Epping: Saturday qualifying summary

Rain Washes Out Final Qualifying Session at Amalie Oil North American Nationals Bruce Litton (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Nitro Funny Car), Mike Castellana (Pro Modified), Paul Noakes (Alcohol Funny Car) and Pete Berner (Pro Stock) claim ...

Rain Washes Out Final Qualifying Session at Amalie Oil North American Nationals

Bruce Litton (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Nitro Funny Car), Mike Castellana (Pro Modified), Paul Noakes (Alcohol Funny Car) and Pete Berner (Pro Stock) claim #1 qualifier positions with an assist from Hurricane Hanna

Epping, N.H. (Sept. 6, 2008) -- The remnants of Hurricane Hanna moved into New England Saturday afternoon, setting the fields for the Amaile Oil North American Nationals.

IHRA moved the first Saturday qualifying session up to 1pm in an effort to avoid a complete washout of all Saturday professional qualifying, one day after adding both nitro classes to the Friday evening qualifying dance card. All pro drivers got at least two qualifying hits.

Bruce Litton (Indianapolis, Ind.) sizzled to a 4.674 at 311.92 mph Friday evening, a number that stood up to all challengers Saturday afternoon, to become the #1 qualifier for the fifth time this season. Litton, the defending IHRA Top Fuel world champion, entered the Amalie Oil North American Nationals trailing Spencer Massey by 73 points in the championship chase. He picked up five Last Man Standing bonus points Friday night, and picked up another three points on Massey for out-qualifying him by three positions. At this junction every point counts.

"We picked up eight points total on Spencer today and yesterday, and we'll take every point we can get," Litton said. "But we also can't get ahead of ourselves. We aren't really counting points; I didn't even know what we picked up until you just told me. We are move focused on making good runs and going rounds. Right now we're not thinking about winning the championship, we're thinking about winning the first round tomorrow."

Litton will take on Bobby Lagana Jr. (Scarsdale, N.Y.) in the first round of eliminations Sunday. Lagana qualified in the #5 position with a 4.739 pass at 317.19 mph. Mike Strasburg (Lindon, Utah) was second on the qualifying sheet after electrifying the New England Dragway crowd with a 4.683 ran at a track record speed of 325.06 mph. Terry McMillen (Elkhart, Ind.) rounded out the top half of the field, qualifying third at 4.714/314.61.

Matt Hagan (Christiansburg, Virg.) nailed down the #1 qualifier spot in the Nitro Funny Car class on the strength of a career-best 4.974 pass at 309.20 mph Friday evening. Hagan was third in the points standings heading into the North American Nationals, 51 behind Terry Haddock (Woodville, Wash.). Haddock finished second in final qualifying with a strong 5.010 at 297.48 in the heat of the day Saturday. Cory Lee was third with a 5.076/294.11 pass while Jack Wyatt rounded out the top half of the field with a 5.111 at 248.25.

Steven Macklyn was the hard-luck story of the weekend. Macklyn posted a 5.235 ET, the same as Jeff Diehl, but Diehl ended up #8 on the qualifying sheet due to clocking a higher speed, 285.47 to 275.45. Macklyn ended up on the outside of the field by 10 mph.

Mike Castellana (Westbury, N.Y.) captured his third consecutive #1 qualifier with a 6.010 at 238.89 mph. Jim Halsey (Street, Md.) finished second on the qualifying sheet with a 6.057/233.36 pass, putting nitrous-assisted cars first and second on the qualifying sheet for the third consecutive national event.

"I don't think we've necessarily picked up that much in performance, but for some reason the blower cars have fallen off a little bit," Castellana said. "We're just doing our thing and not worrying about anything else."

Prior to the North American Nationals there was much speculation that the first nitrous-assisted Pro Mod run in the five-second range would take place in New England. Despite the buzz Castellana doesn't even have that on his mind.

"Our main goal is to get points, that's all we're worried about," he said. "We want to go after the Last Man Standing, qualify #1 and go rounds. We aren't doing anything different to try to run a specific number."

Paul Noakes (London, Ont.) jumped past Neal Parker Saturday afternoon, running a 5.816 at 241.32 mph to move into the top Alcohol Funny Car qualifying position. Though Laurie Cannister has all but wrapped up the 2008 AFC world championship Noakes still is very motivated to finish the season strong.

"Laurie has had an incredible year and you have to admire what that team has been able to accomplish," Noakes said. "At the same time we haven't given up on anything. I'm thrilled with our qualifying effort here and now want to go some rounds tomorrow."

Noakes has a simple reason he wants to finish the season on a winning note. Terry McMillen brought him on board to drive the Amalie Oil Avenger this season on a full-time basis and Noakes wants to thank him by doing well in New England.

"This is an Amalie Oil-sponsored race and Amalie Oil has been such a great supporter for Terry," Noakes said. "It would mean a lot to this entire team to do well here, with all the Amalie Oil people in the stands. They're a great sponsor and a big part of our racing family."

Pete Berner's hot streak continued as he ended up on top of the Pro Stock qualifying sheet. Berner won the Pro Stock Ironman two weeks ago in Tulsa and has been to the final round at three consecutive national events. Berner also advanced to the final round of the Torco Pro Stock Showdown, the $100,000 shootout that was supposed to be run off in Epping. Due to the weather, Berner will face John Montecalvo in the final of the Showdown Saturday at the IHRA World Finals in Rockingham.

The winner of the Showdown will pocket $50,000 while the runner-up will take home $20,000.

Berner will head into Sunday's elimination rounds as the points leader as well. He trailed Jeff Dobbins by three points after Tulsa, but claimed five points for being the Last Man Standing Friday night and picked up three additional points on Dobbins for out-qualifying him by three positions.

The Amalie Oil North American Nationals will conclude Sunday, Sept. 7. Professional eliminations are scheduled to begin at 11am. For more information be sure to check www.nitrojam.com.

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers Laurie Cannister , Bruce Litton , Bobby Lagana Jr. , John Montecalvo , Jack Wyatt , Mike Strasburg , Cory Lee , Terry Haddock , Jim Halsey , Jeff Diehl , Matt Hagan , Spencer Massey , Terry McMillen