ELIMINATION ROUND RECAPS
TOP FUEL ROUND 1 (12:20 p.m.): Bill Litton, who earlier this year upset Tony Schumacher for his first career round win, added a second notch to his scorecard when No. 2 qualifier Brittany Force smoked the tires against him. Litton, who broke on his only qualifying attempt, advanced with a 4.02. Steve Torrence, who struggled on the first day of qualifying, had low e.t. of the round with a 3.812 in beating quasi-teammate Scott Palmer. Clay Millican’s string of eight straight wins ended there when he surprisingly red-lighted against Leah Pritchett.
Second-round matchups (lane choice listed first): Tony Schumacher vs. Richie Crampton; Doug Kalitta vs. Leah Pritchett; Antron Brown vs. Bill Litton; Steve Torrence vs. Terry McMilllen
FUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (1: 10 p.m.): Jim Campbell picked up his first round win of the season in Jim Dunn’s Oberto Beef Jerky entry, squeaking past Shawn Langdon for the win. Cruz Pedregon meanwhile bounced back from his body-shredding Q3 blower explosion to upset No. 2 qualifier Robert Hight as teams battled a hot track and Del Worsham put his Funny Car into round two after winning a pedaling match with Jack Beckman. Jonnie Lindberg had low e.t. of the round with a 4.095 in besting homestate hero Matt Hagan.
Second-round matchups (lane choice listed first): Courtney Force vs. Jim Campbell; J.R. Todd vs. Del Worsham; John Force vs. Cruz Pedregon; Jonnie Lindberg vs. Tim Wilkerson
PRO STOCK E1 (1:30 p.m.): Jeg Coughlin Jr. didn't take a week off after winning his first Pro Stock Wally in four years. He ran low e.t. of the round at the Virginia NHRA Nationals. His 6.612-second pass was .002 second better than Greg Anderson, who defeated Tommy Lee in the first round of action. Both cars departed from the right lane, which seemed to be the preferred spot for those with lane choice in the first stanza. Anderson and Coughlin were the only drivers who posted 6.61s in the first round, while Vincent Nobile hit the only 6.62. After that, a slew of 6.63s filled the run sheet.
Second round pairings (lane choice first): Greg Anderson vs. Drew Skillman; Vincent Nobile vs. Tanner Gray; Bo Butner vs. Erica Enders; Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Chris McGaha
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE E1 (1:41 p.m.): The only upset (based on seeding, of course) in the first round came at the hands of Angie Smith, who delivered a blow to Steve Johnson on her Denso Spark Plugs bike. Her 6.9-second run won’t get her lane choice against pole-sitter Hector Arana Jr. in the second round, but it gets her a chance to unseat him nonetheless. All other top seeds advanced, including Arana, who ran the quickest e.t. of the session (6.867). The only other bike in the same area code was Matt Smith (6.874). Smith will race Jerry Savoie (6.881) in a battle between the most recent race winner and the 2016 champ.
Second round pairings (lane choice first): Hector Arana Jr. vs. Angie Smith; Eddie Krawiec vs. LE Tonglet; Andrew Hines vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Matt Smith vs. Jerry Savoie
TOP FUEL ROUND 2 (3:15 p.m.): After a rainshower that delayed racing for almost exactly an hour, the track temp was down some 20 degrees to 109 when the fuel dragsters finally retook the track. After five straight first-round losses, Antron Brown has reached the semifinals for just the fourth time this season after ending Bill Litton’s Cinderella bid, and will face his buddy, points leader Steve Torrence, who beat Terry McMillen by just .007-second on a 3.779 to 3.776 holeshot. In the other semifinal race, teammates Doug Kalitta and Richie Crampton will square off for the seventh time in the season’s first 10 events.
Semifinal matchups (lane choice listed first): Richie Crampton vs. Doug Kalitta; Steve Torrence vs. Antron Brown
FUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (3:35 p.m.): Low qualifier Courtney Force bettered her 3.98 qualifying time with a 3.97 to beat nemesis Jim Campbell and will have lane choice over J.R. Todd, whose victory over Del Worsham keeps alive the chance of a Kalitta double that would earn Connie his 100th win. Tim Wilkerson got a solo after Jonnie Lindberg was shut off with a fluid leak and will race John Force, who beat Cruz Pedregon for the 70th time in the 104th meeting of their storied careers.
Semifinal matchups (lane choice listed first): Courtney Force vs. J.R. Todd; Tim Wilkerson vs. John Force
PRO STOCK ROUND 2 (3:48 p.m.): Tanner Gray powered past Vincent Nobile to reach the semifinals of the Virginia NHRA Nationals despite getting off the starting line second in a reversal of roles from their Atlanta meeting. That booked him a meeting with teammate Drew Skillman, who also drives a car powered by Gray Motorsports. The Indiana native defeated No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson, who will have to wait until at least next weekend to get his first win of the season. That suits Skillman fine as he’s also looking for his first win of the season in the 10th event.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Tanner Gray vs. Drew Skillman; Chris McGaha vs. Erica Enders
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 2 (3:56 p.m.): Nobody stood much of a chance against No. 1 qualifier Hector Arana Jr., least of all Angie Smith, who went about 20 feet before losing power. Arana powered to the best run of the round with a 6.849 and will meet LE Tonglet with lane choice in hand. That doesn’t put too much fear into Tonglet, who sent defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Eddie Krawiec home by a narrow margin on the back of a 6.871 lap. On the other side of the ladder is a pair of former world champs: Andrew Hines and Matt Smith, the latter of whom is the most recent winner on tour.
Semifinal matchups (lane choice first): Hector Arana Jr. vs. LE Tonglet; Andrew Hines vs. Matt Smith
TOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (4:40 p.m.): Points leader Steve Torrence will be gunning for his fourth win of the year as he faces Doug Kalitta in the final round. Torrence advanced on the surprising -.017 red-light by good friend Antron Brown while Kalitta moved into his 94th career final by besting teammate Richie Crampton. Torrence holds lane choice based on his superior 3.87 to 4.00 performance.
FUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (4:45 p.m.): John Force will be gunning for career win No. 149 in the final round, the milestone 250th of his career, after defeating Tim Wilkerson but he faces a tough opponent in daughter Courtney, the low qualifier whose performance has dominated the event like it has the season. Courtney, already a three-time winner this season, will be appearing in her career-high sixth final of the season and will have lane choice based on her 4.06 in a victory over J.R. Todd to dad’s 4.07.
PRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (4:54 p.m.): A couple of great race cars bailed out a pair of (usually) terrific leavers as neither Erica Enders nor Tanner Gray were up to their usual standards in terms of reaction time. They will meet up in the final round for the latest showdown between two of the best drivers in the Pro Stock category. Enders had the best e.t. by .005 and will have lane choice as a result, but you can bet everyone will have their eyes at the reaction times when the time slips are printed after the final. Okay, that’s after we see who turns on the win light. This should be a good one.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE SEMIFINAL (4:58 p.m.): LE Tonglet muscled his way past Hector Arana Jr. with his best run of the weekend. The Nitro Fish rider powered to a 6.846 and secured lane choice over Andrew Hines, who got by a red-lighting Matt Smith. That means there will be a new winner (for this season, anyway) crowned at the 2018 Virginia NHRA Nationals. Hines entered the day as the higher qualified bike, but Tonglet as gradually improved as the day has gone on. That should make for a close race between two former champions. Tonglet runnered up in the last race on tour, the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals, but came up short against Smith. The Louisiana native has been on the upswing since rejoining White Alligator Racing and is looking to get back into the winner's circle for the first time since St. Louis.
LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING SERIES FINALS: In addition to the Mello Yello and E3 Pro Mod Series racing in Virginia, four classes were also contested in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. Final-round results:
Joe Tysinger vs. Joe Lisa
Randy Parker def. Eugene Monahan
Jeg Coughlin Jr. (pictured) def. Rich Dorr
Charlie Kenopic def. Mike Sawyer
PRO MOD FINAL (5:45 p.m.): Mike Janis, far lane, second in points entering the event, took maximum advantage of point leader Rickie Smith’s early loss, defeating Mike Castellana in a battle of supercharged Camaros, 5.82 to 6.00. The win is the fifth of Janis’ career.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL (5:50 p.m.): LE Tonglet, near lane, snagged his first win of the season in his second final of 2018. He hammered the tree with a .006 reaction time, but it won’t go down as a holeshot because the Nitro Fish Suzuki rider beat Andrew Hines down the strip by .007 second. Tonglet beat Hines in his last win, too, when the duo faced off in St. Louis in 2017. It’s the sixth time in eight tries Tonglet has defeated Hines in final rounds.
PRO STOCK FINAL (5:55 p.m.): Tanner Gray, far lane, got the best of Erica Enders on the tree with a .007 light and then made a better pass just to add on as the second-year racer earned his seventh career Wally. Gray evened his head-to-head record against Enders to 4-4 and became just the second Pro Stock racer to win more than one race this season.
FUNNY CAR FINAL (6 p.m.): Courtney Force, near lane, defeated her father, John, 4.02 to 4.07, to score her fourth win of the season and the 12th of her career. It was the sixth time the two have raced in a final round and evened the score. It was also the 50th Funny Car final round between JFR teammates.
TOP FUEL FINAL (6:05 p.m.): Points leader Steve Torrence, near lane, who competed in his first Top Fuel event at this race in 2006, celebrated his 200th event at the same track with a win, defeating Doug Kalitta in the final, 3.81 to 3.84, to earn his fourth win of the season and the 20th of his career.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE WINNER LE TONGLET: "Any time you race a Harley you know they’re going to be fast. We made a fast run in the semi’s and were talking in the trailer and were saying that we needed to pretty much repeat that 6.84. We came pretty damn close to doing that in the final round because we were within a thousandth of that in the final round. The bike is pretty much flying right now. Tim Kulungian decided to try something and said it’s either going to go fast or slow down a lot, and it picked up in the semi’s and that’s a huge confidence booster.
"Last weekend I rode terrible in the final and I told the crew everything after the final. I said that one was on me and that I would make it up to them in the next final. I made four very straight runs and corrected very early. Last weekend I let the bike drift too far. I’m not sure what happened. This weekend I came in with a statement to prove and I think that we proved it."
PRO STOCK WINNER TANNER GRAY: "When you’re racing Erica Enders you gotta get up on the tree. It makes for a great race no matter the circumstances because we can be struggling like we were today and then go up there and go .007 and .013 like we did today. So, you gotta respect her because she’s a two-time champ and has accomplished a lot more than I have.
"Like I said in Topeka I went to Richard Freeman that I obviously wasn’t trying to tie two race cars up and then I went and talked to her and we talked and saw where we both could have done things differently. I guess it just took, and I’m not sure who did it, but it just took us both taking the first step towards being nice. I guess you just have to respect everything she’s accomplished."
FUNNY CAR WINNER COURTNEY FORCE: “It’s a great job obviously by my team. It was really exciting for our sponsors and for us to be in an all-JFR final and to see that Peak team perform so well. They had me nervous rolling up there – I’m not going to lie – and really excited that we had a great side-by-side race.
“It’s really just the beginning of the season and we have to maintain our focus. We’re in the points lead and stretched it a little with the win today but our focus is getting to Indy and locking into the Countdown. I’m trying to keep up with my team and perform well as a driver. It feels amazing and great but we have to keep it going if we want to end up on top at the end.”
TOP FUEL WINNER STEVE TORRENCE: “We didn’t qualify as high as we wanted to but Bobby [Lagana] and Richard [Hogan] did a great job all day today. They threw down that .81 in the final.
“It was hotter than doughnut grease this weekend – I bet I sweated down five or six pounds – but it’s one of the best racetracks I’ve even been down. It’s so smooth it’s like glass, and you could see that when it cooled off you can run really well. I think you could have seen some really good numbers if it was cooler. This was my 200th race and also my first and you couldn’t have scripted it any better for me to win here.”
In 490 career starts, Tony Schumacher has only missed the field eight times, and on 87 occasions he’s led the Top Fuel field into Sunday’s final eliminations. Entering the event, his career first-round record was 363-119 – better than a 3-1 ratio – but he knows he’ll add another win the first round today after earning a bye for being the No. 1 qualifier in the 15-car field.
So, what does a team do when it has a bye run? Do they shoot for the moon and lane choice for the next round or experiment on their tune-up for later in the day?
“That’s an excellent question,” said Schumacher. “We’ll try to go fast and learn. At a lot of other tracks, where there’s clearly a better lane, we’d be pushing for lane choice. Here, I don’t know that there’s one lane better than the other. We went down both lanes well.
“We’ll learn how to go fast in the heat but we can push it because if we smoke the tires we don’t lose. I’ve watched cars do burnouts and blow the blowers off so there’s so such thing as a gimmee, but we definitely have more advantage than we would with another car in the other lane. We earned that No. 1 spot and the 20 points [for a first-round win], so we’ll take that, go for low e.t. and keep going on to hopefully win the race.”
After going 229 events without an NHRA race win before his breakthrough last year in Bristol, Clay Millican has won the last two events, in Topeka and Chicago, and is finally the red-hot racer he and everyone always thought he could be.
When he came fulltime to NHRA racing in 2007 he had already won six straight IHRA Top Fuel championships (2001-2006) and 51 IHRA national event titles with the Werner Enterprises Top Fueler, but in many ways he had to start over when he switched leagues.
“If I had been able to take that Werner car over to NHRA during my championship run, I think we could have done a lot of winning before last year, but Greg Werner didn’t want us to run NHRA,” he said. “Greg told me that his trucking business did a half a billion dollars’ worth of business with Budweiser – hauling beer or whatever -- and he didn’t want to jeopardize that by us racing and maybe beating Kenny Bernstein and his Budweiser car. When we did come race NHRA during that time, we usually had to put something else on the car; even though Kenny told it didn’t matter to him, Greg didn’t want to risk it.
“We only ran 10 NHRA events in 2004 but went to three straight final rounds (Houston, Bristol, and Atlanta), so we knew we could win in NHRA, too; we just had no idea it would take so long to actually do it. You’d think somewhere along the line I’d have one of those weekends where everyone smokes the tires against me, but it never worked out that way.”
When the cost of diesel fuel went through the roof at the end of 2006, Werner had to scale back so Millican came to NHRA and drove for Evan Knoll, Kenny Koretsky, and others before landing with Doug Stringer’s team four years ago.
Millican went to eight NHRA finals (plus two four-wide finals) before his Bristol win, and even though he had few doubts he’d win again, a lot of people were happy to see him and crew chief Dave Grubnic win in Topeka so that he wouldn’t be regarded as some sort of one-win wonder.
“It’s just crazy, absolutely unreal,” he said of his recent success. “Grubby’s really got a hold on the tune-up and I’m managing not to screw it up.”
After watching Clay Millican and Terry McMillen record their first national event wins last season after lengthy waits (229 and 194 events, respectively), Scott Palmer figures to be the next first-time winner in the class and, after 157 events, he feels like he’s finally ready to do it. He already has reached his first career final earlier this year – he was runner-up to good pal Steve Torrence in Phoenix – it’s likely only a matter of time before the CatSpot team, which now includes former world championship tuner Jason McCulloch, parks their ride in the winner’s circle.
“It’s not like we sitting here expecting it, but at least now we know it’s possible,” said Palmer. “Until this time in my life – including last season [Palmer’s first full year on the tour] – I’ve never even thought it was possible. Last year we weren’t ready. We were still learning how to do it. I think we’re prepared. I think a lot of people think they are ready to win right away, and, sure, you might luck into a win somehow, but you need to learn how to win, and I think were ready.
“Terry and Clay both had six or seven full years under their belts before they could win, and we went to a final in just our second full year so we feel very fortunate to have someone like Tommy Thompson in our corner allowing us to build a team that can compete for race wins. I’m not saying this is going to be our weekend, but I can’t help but feel it’s coming sooner rather than later.”
Palmer had his best run in Q1, 3.891 at 309.06 mph, but his pass of 3.895 at 320.05 mph in the final session has him optimistic for Sunday.
"If you get by the first round, I do believe a 3.80-car is going to win this race," Palmer said. "If you get by the first round, 3.80s are going to win this race."
Win or lose, Palmer’s team is already a fan favorite if for no other reason than the “throttle whacks” the team does doing warmups, though a win surely would only add to that.
"Under orders from the boss [Thompson], our No. 1 goal every weekend is to have fun," Palmer explained. "You know, 10 years ago everybody whacked the throttle. Funny Cars always did big, long burnouts and the fans loved all that stuff. For whatever reason, all that has kinda tapered off. Nobody does it anymore; except for us. We're the outlaws in Top Fuel right now. We still whack the throttle. We still invite people into the pit at night to have a look around. We still enjoy ourselves.”
The first bout between Robert Hight and Ron Capps in 2018 went the way of the defending Funny Car world champion. Hight won the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago while the 2016 Funny Car champ slowed down track, giving Hight his first victory of the season. The two butted heads six times head-to-head in 2017 and Capps took home four of the wins, but Hight is on a three-race win streak entering the Virginia NHRA Nationals.
That makes sense when looking at the type of season both drivers enjoyed. Hight struggled with consistency through the first half of the 2017 season, earning his first win in Denver, and went on a roll from there. Capps dominated to begin the season and never faltered, but the NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car didn’t quite maintain its torrid pace once Hight and tuner Jimmy Prock turned things up a notch.
It’s worth noting Capps still nearly won the championship despite that big push Hight started during the Western Swing. The two raced once during the Countdown to the Championship, in a pivotal final-round contest at the NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex. Capps annihilated the tree with a .038 reaction time, but a 3.877 elapsed time from Hight got the Auto Club Chevy to the stripe .034 second sooner. That wasn’t “the end” by any means – but those 20 points* felt huge in a championship decided by 98.
By comparison, Hight beating Capps by nearly a quarter of a second in Chicago last weekend feels trivial. But here’s why it might matter for more reasons than the obvious: crew chief Rahn Tobler switched the NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car back to the five-disc clutch, which is what the flopper ran last season. That’s significant because of the new track prep and because it’s what Tobler is most comfortable with. There’s a line of thinking that goes the six-disc clutch, which allows for great numbers and high speeds, isn’t quite as useful these days where reliability is king.
Time will tell, sort of. Good decisions don’t always pay off and bad decisions don’t always bite you, especially not in drag racing. There are along 15 more races left, and just nine to go before the Countdown begins. Try as they might, racers and crew chiefs can’t ensure success: But they can do their best to deserve it. We can just hope for more Capps vs. Hight matchups this year, because one through nine races isn’t cutting it.
*Stop talking about 40-point swings in head-to-head matchups, it’s not great math and it leads to much worse math later.
Before Richmond rejoined the schedule this year, Ron Capps had only one painful blemish on his scorecard, having never won the biggest race of the year, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, but now with the return to Richmond, it’s back to two, as he’s also never visited the winner’s circle at Virginia Motorsports Park in 10 tries.
Capps has two runner-ups in Virginia, in 2000 to John Force and 2007 to Gary Scelzi.
"I never got to win here before, and I’ve won at pretty much every other track over all these years, so to get to come back here and have that opportunity is fun,” he said. “We always enjoy coming to this area of the country and you can tell the owners that bought that place, what they’ve done in a short amount of time, it’s going to be fun. We’re seeing a whole bunch of fresh faces that we haven’t seen for almost a decade as far as fans. They’ve missed us being in that area. I’m so happy NHRA is back. I’d love for nothing more than to park that NAPA Dodge right in the winner’s circle. This summer is going to be fun, and it starts here."
Capps is qualified No. 3 with a first-round date with Tim Wilkerson.
"Great weekend, we're making strides and putting runs back in (crew chief) Rahn Tobler's computer with data on top of what we ran with the five-disc (clutch) back in 2017," he said. "Every run we make is more and more information and once again, in the heat today, to go down the track and run a 4.04 was classic Rahn Tobler. Conditions are going to change again [Sunday]. It's going to be a little cooler with a chance of rain, but that's why I'm so happy on Sunday mornings to have a guy like Rahn Tobler calling the shots."
Cruz Pedregon said goodbye to an old friend Saturday when the body he calls “El Chingon” was obliterated in a finish-line blower explosion in the third qualifying session. The body, which was on the car two years ago in Las Vegas for his famous top-end wheelstand, was reduced to bite-sized pieces by the force of the concussion.
“I’ve seen it countless times this year from JFR and DSR but mine just seemed a bit more violent,” said Pedregon, whose only injury was a bruised hand from a piece of debris. “To make confetti out of a Toyota body – which is stronger than the Dodge or Chevies – it had to be a real boomer. As far as sheer energy release goes, that’s the biggest one I’ve had.”
The culprit turned out to be broken connecting rod, which allowed a piston to get tangled up with the valves, leading to the explosion.
“There was no warning; it dropped a cylinder right before it blew up but no time to do anything about it,” said Pedregon. “At that speed, the wind just grabs everything and the body disappeared around me.”
The Snap-on crew had the car back together to run Q4 but came up about five minutes short of making it back to the lanes.
“Frankenstein,” the team’s heavier, one-time show-car body, will ride into battle today, but the team has other bodies back at the shop, in varying stages of readiness, to rely on for the rest of the year.
There’s no doubting it’s been a rough, rough season for John Force, with blown bodies, collisions, and run-ins with the guardwall, but the drag racing legend, who turned 69 a month ago, continues to find ways to keep the faith and keep going and drawing inspiration from his team, the fans, and even his family.
“My car is starting to act like a race car again,” he said, “and these young kids, they worked all night in Chicago to put a (back-up) car together after I totaled the other one. They’ve got heart. You can teach everything else, but you can’t teach someone to love what they do.
“The fans in Richmond and across Virginia have always been unbelievable,” he said. “When we used to race here, we would have fans on the ropes from all over the east coast and they were great.
Force, who will compete in his milestone 750th event in Sonoma later this year, also has drawn inspiration from his grandkids, Autumn Hight and Jacob Hood, with whom he recently spent time racing Jr. Dragsters at Barona, Calif., where they celebrated Autumn’s first win.
“In Autumn and Jacob, I saw myself again, younger, dreaming the dream,” he said, “and I came out of there with a different heart. I really do love what I do and I don’t care what they say, I can still do it. You have to love what you do. There’s a saying, some famous basketball player, it’s either LeBron James or Michael Jordan, they asked what made them so great and they said it’s because I’m not afraid of losing. They take that shot. I made some mistakes, but I wasn’t afraid of losing. I think I can race with them now.
“We made three good runs and qualified No. 7. We are turning it around and we are seeing the results of the changes we have made. My car will be fine. It hasn’t won any races this season but we know how to win here at Virginia Motorsports Park.”
Jason Line has been stuck on 49 career wins since capturing the Pro Stock Wally from the NHRA FallNationals in Dallas last season. His Summit Chevy Camaro has given him some problems through the first nine races of the season, though the former champ feels he’s turned a corner. The numbers indicate that, too.
His average elapsed time (6.584) has been among the quickest all season. Line enters the Virginia NHRA Nationals with the fourth quickest, behind teammate Greg Anderson (6.58), but the driver of the blue Summit Chevy Camaro hasn’t enjoyed the same consistency. Anderson has gotten down the track quicker than 6.7 seconds 92.9 percent of the time, while Line has done so just 79.2 percent of the time.
Getting a little deeper into the numbers (stay with us) indicates Line has struggled a little to the 330 block (and the 60-foot mark) and again from half-track to the finish line. Line is making better power than Anderson through the 330-660 portion of the track, and his numbers are improving at the start of the race, all things that point towards long term success in the doorslamming category.
Add in the fact he has previous wins at Richmond and, hey, maybe this is the weekend win No. 50 ends up deposited in Line’s account.
"I like going to Richmond, and it's been a long time,” said Line. “Virginia Motorsports Park is a fun place, and the fans in that area have been short-changed the last few years. I think they'll enjoy having us there as well, so that makes it even more fun. It's really cool to have a win there – not a lot of Pro Stock drivers do – and I don't know if that gives us any kind of an advantage, but it's just a neat thing to be able to say.”
It'd be even neater to say he’s the winner of the 2018 Virginia NHRA Nationals.
Greg Anderson locked up his 99th No. 1 qualifier at the Virginia NHRA Nationals and scored nine out of a possible 12 bonus points in the process. The current points leader in Pro Stock isn’t taking anything for granted as he gets set to face Tommy Lee in the first round of action while seeking his first win of the season in the 10th race of 24 on the Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing schedule.
“I don't think I can say that I'm a clear favorite to win tomorrow, but I feel great about my Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro," said Anderson. "The driver is going to have to race mistake-free to do his job, but I'm looking forward to it.”
He drives the quickest car by elapsed time average (6.58) and the most consistent (93.3 percent of his runs are quicker than 6.7 seconds), but that hasn’t been enough to earn him a trophy this season. Some of that has been due to bad luck and some can be chalked up to poor reaction times. Anderson owns the ninth-best reaction time average in the class (.034), which is just a hair better than the average (.0347).
Having a quick car isn’t all it takes to win in Pro Stock and never has been. Luck and a great clutch foot come into play, too, but that doesn’t make it any less surprising that Anderson hasn’t reached the winner’s circle this season. The four-time Pro Stock world champion has never won in Richmond as a driver, but he’s been part of a winning team while working with Warren Johnson. He’s looking to get his own Wally here on Sunday.
“Virginia Motorsports Park brings back a lot of great memories; I've had a lot of special days here in the past,” he said. “I haven't had one of those in a while, and hopefully tomorrow is a special Sunday."
Bo Butner surged to the second qualifying position, his best of the season, after struggling during qualifying throughout most of the season. He enters the Virginia NHRA Nationals in sixth place, a huge drop after entering the NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello in Atlanta in second, and there’s clearly more in his Chevy Camaro than he’s getting out of it.
Butner took home the first Wally of the season in his K.B.-powered Camaro after qualifying sixth and qualified third in Las Vegas and fourth in Charlotte, the fourth and sixth races of the season, respectively. Since then, he qualified 10th in Atlanta, 10th in Topeka and ninth in Chicago. He lost in the first round in consecutive races, leading to his freefall in the standings.
So, this move up the qualifying order is certainly directionally correct for the Indiana native. His average elapsed time this season, 6.592, is just above the class average (6.595), but the racer qualified with a 6.575. To use a racing cliché, it looks like they found something. Add in that Anderson qualified with a 6.571 and it adds credence to the idea those two Chevys are in for a Sunday.
"This is about back to where we used to me, so now it's kind of up to me, which is good," said Butner. "Testing definitely helped a lot this week. We tried some more stuff today, but I didn't do my best job driving. We'll be better tomorrow. Anybody can beat you first round, but you do sleep better qualifying No. 2.”
The defending Pro Stock champ is looking to turn things around this weekend. He’ll start by taking on Wally Stroup in the first round.
The current points leader in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines, won’t start from pole position on Sunday, but he does ride the quickest bike by elapsed time average. That is, he does for now. Hector Arana Jr. is quickly climbing the charts on his Lucas Oil TV EBR and Hines, as one of the tuners of the Harley-Davidson Street Rods, knows there’s room to improve.
“We typically are really good between the 60 and 330-foot mark and we’re leading the sheets all the time there, and even 330-600 I think I had the best number every run in Chicago,” said Hines. “Your time to the 1/8th mile is a big indicator of horsepower, but right now Hector Jr., the 200-mph motor they have and the aero package they have is putting a hundredth on us in the last 300 feet. You can’t tune that out of the bike, that’s built right into it.”
There’s a lot of good information there, so let’s try to break it down to make sure nothing got lost. NHRA provides a time to riders (and fans, via live timing and detailed results) at the 60-foot, 330-foot, 660-foot (aka 1/8th mile), 1000-foot, and 1320-foot. Speeds are given at the eighth and quarter mile. When Hines says his team leads between the 330-660 foot mark, he’s referring to an interval time. That’s derived by subtracting the 660 time from the 330 time.
Hines is right, by the way. He leads the field in average 330 to 660-foot time and is followed by Krawiec. The Harleys traditionally struggle in one area: The first 60 feet of the track. They make most of it up by the 330-foot mark and really start to pull away over the last 300 feet. That’s not been the case when up against the EBR ridden by Arana, at least not as of late. By average, Arana leads the field by only .003 second, but this weekend he leads the field by a full hundredth.
“If we get within a hundredth of them in the last 300 feet of them, we know we’re doing something right,” said Hines.
They have closed the gap at least that much, so now it’s up to the team to make up ground in other areas of the run. That didn’t exactly come to fruition during the second qualifying session on Friday night, where Hines was outpaced in nearly every increment. The second-place finisher from 2017 looked much better in the final session on Saturday, when his 60-foot time clocked in at 1.058 – well below his season average of 1.077. If he rides like that on Sunday, he’s got a chance to secure his first win of the season.
Joey Gladstone made an incredible run to start the season at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, but his season since then has left something to be desired. He qualified third at the Gators but lost in the first round, a trend that has continued through every race following the season-opener for the two-wheel class.
“We’re learning what the bike wants and what it doesn’t want,” said Gladstone. “The motor is fresh and it’s still breaking in. We were close on the tune up on the first lap. The front half was spot on, and we kinda fell off on the back half.”
The front half of the run was paced by one of the best 60-foot times of the entire season. His 1.046 put him a little off the incredible pace set by Jerry Savoie, who ran a 1.035 in Gainesville. Gladstone ran into issues throughout the rest of qualifying but ended up in the No. 10 position.
“(The third pass) we tried something different and it went the wrong way,” said Gladstone. “Now on the second pass, we had a ground wire break and that causes the bike to shut off. On these transmissions you can’t just decal like that and it ended up breaking the transmission. So, we put in a new transmission and it’s just as good.”
Nobody gets to the 60-foot block as well as Gladstone, who averages 1.059 seconds to the marker. That’s better than Savoie, who averages 1.062, and Scotty Pollacheck (1.071). That’s great news for the rider, because he doesn’t fare so well at the other incrementals.
“If you look at the charts, in at least two of the qualifying runs from every race I’m at least top two,” said Gladstone. “We know the bike 60 foots and we know the clutch setup is right. Greg Underdahl is very good at tuning the clutch and his son (Jim) is incredible at making timing graphs, so we know we can 60 foot the hell out of the bike. So, after that it’s just keeping up with the V-Twins.”
“That’s why I try to do the best I can on the tree. We just haven’t had good luck this year. We’ve been blowing up motors to just stupid stuff. I ran Angie last weekend and I ran 30 to her 95 and she ran around me. The key is we need to qualify better and we need to get into the top six. Once you get into the middle of the pack there anyone can pick up at any time.”
Kelly Clontz qualified for the second race of her career with a 6.969-second pass in the fourth and final qualifying session. The Pro Stock Motorcycle rookie nestled into the No. 16 qualifying position just ahead of fellow rookie Ryan Oehler (6.996), Karen Stoffer (7.017), and Ron Tornow (7.027).
Her gain came at the expense of Angelle Sampey, who failed to qualify for just the third time in her career and the second week in a row. This is just the second DNQ for Sampey that did not involve an injury that prevented the future Hall of Fame racer from competing and continues a string of bad luck.
“I didn’t want to post another DNQ so soon,” Sampey said. “But, the silver lining is Ken [Johnson], Derrell [Mullis], and I now can go testing before Norwalk together and get this bike all sorted out and on the right path.”
A tough break for Sampey provides an opportunity for Clontz to take on a tough customer in Hector Arana Jr., who surged to the top of the field on his Lucas Oil TV EBR. Arana ran a 6.795 in the second qualifying session and owns lane choice over the rookie, who is looking for her first career round win. Clontz plans to run the whole schedule and will chase the Auto Club Road to the Future Award, which honors the top rookie each season.
Raceday started with special edition of NHRA Today on FS1, with fans invited to be front and center during the filming.
Clay Millican, Top Fuel winner at the last two events, was among the guests on the show, which was hosted by Amanda Busick and Brian Lohnes.
The SealMaster Track Walk allowed fans to take a stroll down the smooth, all-concrete racing surface at Virginia Motorsports Park.
Track owner Tommy Franklin and his family were greeted warmly to the stage during the pre-race ceremony.
Two of Top Fuel’s all-time greats, Joe Amato and Tony Schumacher, chatted backstage before the event. Amato is on hand as part of the NHRA Legends Tour promoting next year's 50th anniversary Gatornationals.
Greg Anderson, who qualified No. 1 for the 99th time in his career is one pole position away from becoming just the fourth driver (behind John Force, Warren Johnson, and Bob Glidden) to record 100 career No. 1 starts.
For the sixth time this season Courtney Force walked onto the stage as the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car and, as per usual, shared the moment on social media with a team selfie
Clay Millican could only shrug his shoulder after red-lighting in the first round of Top Fuel after eight straight round wins.
Jim Campbell was elated to get his first round win of the season in Jim Dunn's Funny Car.
A rainshower in the middle of the first round of Pro Mod halted racing action for about an hour.
Courtney Force received a congratulatory kiss from her father, John, whom she beat in a tightly-contested final round.
Event champions, from left, Steve Torrence, Courtney Force, Tnner Gray, and L.E. Tonglet,
Here are the ladders and first round pairings for today's action: