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Nighttime is the right time for Force, Capps, Enders and Sampey in Norwalk

Under the lights in Norwalk, Brittany Force, Ron Capps, Erica Enders and Angelle Sampey lead pro fields after day one at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.
24 Jun 2022
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
Race coverage
Brittany Force

The staff at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park is well known for their unrivaled hospitality and customer service and they offered their loyal fans a fantastic show under the lights on Friday night.

At the end of two fast and furious rounds of Pro qualifying, Brittany Force, Ron Capps, Erica Enders, and Angelle Sampey ended Friday as the provisional leaders in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively.  

Force led the way in Top Fuel during both qualifying sessions, first with a 3.798 and later on, the Monster Energy team lowered the boom with a 3.666 at 333.08 mph to set both ends of the Norwalk track record.

Force was the only driver in the 3.6s but several others made very competitive runs including Bristol winner Justin Ashley, who wheeled his Phillips Connect dragster to a 3.707 while Mike Salinas and Josh Hart clocked matching 3.744 runs.

“[Crew chief David Grubnic] and I always chat before the run and after Q1 we knew we had a shot at the pole if we pushed it,” said Force. “We watched the other cars go out ahead of us and based on that we did some fine tuning. We figured a high 60 was possible but I didn’t expect a 3.66. That was an incredible, beautiful run. A great wat to end the night with all the fireworks.

“I look at where we are this far into the season,” Force said. “Last year we didn’t win until Topeka and this year we already have three wins and we’re way ahead of ourselves. We’re in the lead, and that’s a great position and we want to stay there until the end. Everyone is so close right now that one bad weekend can set you back.”

John Force was the only driver to run in the threes during the opening session with a 3.947 although a host of other drivers were close behind with 4.0s including Alexis DeJoria (4.011) and Cruz Pedregon (4.023), who each earned qualifying bonus points. That changed once the sun went down as most teams used the data they gained during Q1 to make dramatic improvements.

Under the lights there were a host of three-second runs, but none quicker than reigning champ Ron Capps, who drove this NAPA Toyota to a 3.901. Capps, fresh off his 70th career win in Bristol, is the leader, but just barely. He’s got a lot of company at the top of the qualifying chart in John Force (3.903), Robert Hight (3.907), and Bob Tasca III (3.908). Matt Hagan, Alexis DeJoria, and J.R. Todd are also lurking close to the top with runs of 3.917, 3.932, and 3.933 respectively.

“On our first run, I let it get out further than it should have,” Capps said. “I was pacing around, waiting for the 8 p.m. session because I knew we had a chance to go to the pole. It’s taken a little time, but the last couple of races Guido and Medlen have figured out this NAPA Toyota body. They’ve trimmed it out to see what it likes and it’s made a big difference.

We were the third pair out and to run that well was awesome but I thought we’d see some 3.80s later on. With [John] Force being the last car down I figured he’d run quicker but it held and I’m so happy for our Toyota people.”  

A broken engine cost Erica Enders a shot at the Bristol win a week ago but the untimely parts attrition apparently did little to slow the Elite team as Enders crushed the field on Friday with a stout 6.537 run that was more than three hundredths quicker than any of her opponents. That sort of gap rarely exists in modern Pro Stock racing.

“As soon as I unclutched it, I knew it was on a good run,” said Enders, who is seeking her fifth win this season. “I was hoping we’d make a clean run so my crew chief Mark Ingersoll wouldn’t rip his hair our being the first pair out in the good session. We threw down after that huge explosion last week. Fortunately, I was running my teammate, Aaron Stanfield and he got his first win on Father’s Day. This team has a no-quit mentality. I’m lucky to be their driver, and I’m having fun.”

“After the first session where I let clutch out and it tried to blow the back window out of it, I knew we had to get that under control. I knew I had to get the car down the track,” Enders said. “It was a lot cooler and we were in the good lane which is the left. We made a great run in low gear. I thought it might go 6.55 and said we ran 6.53. That was impressive.”

Kyle Koretsky’s 6.570 pales in comparison to Enders’ run, but it was good for the No. 2 spot in the field. Koretsky leads a tight group that also includes Bristol winner Stanfield, who backed up his earlier 6.616 with a 6.574. Greg Anderson, still looking for career win No. 100, is also solidly in the field with a 6.575 in his HendrickCars.com Camaro.

In the opening round of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying, Angie Smith put her Denso Buell into the top spot with a 6.843 followed by Karen Stoffer with a 6.853 and Joey Gladstone at 6.879.

A few hours later, Smith improved to a 6.811, but she was bumped to the No. 2 spot by Angelle Sampey, who wheeled her Vance & Hines Suzuki to a 6.801 to claim the provisional pole. Sampey, coming off a final-round loss in Bristol a week ago, is just a couple of hundredths behind Matt Smith’s year-old track record of 6.782.

“It took me a couple of days to get over what happened in Bristol but I feel good coming in here,” said Sampey. “We’re coming here on a mission. I made some great runs in Bristol, and I know my Vance & Hines Suzuki is a beauty. I’m having fun. I’m feeling how I need to feel in order to get the job done. I just hope [on Sunday] it’s maybe me or Eddie [Krawiec] standing in the winner’s circle.

“This bike is very quick and fast and I’m still getting used to it,” Sampey said. “I think I’m finally catching up to the motorcycle. For a while I was so far behind and that’s not fun. I’m catching up doing a better job riding and I’m more in control.”

Following both of Friday’s runs, Sampey and Angie Smith are followed by Steve Johnson with a 6.824, Karen Stoffer’s 6.862 and Matt Smith at 6.872.