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The latest update as of September 16, 2022

Pep Boys NHRA Nationals

Friday Morning Musings - Pep Boys NHRA Nationals

As the first Top Alcohol qualifying session gets underway at Maple Grove Raceway, the conditions are prime for the alky burners, with 1500 ft. of corrected altitude, 70 (F) air temp and moderate humidity. The 12 Funny Cars are out first, followed by the 21-car field of dragsters, with eight running on alcohol, and 13 on nitro. That's the best turnout of blown cars at a national event this season, and possibly a sign that the supercharged on methanol option is still a viable player in today's drag racing world.

With the announcement last month of an injected on nitro option for Top "Alcohol" Funny Car in 2023, we may be seeing at least the first inkling of the "sunsetting" of the blown alky combination in Top Alcohol. I sincerely hope that isn't the case, but the numbers don't lie, and for the last few years the number of blown competitors in the dragster ranks has steadily shrunk. This year, of the 70 drivers that have competed in the class, only 18 have run a supercharged car. And of those 18, less than half a dozen are truly competitive; ie, capable of winning a national event.

After a short, 11 car session of Funny Car, the last pair showed what the track and the racers were capable of. The early polesitter, Ulf Leanders, with a very good 5.493 - 265.06, saw those numbers blown into the weeds as D.J. Cox ripped off a 5.442 - 269.62 to just hold off Sean Bellemeur's almost as good 5.447 - 269.83 pass. The final tally showed three cars in the 5.40's, and one each in the .50's and 60's, as the numbers tailed off quickly.

In quite a surprise, the first dragster down the track set a career best e.t. (and probably speed) by a full tenth of a second, as Earl Nichols Jr. blasted out an excellent 5.234 - 274.83 to take the very early and very provisional #1 spot on the ladder. The next few pairs weren't even close to those numbers until Canada's Jeff Veale came close on e.t. with a solid 5.308 at a booming speed of 279.27 mph. While really quick e.t.'s aren't usually in his arsenal, his car does crank out big speeds on a regular basis.

We're more than halfway through the first session of dragster qualifying and at this point, with 12 cars having run, Nichols is still on top at 5.234, with Veale second at 5.308, Duane Shields in at 5.333. Below the top three, there are three cars in the 5.40's before the e.t.'s trail off rapidly. As the session wound down, Shawn Cowie could only manage a 5.350- 257.53 (early shutoff), that ultimately placed him #6 on the ladder after the first session. The final pair of the round set the #1 and #3 spots as Matt Cummings broke into the teens with a best of the round 5.197 - 272.67 in the McPhillips Family car, while Jasmine Salinas (also tuned by McPhillips), took the third rung with a solid 5.288 - 268.92 pass.

Friday Afternoon/Evening Report - Pep Boys NHRA Nationals

Today's second qualifying session for the Top Alcohol cars saw some serious performance improvements for many of the teams, despite slightly degraded (+ 500 ft) density altitude readings and warmer air temps (+ 5 degrees). There were some serious misses too, with #1 qualifier, Matt Cummings suffering instant tire shake and coasting to a 17-second clocking. Usually hard-running Taylor Vetter picked up nearly two seconds over her earlier 17-second pass, but ended the session at the bottom of the ladder in the #21 slot.

On the other hand, "Real Deal" Mick Steele charged to a solid 5.345 - 272.83, moving up eleven spots in the order, and in the next pair, Jackie Fricke jumped all the way to #3 with a very strong 5.243 - 276.69 timeslip. She was knocked back one position late in the session as Shawn Cowie picked up more than a tenth from his earlier 5.350, and took the third spot with a great 5.238 - 275.84 in his blown alky entry.

The Alcohol Funny Cars were on the upswing too, with almost every car, of the 10 that appeared, running 5.72 or better. The exception was #2 qualifier Sean Bellemeur who launched into a wheelstand, then bounced the rear tires off the track when the car came down, as he shut off to a 9.80 at 88 mph. D. J. Cox Jr. showed some serious bracket racing skills by equalling his first session effort - to the thousandth of a second - with a 5.442 - 269.08 to keep a firm grip on the top spot. Joining the 5.40 club was Bob McCosh Jr., who laid down a 5.498 - 267.59 to hold onto the #4 position.

When the Nitro cars came out, just before sunset, the altitude readings were just under 2000 ft., track temp was 105 (F) and air temp 75 (F). Good conditions for some seriously quick and fast runs, and the Funny Cars took advantage to ring up ten sub 4-second runs, including seven of the last eight cars to run. Leading the way, as he has so often this season was Robert Hight with a 3.867 - 331.20, just a little quicker and faster than his boss, John Force. Taking the #2 spot with a very good 3.890 - 329.99 was Force, who was a hair quicker than top speed setter Ron Capps, who laid down a 3.891 at a booming 334.90 mph.

Following in their tire tracks, the Top Fuel contingent saw some very good, but not outstanding runs, with the quickest being Justin Ashley's 3.703 - 330.55. He was closely followed by Mike Salinas at 3.705, Austin Prock with a 3.706, and Steve Torrence at 3.711. The top eight cars were all in at 3.764 or better, but smoking tires slowed usual front runners Brittany Force (6.617), Josh Hart (6.278), Antron Brown (6.472), and Shawn Langdon (6.352).

Two nice performances came from the first pair out of the staging lanes as Canadian Top Fuel rookie Jeff Chatterson (Brantford, ON) put down a very creditable 3.927 - 310.48 in his first competition pass. Chatterson was driving the Paton Family car, that last saw action with Todd Paton driving at the Arizona Nationals earlier in the year. Running alongside Chatterson was New Jersey's Joe Morrison who ran a career best e.t and speed at 3.903 - 313.58, in only his 12th national event.

The Pro Stock Motorcycles were enjoying the good air, with three bikes over 200 mph in their first session, topped by points leader Matt Smith's speed of 201.55. He was one of five riders in the 6.70's, led by his wife, Angie Smith's 6.757 e.t. Further down the list were seven more racers in the 6.80's, and two more in the 6.90's.

With 20 Pro Stock cars in the pits, their first session saw a plethora of 6.50 runs, with the #12 qualifier (Mason McGaha) clocking in at 6.576, closely followed by four drivers in the low 6.60's, culminating in the #16 qualifier (Fernando Caudra) at 6.635. In addition, the first two alternates weren't far behind, at 6.65 and 6.68. All in all, a very good opening performance by the "Factory Hot Rods".