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NHRA Girls Going Fast In New England

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 3 2017

Top Fueler Brittany Force led a parade of female drivers to top qualifying runs in New England on Friday. (Photo by Marc Gewertz/NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Sisters Brittany and Courtney Force were joined by Erica Enders in a “You-Go-Girl” opening day of qualifying Friday during the fifth annual NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H.

Brittany Force raced to the Top Fuel qualifying lead while Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Enders (Pro Stock) also emerged as provisional leaders at the ninth of 24 events on the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. If all three women maintain qualifying leads Saturday, it would mark the first time in NHRA history that all three No. 1 qualifiers are female.

Brittany Force set both ends of the track record when she piloted her Monster Energy dragster fielded by John Force Racing to a 1,000-foot pass in 3.686-seconds at 331.36 mph during the second session.

“It’s been a rough season for our Monster team since our final round in Phoenix,” said Brittany, referring to the Arizona Nationals on Feb. 26. For the second consecutive year, Leah Pritchett defeated Brittany in the final at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz. Pritchett’s 3.705-second pass at 328.22 mph earned her the third victory of her career, second of the season and second at the Arizona Nats. Force raced to a 3.704-second pass at 330.39 mph, losing to Pritchett on a hole-shot.

“We’ve been struggling since then, trying to find our way back,” Brittany said. “But we went testing in Indy a few weeks ago, and we found the problem. I knew going into Topeka (May 19-21) that we had that problem fixed. Unfortunately, we went out early but we said this weekend is going to be our weekend.

“We’ve been stuck in a hole, but we’re climbing our way out and we’re going to climb our way back to the top. We’ve got our race car back. Having the top time is definitely an exciting feeling, but we need to hold onto that spot heading into race day. All we care about is winning on Sunday, so that’s what we’re aiming for.”

Top Fuel point-leader Pritchett, of arch-rival Don Schumacher Racing, is qualified second at 3.696-seconds and 328.78 mph in her Dodge Demon/Pennzoil dragster. Terry McMillen sits third at 3.730-seconds and 319.52 mph in his Amalie Motor Oil/Xtermigator dragster set during his second run.

Courtney Force set the Funny Car track elapsed time record with a 1,000-foot run in 3.842-seconds at 331.53 mph _ after her Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro SS experienced a massive engine explosion at the finish line of the first session.

Moments after crossing the line, the engine in Courtney’s car exploded in a ball of fire, shredding the bodywork while gliding into the outside wall. Force immediately exited the wreckage, waved her hands and saluted the fans.

Courtney’s JFR crew immediately went to work on a spare Camaro body and chassis and made it to the starting line for the second session. But during her burnout, the car’s right-front brake locked-up and took a hard turn toward the wall and stopped. The crew pushed the car back through the staging area, preventing Force from making another attempt opposite 2012 world champion Jack Beckman of DSR.

“It was definitely interesting,” Courtney said. “We had a huge explosion which was a first for me, and even more crazy at 330 mph. But I’m just glad I made it out OK and we made a killer run. We had a fuel line burst, which caused the problem. That’s racing. It’s always the little things. But luckily we held onto the top spot.

“My guys were thrashing and got the new Advance Auto Parts Camaro ready to go for the second session. We got it out there, did the burnout, things were going well, and our front right brake locked-up and sent me over to the wall. Nothing was responding at that point.

“My dad (16-time world champion John Force) told me right before the run that in 40 years he had never had two incidents in which he hit the wall twice in a row, and not to worry and go into the run confident. I was going in confident. We planned to make a half-pass just to make sure things were going good. I’m glad it happened in the burnout and not at the end of the racetrack, because that could have been bad.”

Brittany and Courtney became the only sisters in history to claim No. 1 qualifying positions for the same NHRA event when they topped their respective classes during the 2014 race at Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas.

“It’s pretty awesome to see all the ladies are No. 1,” Brittany Force said. “That’s something very special. Maybe we could all get the job done this weekend and an ‘all-girls’ winner’s circle. That would be outstanding. It’s cool. Congrats to Erica. Courtney has had a rough day, but the No. 1 has got to make her feel a little bit better.” 

Meanwhile, 2009 world champion Robert Hight, also of JFR, set the New England Dragway Funny Car speed record at 336.74 mph during his first qualifying pass of 3.849-seconds, putting him into the No. 2 spot. Rhode Island native and Ford loyalist Bob Tasca III notched a career-best 3.892-seconds pass at 323.43 mph, which was the quickest Funny Car run during the second session.

Enders, a two-time Pro Stock world champion, holds the top spot among the Factory Hot Rods after running the quarter-mile in 6.513-seconds at 213.03 mph in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro during the second session. Enders is chasing her first pole since the Las Vegas fall event in 2015.

“You never take anything for granted, but I have to say that I kind of forgot how exciting this is,” Enders said. “I’m so happy for my guys. We had a down year in 2016 after winning back-to-back championships but no one quit, no one stopped working hard. They all just kept chasing it and a day like today is a tribute to their hard work.

“I have to give it to Richard Freeman (team-owner). He’s kept the group together, kept them motivated through the hard times. When faced with adversity, this team always rises to the top. Not one single part of racing is easy, but I’ve never been more determined to win again. I’m so blessed to be the driver of this race car.”

It was a worst-to-first scenario for the Houston native, as her early-shutoff pass of 7.063-seconds at 151.09 mph had left her at the bottom of the timing sheets. But the rebound was convincing, with Enders posting her run-of-record early in the cooler evening session.

“We actually hurt the motor Round 1 so the guys did the scramble between rounds to swap it out,” Enders said. “We came up for Q2 and made a really nice pass. I knew it was decent but I honestly didn’t think it would hold up. I’m happy to be wrong on that one. Coming back to the pits with the No. 1 designation, even if it’s just for tonight, was very cool. It feels great to be back where I feel like we belong and where we have worked so hard to get to. I’m really proud of what we have accomplished.”

Rookie Tanner Gray currently sits second at 6.518-seconds and 212.03 mph in his Gray Motorsports Camaro as he chases his third victory of the season. Point-leader Bo Butner, alias Bob Utner, of Ken Black Racing currently is qualified fifth with a pass of 6.538-seconds at 212.13 mph in his Camaro.

Qualifying is scheduled to resume at 1:30 and 4:00 p.m. Saturday for Sunday’s finals.


Friday’s qualifying results after the first two of four rounds of time trials for the fifth annual NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway, ninth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations:

Top Fuel _ 1. Brittany Force, 3.686-seconds, 331.36 mph; 2. Leah Pritchett, 3.696, 328.78; 3. Terry McMillen, 3.730, 319.52; 4. Doug Kalitta, 3.732, 326.71; 5. Antron Brown, 3.744, 309.98; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.750, 326.08; 7. Dom Lagana, 3.806, 315.86; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.836, 289.82; 9. Troy Coughlin Jr., 3.860, 257.87; 10. Shawn Reed, 4.590, 166.52; 11. Tony Schumacher, 4.956, 142.70; 12. Smax Smith, 5.257, 148.80; 13. Shawn Langdon, 6.178, 105.45; 14. Steven Chrisman, 6.847, 104.55; 15. Clay Millican, 8.161, 82.36.

Funny Car _ 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.842, 331.53; 2. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.849, 336.74; 3. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.878, 330.23; 4. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.892, 323.43; 5. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.900, 327.66; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.922, 325.77; 7. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.923, 331.36; 8. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.930, 323.74; 9. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.940, 329.50; 10. John Force, Camaro, 3.965, 323.43; 11. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.123, 281.66; 12. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.323, 198.70; 13. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.789, 162.78; 14. Mike Smith, Dodge Stratus, 6.237, 111.25; 15. Jim Campbell, Charger, 7.512, 87.68; 16. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 8.052, 82.51.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.513, 213.03; 2. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.518, 212.03; 3. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.519, 212.13; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.526, 211.53; 5. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.531, 211.69; 6. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.532, 212.03; 7. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.533, 211.59; 8. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.551, 211.43; 9. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.564, 211.23; 10. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.594, 210.24; 11. John Gaydosh Jr., Camaro, 6.624, 208.62; 12. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.644, 207.59; 13. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.712, 202.52; 14. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.788, 192.74.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 3 2017
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