Sunday was a complete wash-out at New England Dragway, but moving final eliminations for the NHRA New England Nationals to Monday did not defuse the enthusiasm of nitro drivers who remain battle-ready, with eyes fixed firmly on the seventh NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series trophy of the season.
After two days of qualifying in conditions that stretched from stiflingly hot to chilly and wet, drivers and crew chiefs at the NHRA New England Nationals are coming into Sunday with a lot of question marks. The one thing they know for certain is that they each want a trophy emblazoned with the New England Dragway emblem, and they'll do whatever they can to get it.
Funny Car's Matt Hagan stands as the most decorated driver at the venerable facility with four previous wins, while Ron Capps and John Force have two wins each. No other currently competing Funny Car drivers have won in Epping, which means that there are 11 competitors vying for a first-time win at the facility, including first-time No. 1 qualifier Chad Green.
The driver of the Bond-Coat Mustang has not yet won a race in his still-young career driving a nitro Funny Car, but he's been on an upsurge this season and had a crew chief that was able to dial into a very tricky racetrack when the time was right. Green, competing in his 35th national event in Funny Car, has gone rounds at all but one race this year, and four times he has reached the semifinals in his Daniel Wilkerson-tuned entry.
Green will race Jim Campbell in the first round, while NAPA Toyota pilot Capps, the reigning world champion, will race New England Native Bob Tasca III in the PPG Ford. Tasca's scorecard does not yet include even a final round appearance at his home track, and he surely plans to change that today.
Driving the Cornwell Tools Chevrolet, two-time 2023 winner Robert Hight will line up next to Alexis DeJoria and her RokIt Toyota. The two most recently met in the final round of the Charlotte four-wide event, where Hight won the event and DeJoria finished second. After qualifying No. 1 in Chicago and exiting in the second round, Hight — who owns both ends of the New England Dragway track record — is aiming to add points to the pile and move closer to the top. He is currently No. 3 in the standings, and DeJoria was No. 2 after the Charlotte runner-up in a car that has shown loads of potential. After a surprising detour in Chicago in which she qualified No. 15 and exited in the first round, DeJoria is eager to get back on track in Epping.
On the other side of the ladder, incoming points leader Hagan and his Rinnai-branded Dodge will square off with Pomona semifinalist Terry Haddock; Cruz Pedregon and his Snap-On Tools Dodge will race DHL Toyota campaigner J.R. Todd; and No. 3 qualifier Alex Laughlin, whose Jim Dunn-wrenched DiPinto Funny Car was the only one in the class to make a clean run Saturday, will race Blake Alexander and his Pronto Ford. Chicago winner Tim Wilkerson is set up to race John Force for the 72nd time in his career.
Top Fuel's Tony Schumacher and Steve Torrence have each shown that they know how to win in the Northeast with two previous wins a piece, but no other driver in the class has had a repeat win at New England Dragway. Defending event champion Mike Salinas will look to go back-to-back, but he'll have to get past Chicago winner Clay Millican in the first round. Brittany Force, the 2017 New England Nationals winner and the reigning Top Fuel world champion, will bring her Monster Flav-R-Pac dragster to the starting line alongside Josh Hart and the R+L Carriers rail. Force, currently No. 2 in the Top Fuel standings, is in the hunt for her first win of the season, while Chicago runner-up Hart is looking for win No. 2 on the year.
Charlotte four-wide winner Austin Prock, who entered this event No. 3 in the points, will race Torrence for the third time this year. They are tied in overall head-to-head elimination rounds, 6-6. Prock — driver of the Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist dragster — is seeking a second win on the season, while four-time champion and incoming points leader Torrence and his CAPCO rail are looking to claim a first trophy of the year after two runner-up finishes.
Quebec's Dan Mercier, who qualified an impressive No. 5 in his Amalie Oil dragster, is paired up with Phillips Connect-backed Justin Ashley, who went back-to-back with wins in Phoenix and Pomona earlier this season but exited in the first round at the most recent event. Shawn Langdon, driving the retro-look Bounty Hunter dragster out of the Kalitta Motorsports camp, was one of two Top Fuelers to make a clean pass on Saturday. He will race Schumacher, who is eager to see the fruits of labor in testing pay off. Schumacher's most recent round win was at the season opener, and Langdon is seeking his first win of the season after a runner-up in Phoenix.
Leah Pruett, driving the Rush Truck Centers-branded digger, was the provisional No. 1 qualifier on Friday at New England Dragway but was pushed down to third on Saturday, tying her best qualifying position of the year to date. She is slated for a first-round meeting with Doug Kalitta. Kalitta's Mac Tools dragster has shown flashes of brilliants this season as he was low qualifier in Phoenix and No. 3 in Chicago, but he has yet to capitalize on that on Sunday.
No. 1 qualifier Antron Brown has one previous win in Epping, earned in 2016, and will begin his reach for a second triumph here with a first-round bye run. Three-time Top Fuel champion Brown enters this event on back-to-back first-round losses and is eager to return to glory. His most recent win was at the Las Vegas four-wide event.
2022 EVENT WINNERS
Mike Salinas, Top Fuel; Matt Hagan, Funny Car
Tony Schumacher, 2, TF, Steve Torrence, 2, TF; Matt Hagan, 4, FC
Top Fuel - 3.664 seconds by Steve Torrence, June '22; 334.90 mph by Brittany Force, June '22
Funny Car - 3.822 seconds by Robert Hight, June '17; 336.74 mph by Hight, June '17
Top Fuel - 3.623 sec. by Brittany Force, Sept. '19, Reading, Pa.; 338.94 mph by Brittany Force, Nov. ‘22, Pomona
Funny Car - 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. '17, Brainerd; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma
Monday, June 5
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Monday, June 5, FS1 will televise coverage beginning at 9:30 p.m. ET
Or watch on NHRA.tv