The first day of qualifying at the NHRA New England Nationals was hot and muggy, creating quite the challenge for crew chiefs in the nitro categories. The threat of wet weather in the later hours bumped Friday's single session up by several hours, and Leah Pruett (Top Fuel) and Chad Green (Funny Car) had the best-prepared cars to claim respective provisional No. 1 qualifier awards.
No one was blazing a trail, but Neil Strasbaugh-tuned Leah Pruett and the Rush Truck Centers dragster made a smooth, untroubled 3.85-second pass at 319 mph. Only two other drivers dipped into the three-second zone: Antron Brown clocked a 3.89 for the No. 2 spot, and Mike Salinas ran a 3.90 for third place for the day.
The conditions on Saturday are predicted to be a far cry from the heat experienced on the first day of the event, so Pruett isn't calling it finished quite yet.
"That 3.85, as we all know, is not going to stay No. 1," said Pruett, who is aiming for the 14th No. 1 of her career; her most recent pole was earned in Sonoma last season. "That wouldn't have even qualified at our last race. This particular track and these conditions are basically getting everybody to maximize their adaptability, and that shows with us being No. 1. Our crew chiefs are currently in the system of learning the new program, and there is forward and backward learning and finding this middle ground, and going slower is actually a lot harder than going fast. We'll work on that tomorrow."
With the car slowed down enough to make a steady pass, Pruett acknowledged how different it felt from behind the wheel.
"Going down the track when you run a 3.85 compared to running, like, a 3.64, it's night and day," she said. "Comparatively, it's kind of like cruising down the highway. But I knew as soon as I got past a second-and-a-half, which is always going to be our trouble zone with our new system, I was like, alright, we're cruising, got no holes out. This track is smooth, to some degree, and we just cruised right on over it. Everything was pretty much flawless, and there is not a lot that we can take away from this run and use for tomorrow, but we'll go back to a lot of other races."
Only two Funny Car drivers exceed 300 mph in Friday's session, but Chad Green had zero problems wheeling the Daniel Wilkerson-tuned Bond-Coat Ford Mustang to the top. His 4.10 at 310 mph was best of the lot, with Matt Hagan's 4.12, 309 just behind.
"The run felt pretty good," said Green. "We were trying to go faster than that, obviously, but the car put a hole out going down through there. I felt it kind of make a move, so I drug it back to the middle and tried to get it to the end. I didn't think it was going to be very good; it's a tricky track today, but we were one of the only cars to make it down, so we feel pretty good about that.
"Tomorrow, the weather situation is going to be totally different than it was today, so we'll definitely have a different tune-up in the car tomorrow. We have the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge tomorrow, and we're really excited about that. I'd like to be the first Funny Car driver to win it twice."
Although Green has been gaining steam, particularly this season with four semifinals performances and victory in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, he has yet to qualify in the No. 1 spot. After seeing his crew chief's dad, Tim Wilkerson, win on Sunday in Chicago, Green is fired up to get a trophy of his own.
"It would mean so much to have this No. 1 at the end of the day tomorrow, but what we really want to do now is get a win," said Green. "We've gone rounds, made it to the semifinals a bunch of times – but we're ready to take that next step and get that Wally."