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Alex Laughlin vs. Mother Nature vs. grasshoppers vs. the field

Alex Laughlin’s plan for the weekend was complicated, but manageable. Then Mother Nature got involved. Twice.
19 Oct 2019
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Race coverage
Alex Laughlin

Alex Laughlin’s plan was complicated but manageable. Compete in his supercharged Speed Society Corvette at the No Mercy event at South Georgia Motorsports Park, put down some qualifying runs Thursday, fly to Texas for Friday’s first two qualifying runs of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, get solidly in the Pro Stock show with his Havoline Camaro, then fly back to Georgia for Saturday’s eliminations, then return to Texas Motorplex to run Sunday eliminations.

Then Mother Nature intervened, with the threat of Saturday rain forcing No Mercy officials to close qualifying Thursday and run eliminations Friday. Laughlin had no choice but to stay, so he changed all of his travel plans and went three rounds before losing by a thousandth of a second despite having a .002 reaction time.

Racing Friday in Georgia cost him a shot at Friday’s best conditions at the Motorplex, putting him in a bit of a hole trying to make the field in Saturday’s warmer conditions. The bump when he got here heading into Q3 Saturday was 6.652, which he easily eclipsed with a 6.616.

Well, easily might be overstating it.

Somewhere along the run, Laughlin’s Elite powerplant sucked in an insect through the snorkel air inlet that sits just inches above the ground, damaging the engine.

“We picked up a fricking grasshopper early in the run, and it exploded inside the engine and hurt a [piston] ring, so we had a dead [cylinder] and still went ninth quickest e.t. of the session and third-best in speed, so it would have been a lot better, and we had to swap engines.”

Some Pro Stock teams run a screen over their air inlet to prevent such instances, but Laughlin’s team found that it disturbed the incoming air enough to hurt performance, so they abandoned it and hadn’t been bit by it until that crucial run.

“I’m pretty sure we can improve and stay in the show; it just will make first round that much harder for us,” he added. “It’s been a crazy week.”