Despite the threat of wet weather that forced schedule changes, fans at New England Dragway still got a chance to see the NHRA’s biggest stars on Saturday.
Qualifying for the Nitro classes in the NHRA New England Nationals was moved up to 1PM in order to beat the rain, which was forecast to come in late in the afternoon and fall through the night. In the end, it was Clay Millican, still searching for his first win of the season, who topped the qualifying charts with a 3.795/326.71 MPH run. Richie Crampton, Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown, and Scott Palmer completed the top five.
“Race day is going to open up a whole other can of worms because it’s going to be 12 degrees cooler tomorrow than it is today,” explained Brown. “When that happens, the track’s going to be better, so we can run better. That’s the key part about Epping—the track changes here every day with the temperature, but it usually gets better every day. The more we run it, the more they prep it, it gets better every run.”
Despite the fact that six races remain before the cutoff, defending Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence clinched his spot in this year’s Countdown to the Championship on Friday. Torrence will attempt to defend last year’s victory in New England from the ninth seed, facing Austin Prock in the first round.
“The weather’s going to be a big deal, but right now the track prep is what we have to deal with,” Torrence explained. “This track is hot, and just slick and tricky to navigate. We’re doing the best we can, but tomorrow is Sunday, and we’ve been trying some things. Being that we’ve clinched our way into the Countdown, it kind of gives us a little bit of liberty there and a cushion to work on some different things on our tune-up. But we still want to go into race day with a really good shot at winning, and I think we have that.”
Bob Tasca III, winner of the past two Funny Car rounds, topped that class’s Q3 standings with a 4.035/318.17 MPH run, but it wasn’t quite enough to best JR Todd’s Friday run of 4.022/317.34 MPH. The defending Funny Car champion topped an extremely close field, with nearly half of this weekend’s entries within a tenth of a second of one another.
“It’s been a funny weather year—we’ve seen it happen a lot this year, and it typically doesn’t happen this way, but we’ve tended to have hot qualifying and a cool race day, and it looks like that’s going to happen again this weekend,” said Tommy Johnson Jr., who will line up eighth on the Funny Car ladder. “Yesterday was the hottest racetrack we’ve been on all season long, pushing 140 degrees. It takes some big adjustments to get these cars down a racetrack like that, so we made wholesale changes that first session. With the heat being three or four degrees cooler, we thought we could run it a little bit better than we did yesterday.”
With 13 Top Fuel entries, this weekend’s race will utilize a slightly different ladder. Millican will receive the first-round bye, but Crampton or 13th seed Audrey Worm will receive a second-round bye and go straight to the semifinals after their matchup.
Eliminations from the NHRA New England Nationals begin on Sunday at 11AM ET. The race will air on FS1 starting at 1PM ET.