineup, Erica Enders, is qualified 10th.

First-round matchups (lane choice first): Greg Anderson vs. Tommy Lee; Bo Butner vs. Wally Stroupe; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. John Gaydosh Jr.; Vincent Nobile vs. Val Smeland; Tanner Gray vs. Kenny Delco; Chris McGaha vs. Buddy Perkinson; Alex Laughlin vs. Erica Enders; Jason Line vs. Drew Skillman

britt.jpgTOP FUEL Q4 (4:30 p.m.): Brittany Force made it four full passes down the VMP track with a 3.822 that was the best run of the session but couldn’t get past Tony Schumacher’s field-leading 3.777 from Friday. Schumacher, who ran a 3.828 for the final session’s second-best pass, will open raceday Sunday with a first-round bye for the 15-car field. Mike Salinas, who missed last weekend’s event in Chicago attending the graduation of his daughter, jumped right back into the fray with a 3.841 for the final bonus point.

First-round matchups (lane choice listed first): Tony Schumacher vs. Bye; Brittany Force vs. Bill Litton; Terry McMillen vs. Terry Haddock; Doig Kalitta vs. Dan Mercier; Leah Pritchett vs. Clay Millican; Steve Torrence vs. Scott Palmer; Mike Salinas vs. Antron Brown; Richie Crampton vs. Dom Lagana.

courtney2.jpgFUNNY CAR Q4 (5:05 p.m.): Not content to just be the No. 1 qualifier for the sixth time this season, Brian Corradi and Dan Hood also tuned Courtney Force to a 4.010, low e.t. of the final session and the second quickest run of qualifying behind her field-leading 3.983 from Friday. Her Advance Auto Parts Camaro is the only car to make it down the track on all four passes. Jack Beckman (4.053) and J.R. Todd (4.059) had the bext best passes of the final session. The bump ended up at 4.280 with Jeff Diehl after Tim Wilkerson recovered from three rough first passes with a 4.152 to slot 14th.

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

H_Arana_Jr.jpgPRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER HECTOR ARANA JR.: "We knew we were in deep and we did some experimenting to find out which direction we needed to go for Sunday and obviously we weren’t able to run the really fast numbers. Now, we just need to be able to put that really fast tune up back into the motorcycle. Tonight, we’ll go over all the notes and see what we picked up and just put one combination together. 

"I never take anything for granted, any of these guys are all fast and the track is very good. So every time I’m watching to see if someone will go low. Obviously it was much hotter and more humid and that all plays into it. We’ll see what happens tomorrow because it’ll be cooler and maybe even rainy, so we’ll see what tomorrow holds."

G_Anderson.JPGPRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER GREG ANDERSON: "Even though it was warm yesterday or even hotter today, this race track is absolutely wonderful, so we know that for certain and it can only get better. That’s great news and you don’t have any worries about that. We don’t know what’s going to happen with the weather tomorrow, but it looks like there will be some cloud cover which means a tight race track and close Pro Stock racing which is exactly what we need. It’s a wonderful class right now and I have no Earthly idea what’ll happen tomorrow except it’ll be close racing tomorrow. 

"This race track brings back a lot of great memories and a lot of special days here and I could really use one tomorrow because I haven’t one of those yet this year. When you have a fast car during qualifying like I have this year you tend to race defensively on Sunday because you don’t want to make a mistake. So, the race track do tends to change a little on Sunday because you race behind Top Fuel and Funny Car so you have to tune a little bit differently. We just have to race aggressively."

T_Schumacher.JPGTOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER TONY SCHUMACHER: “We don’t race at night so that Friday night run is all about getting the No. 1 spot in a 15-car field. We smoked the tires on our first run today but that’s because we were trying to go better than that 3.77; we wanted to push it and see what the track would handle in the day. Then our last run [3.82] we twisted it harder early to see what it would do and it did just what he wanted. We’re getting closer and closer with this car. We’re figuring it out.

"We learned a lot from our four runs and we’ll learn a lot more tomorrow. I like racing the big hitters in the first round, guys like Antron. It’s the other; you look back at our stats and if we’re running a good car right round were fine. We struggle when we try to back it down on a safe run, We’re not good at that. We’ll go out tomorrow and race the racetrack and see what the track will take. I’d really like a yellow [winner’s] hat to go with this green [low qualifier’s] hat.”

C_Force.JPGFUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER COURTNEY FORCE: “The car is really in a groove right now. When I was shutting the car off down there after that last run, my crew chief [Brian] Corradi got on the radio and said, ‘We’ve got a rockin’ car’ and I said, ‘That’s only because I have a rockin’ team.’ It’s all due to those guys and being able run in the heat and put up a good number feels good heading into Sunday.

“It’s good to be the No. 1 qualifier but it’s really important for us to be consistent and continue to go rounds. I don’t want us to get too far ahead of ourselves but I’m definitely comfortable with the team and the car we have. We’ve had a great start to the season but we need to keep our focus and keep it going round by round and hopefully we can end up on a high note at the end of the year.”

FEATURES

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For all of his successes over the last year, including his first win last fall in Las Vegas and three more final-round appearances this season, everyone knows that Terry McMillen long ago paid his dues to make it to this level, but even he had no idea how long it would take him to get there.

McMillen made his NHRA debut at this event in 2007. He was already a successful racer with his Amalie sponsorship already in place, winning event titles in both Alcohol Funny Car and Top Fuel in IHRA competition (sometimes even on the same weekend) and setting national records, but he still knew that coming to the NHRA was a huge leap.

“Holy cow; it was scary,” he admitted. “Everyone over here had two crew chiefs and all this manpower and capabilities.”

McMillen didn’t qualify in his NHRA debut, and it took him nearly nine years to make his first NHRA final-round appearance, at the 2016 Gatornationals.

“I thought we’d have moderately better success than we did, but it wasn’t until we made the change and brought Rob [Wendland] in to put together a team that we saw the difference,” he said. “We’ve got the same parts -– it’s not like we didn’t have them there –- but they were seeing so much trauma back then that instead of getting 10 runs on a crank we were getting three or four.

“I just got smarter and found the right people to work with. I got a team together where everyone was working together and on the same page. What I learned was with all of the explosions we had a couple of years ago, it was more a case of not being organized and doing the same thing every time like we do now. Ninety percent of the time it was one little thing that didn’t get done that ended up being the catastrophic piece. 

“A lot of people are still saying that our win last year was a fluke, but it really wasn’t; we had a good car. Sure, [Brittany Force] red-lighted in the final against us but look at how many finals we’ve been in since then. Right now everyone knows we can run with them that we’re consistently making moves to go down the track like we have been.”

McMillen’s season is shaping up to be the best of his career. He currently has nine round wins, already the second best for an entire season, and we're not even halfway through the season. He won 14 rounds in all of 2017. 

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Friday’s Top Fuel low qualifier Tony Schumacher, like pretty much every other driver in the pits, was impressed not only with the smoothness and levelness of the new Virginia Motorsports Park track, but the fans who turned out in droves to see NHRA Mello Yello racing for the first time since 2009.

“For all these people to come back out, and the kids that are here that weren’t even born yet the last time we were out, it’s great to go out and make a good run like that for the Army car,” he said. “This track is perfect. The guys who bought it made it a beautiful track. It’s literally two smooth lanes of perfect lines. You want to make a great race for fans who pay good money to come to a race? You did a perfect job. All of the drivers and teams and crew chiefs are very pleased.

“The best part is how many people come up to the ropes. They walk up a little shy because they’ve been to NASCAR races or sprint cars and don’t know that they come right up to us. They stand back a little bit. I’ve told many of them to come back after they’ve seen their first run, and they come back and say, ‘This is the best sport in the world.’ I think the fans should be packed like that all the time because this is he greatest sport on earth. Once the people out and smell the fuel and feel the power it’s a great thing. It’s the only sport where the people get to go ‘into the dugout’ and see the people behind and how hard they work.”

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dom.jpgDom Lagana is making his second start of the season with the Nitro Ninjas car, outfitted this weekend as a second CatSpot team car to Scott Palmer, and the veteran racer, who usually toils on Steve Torrence’s Capco Contractors car, is thrilled to be racing again.

"It's only our second race out this year, and we've got the new car again,” said Lagana on the new MLR chassis he debuted at the four-wide event in Charlotte, where he won a round. “I'm excited. Any weekend you can come out and go racing is a good one, you know?"

Lagana enters Saturday in the No. 8 spot after a 3.88 Friday.

"It would be nice to lay a couple good low-.80 or high-.70 runs down if the track will take it," Lagana said. "We made some good progress with the new car in Charlotte. We made one run that would've been in the high-.70s, so we'll build off of that and see what the weather conditions do.

"Of course, it'd be good to get out there on Sunday to take out a couple guys for Scott for the points. We'll see what we can do."

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A tough crash for 16-time Funny Car world champion John Force didn’t keep him out of his race car during eliminations in Chicago, nor did it keep him from getting back into a Countdown to the Championship position. Force is back in 10th place by a single point after picking up a round win in Chicago.

“It was tough, physically,” said Force. “They checked me out and there was nothing broken. I’m just sore, all bummed up in the shoulders. I hit the wall really hard like three times, but I’ll be fine. I thought we could win the race. We just didn’t get it done. The good thing is I’m back in the Top 10 and we’ve still got nine races to go.”

Returning to Virginia Motorsports Park for the first time since 2009 holds special meaning for Force, whose teammate Eric Medlen earned his final Funny Car win at the track in 2006. Medlen passed away following injuries sustained in a testing accident in 2007. 

“It’s a great motorsports market and it’s really great that the NHRA is going back there,” said Force. “I’ve won races there before but going back now is kind of personal because it’s the last race Eric Medlen won before he passed away.”

His car has begun to turn around in recent races, his hard crash in Chicago notwithstanding. Consistency has been a major problem for the former champion, but the Peak Coolant Funny Car has gotten down the track significantly more often over the last few events than it did to start the season. 32 percent of his runs are quicker than 4.1 seconds are below the class average of 41.6, but it’s a step in the right direction. 

Force didn’t get off to a great start in Virginia, crossing the centerline on his first pass as cylinders went quiet on the right side of his Peak Performance Funny Car. He rebounded, though, with a 4.068-second run that put him in the No. 6 position. 

“I had a rough first run and it dropped some cylinders which pushed me over,” said Force. “It didn’t hurt the car.”

Ronnie Thompson is now working on Force’s Funny Car. He started the season on Brittany Force’s Top Fuel machine and wrenched on Courtney Force’s Funny Car last season alongside Dan Hood. 

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Although it was kept under wraps at the time, crew chief Rahn Tobler and Ron Capps went back to the future in Topeka, reverting their NAPA Auto Parts Dodge back to their five-disc clutch combo in favor of the six-disc unit that has become the norm in the fuel ranks.

The benefits of the six-disc clutch are that, with the added surface area of an another disc, the heat and wear was spread out, and the discs were less likely to “weld” and lock up, leading to tire smoke. Although Tobler had been an early experimenter years ago with the six-disc, they only added it back at the first part of this season, and the car has been inconsistent and Capps remains winless since last year in St. Louis.

“Midday on Saturday in Atlanta I could tell that Tobler was frustrated because we’ve been fighting the six-disc,” Capps said. “We felt that if we had the five-disc we’d be a half tenth or a tenth ahead of these guys. He said it again later that night and funnily enough [team owner Don] Schumacher called him that same night to suggest the same thing. We almost changed it for Sunday, but decided to wait until Topeka. Most teams have been running the six-disc so long they can’t go back, but it’s still recent history for us."

“The way we run our clutch, I can wear .250[-inch] off the disc and it will not weld [the disc] and spin the tires through the middle,” explained Tobler on his ability to run the five-disc. ”For example, we wore .220 last night and just 240 in Chicago in the middle of eliminations. The way we run it, it doesn’t want to weld and clunk, and that was always the thing about the five-disc. 

“It’s always worked so well for us; it wasn’t like we suffered in performance. The two previous years we had one of the best cars out there and won the championship in 2016. We’re very happy to have gone back; it’s like nuzzling in with an old friend. Hopefully we’ve turned ourselves around.”

Tobler is not the only crew chief looking to the past for answers. John Collins, tuner for fellow DSR driver Tommy Johnson, whose Make-A-Wish Dodge is also struggling, also has reverted back to the five-disc at this event after switching to the six-disc late last season.

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From the outside, Bob Tasca III’s blower explosion in Q1 Friday looked like your run of the mill blower backfire – a broken connecting rod leading to an impressive spout of flame and a cracked body – but the real story was happening below the body, where the fire from a broken fuel line was raging inside the cockpit. To make matters worse, one of the parachutes sucked back under the car, wrapped around the rear axles, and ripped the brake lines out. Tasca was finally able to get brake pressure to the front brakes to get the car stopped, then bailed out and was hosed down by the Safety Safari.

“The fire in the front went out pretty fast, but it’s the worst fire I’ve ever had inside the cockpit,” he said. “The legs of my firesuit were burning and my hands were getting so hot on the wheel that I had to take them off and pat them on my thighs because I thought they were on fire. There was so much thick smoke in the cockpit that I couldn’t see and I was just about to ram it into the wall to stop it when I got some brake pressure back. I got out and I thought I was still on fire but it was just the thermal heat, so I laid down on the ground and they put the water on me.”

tascawrap.jpgThe body, carrying the new colors of TascaParts.com, was beyond repair at this event. Fortunately for Tasca – who had damaged four bodies previously this season in similar explosions -- he carries three bodies at all times, so he and the crew, with an assist from Don Schumacher Racing’s Ted Yerzyk, began the arduous task of peeling the TascaParts.com vinyl wrap off that body and applying it to one of the spares to keep the colors flying.

“We lost one body in testing, one at the Phoenix national event, one in Charlotte, and had another one in Houston –- not as bad –- but it’s getting a little old," he said.

“And if I can’t finish a race with three bodies on hand, I might as well go home.”

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Although Del Worsham will saddle up into the cockpit today for the first time since the Houston event, it’s not like the former world champ has been idle. In addition to running his family-owned Top Fuel car with Bill Litton, he also had reigning Alcohol Funny Car champ Shane Westerfield in his second Funny Car in Topeka (Cory Lee drove the car in Gainesville) as he tries to get all three machines running smoothly while simultaneously trying to get funding to run the way he wants to and setting up match-race dates inbetween.

Worsham sat out Friday qualifying and put fuel-racing veteran John “Bodie” Smith in the second car, with its former Lucas Oil branding, to help get its tune-up figured out for future potential renters, but it was a deal that came together only Monday of raceweek. Smith, who ran his family’s Funny Car at the four-wide event in Charlotte and tuned Justin Schriefer’s flopper last weekend in Chicago, was in hospital dealing with kidney stones but immediately accepted Worsham’s offer to drive the second car. 

Smith sits 14th in the field entering Saturday and could end up being bumped by Worsham himself.

The Smith family car will probably be back out at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals but "Bodie" will be behind the wheel next weekend in the family’s nostalgia Funny Car at the NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Ky.

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Vincent Nobile had a perfectly fine start to the four-race swing that occupies the end of May and most of the month of June (we really need a snappier name for it, though). He reached the semifinals at the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals but had to jump off the gas. That eventually moved him back to second place in the Pro Stock standings. 

“The car just went hard left on me in the semi’s, and honestly, we had the round won but sometimes you just gotta lift,” said Nobile. “Live to race another day, you know? We had a bad weekend in Topeka, I red light .006, but that’s gonna happen sometimes. I’ve got a fast race car, it’s really consistent, and keeping up there in the points. Now we just gotta stay focused.”

Nobile enters Saturday qualifying in the No. 4 position with a 6.58 mark, just .001 second behind Chicago winner, and Elite Performance teammate, Jeg Coughlin Jr. Coughlin’s win in Chicago came after a long drought, something Nobile can relate to after earning the Wally in Las Vegas (one of two he’s secured this season).

“It was definitely good (seeing Jeggy win),” said Nobile. “I know how it feels to not win a race for a long amount of time. Jeggy, he’s always been successful, even more successful than me (laughs). Jeggy has been around forever, so I know what it feels like to go more than 70 races without winning. It’s tough and it wears on you. He stuck it out and honestly, he’s someone I’ve looked up to since I was a little kid.

This is the first time Nobile has raced in NHRA competition at Virginia Motorsports Park, but he has fond memories of coming to the track with his dad, John Nobile, back in the day. Apparently many of the fans in the area do, too. 

“A lot of fans have come up who remember my father and have thanked me for coming back out, which is really cool,” he said. “The fans are great here, this is a place I call a home track because I grew up on the east coast.”

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You probably know Alex Laughlin, but you might have a hard time remembering exactly what his Pro Stock Chevy Camaro looks like (red, white and blue this weekend while sporting the Technet Professional colors). That’s because the team has wrapped the car several times this season thanks to a piecemeal sponsorship deal that’s keeping the racer out on tour for the entire season. That’s great news for the sport and the class, but the constant wrapping and rewrapping came with a side-effect. 

“One of the problems is that my car chassis has become magnetized from pulling the wraps off so much,” said Laughlin. “It was pegging off the fuel indicator like, max. So, we demagged it in Chicago. I made a good run in the first qualifying session and got bumped to 11th after the second session. It was hot on Saturday, so I couldn’t get back up. I was tied with Jeg up to 330 for No. 1 and to halftrack, but I’m just getting incrementally slower going down the page.”

Laughlin is referring to incremental times, which you can get my taking the 330 time and subtracting the 60-foot time from it, the 660 time and subtracting the 330 time from it, and so on. In this case, it means Laughlin’s car is losing power as it goes down the quarter mile. 

“Ever since Houston we’ve been really going downhill,” he said. “It’s only a couple hundredths of a second, but in this class that’s a huge difference. We’ve changed electronics, we’ve changed motors, and we’ve even put my motor in one of the other team cars and I’m still two hundredths behind.”

Laughlin sits outside the Countdown to the Championship picture entering the Virginia NHRA Nationals despite starting the season relatively well. He made solid runs during testing in Phoenix and performed well back there during the NHRA Arizona Nationals. Laughlin just hasn’t enjoyed the consistency the rest of his Elite Performance teammates have picked up and run with this season. 

“We can’t figure out exactly what it is but the last thing we haven’t tried is rewiring the car,” said Laughlin. “So, after leaving here we’re going to rewire the entire car once we get to Bristol. We don’t have any other choice at this point, plus I have to rewrap the car again. So, we’ll see. Like I said, we’ve made good runs, but four runs here will tell us how much closer we are or how much further away.”

This is a tough stretch to work out bugs, but the team feels it’s getting closer. 

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buddy.jpgBuddy Perkinson made his return to Pro Stock after taking several years off, something that’s become a trend in the class in 2018. He’s getting the chance to do it with K.B. Racing, and after a pair of qualifying passes he’s qualified No. 11 with a 6.636 pass. That’s an improvement on his first hit, which squared the tires of his Chevy Camaro almost immediately. 

“Wheel speed was down a little bit in the first session because we were a little too cautious,” said Perkinson. I think the race track was a touch better than we thought it would be. I was a little rusty and the burnout was a little rusty, this is the first time I’ve driven a fuel injected car so that was new to me. It could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse, too.”

He improved in his second pass and should only get better, if only procedurally, as the Virginia Motorsports Park dragstrip heats up on Saturday. Perkinson felt comfortable getting into a Pro Stocker for the first time in a long time. 

“It was good to get back in the car, I definitely got all the bugs shaken off, so hopefully we get everything get straight and get straight down the race track,” said Perkinson. “We’re hoping to get solidly into the field. We put this deal together pretty late. We’re talking about doing some more races and we definitely want to win rounds.” 

It helped that he has prior experience with the K.B. Racing team, and that may bode well for the prospect of Perkinson and company working together later this season. 

“I drove with these guys back in 2012 or 2013, can’t remember exactly, so I remember most of the faces and that helps a lot,” he said. “They’re a good bunch of guys here and I really appreciate the opportunity to do it and I look forward to doing more.”

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Between the Atlanta and Chicago events, Pro Stock Motorcycle veteran Karen Stoffer took a trip to Hawaii, but it was certainly no vacation. She was there, attending car shows and meeting legislators helping to promote the hopes of a new dragstrip on Oahu and getting the word out for residents to vote.

Her return to the racetrack last weekend in Chicago was no vacation either as she suffered just the 12th DNQ of a career that spans more than 200 events.

“I just don’t have the same bike I did a few years ago,” she said forlornly. “We don’t know what’s wrong with it. It’s the same as the other bike son our team, two of which are really flying. It’s probably electrical but we’ve changed everything there and probably will again. 

“I’d like to just qualify at this point. There was nothing obvious that said, ‘Fix me, I’m broken,’ so I have little hope it will run better. It looks like a good pass but it’s just not running any speed or e.t."

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Andrew Hines leads the Pro Stock Motorcycle category in points, but the former champ is looking for his first win of the season. He enters qualifying as the No. 2 qualifier behind Hector Arana Jr. and finished as a semifinalist after falling to Matt Smith at the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals a week ago despite grabbing pole position. 

“I took a chance in the second round with my tuning because I had the opportunity to do so, I went in the wrong direction and lost lane choice,” said Hines. “I went to the right lane and we were battling the crosswind in that lane and I had been going left all weekend.

“For some reason in that round, my bike decided it wanted to go to the right off the starting line. We had set up to aim to the right ahead of that round, and I dropped the clutch and it went straight towards the wall twice as hard as it was supposed to, so I’m not sure if the tire changed on me or what. I haven’t had to ride one that early that hard in a long time.”

Smith moved into the final and defeated LE Tonglet for his first victory in two years, while the Harley-Davidson Pro Stock Motorcycle riders were shut out of a final for the first time since the Brainerd event. That’s a 10-race streak, which Hines hopes to begin again at the Virginia NHRA Nationals. 

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It isn’t often that LE Tonglet reaches a final round and fails to ride away with a Wally. He owns 16 wins compared to seven defeats in final round appearances while on a two-wheeler, one of the best win-loss records in finals in the professional ranks. That seventh loss came against Matt Smith at the most recent event on tour, the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago. 

“(The bike) went hard left early and then it went right to the inside of the groove and then it just blew hard left and started spinning,” said Tonglet. “If I had just brought it over early I probably could have won it. When you lean in ‘em, and my leg is out, that just kills the run. If I had known he was having the same problem next to me, I would have done it.”

The windy city was living up to its name on that day, leading Tonglet to believe he was going to get a little bit of help from the crosswind as he got down the track. Unfortunately for the Nitro Fish rider, that help never came. 

“I really thought the wind was going to start pushing me back, but it never did, and it was really closer to half track where it started getting me closer to the centerline,” he said.

The first final round appearance of the season may have ended in defeat for Tonglet, but his program is on the rise. Now back with Jerry Savoie and White Alligator Racing, the former champ looks to be on the right track. 

“I feel like we’re right there and we’re just on the wrong side of close races,” said Tonglet. “But hey, (Matt Smith) did well, he didn’t hit the wall and he had the better of the two bad runs in that round. Next time, I’ll yank it over earlier and make that correction. He was running real good.”

Tonglet enters Saturday qualifying as the No. 6 bike. 

PHOTOS

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NHRA and Virginia Motorsports Park officials announced a sellout crowd for Saturday qualifications at the Virginia NHRA Nationals. [story

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It wasn’t just the grandstands that were jammed as eager Virginia fans also flocked to the pit area for up-close looks at the cars..

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NHRA's Alan Reinhart teamed with Funny Car racer Jack Beckman to teach some fuel-racing basics to fans in the pits during the popular Nitro School feature.

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Work in the pits was under way for the third qualifying session. The team from Scott Palmer’s CatSpot  Top Fueler worked on its clutch assembly.

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Tim Kulingian, the tuning wizard on the Suzuki for former world champ Jerry Savoie and L.E. Tonglet made final preparations.

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The NHRA Legends tour continued with fans able to meet and get autographs from pioneers in our sport. Among those taking part in Virginia were (left) Virginia Top Fuel legends Jim and Alison Lee and (right) former world champs Jim Yates and Joe Amato.

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Robert Hight, Scotty Pollacheck, and Matt Smith took part in the traditional Mello Yello auto graph session for fans.

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Billy Fisher was a fan at the Virginia Nationals back in 1995 when he got autographs from John Force and his then 7-year-old daughter Courtney (inset) and returned this year to get an updated autograph from Courtney,

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Cruz Pedregon can only look back over his shoulder in disbelief after vaporizing the body of his Snap-on Toyota in the third qualifying session [video].

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There were thumbs up all around the top end as Pro Stock Motorcycle rookie Kelly Clontz (above) and Funny Car veteran Tim Wikerson  (below) raced their way into their respective fields on their final qualifying passes.
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PREVIEW

T_Schumacher.JPGSurprisingly, the 3.771 track record that Tony Schumacher established here way back in 2008 stood the test of time Friday, though Schumacher was just a few ticks off with a 3.777 in warm conditions that still led the field. With slightly cooler conditions forecast for Saturday, that mark may well fall. Brittany Force was more than three-hundredths back with a 3.808 and Terry McMillen a surprise third with a 3.816. With 15 cars officially entered being the No. 1 qualifier will be a goal for everyone as it would ensure a first-round bye on Sunday.

C_Force.JPGFunny Car points leader Courtney Force ran the first (and, as it turned out, only) three-second run in the rack’s history to lead the pack, breaking the 4.005 record that teammate Robert Hight ran back in 2008, back when he was just a few milliseconds from making the class’ first three-second pass. Hight was second on the qualifying sheets with a 4.309, an e.t. matched by Ron Capps but at a slower speed. Hight was the winner last weekend in Chicago while Capps remain way overdue, with his last victory coming last season in St. Louis.

G_Anderson.JPGStop us if you’ve heard this before: Greg Anderson leads Pro Stock qualifying after racing on Friday. The driver of the Summit Chevy Camaro made two great passes (6.576, 6.571) to lead the field over teammate Bo Butner (6.575) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. He has his eyes set on his sixth No. 1 qualifier of the season and, more importantly, his first race win of 2018. That would make him the ninth Pro Stock winner in nine races, so it’s hard to call his inability to grow his Wally collection a failure – especially since he leads the category in points. It’s just odd. That’s how things go sometimes.

H_Arana_Jr.jpgThere isn’t much odd about Hector Arana Jr.’s dominance in Pro Stock Motorcycle. He is looking for his first win in a long time, but he’s riding the most aerodynamic bike in the class and it seems the Lucas Oil TV team is getting close to working out all the kinks. A 6.795-second pass to lead the field by .038 second is a great indicator, as is leading most of the incrementals on Friday. Perhaps the most important? Arana owns the best mark from the eighth mile to the quarter mile. That territory previously belonged exclusively to the Harley-Davidson contingent. Not anymore.