The daughter-father duo of Brittany and John Force grabbed the nitro qualifying leads in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively, under the lights at zMAX Dragway on the opening night of the DeWalt NHRA Carolina Nationals. Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also ended the evening atop their classes.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before -- like at the seven previous events -– but Brittany Force is leading the Top Fuel field in her David Grubnic-tuned Monster Energy dragster. Force, who has been the low qualifier at every event beginning with Western Swing in Denver across a variety of tracks and conditions, clocked a 3.662 despite getting loose at midtrack and backfiring the supercharger at the finish line.
“It was moving around a little bit and then towards the end, I started to chase it,” Force recalled. “I couldn't catch it couldn't stay ahead of it, but there was no indication that it was going to blow like that. I didn't know we ran the 66 until I got down on the top end. But I knew we heard the thing pretty bad.
“It's incredible that this team has been able to carry that for eight races straight. That's incredible. It's picking up bonus points and we're stashing away those No. 1 qualifier hats, but again, we're looking for raceday tune, that's our focus. Tomorrow, it’s two more solid runs down the racetrack grabbing those bonus points, and then winning this thing on race day.”
Until Force’s last-pair histrionics, Clay Millican had held the No. 1 spot through most of qualifying with the Parts Plus dragster with a 3.708, just one-thousandth of a second ahead of Mile Salinas’ 3.709. Billy Torrence, winner of the Mopar Express Lane Nationals last weekend in Reading, Pa., is in the No. 4 spot with the Capco Contractors machine with a 3.729.
As he did two years ago at the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway, Spencer Massey saddled up in Pat Dakin’s dragster and powered to an impressive 3.769 for the No. 5 spot. Antron Brown (3.779), Alex Laughlin (3.793), and Doug Kalitta (3.869).
Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence had to abort his pass and finished the day in the No. 14 spot.
John Force, who qualified No. 1 at zMAX Dragway during the track’s four-wide event earlier this year and also the low qualifier at the U.S. Nationals, has the provisional Funny Car lead after a sizzling 3.860 in his Blue Def Camaro.
“We’re just trying to stay in the game and getting low qualifier, but understand we got to follow everybody. I got to see what Jimmy Prock can do [on Robert Hight’s car] and [crew chief] Daniel Hood and [Tim] Fabrisi and [Joe] Barlam, they just give me a racecar to go down the racetrack.
“They turned up the wick and it stuck; it would have taken more. But tomorrow, we'll just see what the weather does. I don't get into all of that; that's what the crew chiefs are for. They live it. They're like little kids off on the starting line.”
Force’s teammate, Robert Hight, who won this event the last tie it was contested, in 2019, put his Auto Club Camaro just behind the boss with a 3.878 and just a tick ahead of resurgent Cruz Pedregon’s third-ranked 3.879.
Matt Hagan, in his first event after missing two races due to COVID-19, pushed his Shelor Motor Mile Dodge to the fourth spot with a 3.891. zMAX, the site of the sport’s first three-second Funny Car run (Hagan, 2011) hosted eight this night with J.R. Todd (3.899), Alexis DeJoria (3.907), Tim Wilkerson (3.914), and Ron Capps (3.922) rounding out the top eight.
Stanfield, who’s already charted a pair of No. 2 qualifying efforts and three victories this season, may add a No, 1 qualifying berth to his 2021 resumé after posting a 6.575 in the Janac Brothers Camaro.
“The conditions just lined up when the track cools down, the air cools down, and it's favorable to make a fast run. And that's what we did. I was surprised to see it stand because there were some really good racecars behind me, but it was a cool feeling for sure.
“We've made some really good runs this season and been pretty close [to qualifying No. 1] a couple of times, but it’s not an easy thing to accomplish, and we haven't accomplished yet. I think we should try to improve tomorrow. I can't say that it will hold up. But I hope it does.”
Stanfield, the reigning NHRA Factory Stock champion, doesn’t have much of a lead as reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders is breathing down his neck with a 6.578 in the Elite Motorsports Camaro and hometown hero and recent Reading winner Greg Anderson in third with a 6.580.
Dallas Glenn, the frontrunner for the 2021 Rookie of the Year title with two wins already to his credit including the four-wide event in Charlotte earlier this season, is fourth in the RAD Torque Systems Chevy with a 6.597. Troy Coughlin Jr. (6.599), 2019 Charlotte winner Deric Kramer (6.606), U.S. Nationals runner-up Kyle Koretsky (6.607), and Matt Hartford (6.613) round out a top eight separated by just four-hundredths of a second.
Johnson built on the momentum of the win last weekend in Reading that gave him the points lead by powering his Brady mechanical/MacRak Suzuki to the provisional pole on Pro Stock Motorcycle with a 6.807. Johnson also was the No. 1 qualifier earlier this season in Norwalk.
“It's humbling to be the No. 1 qualifier; you only hear of like Larry Dixon or [Kenny] Bernstein or, now, Steve Torrence, and Erica [Enders] or Greg [Anderson]; you know, that's, that's a fraternity," he said.
“The team is just on the moon and our team is just growing. We have people just helping in all these little different areas. I never thought we have that kind of help. Our sponsor is here and that's cool. As the team grows, you get confidence in that. In motorsports, when you have a really good team that's performing and when you perform and do each one of the tasks that you're designed to do, then everybody's going to be really happy with the results. And that gives me confidence.”
Johnson’s pass was almost an unheard-of half-tenth ahead of the No. 2 qualifier, Angelle Sampey, who had her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki on the pole in Reading. Her 6.848 fronted a trio of Matt Smith Racing entries led by the boss with a 6.852; his wife, Angie, at 6.911; and Scotty Pollacheck at 6.923.
Joey Gladstone (6.929) and U.S. Nationals champ Eddie Krawiec (6.951) and teammate Andrew Hines (6.956) round out the top eight.