THE TEN: NHRA NEW ENGLAND NATIONALS EDITION
Competition Plus’ Water-Cooler Topics From The NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, NH.
1. Mother Nature is a Party Pooper - The big winner this past weekend at New England Dragway at the 10th NHRA New England Nationals was the weather. It wreaked havoc on the race schedule, befuddled tuners, frustrated drivers, and drove away maybe even the hardiest fans on the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour. A few moments of racing, though, produced some noteworthy results.
The weather was cussed and discussed all weekend. Leah Pruett had it pegged when she said Saturday afternoon, “This is already an extreme weekend.” The weather-related strategizing stretched well into Monday afternoon, when the NHRA finally decided they needed to throw in the soggy towel. That’s another blow for the earnest Joe Lombardo and his staff at the Epping, N.H. dragstrip after COVID restrictions robbed them of hosting this race in 2020. The event will finish later this week at Bristol Dragway.
2. #2Hot2Tasty turns into #2Wet2Cold - Had the weekend progressed as planned, Leah Pruett and Clay Millican would have been going head-to-head for the $10,000, winner-take-all prize in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge for Top Fuel, along with appropriate bonus points. Ron Capps and Tim Wilkerson would have met in the final round of the Funny Car version of the specialty race. But because of Saturday’s rainout following the Q2 session, the competition was waived off. No one will receive bonus points this time, and the participants will split the purse. Millican and Capps each will receive $5,000 as the quickest first-round winners Saturday. Pruett and Wilkerson will each receive $1,500, and each of the remaining drivers will receive $500.
3. Chad Green gets his first No. 1 - Funny Car’s Chad Green was the first racer Friday to make it the full length of the track under power, and his 4.100-second elapsed time was enough to secure his career-first No. 1 qualifying position.
4. Brown Makes The Most of the Weather Window - Top Fuel’s Antron Brown took advantage of the small window of opportunity Saturday, swiping the No. 1 qualifying position from Friday leader Leah Pruett with a 3.729-second run at 329.99 mph. The No. 1 qualifier was his 50th No. 1 qualifier of his career.
5. Zizzo, McNeal Pass On Epping Special Program - T.J. Zizzo earned the right to race in the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge but chose not to attend the event. That tossed the privilege to Scott Palmer Racing’s Jacob McNeal, who also passed. Leah Pruett was next in line, and she gratefully accepted the offer – and won her first round of competition Saturday. Considering the weather-related disappointment, maybe Zizzo and McNeal made wise choices.
6. Light Car Counts in Epping - After overflow fields at Joliet, Ill., two weeks before, the nitro fields at New England Dragway were short. The Top Fuel class had only 13 entrants, and the Funny Car category was one short of a full contingent.
7. Alexander Makes Up for Friday Snafu - Blake Alexander was lucky that the Funny Car class got in one Saturday qualifying session. He missed the Friday chances to lock in an advantageous starting spot in the Funny Car order, because he missed out altogether Friday. Team owner Jim Head is a seasoned pilot who flies himself and some crew members to the races aboard his personal plane. This time, his plane experienced a mechanical problem before taking off from Columbus, Ohio, so Head and a significant portion of the crew didn’t arrive at Epping in time to prep the car and have Alexander make a pass Friday. He claimed the No. 12 spot in the lineup.
8. Schumacher Gets His Piece in the Valley - Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel’s most successful driver ever, found out this past weekend that he will be inducted this coming weekend into the Legends of Thunder Valley hall of fame at Bristol Dragway. The SCAG dragster driver, when he was driving with U.S. Army sponsorship, won the Top Fuel trophy at Bristol in 2004, 2008-10, 2012, and 2018 and was runner-up there in 2001 and 2016. He has qualified No. 1 there four times (2004, 2006-08). He’ll become the 20th member of the prestigious club that includes his own father, 2014 inductee Don Schumacher.
9. OMG... was the FCC listening? - It’s a slow news watch when the biggest “Ohmygosh!” moments of the weekend just might have been the remarks by Dan Wilkerson and Big Jim Dunn. Perhaps Wilkerson, Chad Green’s crew chief, set the tone Friday when he, forgetting he was speaking on the public-address microphone, said ... well, one of those seven words comedian George Carlin said you can’t say on television. Then early Saturday, when his driver, Alex Laughlin, jumped to the No. 3 starting position with a 4.190-second E.T., team owner Dunn explained their success in an enlightening way: “You pray a lot, cross your fingers, and say, ‘Bulls---.’” Who knew?
10. Pro Stock classes missing from the show - The Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes did not compete at Epping, N.H., but both will be back in action this coming weekend at the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn.