What a difference a day makes.
Teams from all points South and West hauled up to Epping, N.H., for a three-day race that promised great crowds, great weather, and great coverage on FOX’s crown jewel television network. Tomorrow they will have experienced all three.
Getting here wasn’t easy. Friday's qualifying session of the TascaParts.com NHRA New England Nationals presented by Bandero Premium Tequila promised record-breaking speeds with atmospheric conditions that meant tremendous horsepower potential — requiring even greater temperance to put to the ground.
Saturday’s qualifying session promised nothing short of a perfect day of racing. The top times from Friday night were at little risk of being eclipsed, but the opportunity to improve and prepare for the Big Show on Sunday meant racers got the day they deserved and needed.
The Torrence family came into Epping as the Top Fuel team to beat. With momentum, past success, and the Lagana Brothers who literally grew up running at New England. Billy Torrence was the man to master the power-to-traction opportunity and stormed through the Friday-night session like a Nor'easter. After three rounds nobody could touch his 3.744.
Mike Salinas, the guy with the coolest semi-trucks on the property, was close. He improved on his Friday run with a 3.771 on Saturday to put him right behind elder Torrence.
Justin Ashley was one of the few drivers smiling after Friday, and though his car seemed to exhibit a stuck throttle in Saturday’s final session, he made a clean run and held on to a No. 3 position.
Steve Torrence made a very rare throwaway run Friday night, but the three-time champion improved on Saturday with a 3.778 run to put him in the fourth position.
Doug Kalitta had a disappointing Q2 when a pan switch killed the motor, but came back with a stronger 3.788 in Q3 to move him into the No. 5 slot with executives of the Mac Tool company in attendance at the race.
Antron Brown has the team back together that he won all three national championships with and his Saturday 3.794 moved him to the number six slot after Kalitta bumped him back one spot.
Knowing there was little chance the other Funny Car teams could touch his Friday night times, Matt Hagan held on to his No. 1 slot and gathered data while making two clean runs on Saturday. He gave the crowd in attendance a great final pairing as he matched up again John Force and ran a 3.994 to Force’s session-quicker 3.979. Good enough to move the Blue DEF Camaro of Force to third and keep Hagan’s Hellcat in the number one spot.
The big move of the day came from the NAPA Auto Parts team when Ron Capps upped his game with a 3.927 at 324.59-mph run that catapulted him into the number two spot. Speaking of auto parts, New England title-rights sponsor TascaParts.com Bob Tasca III managed to move to the No. 5 slot. But perhaps even more significant than his 3.962-second timeslip was the call his father, Bob Tasca II, made by saying, “When we win this one, we’re gonna give Alan [Reinhart] a special discount on a Ford of his choice. Actually, we’ll take care of all of you!” he said as he looked to the fans in the stands.
Talk about “Win on Sunday. Sell on Monday!”
Crew chief Del Worsham said he, “missed it [Friday] night with the tune,” but managed to put Alexis DeJoria in the number 2 spot for a brief time with the whole DeJoria and Bandero Premium Tequila cheering her on.
Cruz Pedregon shutoff just past the 300-foot mark in Q2 to record a 4.81 — making his official run good for the No. 4 spot. In Q3 he came back to run a stronger 3.969 and said, “We hit the wall in Houston and we hit the wall here — something was not right. We’ve determined there wasn’t enough clearance between my helmet and the cage, and I was probably the only Nitro driver out here not wearing a chinstrap. Well, now I’m wearing a chinstrap.”
After the Friday session, nobody would have faulted you for thinking Epping’s number one spot in Pro Stock was going to a next-generation racer. Yet considering the No. 1 qualifier in four of the last five Pro Stock events was old-guard himself, Greg Anderson, you’d have to think he might have it in him to disrupt the trend — and boy, did he— running 6.526 in Q2 and laying down a time nobody could touch.
“I certainly can’t complain, it’s pretty much a dream scenario to start the season. I’ve made a couple of mistakes on the driver end, otherwise, [we've got a] seriously good run going already, but I’ve got a lot of time yet to win some races out here. This car has been pretty bad to the bone all year and it’s a beautiful looking car.”—Greg Anderson
Now Anderson can claim the No. 1 qualifier spot in five of the six 2021 Pro Stock races. And the one he missed? That's the race he qualified No. 2 to the car of Dallas Glenn — a car Anderson just happened to be tuning.
Mason McGaha’s 6.538, Aaron Stanfield’s 6.545, and Matt Hartford’s 6.551 Friday night runs survived both Saturday qualifying sessions and kept them in the second, third, and fifth place slots. While Erica Enders 6.545 on Saturday showed improvement over her Friday night run, and reminded competitors of what she’s capable of at this track.
Deric Kramer's intense concentration also allowed him to cut more than half a second off his Friday night slip and record a 6.551 at 210.37 to round out the top six.