Brittany Force, Matt Hagan, and Angie Smith finished qualifying as the field leaders at the Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park, setting the fields for Sunday’s final eliminations.
Despite dire forecasts for rain, the racers and the NHRA persevered through the day and, against all odds, got two complete sessions in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and now in Pro Stock Motorcycle. After a long day, Friday’s leaders remained No. 1, but had to regain those sports Saturday after steep challenges from the field.
The day started late due to morning rain showers and only got longer with a late afternoon shower between the second and third qualifying sessions that required a two-hour-plus drying, setting up the final qualifying session. The final session started just before 7 p.m. under cooling temperatures that allowed improvements for many teams and some frustrations for others, and then got more frustrating for the Funny Car drivers as the late-day reschedule had them racing into the setting sun, forcing NHRA to delay the floppers for 10 minutes.
Force was Friday’s low qualifier in Top Fuel with a track-record 3.719 then momentarily lost the lead in Q2 when teammate Austin Prock raced to a 3.672, but her Dave Grubnic-tuned Flav-R-Pac mount fired back with a 3.669 when their turn came and then ran even quicker in Q3 with a stunning 3.664 right into the sun.
"A lot of these tracks where people wear the dark visors, we have the canopy, and that sometimes blocks the sun so, typically, I'm good. When we got around the corner and put the canopy down, the sun was dead in our face. And at that point, there was only one car ahead of us and no time to change the visor, so kind of put that off and just keep your focus where it needs to be. Don't think about the sun, pull up there, and try to get the job done.
“It’s outstanding for this Monster Energy team to just to keep improving, improving, improving each run. Now the hard part is doing that tomorrow. That's gonna be really the tough one, but as long as we can make some consistent runs, I think we should be good.”
Neither Prock nor No. 3 Steve Torrence (3.683 in Q3) were able to improve in the final session, but Clay Millican did, ripping to a 3.698 for the No. 4 spot. As the low qualifier in a 15-car field, Force will also get a bye in round one.
“[Having the bye run] means we come out tomorrow, and I'm assuming conditions are going to be different, so that'll be really important for us that that first round to get down the track and figure the day out.”
Mike Salinas also improved with a 3.700 to complete a nice trio of runs, his e.t. edging No. 6 Justin Ashley on speed after Ashley was unable to improve. Doug Kalitta (3.703) and teammate Shawn Langdon (3.724) round out the top eight.
Several Funny Car teams, reluctant to change their set tune-ups, tried running into the sun in Q4, but found it a challenge for the drivers, so NHRA put the session on hold on for a total of 30 minutes until the sun went down, and some electronic gremlins added to the delay, and the session was completed in the dusk with flames soaring from headers as an extra treat for the die-hard fans who waited it all out.
After a series of delays, Hagan took to the track and powered his Smithfield Dodge to a 3.853 to regain the No. 1 spot he lost to Ron Capps’ 3.864 in Q2. Capps had a chance to answer back on the very next (and final) pair but had to abort his run just off the line.
"That's probably the longest I've ever sat in a car but it was worth it," said Hagan. "When I did the burnout, the windshield fogged over, you know, and it's just kind of like, well, we're gonna hit the gas and see what happens, and it was kind of like Moses parts the Red Sea. As soon as you step on the pedal, the fog goes away, which is pretty crazy, to be honest with you.
"I was ready to go eat a steak man [instead of waiting]," he joked. "I was good with No. 2, but I guess Tony [Stewart, team owner] wasn't. Obviously, after that long wait, I knew if it was going to go, it was going to either really go well, or it wasn't gonna go at all. And that's just kind of like the mentality that we had we went up there with: We have nothing to lose. We already qualified well, let's just see what this thing will hold and stick."
Behind the leading duo are Alexis DeJoria (3.896), Cruz Pedregon (3.905), J.R. Todd (3.906), Blake Alexander (3.929), Tim Wilkerson (3.938), and Dale Creasy Jr. (3.974). Chad Green was the ninth car in the threes with a 3.975.
Due to the late hour, the Pro Stock Motorcycle did not run the final session, and Smith held onto the pole -– the second of her career –- thanks to a monster run in Q2. Angelle Sampey took over No. 1 from Smith’s 6.788 with a 6.786, then Smith took it back, resetting both ends of the track record at 6.756, 201.37.
"I was ecstatic when I saw Angelle go .78, and she bumped me to second, but I knew that it was out there," said Smith. "I knew that the bike had it in it, and I just knew that we had to go out there and go A to B. I didn't think that we would actually go that fast because Matt told me that was about a .76 in there. It was a really good run. if I got off the line good.
"I think the majority of the class was behind in NHRA in saying that we do not need to run tonight; the dew had set in we were not going to go out there and go faster, and it's better to be safe than sorry."
Behind Smith and Sampey in the top eight are Steve Johnson (6.826), Matt Smith (6.827), Jimmy Underdahl (6.828), Karen Stoffer (6.843), Marc Ingwersen (6.858), and Eddie Krawiec (6.868).