First of six playoff races.
Former Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan (in photo) opened NHRA’s playoffs by racing to the qualifying lead Friday at the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway. J.R. Todd (Top Fuel), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders at the first of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Hagan powered his 10,000-horsepower Rocky Boots/Mopar Dodge Charger to the top of the qualifying order with a performance of 4.114 seconds at 304.25 mph. The 2011 world champ, who finished second in points last season but failed to win a race in the regular season and sits seventh in points, is looking to change that trend in the post-season.
“I don’t think this No. 1 qualifier will hold tomorrow,” Hagan said. “We may get some cloud cover tomorrow so everybody is going to try to step up and they all have good data to work from. We are thankful to get two great solid runs down the racetrack. Hopefully we can go some rounds on Sunday. It’s the Countdown right now and every point counts. I’ve seen championships won or lost by one or two points. So every one of them counts.”
Hagan, a cattle rancher from nearby Southwestern Virginia, is a two-time winner at ZMAX Dragway and became the first to break the four-second barrier in Funny Car at the track in 2011. His milestone time of 3.995 seconds is commemorated with a sign on the retaining wall near the starting line.
“I have a lot of history here at zMAX both good and bad,” Hagan said. “It’s cool to come here and see your name on the side of the wall. We’ve had some big boomers here and ran some killer speeds here. All my friends and family are only two hours down the road and they all come out here to cheer me on. That makes it that much more special.”
Ron Capps, a winner at this race in 2012, qualified second with a 4.123 at 297.35 in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Non-Countdown contender Jack Beckman qualified third in his Valvoline Dodge with a 4.124 at 305.22. Funny Car top seed John Force sits sixth in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang with a 4.141 at 287.66.
In Top Fuel, No. 1 playoff seed Todd led the field with a 3.828 at 310.34 in his Optima Batteries dragster.
“I definitely expected to see some low 80s out there, but I’m happy to get three bonus points,” Todd said. “We started No. 10 in the Countdown so we need every point that we can get. There’s nowhere to go but up.”
Todd, who earned a regular season victory at Denver, was pleased to move to the front of the order after coming in last after the first qualifying session when the blower belt flew off his car early in the run.
“When you break like that it sets the tone for the weekend and we were fortunate to rebound,” Todd said. “You never know what to expect from [owner and tuner] Connie Kalitta. He’s smart and he’ll push only as hard as he needs to. If it’s warm tomorrow, that (run) may hold up, but I think we’ll see some low 3.80s or maybe even a high .70 from the Al-Anabi or Schumacher teams. Heck, we can run 3.7s if we hit it just right.”
Defending world champ Shawn Langdon qualified second in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with a 3.840 at 317.05. The third spot went to non-Countdown campaigner Billy Torrence, who led after the first session with a 3.846 at 319.75 in his Capco Contractors dragster. Countdown top seed Doug Kalitta sits ninth after the first two sessions, posting a first-day best of 3.872 at 317.94 in his Mac Tools dragster.
Four-time regular season Pro Stock winner Enders-Stevens, who enters the playoffs in the No. 2 spot, raced to the front of the order in the factory hot rod class with a 6.591 at 210.11 at the controls of her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.
“It's just a really good start,” Enders-Stevens said. “I'm proud of my team. We struggled the last couple of weeks in Brainerd and Indy, and in our test session in St. Louis. It's very refreshing to see that Ol' Red is back to herself.”
After dominating much of the regular season, Enders-Stevens and her Elite Motorsports team decided to skip two Western Swing stops – Sonoma and Seattle – to focus on R&D work at the shop to prepare for the Countdown. Meanwhile, Jason Line went on a tear and moved around her to take the top seed entering the playoffs. She says her team is ready to put that brief slump behind them and move forward.
“We just have to do our job day in and day out, and make every little point count,” Enders-Stevens said. “We had a team meeting this morning, where we discussed our goals for the Countdown... It's the small steps on the way to the big goal. We're just going to keep our heads down and stay focused. This is not a bad way to start though.”
Defending world champ Jeg Coughlin was second in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart with a 6.602 at 209.33 and Dave Connolly qualified third in his Charter Communications Chevy Camaro with a 6.603 at 209.23. Red-hot Line, who closed the regular season by winning three of the final four races, qualified fourth in his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro with a 6.607 at 209.59.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
Arana Jr., who enters the Countdown as the third seed, rode his Lucas Oil Buell to a 6.876 at 195.48 to lead Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying.
“This means a lot as far as my confidence goes,” Arana Jr. said. “It’s all about confidence. I know I have the equipment to take me to the winner’s circle, but confidence is the key.”
Steve Johnson, the 10th seed and a former winner of this event, qualified second on his Suzuki with a 6.893 at 193.77 and recent Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner Eddie Krawiec was third on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.901 at 191.67. Countdown top seed Andrew Hines, the two-time defending winner here, was sixth on his Harley-Davidson with a 6.951 at 191.38.
Qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday’s eliminations are scheduled for noon.
CONCORD, N.C. -- Friday's results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the seventh annual Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway, 19th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and first of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday's final eliminations.
Top Fuel -- 1. J.R. Todd, 3.828 seconds, 310.34 mph; 2. Shawn Langdon, 3.840, 317.05; 3. Billy Torrence, 3.846, 319.75; 4. Tony Schumacher, 3.847, 316.30; 5. Spencer Massey, 3.851, 319.37; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.852, 320.58; 7. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.867, 315.27; 8. Antron Brown, 3.869, 311.27; 9. Doug Kalitta, 3.872, 317.94; 10. Morgan Lucas, 3.887, 278.46; 11. Leah Pritchett, 3.889, 305.91; 12. Richie Crampton, 3.891, 311.05. Not Qualified: 13. Bob Vandergriff, 3.895, 314.09; 14. Terry McMillen, 3.904, 314.53; 15. Brittany Force, 3.908, 306.67; 16. Pat Dakin, 3.912, 302.14; 17. Ike Maier, 5.596, 189.66; 18. Chris Karamesines, 5.890, 107.63; 19. Clay Millican, 6.479, 85.83.
Funny Car -- 1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.114, 304.25; 2. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.123, 297.35; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.124, 305.22; 4. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.126, 306.46; 5. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.140, 305.91; 6. John Force, Mustang, 4.141, 287.66; 7. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.155, 288.21; 8. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.162, 305.84; 9. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.185, 292.77; 10. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.194, 276.24; 11. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.208, 303.03; 12. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.363, 231.75. Not Qualified: 13. Bob Tasca III, 4.820, 169.68; 14. Chad Head, 4.868, 166.01; 15. Cruz Pedregon, 6.267, 107.25; 16. Dave Richards, 10.478, 79.08; 17. Bob Gilbertson, broke.
Pro Stock -- 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.591, 210.11; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.602, 209.33; 3. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.603, 209.23; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.607, 209.59; 5. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.609, 208.94; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.609, 208.49; 7. Richie Stevens, Camaro, 6.610, 209.23; 8. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.615, 209.52; 9. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.618, 209.85; 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.637, 207.66; 11. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.641, 209.20; 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.649, 209.20. Not Qualified: 13. Rodger Brogdon, 6.664, 207.78; 14. Larry Morgan, 6.701, 206.67; 15. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.703, 207.24; 16. Shane Tucker, 7.038, 159.25.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- 1. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.876, 195.48; 2. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.893, 193.77; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.901, 191.70; 4. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.925, 192.17; 5. John Hall, Buell, 6.940, 192.44; 6. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.951, 191.38; 7. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.957, 192.44; 8. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.968, 191.08; 9. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.977, 192.69; 10. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.983, 192.36; 11. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.987, 189.23; 12. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.991, 188.86. Not Qualified: 13. Shawn Gann, 7.038, 190.11; 14. Brian Pretzel, 7.276, 183.15; 15. Michael Ray, 7.785, 124.72; 16. Hector Arana, 13.327, 58.94.