As has been the theme in recent weeks, there are times when things simply do not go as planned, particularly when Mother Nature has her say. On Friday at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, that was certainly the case — but Leah Pruett and reigning Funny Car champion Ron Capps made it worth the wait as they made thunderous passes in front of the fans at Summit Motorsports Park to claim the provisional pole in their respective classes.
Rain moved into the area and pushed the first round of nitro qualifying until late in the evening in Norwalk, and with a limited window of time, competitors in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle were delayed until Saturday. The nitro Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters came to the staging lanes at just after 9 p.m. ET to make their first qualifying passes under the lights.
Although the first few Funny Cars didn't quite have the right approach for the green racing surface, J.R. Todd and his DHL Toyota, along with Snap-On Toyota pilot Cruz Pedregon, set the ball rolling for an exciting session of flames-up qualifying. Todd went 3.95-second at 329 mph to Pedregon's initially low-of-the-round 3.93, 320 to set the tone. Every remaining car but one made a 3-second pass down the racetrack, with Capps finishing the session as the quickest and fastest on a 3.89 at 331 in his NAPA Toyota.
"Back in the staging lanes, I was getting in the car and watching the scoreboards light up and get better and better. Funny car is so talented right now, it's incredible," said Capps, who is fresh off the win at Bristol Dragway and in the hunt for the 38th pole of his career. "I saw 'Guido' [crew chief Dean Antonelli] come back in the box a couple times, and working on these cars when I was younger, I kind of know what he's thinking. That's a cool thing, sometimes, and I knew he was going to get after it as soon as we saw a couple more 3.90's go up on the board.
"I stopped seeing very well about 700 feet — clutch dust got in there, and it gets a little dark right near the finish line. It started getting off to the right, and I saw the wall. But I was like, man, this is running too good to let up. There's something to be said about turning this corner and seeing how many fans stuck around after the rain. Part of you is like, I'm not lifting. I'm going to go low e.t. for Guido and the guys. That was huge."
The Top Fuel dragsters continued the spectacular show, with some struggling to find the right dial but others laying down quick and fast passes that delighted the crowd. Clay Millican was an early leader with a swift 3.73 at 329, but Doug Kalitta answered back a couple pairs later with a 3.70, 330. Ultimately, Bristol low qualifier Leah Pruett came forth with a killer 3.68, 333 to continue her hyper-efficient roll in the Dodge Direct Connection dragster.
If it holds, the low qualifier award will be the 15th of Pruett's career.
"That was definitely the most exciting part of our whole day, and I would say, our last two weeks," said Pruett. "Neal Strasbaugh [crew chief] is pretty good about giving a target of what we're going to run, especially when we're later in the pack like that, but this time we really didn't know. The track was so good, and NHRA Safety Safari and Summit Motorsports Park did an incredible job throughout the whole day making sure that the track didn't go away. So, Neal leans in, and he's like, 'It's gonna haul ass; don't pedal it.' I was ready to go fast, and like I said last time we were No. 1, it's one of my favorite things to do.
"There's no feeling like when you get that text that says Funny Car at 9 p.m. At that moment, everyone that's been wiping down the car and checking their notes for hours, at that moment you kick into high gear and turn it on. The fans got a good show tonight."