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Torrence, Tasca, Hartford, and Herrera lead first-day qualifiers at Indy

Pro qualifying for the 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals is underway and Steve Torrence, Bob Tasca III, Matt Hartford, Gaige Herrera currently lead the way
01 Sep 2023
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Steve Torrence

Pro qualifying for the 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals is underway and Steve Torrence, Bob Tasca III, Matt Hartford, Gaige Herrera currently lead the way.

Torrence, who sits second in points, still has a shot at overhauling points leader Justin Ashley at the final event of the regular season and his opening lap of 3.708 moved the two-time U.S. Nationals Top Fuel champ a tiny step closer.

"I don't know if we have an opportunity to go around him, but at the end of the day, you're talking 20 points, 25 points, whatever, it works out to be [at the Countdown points reset] and it's to going to be right close. We need to get as many points as possible here. 

"It's a huge confidence builder to begin with a run like that in these in these marathon races. You've got to come here and be ready to go and endure So  to make a lap at it at night, put on a great show for these fans. .Everybody likes to see these things at night with fire coming out. It's just exciting and adds a different element to it. I mean, we all say we're riding on fire-breathing dragons, but until the nighttime you don't get to see that. So it gives us an opportunity to work on the tune up work on the race day setup and adjust from there."

Reigning world champ Brittany Force was just a tick slower with a 3.709 with 2019 Indy champ Doug Kalitta in the third slot with a 3.717.

Mike Salinas (3.721), Leah Pruett (3.730), points leader Ashley (3.733), T.J. Zizzo (3.736), and two-time Indy Top Alcohol Dragster winner Josh Hart (3.744) round out the current top eight. Nineteen dragsters are entered this weekend.

Hot off of his Topeka win and semifinal in Brainerd, Tasca grabbed the early qualifying lead Friday in his Quick Lane/Motorcraft Ford with a 3.864 that was more than two-hundredths quicker than the next-closest driver.

"I give all the credit to the guys," Tasca said of tuners Aaron Brooks and Todd Okuhara. "We worked really hard on Monday in brainerd, testing some things that we we felt we needed to make a change, and you saw some of that tonight. The guys are trying to run like .87-88. We got a little more than I think that we thought we're gonna get out there,  but it was a great RUN

"[Having a good first run is] critical. You know, it gives momentum, but I would think what's gonna be really cool about this race, you're gonna see drivers having to be at their best, you're gonna see tuners having to be at their best because of the conditions. We got cool Friday, cool, maybe a little hot Saturday afternoon, cool Saturday night, hotter on Sunday, and then 91 on Monday, so you're gonna see the full spectrum of what you're going to have to have in your pocket."

Three-time world and U.S. Nationals champ Robert Hight and the Cornwell Tools Camaro sit second with a 3.886 with 2014 Indy champ Alexis DeJoria nipping at his heels with a 3.888 in the Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota.

Defending event champ Ron Capps, behind the wheel of his special-edition Hot Wheels/Don Prudhomme tribute entry, snagged the provisional No. 4 spot with a 3.917.

Two more past Indy winners in Matt Hagan (3.928) and Cruz Pedregon (3.931) hold down the fifth and sixth spots just ahead of Blake Alexander, whose solid 3.934 gets a crucial weekend off to a strong start as he fights for a spot in the Countdown to the Championship. Two-time Indy winner J.R. Todd (3.966) rounds out the top eight and Dale Creasy Jr (3.977) fills out the list of three-second runners.

Tire shake and a few other mechanical issues bit some of the top Pro Stock teams during Friday’s opening round of qualifying, but provisional leader Matt Hartford had no such problems after driving his Total Seal Camaro to a 6.569 on Friday evening.

Hartford had never been a low qualifier this season, but he’s already had three this season in Las Vegas, Charlotte, and Norwalk. Hartford also won the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk and comes into the “Big Go’ as the No. 2 seed in the class.

“I’ve struggled at the last few races with my driving, but I’m determined to make up for it at Indy,” said Hartford. “That was a nice way to start but it will be interesting to see if that holds during Q4 on Sunday afternoon. It might, and it might not but it’s a good way to start the weekend. We’ll take it.”

The action at the top of the field is tight with Hartford being pursued by Troy Coughlin Jr., who posted a 6.570 in his JEGS.com Chevy, and Aaron Stanfield, who was also impressive with a 6.586 in his J3 Energy Camaro. Five-time world champion Erica Enders is also in the mix at 6.588.

Herrera, who has dominated the Pro Stock Motorcycle class this season, continued his rampage with an impressive 6.746, to set a new Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park track elapsed time record. Herrera isn’t just the low qualifier, he’s also light years ahead of the field, including his own Vance & Hines teammate, Eddie Krawiec, who is second with a 6.807 on his Mission Foods Suzuki.

Herrera has already won six of the first eight Pro Stock Motorcycle events this season, and he’s been the low qualifier at seven of eight events. Herrera has already locked up the top seed in the upcoming Countdown to the Championship, but has his eyes set on a win at the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals.

“It feels awesome to do this at Indy,” said Herrera. “The guys in our [Vance & Hines] shop have put in countless hours and it shows. That run is going to be hard to beat for the rest of the weekend. I need to give a big thanks to my guys.

"When we left the trailer, I guess .76, .77 and Andrew [Hines, crew chief] said the same thing. I got to the finish line, got off my bike, and I didn't even know what I ran. When they showed me the time slip I was kind of shocked," Herrera said. "I think the low before I went was .80 so I was not expecting to go .74 at all. It felt very smooth, good pass, had an awesome 60-foot. Once it left and I felt the 60 was clean, I knew it was going to be on a good pass, but I was not expecting that at all.
Anytime you talk about drag racing, Indy is always what comes up. Who's won here. Over many years – Don Garlits, Eddie [Krawiec] has been very successful here. Nothing compares to Indy. To me, beside Pomona this is where it all started. It definitely holds a very special place."

After Herrera and Krawiec, the rest of the field includes defending Hector Arana Jr., who rode his GETTRX Buell to a 6.873 to earn qualifying bonus points and defending Indy winner Matt Smith, who is fourth after one of five runs with a 6.882 aboard his Denso Suzuki.