Teammates Brittany Force and Robert Hight posted the quickest runs of the day during Friday’s opening nitro qualifying session at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd.
With temperatures nearly 50 degrees cooler than what NHRA teams dealt with last weekend in Topeka, there was an expectation that elapsed times would be on the menu, and it didn’t take long for that to become reality.
Even though second round of qualifying was delayed due to rain, but the hearty Brainerd fans who stuck it out until the end were rewarded with a great show that included twilight header flames and a string of three-second and 330-mph runs.
Force, who already has five low qualifier awards this season, is on pace for a sixth following a 3.685 in her David Grubnic-tuned Monster Energy dragster. Force, who hasn’t qualified lower than No. 6 at any event this season, bumped Justin Ashley from the top spot shortly after the Phillips Connect dragster had run 3.691.
“I’m very happy especially after Q1 where we didn’t’ get the car down,” said Force. “Then the rain came, and we just hoped it would clear up. There are no lights here, so I hoped we got to run. David Grubnic said this was a great racetrack so our game plan was different after the first run. We ran right on the number we were aiming to run. I’m happy that we pulled it off.
“I love night racing,” Force said. “There is nothing cooler with the flames out of the headers. Sitting in the stands watch night runs, I loved it as a kid.
“We’ve come a long way since last season. We had a ton of No. 1 qualifiers but couldn’t produce on race day. Now, we concentrate on running in the heat. The focus isn’t so much on No. 1. The focus is on making solid qualifying passes but we did gain some points and we’re happy to get them wherever we can get them.”
Leah Pruett, Tony Schumacher, and Antron Brown, who have each notched recent wins during the Western Swing and last weeks’ Topeka race, continued to show steady improvement. Pruett is third-quickest with a 3.702 while Schumacher ran a 3.716 for the No. 4 spot while Brown is No. 8 at 3.742. Billy Torrence also made a strong run with a fifth-best 3.726 in his Capco dragster.
Austin Prock, coming off a disappointing summer stretch that included four-consecutive round one losses, showed clear signs of a turnaround with a strong 3.760 from his Montana Brands/Rocky Mountain Twist dragster that led the field after round one. Prock later improved to a 3.752, but had been bumped to No. 8 by that point.
In Funny Car, Bob Tasca III led the first qualifying session with a strong 3.881 at 331.45 mph in his Motorcraft/Quicklane Ford, but Robert Hight and his Auto Club team took advantage of the cool conditions at dusk to steal the top spot with a solid 3.865. Hight, the runaway championship leader, added five more bonus points to his already gaudy total after a 3.897 during the opening round.
“First off, NHRA did amazing job of getting track dry so we could make amazing runs,” said Hight. “The Auto Club Chevy made two runs in 3.80s and that’s awesome. My, I listen to Lanny [Miglizzi, track specialist] and he says it’s good enough to run like we did in Sonoma, where we went 3.82. This track is amazing but the air is just not there so it’s a little harder to make power. It’s actually a breath of fresh air after what we’ve been through last few weeks with the brutal heat.
“This was a great job by my guys and this is exactly what we need here,” Hight said. “We have two runs to be able to tune off and that’s important because the championship is upon us. It’s crunch time. We’re excited where we’re at, but we’ll also test on Monday.
Tasca has been the man of the hour lately in Funny Car with wins in Sonoma and Topeka and final rounds in four of the last six events. Tasca opened qualifying with a strong 3.881 but slowed to a 4.004 at just 265.54 later in the day.
Hight and Tasca are followed by Ron Capps, who drove to a 3.885 and Matt Hagan with a 3.893. J.R. Todd continued his recent string of strong performances in his Jon Oberhofer-tuned DHL Toyota with a 3.899 and an impressive top speed of 333.91 mph.
Friday’s schedule also included the opening round of the D-Wagon Pro Mod Shootout that will pay $10,000 to the champion. J.R. Gray, Mike Thielen, Justin Bond, Steve Jackson, Mike Castellana, and Kris Thorne each advanced with championship leader Thorne making the best run of the day with a 5.777. Pairings for the second round will be determined by random draw.