CONCORD – zMAX Dragway saw plenty of speed and excitement on Friday, as the first two sessions of qualifying for the NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals got underway.
The top three drivers from each category received bonus points after each session, so there was no downtime for any of the teams.
Qualifying continues Saturday at 1:15 p.m.
The best track in the NHRA
zMAX Dragway is unique for the field. It’s one of only 15 national dragstrips that boast an all-concrete surfacing. That surface is the staple, along with the four-lane setup and it is loved by drivers across NHRA’s landscape.
On Friday, multiple drivers spoke on the quality of the facility and enjoying the Mello Yello’s Countdown to the Championship making its way to Cabarrus County.
“I look forward to coming to a place where you don’t have to take any part of the track into consideration,” said three-time zMAX winner Ron Capps, a Funny Car racer. “It’s as good as it gets. The crew chiefs can go at it, the drivers can strap the seatbelt a little tighter, you know you’re going to go for a ride, and it’s a great facility on top of that. I look forward to coming here.”
Capps said winning here last year doesn’t do much for his confidence, since the track runs so well for everyone.
“There’s not a lot that you can take (from it),” said Capps. “Since the track is so good here, you don’t have to take (track conditions) into effect, there’s very few tracks on the tour that we can do that.”
Robert Hight, the current Funny Car playoff points leader also spoke highly of Concord’s Dragway. Hight is the winningest Funny Car driver in the zMAX’s 12-year history.
“It’s always been good to me, especially this fall race,” Hight said. “I think I’ve done the best at it. I’ve won in the spring, too, but this fall race in the Countdown, when it really matters, we’ve done well.”
Would you rip your mom’s head off?
At Friday’s pre-qualifying media availability, defending Funny Car champion J.R. Todd spoke on having to compete against his Kalitta Motorsports teammate, Shawn Langdon, in the finals two weekends ago in St. Louis.
Langdon won the event, and it was a bittersweet moment for Todd, who said it’s great to see a teammate win, but the competitive nature of the sport makes him want to win every race.
“I usually just try to get pumped for anybody that I race against,” said Todd. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your teammate, your mom or (16-time world champion) John Force, you’ve got to treat everyone the same and go up there and try to rip their head off.”
When asked about the comment on his competitors and if he believed in racing hard against his own mother, Todd replied “Absolutely, for a trophy. Are you kidding me?”
The NHRA allows an incredible amount of fan interaction at their events.
Throughout the day, fans walk around and walk up to the trailers of the drivers, looking on as the team’s fine-tune their machines and waiting for autographs.
Friday, drivers gave some commentary on how nice that access is to the fans and how prepared the race fans here in Concord are.
“We do have something, the experience that NHRA allows in the pits, whether it’s hospitality or just to be there all day long and meet the drivers, meet the kids and hug the babies,” said Force. “It’s an all-day deal to hang out with them and get to know them. I love NASCAR, I love IndyCar, but it is different.”
The team’s trailers and crews are surrounded throughout the day by fans waiting to interact with anyone that will pay attention, but according to the man seeking his fourth win here in Concord, the crowds come ready.
“The fans here are probably the smartest and the most thoughtful because we never have fans that carry their own Sharpies,” Capps said. “These fans here are so used to NASCAR, if you don’t have a Sharpie when you walk up to (Cup driver) Chase Elliott, you’re not getting an autograph. Well, these fans have their Sharpies ready.”
The NHRA has plenty of family connections. Just in the playoff Countdown top 10 alone there are three families competing.
Defending Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence and his father, Billy. Racing against them is Brittany Force, whose father is John Force. And in the Pro Stock Motorcycle there is Hector Arana Jr. and his father Hector Arana.
That’s just the families in the top 10, which tells you how many family ties there are across the NHRA.
“It’s fun, honestly. You don’t want to lose to anybody, but if you lose to your dad … we’re doing this as a family,” said the younger Torrence. “To have him in the top 10, competing for the championship, you couldn’t script it any better. When we do go head-to-head, one of us is going to have to lose. Unfortunately, last weekend it was me.”
That loss came at St. Louis, where Billy was able to pick up a win and move into ninth in points in the Countdown.
No matter the result, the Torrences have a special celebration when one wins a race.
“Every Monday, if one of us wins the race, we get Mexican at the local Mexican food restaurant,” Steve said. “There have been far less times that we’ve went for the Mexican food restaurant to celebrate his win than mine, so I wasn’t going to get too bent out of shape about it.”
Friday's results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 12th annual NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway, 21st of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday's final eliminations.
1. Steve Torrence, 3.711 seconds, 325.53 mph; 2. Richie Crampton, 3.742, 328.06; 3. Antron Brown, 3.758, 328.94; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.765, 325.77; 5. Doug Kalitta, 3.777, 326.48; 6. Mike Salinas, 3.793, 329.91; 7. Pat Dakin, 3.798, 320.28; 8. Terry McMillen, 3.806, 318.24; 9. Brittany Force, 3.829, 271.46; 10. Justin Ashley, 3.831, 319.67; 11. Clay Millican, 4.467, 173.14; 12. Chris Karamesines, 4.773, 163.93; 13. Cameron Ferre, 5.014, 147.79; 14. Austin Prock, 5.646, 122.60; 15. Leah Pritchett, 6.346, 95.64; 16. Smax Smith, 7.577, 73.07. Not Qualified: 17. Todd Paton, 11.622, 89.25; 18. Lex Joon, 15.893, 48.20.
1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.873, 334.07; 2. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.878, 334.07; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.882, 330.55; 4. John Force, Camaro, 3.890, 331.45; 5. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.906, 328.22; 6. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.939, 324.20; 7. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.945, 318.99; 8. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.972, 308.43; 9. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.976, 326.08; 10. Jim Campbell, Charger, 3.988, 316.75; 11. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 4.000, 322.50; 12. Dave Richards, Mustang, 4.071, 297.16; 13. Mike McIntire, Camry, 4.219, 256.99; 14. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.233, 219.08; 15. Dale Creasy Jr., Charger, 4.598, 182.11; 16. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 5.442, 127.92. Not Qualified: 17. Shawn Langdon, 5.871, 121.08; 18. Bob Gilbertson, 7.810, 88.09.
1. Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.506, 211.86; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.524, 210.37; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.534, 211.53; 4. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.546, 211.00; 5. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.548, 209.92; 6. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.560, 210.64; 7. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.562, 210.21; 8. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.566, 210.67; 9. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.572, 211.13; 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.572, 211.00; 11. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Camaro, 6.582, 214.93; 12. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.598, 210.14; 13. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.598, 209.04; 14. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.606, 209.46; 15. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.609, 209.95; 16. Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.611, 209.20. Not Qualified: 17. Alan Prusiensky, 6.626, 208.94; 18. Wally Stroupe, 6.647, 207.91; 19.
Jeremy Martorella, 6.818, 201.34.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
1. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.801, 196.85; 2. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.818, 198.47; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.837, 198.41; 4. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.842, 196.64; 5. Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.860, 196.50; 6. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.883, 194.52; 7. Hector Arana, EBR, 6.886, 197.22; 8. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.886, 197.13; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.892, 195.62; 10. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.897, 194.74; 11. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.956, 193.32; 12.
Michael Ray, Victory, 6.977, 191.65; 13. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.031, 192.36; 14. Matt Smith, EBR, 7.076, 162.49; 15. Andie Rawlings, Suzuki, 7.214, 182.26; 16. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 7.276, 187.47.