NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Hight blasts to FC lead; Friday leaders Torrence, Hartford and Herrera hang on

Robert Hight made a dramatic leap to the top of the Funny Car field at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals and is joined upon the provisional pole position by Friday leaders Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hartford (Pro Stock), and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
02 Sep 2023
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Robert Hight

Robert Hight made a dramatic leap to the top of the Funny Car field on the day’s final qualifying session at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals, and is joined upon the provisional pole position by Friday leaders Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hartford (Pro Stock), and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) who held onto their top spots through a very warm day.

Hight powered to a 3.853 to supplant Friday leader Bob Tasca III’s 3.864 for the top spot. One could almost see this coming as Hight had the second-quickest run on Friday and the best run in the heat of the day on Saturday in Q2.

"That was big," Hight admitted. "We stayed and tested Monday and Brainerd and things went really well. And so far, our first three runs here have been pretty impressive. And Jimmy [Prock, crew chief] has pretty much kind of called him every single run within a hundredth. It's really responded to what he and his son Thomas are doing, and that's, exciting, especially at this time of year, it's exactly what we need. We've kind of been all over the place all year. But I really feel it's all kind of coming together at the right time.

"You can't be more confident than when it responds to what he's doing, and runs what he says it's going to run, but, you know, the .97 today in the heat, that was probably, to me, more of an impressive run, then the .85 tonight, because it was really hot."

Past Indy winner Alexis DeJoria maintained her third spot in the field from his Friday 3.888 while Matt Hagan, representing the event sponsor, sprinted into the No. 4 spot with a 3.912.

Defending event champ Ron Capps (3.917), Cruz Pedregon (3.931), Blake Alexander (3.934), and Tim Wilkerson (3.945) round out the quick eight.

Four other drivers also ran in the three-second zone for a total of 12, with J.R. Todd (3.955), Chad Green (3.974), Dale Creasy Jr (3.977), and John Force, who won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge with his last-ditch 3.989. Force went super deep into stage in an attempt to beat Capps for the Mission title and believes that had he staged normally the car would have run a low 3.90.

Paul Lee sits on the bump spot with a solid 4.089.

Torrence held onto his Friday Top Fuel lead with his opening lap of 3.708 that wasn’t seriously challenged until the day’s final pair when Justin Ashley won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge with a 3.714, the best run of the day, but Torrence held onto his top spot entering Sunday’s final two qualifying sessions.

Ashley, the current points leader, ended up No. 3 behind Torrence and Brittany Force’s Friday 3.709. Torrence himself ran a best of 3.722 Saturday while Force charted a best of 3.737.

Past Indy winner Doug Kalitta is fourth with a 3.717 while Mike Salinas is No. 5 with his Friday pass of 3.721 that he backed up with a 3.725 Saturday.

Leah Pruett (3.730), T.J. Zizzo (3.736), and Josh Hart (3.744) round out the top eight of a very quick field that sports a 3.858 owned by lex Joon after a career-best run for the Netherlands transplant.

Currently not qualified and hoping for a better Sunday are Buddy Hull, Dan Mercier, and trouble-plagued Clay Millican.

Hartford held on to the top spot in Pro Stock and the Total Seal driver is confident that he’s secured his fourth pole position of the year even as teams gear up for two more qualifying runs tomorrow. Hartford previously ran 6.569 on Friday and remains one thousandth of a second ahead of Troy Coughlin, who is standing pat on his 6.570 run from Friday night.

Hartford and his crew, led by Eddie Guarnaccia, took the opportunity on Saturday to test their race day set-up and were rewarded with a 6.603, which tied Kyle Koretsky for the quickest run of the day, and a 6.623 in the heat of the day that was also quick enough to earn qualifying bonus points.

“From 2006 to 2023, what a difference. In 2006, we were just trying to qualify and now we’re sitting potentially as the No. 1 qualifier at Indy. It’s a lifelong dream come true. That’s the only way to put it. There’s just two things that would make this season better. The number one thing would be to win the championship and the number two thing would be to win Indy.

“Last night, it hadn’t even dawned on us that we’d qualify No. 1. I got four bonus points last night and four more in Q2. On the last [Q3]  run it dead-headed, which means it didn’t shift into high gear cleanly. Otherwise, I think we’d have gotten four bonus points for that session as well. Overall, tomorrow shows that the weather will be a little worse than today. Honestly, unless something changes overnight, I see that 6.56 holding on for No. 1.”

After Hartford and Coughlin, the top half of the field includes Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge winner Aaron Stanfield, who ran a 6.586 on Friday. Five-time world champ Erica Enders also made a solid run on Saturday with a 6.613, to back up her 6.588. The top half of the field includes Dallas Glenn, Koretsky, Fernando Cuadra Jr., and his brother, Cristian.

When Herrera set the Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park Pro Stock Motorcycle track record with a 6.746 on Friday evening, he had an inkling that he’d be able to maintain the top spot at least through Saturday’s two runs and that has so far proven to be the case.

Herrera came reasonably close to bettering his own time with a 6.760 in the opening round of the Mission Foods #2Fast2tasty Challenge but in the end, he survived another day as the top qualifier and must now hold on through Sunday’s final two runs in order to claim his eighth low qualifier award in nine evens this season.

The guy who has won just about everything this season also captured another victory in the Mission Challenge when he defeated his teammate, Eddie Krawiec in the final.

"It's big for us to win the [Misison Challenge and I'm thrilled for the whole team," said Herrera. "I'm very pleased with that 6.75 in the final but I have to give all the credit to Drew [Hines, crew chief] and the crew. I expected maybe a 6.77 but Andrew said the track looked really good and he decided to turn it up a couple hundred rpm and it worked.

"You know, I just met [team co-owner] Byron Hines last Wednesday," Herrera said. "He's still a big part of this team in the engine department and that was a lot of pressure. I've heard so much about him, it was a little intimidating but he's been great. The whole team is supportive. We all have family here this week and that's a big of pressure but I like our chances."

While Herrera has a big lead over the rest of the field, there is reason for optimism from other teams. Hector Arana Jr. has run a best of 6.826 on his GETTRX Buell for the No. 3 spot while Matt Smith, Chase Van Sant, Steve Johnson, Jianna Evaristo, and Ron Tornow hold down spots in the top half of the field with two more runs tomorrow.