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Brittany Force, Ron Capps, Matt Hartford, and Andrew Hines are Friday night’s top qualifiers in Sonoma

Perfect weather, record speeds, and full-capacity California crowd made the night session at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals a smash success.
23 Jul 2021
David Kennedy
Race coverage
Brittany Force 2021 NHRA Sonoma Nationals

Most people think Sonoma, Calif., is wine country, but motorsports fans know better—it’s horsepower country.

After last weekend’s race in Denver where the air was thin and the trap speeds were low, the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returned to Sonoma Raceway after a two-year COVID-19-induced hiatus and boy was it good to be back. Stop two of the famed 2021 Western Swing restored the power robbed from our race engines and also returned NHRA professional drag racing to the state where it was born.

Spectators from all over the Golden State arrived early to watch the sportsman ranks kick off the action just before 10 a.m. and got to enjoy a full day of racing action that culminated in brutally quick times and a Top Fuel low-qualifier that crossed the finish line with a dramatic engine explosion. 

Top Fuel: Nitromethane’s heavy hitters returned to the cool California air and wowed fans with quick times, a few melted parts, and the show they’ve been waiting nearly two years for.

When the dust settled and the busted bits had all been swept from the Sonoma surface, Brittany Force took the top spot with a 3.694-second run at 329.42 mph even though the engine expired in the timing lights. Said Force, “It wasn’t pretty but it got us into the number one slot.”

Antron Brown followed with cleaner but slower 3.724-second run at 326.71 mph while in the other lane a last-minute Capco Contractor clutch change on Steve Torrence’s car didn’t seem to work out as hoped for team Torrence.

Leah Pruett and Justin Ashley rounded out the Top Fuel cars that were able to run in the 3s on Friday night, with a 3.749 and 3.761 respectively. Both cars completing their runs with minimal drama and build confidence for both drivers.

Funny Car: Ron Capps 3.897 at 328.78 mph delivered him the number one position and was good medicine for the Napa team.  “What a day it’s been already,” said Capps.  “I grew not far from here and my family is here enjoying all of this with me this weekend.”

Capps’ co-crew chief Dean Antonelli added, “When we drug it up here I thought an .85 or .86 was more reasonable, but we pulled  it back a little and it paid off.”

Alexis DeJoria probably wished the Napa team had dialed it back just a tad more to give her ROKiT Funny Car the thousandth of a second she needed to move into the top spot. Her 3.898 at 325.61 ripped down the track. On the mic right after the run Del Worsham said,  “She left the line great, what a great run. The left side of the engine was looking a little hot, but it couldn’t of been too bad, we ran a 3.89 and we’ve got more parts.”

The Dickie Venables and Jimmy Prock battle through their proxies Matt Hagan and Robert Hight failed to mature into the record-setting battle we anticipated. But Saturday’s two qualifying sessions might yet still deliver.

Pro Stock's return to Sonoma meant teams were swinging for the fences, but the cleanup batters weren’t Greg Anderson or Erica Enders, they were leadoff hitters Matt Hartford (6.533), Kyle Koretsky (6.538), and Aaron Stanfield (6.548).         

Anderson and Enders qualified fourth and eighth after chatting each other up near the starting line as they waited for the rest of the field to run.  The last time the two had seen each other was back in Norwalk when all Anderson saw was Enders’ taillights.  “Well, I don’t think he saw my taillights because it was a great close race. Greg is one of the best Pro Stock drivers that have ever driven,” said Enders.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: There is something about the Sonoma track where you see the bike fans come out in full force. So when Matt Smith ran 203 mph and said his “speed was dictated by mother nature and the wind," he was speaking to his people. 

As good as the conditions were tonight, Smith admits, “You don’t know 203 from 199. They all feel the same. I knew I was on a pretty good run. We didn’t get the e.t. we wanted but we’ll come back tomorrow. And dip it down and try to go 204, because I really think we can do it. If he does, that will be the fastest run in the history of the sport.