2018 NHRA NEW ENGLAND NATS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE TAKES EPPING TOP FUEL CROWN - Steve Torrence is on a mission this season to win his first NHRA Top Fuel world championship.
Torrence continued towards that goal by winning the New England Nationals Sunday.
The man from Texas clocked a 3.909-second elapsed time at 320.74 mph to defeat good friend Antron Brown’s 3.948-second lap at 315.12 mph.
“Antron is like a brother to me, a best friend,” said Torrence, who drives his family-owned Capco dragster. “That sucker was in my head and I finally had to get him out of it.”
Brown had a career 25-8 record against Torrence in elimination rounds before Sunday’s meeting. Torrence left Epping, N.H., with a commanding lead in the points. He has a 1,086-point total, followed by second place Tony Schumacher at 896.
This was Torrence’s 21st career race win and first at the New England Dragway. This was Torrence’s fifth win of the season as he also collected Wallys in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Charlotte, N.C., and Richmond, Va. He has won 13 of the last 37 NHRA races on tour over the last two years.
“You don’t look at those numbers until the end of the career,” Torrence said. “You get to thinking about that and how many wins it is and this and that and how many finals you will distract yourself. They (the numbers) mean something, they really do, but not right now. You need concentrate on the task on hand and just keep moving forward.”
To capture his inaugural win in Epping, Torrence defeated Dan Mercier, Shawn Reed, Schumacher and Brown.
“This was a rough weekend,” Torrence said. “With the changing track prep a lot of teams are trying to adapt and I think (crew chiefs) Richard (Hogan) and Bobby (Lagana) did an excellent job. We just had to go back in the archives of tune-up and change and get there and just back it down to go down these race tracks. They’ve done an unbelievable job in giving me a race car all day long that was low for every session (Sunday). The one that mattered the most was the last one. I didn’t do a good job driving the first couple of rounds. I had to get my mind right and get up there on the wheel and race Tony (Schumacher) and AB (Antron Brown). You have to dig deep and go for it and just for it because they are not eight-time and three-time world champs for no reason. We got up, got on the wheel and got the job done and we’re going back to Texas with a Wally.”
The race victory meant even more considering the rich history the Lagana family had at New England Dragway.
“There were so many people who came by and said they were with Lagana, I’m an old Lagana crew guy and this and that,” Torrence. “I thought this guy is running with a rough crowd after I’ve seen all these people around here, but Bob and Dom, they are family. We’ve been together for four or five years now and the continuity of our team is unparalleled. I think this (win) is a big deal for Bobby and Dom. We are going to get to go take some pictures, celebrate and get all their friends and family in there with us. That’s what this is about. You want to go out there and win races and perform well, but you also want to make the people who support you proud.” Tracy Renck
HAGAN RIDES THE WAVE OF MOMENTUM WITH SECOND-STRAIGHT WIN - Momentum is when you can make it, and over the course of the last two races, two-time NHRA Funny Car champion Matt Hagan has been making the most of the moment.
Hagan, for the second race in a row, captured the victory and did so by repelling an upset-minded Tim Wilkerson in the finals of the NHRA New England Nationals, who entered the weekend 13th in the point standings, and holding only six round wins to his credit headed into the Epping, New Hampshire event.
The victory marked the fourth 2018 victory for Hagan, who has been in the midst of a rollercoaster season with four first-round losses. Hagan's feast or famine run also featured just one round win in three of the four races, during the recently completed eastern swing from Chicago to Norwalk.
Hagan wholeheartedly credits the run of success to crew chief and tuning veteran Dickie Venables.
"I've just got a good race car," Hagan said. "It's just Dickie Venables; the guy is smart and when you give him enough runs at a track, he's smart and will figure it out. That's why he's been in the sport for over 50 years. He's someone I want to keep myself around for as long as possible. He works hard, and this is his life. It goes to show on the race car."
Hagan drew his line in the sand from Day One, driving his way to the No. 1 qualifying spot with a 3.932 elapsed time on Friday.
It didn't take long for Hagan and Venables to see on Sunday they were racing in a different world than the one they had on Friday. There was a 37-degrees difference in the track temperature between the Q-2 session on Friday evening, and Sunday's eliminations.
"It was like driving a dirt track car out there," said Hagan, who has been outwardly critical of the NHRA's decision to use track prep as a means to slow the nitro cars down. "The rear of the car was sideways and coming around when I could hear Timmy coming around me. You're looking around trying to see where he is at.
"That's what makes this exciting what we do. You never know what you are going to get, and I have yet to have the same lap back-to-back."
Hagan, on the heels of a four-round winning streak, opened the day with a 4.066 to take the measure of Terry Haddock, but then followed Venables' lead as he backed down the combination to work in conjunction with a steadily increasing track temperature. He needed only a 4.235 to beat teammate Tommy Johnson Jr., and later a 4.114, 311.05 to beat Ron Capps.
"This car has just been going down the race track, and we turned on four win lights in Norwalk," Hagan said. "We went down the track every lap in Norwalk, and we did it here too. We've essentially got a bracket car in this Funny Car."
Hagan believes this kind of consistency has a domino effect on his performance as a driver.
"The car is responding well to what they ask it to do," Hagan explained. "That makes me better as a driver and makes my lights come around. I am able to concentrate on the tree, and not have to worry about if I am going to slap the tires if they break loose. It allows me to focus on what I need to do, instead of wondering what everything else will do."
And for Hagan, momentum means everything, and equally important is when you grab ahold of it.
"We are just trying to catch Courtney [Force], she has so many No. 1 qualifiers, we are going to have to win a lot of races to catch her. I think coming into the second half of the season, I would rather be where we are now, getting stronger now than at the beginning of the season." Bobby Bennett
MCGAHA TAKES EPPING PRO STOCK VICTORY - After two sessions of qualifying July 6 in Epping, N.H., Pro Stock driver Chris McGaha was ready to pack and go home because all the engine problems that were occurring.
By Sunday, all was forgotten.
The Odessa, Texas, driver captured the title at the New England Nationals when his opponent in the finals Erica Enders had a red-light start at New England Dragway.
“I ain’t going to lie it got gave to me in the final, it really did,” said McGaha, who pilots his family-owned Harlow Sammons Camaro. “We went up there and tried to swing and we hit a foul ball. I had no idea I would be sitting here at the end of the day. I really didn’t. I am going to say that I probably do need to go to Vegas and put some money down. Kurt Busch got on the air a couple of weeks ago and said he had a bad crew, a bad car and all that. I’m going to one up him and that was s***-house luck for us.”
McGaha posted an elapsed time of 6.570-seconds, but it didn’t matter because of what Enders did at the starting line.
This was McGaha’s first win at New England Dragway and the seventh of his career. McGaha has two wins this season with his other coming at Phoenix. McGaha is sixth in the point standings – five behind fifth-place Drew Skillman.
McGaha’s victory march consisted of wins over Jeg Coughlin, Greg Anderson, Kenny Delco and Enders. Delco, like Enders, also had a red-light start.
“Whoever said Pro Stock wasn’t entertaining because there’s a lot of that being talked about and when it happens like that it has to be entertaining, even if I wasn’t he one doing it,” McGaha said. “The first two rounds were something and then I had to race Kenny Delco. I ain’t going to lie I was more worried about that than anything that happened this weekend. I don’t want to go race this guy, it is that bad. He’s beaten me with some of the stupidest things I’ve done. When it shook I was kind of shocked that it shook. But, I saw him red light because I felt like I was racing a Comp race because the tree was coming down and I saw a car go by the Christmas tree and I thought ‘is this Comp Eliminator again?’ Then, it started shaking and everybody I was going to pull a Somona (Calif.), and get back in it and hit the wall or take the cone out and I didn’t because I saw the light, and I just calmly went down to the end.”
Against Enders, McGaha was exploring all options.
“We shook (in the semifinals) and we actually did something I had never really done in Pro Stock, we actually went back and got more aggressive,” McGaha said. “We thought, what do we have to lose? It went, and it went a 57 and she went a (6).549. They definitely had us beat, they just didn’t get it done.”
McGaha took a moment to praise the parity in the Pro Stock class.
“You look at it and Greg (Anderson) and Jason (Line) have not won a race yet, that’s pretty serious after the dominant seasons they have had coming up to this point,” McGaha said. “The fact they have not won says a lot. It says even a guy like me has a chance.” Tracy Renck
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - A FULL HOUSE, AND FIREWORKS IN THE PITS
CHA-CHING - NHRA and New England Dragway officials announced a sellout crowd for Saturday qualifying at the sixth annual NHRA New England Nationals. Fans from all over the northeast region packed the grandstands, pit areas and campgrounds.
This is the second consecutive Saturday that there has been a sellout at New England Dragway.
“We want to thank all of the fans that came out to show support this weekend at the NHRA New England Nationals,” Joe Lombardo, New England Dragway general manager, stated. “We had great weather today, perfect track conditions, and an excellent show. We thank NHRA and our fans for choosing to spend their July holiday in New England.”
This is the sixth sellout crowd of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
#HEADERGATE - During the offseason and throughout the 2017 year, the topic of laid-back headers wouldn’t go away.
Well, the topic is back in the forefront again because some NHRA nitro teams don’t believe all the teams are competing on the same level playing field.
The sanctioning body told all Funny Car teams the following Funny Car header rule changes would become effective Jan. 1, 2018:
Headers – Minimum angle 40 degrees (measured from the ground) (currently 32 degrees), maximum width of headers: 83 inches (currently 79 inches)
Now 13 races into the 2018 season, the laid-back header issue is once again a point of controversy. It’s something NHRA is looking into this weekend at the national event – the New England Nationals in Epping, N.H.
“Ned Walliser (NHRA’s Vice President of Competition) and the (NHRA) Competition team are currently investigating and within this investigation all Funny Car headers are being measured in the same manner,” said NHRA’s Senior Director of PR and Communications Jessica Hatcher, to Competition Plus. “Epping is where we are going through the measuring process and the investigation is ongoing as of now.”
Crew chief Dickie Venables, a three-time world champion Funny Car tuner, is not happy with the way NHRA was handling the laid-back issues the first 12 races of a 24-race season.
“There some concern about the way Force’s (John Force Racing) headers are, and the way they are measuring them,” Venables said. “There’s just confusion on how they are being measured. Not that anybody is illegal, there is just confusion on how they were measured over the winter and how they are measured now. It seems like NHRA has two methods of measuring them. They measure them one way for the Force cars and another way for everybody else. That’s a concern. Everybody is in the same boat as we are it is just (Matt Hagan) is the first one who spoke out about it. This is not against anyone or anything like that. It is just if you’re going to measure them, however you measure them it needs to be the same for all teams.” - Tracy Renck
ANDERSON 101 - Greg Anderson isn't one to rest on his laurels, but after running a best time of 6.517-second at 211.73 on Friday, he remained atop the field for his 101st career No. 1 qualifier. His performance from the day before held him in the No. 1 position.
"It meant everything to be No. 1 yesterday," said Anderson, who fell into tire smoke in the early session on Saturday and then clocked a 6.588, 212.33 in the final round of qualifying. His speed was the third-fastest of the weekend so far.
"We were kings out there yesterday and had the racetrack figured out, but today we came out here and struggled a little bit. The sun was out on the racetrack, and unfortunately, we didn't make the right moves. But it was a learning experience, and even though we turned the wrong screws, we'll learn from it and go forward.
"We know what not to do for tomorrow, and it's going to be hotter yet. We have two runs today that we have good data on, and even backward gains are learning experiences. We'll go back, pour through our notes, analyze exactly what we did, and come out with a better product tomorrow. That's when we have to really get it right, and as long as we do that and learn from today, we'll be good."
GLOOM, DESPAIR, AGONY ON ME - If it weren't for bad luck, Tim Wilkerson would have no luck at all.
Wilkerson's best qualifying numbers were in the third session, when he raced to a 4.104-second pass at 308.35 mph. Although it was the second quickest run of the round and came with a pair of bonus points, Wilkerson was disappointed when he reached the top end and came to a stop.
"It had a piston stuck in it; as it was coasting around the corner, I felt it go chugga-chugga-pop," said Wilkerson. "It pulled a rod loose, and right when it was coming around the corner, it stuffed it in the oil pan. I told the guys at NHRA on FOX that I need to find whoever has that Tim Wilkerson doll they're sticking pins in and pay him off, whatever he needs. It's killing me. It's frustrating because we have a really good car. You never know, but I tell you what, I wouldn't want to run me tomorrow."
The chugga-chugga-pop was actually an encore from Friday's Q-2 session where he popped the blower, and caught fire.
LANGDON GETS HIS #3 - Shawn Langdon qualified third in Funny Car to lead Toyota in front of a sell-out crowd at the New England Dragway in preparation for Sunday’s NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, New Hampshire.
The third-place showing marks Langdon’s best Funny Car qualifying effort since moving over from Top Fuel after last season. He had previously qualified fourth at Gainesville. Langdon will square off with Jim Campbell in Sunday’s opening round.
“We learned a lot with our Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry,” said Langdon, the 2013 Top Fuel world champion. I’m still learning in the Funny Car and there’s a lot more to come, but hopefully we’re starting to turn the corner.
"Our best qualifying effort; we made a great run in the night session on Friday which set the tone for the weekend. We have been working on a couple other little things. Decent draw in the first round. We just have to make a good run down the track. Also, a great spot in the ladder. If we can get by round one, the potential for round two is we could race one of the guys that is close to us in points. We are in control of our own destiny fighting for that top ten spot, and I feel like we have a great race car right now."
ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHER - Steve Torrence has learned more than turning the other cheek. He’s learned to fight back with those challenges.
Regardless of the weather conditions, the level of track preparation, the composition of the racing surface, the altitude, the track temperature, the quality of the competition or any other variable one might wish to interject, the one constant in this year’s race for the Mello Yello Top Fuel Championship has been a steady Torrence.
Torrence is in the top three or four in every statistical category from reaction time average (fourth at .072), to average qualifying position (second at 3.417), total qualifying bonus points (tie, third with 38), No. 1 qualifiers (tie, third with one) and races won (first with four).
He has taken his Capco Contractors dragster to the winners’ circle this year in 70 degree weather on a 98 degree racetrack and in 90 degree weather on a 128 degree surface. He has won at sea level at Virginia Motorsports Park and at the 2,100 foot elevation of The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He’s won twice in traditional two-by-two racing and twice in the four-wide configuration.
Half of this year’s wins have come on all-concrete tracks like New England Dragway and half on tracks that transition from concrete to asphalt. He won three times on surfaces prepped for maximum traction before prevailing in Virginia in one of the first events in which the NHRA opted for a reduced level of track preparation in an attempt to hold finish line speeds below 340 miles per hour.
Small wonder, then, that the former Top Alcohol Dragster World Champion (2005) has occupied the No. 1 position in driver points for 11 consecutive events and for 21 of the last 26 races dating to 2017.
“It’s all about these Capco boys,” Torrence said of his crew. “They’re bad hombres. (Crew chief) Richard Hogan, the Laganas (Bobby Jr. and Dom), Gary Pritchett. I wouldn’t trade anybody on this team for anybody else. We’ve built this thing up together. These guys have all been with me for the last two or three years. We’re family. We win together, we lose together and, when we do win, we party together.
AN UNFLATTERING PERFORMANCE - Courtney Force, the NHRA Mello Yello points leader, will enter race day in the No. 13 position, her most unflattering start in over a year. Up until this point in 2018, the Funny Car standout has qualified fourth or better with four wins from the No. 1 position. Though the 4.165-second pass at 304.46 mph from the final qualifying session is not where Force and her Advance Auto Parts team were hoping to start race day, the youngest of the Force sisters is taking it as a learning experience.
“Our Advance Auto Parts team struggled a little bit in qualifying this weekend,” Force said. “This isn’t where we wanted to go into race day but I think we’ve definitely learned some things throughout our four qualifying runs that will benefit us tomorrow. I think we learned a lot in qualifying and we’ll be ready to go tomorrow. It’s going to be a tough one but we’re ready for it and we’re excited.”
Force will begin her battle for her first New England Nationals win against Funny Car veteran Ron Capps.
“We’ve got a tough first round match-up with Ron Capps but I think there’s no other person we’d rather face and we’re excited to take him on. We were able to take him out last year here to get to the finals.,” Force said. “He’s shown that he’s got a pretty consistent race car here but we’ll be ready to take him on.”
THE GOOD OLD DAYS - Scott Palmer longs for the good old days; days rekindled each time he races New England Dragway
"Professional drag racing has turned into a big money deal. It's no longer guys who live and breathe it every day. It's just not like that anymore. You don't have driver's driving their own rigs anymore. If you do that nowadays, everyone's like, 'What's wrong with those guys?' But back in the day, there were lots of people that were racing was their life."
The NHRA itself returned to New England Dragway just six years ago and the fans have responded with sellout crowds every event. It's caused such a buzz in New England that a local crew from Western Mass News (WGGB/WSHM) caught up with Palmer at a rest stop on the Mass Pike where he was resting in his rig, just like the old-timers used to do.
"The reporter saw our two rigs and he asked us to do an interview about holiday traffic," Palmer said. "When he found out what we do and that I drive the racecar and one of the rigs, the guy just went crazy. He's like 'You've gotta be kidding. The driver drives the truck?'
"They knew about the race and had looked us up but when they saw I was driving to the event they changed their story from holiday traffic to one about us. For our team, this is normal. It's part of the adventure. Being on the road; it's something we like and enjoy."
NO PLACE LIKE HOME - Coming off his first final round of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season at Bristol in his 10,000-horsepower Ford Performance Shelby Mustang, home track favorite Bob Tasca III is thrilled with the progress his team has made in recent weeks. They have jumped into the top 10 in the loaded Funny Car class, and Tasca, who has returned to full-time competition for the first time since 2014, believes his team is building up to something big at a track where he made his first pass.
“This is what I dreamed about,” said Tasca, who has four career wins. “I dreamed about being in a program and having a race car and a team that can win races and run low E.T. at will. We have that kind of car going into Epping. That’s my home track, the first track I ever went down and there’s not a person there who is not pulling for you. That’s the stuff you dream about as a kid, and I’ve never been more excited about racing than I am now.”
Tasca and his team, led by crew chief Eric Lane, have made significant progress in a short time. He got the full-season commitment from Ford less than two months before the season-opener in Pomona, but the team has come on strong at recent races. Tasca advanced to the semifinals in Chicago before falling in a thrilling side-by-side duel with 2016 world champ Ron Capps in the final round at Bristol. It was a big step, but it only furthered Tasca’s belief that he has a group capable of winning races and competing in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
“We’ve built a team of guys who give it everything they have every run,” said Tasca, who also qualified fourth in Bristol. “We have not lost sight of the goal and the goal is to put ourselves in a position to run for a championship. We knew we would take some licks along the way, and we have taken our share, but we’ve never taken our eyes off the prize and that’s putting our team in a position to run for a championship. I’m thrilled and excited about where we are, but it’s all about moving up the ladder. There’s no reason why we can’t be a top five car going into the Countdown.”
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING - The numbers are adding up nicely for six-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. and his Elite Performance Pro Stock teammates at the halfway point of the 24-race NHRA drag racing season. To date, Elite-powered drivers have won half of the events on the schedule, including Coughlin's own triumphs in Chicago and Bristol. Coughlin and teammates Erica Enders and Vincent Nobile all hold down top-10 rankings, with additional Elite drivers Alex Laughlin and Matt Hartford close behind in 11th and 12th place, respectively.
"We weathered a pretty long storm at Elite but the guys never gave up and they completely turned the tide beginning at this year's Gainesville race," Coughlin said. "We've absolutely been on a tear ever since. Check the stats and you'll see there's been an Elite car in nine straight finals and we've all combined to win six races so it's definitely been a great stretch.
"It's exciting to pull into the track knowing you have a great chance of winning. It's still not easy by any stretch, but knowing you have the car underneath you to match the talent you have in the pits and back at the engine shop, that certainly gives you a lift."
After snapping his own lengthy winless stretch in Illinois, Coughlin has epitomized the Elite resurgence, winning three national events in a row, adding a Super Comp trophy run in Richmond to his two Pro Stock victories. At the last event in Norwalk, Coughlin was the top qualifier and had the quickest car of the opening round of eliminations before unexpectedly bowing out in the quarterfinals.
"We're enjoying a little breath after the first four-in-a-row stretch of the season, but the JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro crew probably wouldn't have minded if we just kept on racing considering the progress we've made," Coughlin said. "Two Pro Stock wins and a couple of quarterfinal finishes is not bad at all, and when you throw in the Super Comp trophy we earned we have plenty of reasons to smile.
"It seems the biggest competition we're running into these days is our teammates so if we can figure out how to stay out of each other's way early in the day we can keep this incredible run alive."
NOT SATISFIED - There has been a lot for Mike Salinas to celebrate in what will be his most extensive season on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit. But after earning his first final round appearance in just his 25th race, the Top Fuel driver is not satisfied.
Despite being young in his Top Fuel career, Salinas has already made a big impression, currently sitting ninth in points heading to New England Dragway for this weekend’s sixth annual NHRA New England Nationals. That includes making a final round appearance last month in Bristol driving his 10,000-horsepower Scrappers Racing dragster, but as the second half of 2018 begins, Salinas is aiming for more approaching the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
“Our goal is to try to get to sixth or seventh (by the Countdown),” Salinas said. “Then you can do something from there. The important thing is nothing we’ve done is good enough yet. Our standards are pretty high and we want to keep moving forward. We’re learning so much, but we just don’t want to be here to be here. I’m a pretty competitive guy and I don’t like losing.”
Salinas has become a legitimate threat in the Top Fuel class, consulting with noted tuner Alan Johnson. His team, led by crew chief Doug Kuch, has made great strides in a short time this year and Salinas is motivated watching the success of points leader Steve Torrence, who has four wins in 2018 and 12 since last year. It has given Salinas hope he can compete against multi-car teams, too, and he can see the confidence growing in his team.
“All the guys have done a great job,” Salinas said. “I want these guys to be on this team. They’ve worked their butts off and the morale of the team is great. It’s good for them to see us have some success. I told my crew chief to teach me how to race and that’s what he’s doing.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – RAIN MAKES FOR A LONG BUT EXCITING DAY IN EPPING
HAGAN MUSCLES TO THE LEAD - Matt Hagan continued his recent hot stretch in the Funny Car class by earning the preliminary No. 1 qualifier at the sixth annual NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway.
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also preliminary No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the 13th of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
Hagan jumped atop the category lead with a pass of 3.932-seconds at 322.04 mph in his Sandvik Coromant Dodge Charger R/T recorded during his second qualifying run of the day. He entered the weekend tied for second in the Funny Car points standings following his victory in Norwalk, Ohio as he also chases his second consecutive win in Epping.
“Coming off the race win in Ohio gives us confidence heading into this event, and so far we have continued to just build on that,” Hagan said. “I felt like we had a good handle on the track today, and it’s definitely something we can work off of for the rest of the weekend.”
ABOUT READY TO POP - Hagan has history with New England Dragway, some of them recent, and some from a while back.
Hagan, who is racing the Sandvik Coromant livery this weekend, is the defending event champion.
"Epping is a race that I've won," Hagan said. "I'm returning as the defending champion. It's always a good, fast race track. I remember racing up there back in the day with Pro Mods. The crowds are always good, the track itself is really nice, and the weather is usually pretty good. I'm just excited to get back up there and eat some lobster and do big things."
Big things are also ahead of Hagan, whose wife Rachel is pregnant with the couple's fourth child. He was able to spend last weekend off at home with the family.
"It's been nice to have a little break (since Norwalk) and get caught up on the farm," Hagan said. "My wife's about ready to pop. (Her due date) is about 20 days away, and we have a lot going on, but just going to try and focus and hopefully pull off another win."
Hagan won two weekends ago at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.
GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN - When you ride a 225-mph, nitro-burning, Top Fuel Harley-Davidson weird stuff is bound to happen. The oddness typically transpires on the drag strip.
For CatSpot Organic Cat Litter-sponsored rider Rickey House, things got weird on the 2000-mile journey to Epping, New Hampshire for this weekend's NHRA New England Nationals
"The wheel bearing on the race trailer broke on the way up here, and the whole wheel came off and actually passed me as I was slowing down," House said. "Luckily it didn't hit anything or anybody, and I was able to find it and get it back. It chewed the axle and spindle up. I don't know if it lost its oil or what happened, but we'll get it fixed.
"I only had 187 miles to go, so we limped it to the track. Now we've got it all torn apart, and I got some leads on a new axle, and hopefully, I'll get something in here this weekend and get it fixed. In the meantime, I have to work on the race bike and get it going because I've got to do better than I did at the last race in Bristol. I didn't even qualify there, and that's just weird."
FIGHTING HIS WAY BACK - The title defense season hasn't worked out the way Pro Stock champion Bo Butner has envisioned. He opened the season with a win but a recent slump dropped Butner as low as eighth in points.
“All of us have raced a long time, so you do know those times are going to come,” said Butner, who is currently seventh in Pro Stock points. “Nothing is forever, but as long as everybody is working to get better, everybody is great. We’re going to stick with it. The pressure makes you better. If you’re going to fold, it’s the wrong sport and the wrong class. We want to get back into being a top-four car. We just have to get our car back and get back in a groove.”
Butner led the points through the first six races of 2018 but earned only two round wins over the next five races. Butner had 58 round wins a year ago and just one first-round loss. He rebounded with a semifinal appearance at the most recent race in Norwalk, which was enough to give Butner, who won five races in 2017, the confidence he is back on track.
“That car, it’s the same car that won the championship so I know it’s there,” Butner said. “We have to find it, but we just have to get it back. Greg (Anderson) is running very good, but Jason (Line) and my car have struggled. It’s not a secret. You can see it in qualifying and in points. But the year is not even close to over. I think if you stay in the top six starting the Countdown you’ve got a shot.”
FAN-FUELED EXCITEMENT - They might have a funny accent, but past NHRA Funny Car champion Ron Capps understands them very well. When the tour heads to New England Dragway each season, Capps is always eager to hook up with his New Hampshire fan base.
“You feed off of people in the area,” Capps said. “For some reason, I just feed off of that. The first year we went to Epping, we were bombarded with appearance requests. It was my first time being in the area, and being around the Boston fans and it was just crazy. Right away, I fed off that. We did well, we won and set the track record, and it was only natural it seemed like.”
Capps has been showing out as of late, scoring a victory and a final-round appearance in his last four races. It’s a nice turnaround after a slow start for Capps. He is just 33 points out of second, as five Funny Car stars are packed tightly.
“Every year it seems like we say out loud that Funny Car has never been tougher than it is right now,” said Capps, who has 59 career wins. “Courtney (Force) had an unbelievable race car last year and they just didn’t have that success on Sunday. Now they’re having that success on Sunday, so every year you seem to add somebody into the mix of a good race car on raceday.”
Capps leads the Funny Car class in number of victories at Epping (two): 2014, 2016.
SUPPORTING THE CAUSE - Ron Capps' Dodge Charger R/T features patriotic livery this weekend to support the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.
Capps' sponsor NAPA Auto Parts continues to be a committed partner to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (IFHF) which serves United States military personnel experiencing Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). To date, the NAPA family has donated more than $10 million to IFHF.
"One cool thing I really look forward to every year is being able to not only support but also run a special paint scheme with NAPA and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, and this year, we’re getting to run it this weekend," Capps explained.
"Our NAPA team is extremely proud to run this year’s paint scheme at Epping to not only celebrate Independence Day weekend, but also to celebrate the NAPA family that as of now, has helped to raise more than 10 million dollars for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. That makes us all very proud."
THE LEGENDS ARE IN THE HOUSE - Those in attendance have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. Legends on hand this weekend include Al Segrini, Tom Prock and Arnie Karp.
ONE STEP BACK, TWO STEPS FORWARD? - Robert Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock decided the best way to approach NHRA's revised track prep procedure is to change the way they approach the race track.
“We were running bigger cylinder heads, a different camshaft and a different supercharger to start the year because we were trying to go faster and set records,” Hight said. “(Crew chief) Jimmy (Prock) decided to go back to what we ran last year, the same stuff Courtney’s running right now, because with the NHRA’s new track prep, we just can’t run as hard as we want to."
Hight did well with the old set-up, scoring three runner-up finishes, the season opening event in Pomona, Calif., Houston, Texas where he had his only No. 1 qualifier of the season and Topeka, Kan., where he lost to teammate Courtney Force. Hight did win in Chicago.
Hight's team made the change in the name of consistency.
“I have a lot of confidence because we ran this same combination all last year,” Hight said. “It’s not like we’re putting something foreign in there. (Brian) Corradi (co-crew of Courtney Force’s Advance Auto Parts Chevy) and those guys took what we had over the winter and that’s what they’ve been running. They’re going to be hard to catch but I don’t want them to slow down. We’re fourth now and we still have plenty of time before the Countdown."
Hight tested the familiar combination during the off-week following Norwalk.
“Testing went well," Hight explained. "We made several passes, had a chance to work on some things, and by the end of the day were happy with what we had."
WELCOME BACK - After 14 years away, Fernando Cuadra made a triumphant return with a personal best during the Q-2 session. He ran a 6.627, 209.26 to end up No. 14.
Cuadra is running a partial schedule this season with an anticipated full schedule in 2019 utilizing KB Racing horsepower.
THE MONSTER IS BACK - After a four-race stint where Advance Auto Parts served as the major sponsor, defending world champion Brittany Force is racing this weekend with her Monster Energy livery.
Force’s 2018 season undoubtedly got off to a less than desirable start with a wreck in the season opening event, but now, in the middle of the pack in the NHRA Mello Yello points standings, that’s all in the past. Force has qualified inside the top five nine out of 12 times and after testing in Norwalk, Ohio following the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Force knows her team is ready to turn the consistent qualifying runs into round wins.
“Our 2018 season definitely got off to a rough start after wrecking at the opening race of the season. While I recovered for two weeks between races, my Monster Energy team went to work with our (Force American Made) shop in Indy to build a new car,” Force said. “Our teams take the entire off season for a project like that, but these boys got the job done just four races later and, when we debuted our new car in Houston, we took it all the way to the winners circle.
“We are halfway through the season now and in the No. 8 spot but we are determined to step up our game and keep moving up that ladder,” continued Force. “We qualify well but have been struggling on race day. After some testing in Norwalk this team is feeling confident going into the rest of the season and ready to bring home another win.”
KNOWS THIS PLACE - Top Fuel driver Dom Lagana knows a thing or two about racing at New England Dragway.
"Dad used to match race all the time up here," Lagana said, referring to his father Bobby Lagana Sr., who barnstormed the Northeast in a Funny Car in the 1980s and '90s. "Growing up just a few hours south of here (on the New York/Connecticut border), this was a regular stop for us.
"I've personally raced here in a bunch of NHRA races, our dad match raced here all the time when we were kids, and we've all competed in IHRA events here forever. It's another one of those tracks we kinda grew up at. I even made my first 300 mph run here in a match race against my brother Bobby in 2009, so that was cool. Nothing but wonderful memories from here."
Lagana races a partial schedule, and this weekend's event is his fourth this season with backing from CatSpot.
"We are excited any time we get to race," Lagana said. "We made a good run on Sunday at the last race in Norwalk (Ohio) so we have something to build on. We'll see how warm it gets here [over the course of the event] and we'll just adjust accordingly to the track conditions. We feel like we've got a little more handle on the car than we did before Norwalk.
Lagana will have a healthy cheering section.
"I know a bunch of my dad's friends who live in upstate New York are coming up and then we have a cousin and uncle from my mom's side that live up around here who also are coming out," Lagana explained. "Because of our dad racing here for so many years, we've got a good fan following at this track. We always see the same faces every year and it's nice. It's always good to see our loyal fans and have their support."