Leah Pruett raced to the Top Fuel qualifying lead on Friday at Bristol Dragway, taking the provisional No. 1 spot at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, and Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also earned provisional low qualifier awards at the eighth of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. The first round of eliminations in Top Fuel and Funny Car from the postponed NHRA New England Nationals also took place on Friday in Bristol.
Pruett put together a run of 3.745-seconds at 322.42 mph in her 11,000-horsepower Rush Truck Centers dragster, as the standout for Tony Stewart Racing looks to pick up her first No. 1 qualifier this season and 14th in her career. Pruett’s run also gave her a first-round win in the postponed NHRA New England Nationals, which are being completed this weekend in Bristol. With a chance for a big weekend during the doubleheader event, Pruett was thrilled with her start on Friday.
“We had a lot of chaos, but staying calm in those moments was huge,” said Pruett. “I love running at night and that was an incredible feeling. The fans are so loud here in Bristol and I just love it. This is absolutely going to be a Bristol to remember this weekend. We got to enjoy that moment and now we’ll go back into raceday mode for tomorrow. I like how we’re racing right now and I want to just continue to build on that.”
Other first round winners of the NHRA New England Nationals in Top Fuel included No. 1 qualifier Antron Brown, Steve Torrence, Brittany Force, Justin Ashley, Tony Schumacher and Mike Salinas. Force’s run of 3.747 at 334.48, which tied the track speed record, puts her in the No. 2 qualifying spot for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, with Torrence right behind after he went 3.753 at 329.10.
Funny Car’s Robert Hight took care of business in qualifying, vaulting to the No. 1 spot with his run of 3.938 at 321.35 in his 11,000-horsepower Cornwell Tools/AAA Chevrolet Camaro SS. If the run holds, it would give Hight his second No. 1 qualifier this season and the 79th in his career, and it also sent the veteran to the second round of the NHRA New England Nationals. The rest of the race from Epping will be completed on Saturday in Thunder Valley, and Hight knew it would be a different challenge coming into the weekend. Thus far, he’s handled it well with big plans for the next two days in Bristol.
“This is all new for all of us," said Hight. "We've never really done anything like this, and it's a different mindset going up there than if you're just qualifying,” Hight said. “You have to cut a light, be ready, and put up the best E.T. you can. It's a little different, but it's exciting for the fans. It's also exciting to race at night. I love it. There's not a better setting in all of motorsports than Thunder Valley here in the evening as the sun is going down. It's beautiful, and I think fans got their money's worth today.
“Getting this win tonight is a big deal. We'll get a good night's sleep, get up in the morning, and be ready and focused to go again. You have to be more focused this weekend than you've ever had to be before.”
Other first-round winners of the NHRA New England Nationals in Funny Car included No. 1 qualifier Chad Green, Bob Tasca III, Matt Hagan, J.R. Todd, Alex Laughlin and John Force. Ron Capps, who lost to Tasca on a holeshot, is qualified second in Bristol with a 3.962 at 318.92 and Green’s 3.969 at 322.50 has him third for Sunday’s race.
After struggling for the bulk of the Pro Stock season, Enders bounced back in a big way on Friday and made a strong statement in the process, going to the No. 1 spot in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet with a run of 6.627 at 205.88. It puts Enders, the reigning and five-time world champion, on track to earn her first No. 1 spot of the season and the 30th in her incredible career. Enders and her team have worked hard to get things back on track, and the car showed signs in Chicago made another huge jump with Friday’s strong run.
“We feel like we figured out what our problem was Chicago E1, we made the run and were low for the session, tested, and it translated here,” said Enders. “I'm just super excited to be back on the pole. That's not something that really means a whole lot to me because I don't love it, but it's just, it's exciting.
“I know it's only race seven, but it feels like seven years. It's been excruciating. Today we made big strides in the right direction for our whole organization, and what we found is going to translate to all of our cars. I think you can look for really great things from our Elite Motorsports camp.”
Elite Motorsports dominated the top of qualifying on Friday, with Cristian Cuadra taking the second spot with a run of 6.632 at 206.04 and Aaron Stanfield right behind in third with a 6.636 at 206.89.
In his first appearance at Bristol Dragway, Herrera continued to put on an impressive show, going 6.820 at 196.63 in the second session on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki to grab the provisional No. 1 position. It’s the fourth straight track where Herrera is making his NHRA debut this year and he’s won at the first three thus far. He’s also on track to earn his fourth straight No. 1 qualifier as Herrera bounced back with a stellar run after a subpar one to open the day.
“It’s very cool to be racing here at Bristol,” Herrera said. “Based on what Andrew [Hines] and Eddie [Krawiec] and a few riders told me, it definitely played out how they said it would. This track is different and you have to be more aware.
“After the first round, I was just mad at myself for what I did. It just made me more determined to ride better and do better. I went out there like it was raceday, I pushed the tree, and I rode as best I could. It lit a fire under me, and I went out there and rode the bike how I know I can.”
Eddie Krawiec, who made the best run in the opening session, is currently qualified second with a 6.855 at 198.03, and Angie Smith is in the third spot after she went 6.856 at 197.36.