After a three-year absence, NHRA Drag Racing returned to Virginia Motorsports Park with Brittany Force, Matt Hagan, and Angie Smith earning the provisional low qualifying spots after the opening day of the Virginia NHRA Nationals.
It took a Herculean effort by the NHRA Safety Safari presented by Simpson to get the track prepped after a rainy Thursday that soaked the VMP quarter-mile, forcing a half-track-long rubber scrape to root out the moisture and then a full rubber drag and rosin application to get the track into championship form, a process that further was complicated when another rain shower soaked the track in the middle of all of that.
The hard work paid off though as three track records were set in all three classes, with five of the six existing marks broken.
Early in Top Fuel qualifying. Doug Foley ran a career-best 3.733 to break Clay Millican’s 2019 track e.t. record of 3.749 and Justin Ashley bettered that with 3.725 in the Phillips Connect entry and Austin Prock broke Tony Schumacher’s 2018 speed record of 327.51 with a blast of 328.38
Then points leader Force stepped to the plate and her David Grubnic-tuned Flav-R-Pac monster broke both ends of those marks with a 3.710 at 335.82 mph, the eighth fastest run in NHRA history. Force now owns nine of the 10 fastest runs in Top Fuel history.
“We were excited to get a run in because we weren't sure what how the weather looked today, and if we were gonna get a shot at it,” she said. “ [The weather] cleared up and Grubnic had a goal set and we hit that mark. We're excited that it was a good solid run.
“We're actually in a different car this week than the car we’ve been running all season, so trying to figure out a new car in Q1 is challenging for the whole team, but definitely for me as a driver trying to feel it out during the burnout and see how it steers and backing up and everything, so to be able to, pull that car out and run like that we're excited.”
Behind Force, Ashley, and Foley were a long line of cars that made solid passes, including Doug Kalitta, whose 3.740 was the fourth to break the old track record.
Reigning world champ and defending event champ (from 2019) Steve Torrence, still looking for his first win of the season, sits fifth with a 3.747, just ahead of Leah Pruett (3.754), Austin Prock and Charlotte four-wide winner Mike Salinas (both at 3.780), Antron Brown (3.828), Shawn Langdon (3.830), and, making his first appearance of the season, Scott Palmer (3.870)
Until the last pair of Funny Cars, it looked like underdog Dale Creasy Jr. might make his first trip to the media center for a low qualifier interview after uncorking a career-best 3.974 in the second pair down the track, but Virginia’s own Hagan, making his 300th career start, stole that glory on the final pass, botting his Tony Stewart Racing/Smithfield Dodge to a 3.917 at a track-record speed of 335.82 mph, breaking John Force’s 2019 mark of 326.32 by almost 10 mph.
“We’re happy with that run,” said Hagan. “I mean, it was just kind of sketch early but Dickie Venables, I mean, the dude's he's the man, honestly; I'm so proud to have him in our camp, making the calls with Mike Knudsen and Alex Conaway; they all do a great job with a combination that just seems to work everywhere we go whether it's hot or cold
“We watched [Ron] Capps go out there and fast rattle into tire smoke and Dickie came running back, [got] in the box and started slowing some stuff down and it went out there and did pretty much the same thing Capps did and I thought it was gonna go up in the smoke, but then you can feel the timing come out of it. it relaxed the tire, and it made it through there.”
Creasy, whose family has been racing nitro Funny Cars since the early 1970s, stood second, a few ticks ahead of No. 3 qualifier Blake Alexander’s 4.007 in Jim Head’s entry.
John Force (4.099) and JR Todd (4.201) were the only other drivers to make representative runs. With just 16 cars on the grounds, no one is in danger of being bumped.
Pro Stock Motorcycle had to wait out yet another rain delay that came after the nitro cars ran, but when the two-wheelers took to the track, there was more record-breaking afoot.
Angie Smith made the first 200-mph pass in Virginia Motorsports Park history, her 200.38-mph run on the Denso Buell breaking Hector Arana’s Jr.’s 199.14 set in 2018, and her 6.788 broke Arana’s similarly-aged 6794 track e.t. record.
"We just waited and waited and waited and, honestly, I really didn't think we would get anything in, then they caught us to the lanes and then we got done with fuel and it started raining again," said Smith. "So, hats off to the Safety Safari and NHRA for drying the track for us and staying here the long hours to get it dry so we can go out there and make good runs because it's all about the fans and we want to put on a good show.
"I love this facility. We come here and test a lot, and Tommy and Judy Franklin and Tyler [Crossnoe] do an awesome job. I would say that this is my second home., with Charlotte's my first, of course, because it's right down the road. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going this weekend."
Points leader Steve Johnson slotted into the No. 2 spot with a 6.826 from his Tull Plumbing Suzuki, breaking up a Smith family monopoly as Matt Smith was just a tick behind with a 6.827 for the No. 3 position.
Behind the leading trio and rounding out the top eight are Jimmy Underdahl (6.828), Angelle Sampey (6.854), Eddie Krawiec (6.868), Karen Stoffer (6.871), and Joey Gladstone (6.875).
Jianna Evaristo (nee Salinas) made her first appearance of the season after a pre0season testing accident and raced to a 7.408 on her first pass.