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Billy Torrence, J.R. Todd, Greg Anderson, Scotty Pollacheck lead Atlanta fields

Billy Torrence and Steve Torrence sent Torrence Racing to the top two spots in Top Fuel, J.R. Todd returned to the No. 1 spot in Funny Car for the first time in nearly two years, while Greg Anderson and Scotty Pollacheck claimed the pole in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
01 May 2021
Josh Hachat
Race coverage

Billy Torrence and Steve Torrence sent Torrence Racing to the top two spots in Top Fuel, J.R. Todd returned to the No. 1 spot in Funny Car for the first time in nearly two years, while Greg Anderson and Scotty Pollacheck claimed the pole in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, setting the fields for the 40th and final Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

A massive crowd gathered at Georgia’s House of Speed on Saturday, taking in the final NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions at the track, as fans and racers celebrated the long and storied history at Atlanta Dragway.

Todd last claimed the No. 1 position in Funny Car in 2019, but he was one of only a few to get down the track to open the day, going 3.982 at 325.69 in his DHL Toyota Camry to continue his early-season success. Todd picked up his 13th career No. 1 qualifier and will look for his second victory of the season and a trip back to the top of the point standings.

“It shows that (crew chiefs) Todd Smith, Jon (Oberhofer) and the team have their act together. It benefitted us being the last pair,” Todd said. “Todd made some tuneup changes to slow the car down and it put up a good number. This place has always been tricky and it’s nice to be starting from No. 1. We’ll see what the conditions bring tomorrow, but it could be a good points day for us.”

It was a rough go in the opening round of qualifying in Funny Car, as Todd was the only driver who made a 3-second run. Ron Capps and Blake Alexander both made respectable passes, but things picked up in the final session.

Bob Tasca III, who won in Las Vegas, was the only other driver to reach the 3-second zone and barely did it, going 3.999 at 320.81 in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang. It was a stark difference from Tasca’s first run, putting him on a good path heading into eliminations. Matt Hagan was right behind, as the defending world champ also turned things around to close out his day with a 4.001 at 314.02 in his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye. It won’t net him much to open eliminations, as Hagan will meet Robert Hight, who struggled during both runs to finish in the 12th spot.

Cruz Pedregon was yet another driver who stepped up to close out the day, going 4.005 in his Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger. His reward? Yet another matchup with longtime rival John Force.

Ron Capps got bumped to fifth in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, but he was by far the most consistent performer in the class on Saturday. He went 4.006 at 313.73 to open the day and followed with a 4.039 at 312.35 in the second session, and was the only driver in the class to make two full passes on Saturday.

It was the Torrence show in Top Fuel to close out the day, but Billy took top honors thanks to his run of 3.815 at 323.43 in his Capco Contractors dragster. He then had to watch to see if it would hold up, with S. Torrence providing the biggest challenge. The three-time reigning world champ came close, running 3.817 at 323.66, but it was dad who claimed the No. 1 spot for the fourth time in his career, earning a first-round bye in the process.

“These yellow (No. 1 qualifier) hats are easier to come by than those winner hats, but I’ll take this one,” said B. Torrence, who has six career wins.

Not surprisingly, it was S. Torrence who performed the best on Saturday, making two quality runs to leave him feeling good heading into eliminations. His first career Top Fuel victory came at the track and he would love to close out in style. A pair of drivers - Josh Hart and Mike Salinas - both went in the mid-3.80s to claim the next two spots, as Salinas went 3.841 at 317.05 in his Scrappers Racing dragster with Hart, who won in Gainesville, right behind at 3.844 at 319.98 in his Technet/Burnyzz dragster. Brittany Force rounded out the top five with a 3.857 at 314.90 in her Monster Energy dragster.

Only one other driver, Leah Pruett, made a 3-second run.

It’s been the Greg Anderson show in Pro Stock - at least during qualifying — in the 2021 season and not much changed in that regard on Saturday, as the veteran again went to the top in his DENSO Chevrolet Camaro with a run of 6.548 at 210.41. Anderson made two strong runs in qualifying, which is no surprise considering how well his car has performed thus far. It gives Anderson a perfect start in qualifying through three races, as the three top qualifiers this year give him 109 in his career. He’ll look to close out Atlanta Dragway with his fifth career victory at the track on Sunday, which would also give Anderson his second victory in 2021.

“We’re out here having fun in the beautiful weather here today at Atlanta Dragway,” Anderson said. “Everyone is happy and it’s working out great. Three in a row, you can’t complain about that at all. This is one of my favorite tracks and a lot of history here, and I’d like to make some more tomorrow. This DENSO Chevy is running great and hopefully, we can find a way to four rounds tomorrow and have a little glory at the end of the day.”

Deric Kramer had his best qualifying showing of the young season, going 6.554 at 210.21 in his Get Biofuel Camaro to clinch the second spot. Aaron Stanfield made a strong jump in the last qualifying session, bumping up from sixth to third in his Janac Brothers Camaro after a run of 6.555 at 209.56. 

Back-to-back world champ and Vegas winner Erica Enders made a pair of solid runs in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro, sitting fourth with a 6.560 at 211.06. Vincent Nobile made his return to the class and qualified 11th in the 20-car field. He struggled in the first qualifier but came back with a 6.60 at 206.82 to set up an intriguing first-round matchup with Troy Coughlin Jr.

By the slimmest of margins, Scotty Pollacheck took the No. 1 spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle on his Denso/Strutmasters/Matt Smith Racing EBR. Pollacheck went 6.779 at 199.20, edging out Joey Gladstone’s career-best run of 6.780 at 198.20. It gives Pollacheck his first No. 1 qualifier of 2021 and the third in his career as he looks to win for the first time this year. It won’t be easy right off the bat, as he meets Jerry Savoie to open eliminations.

“We do have an awesome bike,” Pollacheck said. “Matt and Angie (Smith) are making this program work so well and all four bikes are running (well). The bike is awesome and running great, as long as I don’t screw it up.”

Gladstone impressed with two runs in the 6.78-range on his Precision Service Equipment Suzuki, bringing perhaps the most consistent bike of the weekend into eliminations as he chases his first career victory. In his return after missing the first two races of the season, Andrew Hines also looked great on Saturday on his Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Buell, making his first career 200-mph pass. That came during the second qualifier when he jumped to the third spot with a run of 6.809 at 200.11. Angie Smith and Angelle Sampey rounded out the top five. In all, the loaded field included 22 bikes.