The final day of qualifying for the NHRA New England Nationals ended abruptly after the early session when rain moved into the area, but the spirits of Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Chad Green (Funny Car) could not be dampened. Brown earned his long-awaited 50th low qualifier award, and Green locked into the first of his career.
After Friday's air temperature hovered in the mid 80-degrees Fahrenheit range, an incredible swing in the weather set up a tremendously challenging Saturday. The rambunctious single session was filled with racecars that either overpowered the track or didn't bring enough power to the table for the tight racing surface that hovered near 65 degrees.
Brown and Shawn Langdon, wheeling the retro Bounty Hunter dragster out of the Kalitta Motorsports camp, were the only Top Fuel drivers to make it down the track unfazed, and Brown's 3.72 at 329 mph sent him to the top in his Matco Tools/Lucas Oil rail. Langdon was second-best with a clean 3.73, 327 to move into the No. 2 position, while provisional pole sitter Leah Pruett's 3.85 from Friday was bumped to third with a tire-rattling 5.21.
"What makes this feel so good is how our team was so good to adapt to all the different conditions," said Brown. "Friday, we were No. 2, then today, we were able to bounce back and be one of the only cars that made it down. Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald [co-crew chiefs], Brad Mason [assistant crew chief], and all the Matco Tools/Lucas Oil boys, they're real good at adapting. We went for a safe run to get down so we could prepare; the conditions are going to be like that tomorrow, and now we can pick at it and make it better. I'm super proud of my guys. It makes me feel good to see where we're at and the way we can adapt to so many different circumstances."
Brown has been waiting for pole No. 50 since the Seattle race in 2017, but he explained that although they are pleased, he and his team haven't really been aiming for the milestone.
"Our main focus through this whole journey is to constantly get better," said Brown, who scored a bye-run for the first round of eliminations at New England Dragway. "We never really harped on qualifying. We were always trying to get progressively better and just qualify in the right spot to give ourselves the best chance. Do we want to qualifying No. 1 more? Heck yeah. But we have to keep working to know how we got there and not throw shots at it."
Josh Hart settled into the No. 4 position in his R+L Carriers dragster on a 3.90; Quebec's Dan Mercier qualified a career-high No. 5 on his 4.02; and Mike Salinas (4.06), Austin Prock (4.07), and Steve Torrence (4.19) rounded out the not-so-quick top half.
Green had qualified in the top half three times this year heading into this event, and his best position so far was No. 5 in Phoenix. He drove his Bond-Coat Ford Mustang to a 4.10, 310.98 in the Friday session, thinking that with the vastly changing conditions he would have trouble keeping his grasp on the top spot. Saturday's conditions didn't produce the quick and fast numbers that had been projected, though, and Green's spot was secure. He will race No. 14 qualifier Jim Campbell in round one.
"I'm definitely happy about it and proud of my guys, but I haven't had No. 1 qualifier on my mind as much as winning a race," said Green. "It's pretty unexpected. When I woke up this morning, I never thought that our run yesterday would hold up for No. 1 today. This has been a really tricky place, and I'm very proud of my team for navigating the track yesterday and be able to make that run to get us in this position.
"I thought a lot of these big-time teams were going to go out there and really light up the track, set records, go really fast – and that just didn't happen. Tomorrow is going to be another day like today, so I don't know, we'll see. We'll put our heads together and see what we come up with."
Green claimed the pole based on his pass on Friday afternoon, but Alex Laughlin was the lone Funny Car to make it down the track on Saturday without even a hint of tire smoke or spin. His DiPinto Havoline machine, tuned by nitro legend Jim Dunn, cleanly sailed to a 4.19 while every other car shuddered, shook, smoked, or spun.
At the top end, Laughlin – who moved up to No. 3 – shook his head in disbelief.
"My expectations – with no disrespect to anyone – weren't super high for this round of qualifying," said Laughlin. "Every second down the track, I thought, 'This is where it's going to break loose; this is where it's going to spin.' But it was just right the whole time. I saw 4.19 come up on the scoreboard, and I said, 'Let's freakin' go.' "
Defending event champion and incoming points leader Matt Hagan is No. 2 in his Rinnai-branded Dodge on a 4.12 clocked on Friday, and reigning Funny Car champion Ron Capps is No. 4 (4.48). Robert Hight (4.62), Chicago winner Tim Wilkerson (4.76), Cruz Pedregon (5.40), and J.R. Todd (6.37) close out the top eight.