First of a two-day test prior to season's biggest event.
Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd and Funny Car pilot Matt Hagan raced to the quickest passes Wednesday during the opening day of testing for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at historic Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
NHRA teams utilized the first day of the two-day open test to prepare for the world's most prestigious drag race, which will be held Aug. 27-Sept. 1 at the famed NHRA-owned multi-purpose motorsports facility that sits just west of downtown Indianapolis. The event, which will also feature the lucrative Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel and Funny Car and many special activities with the sport’s legendary drivers to celebrate the milestone 60th anniversary, is the final race in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season and will be televised by ESPN2 with more than 10 hours of coverage on Labor Day weekend.
Todd blasted down the historic Indy dragstrip with a category-best performance of 3.768 seconds at 314.17 mph in his Optima Batteries dragster. Todd, who comes to Indy hoping to wrap up the 10th and final position for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs, said he and his Kalitta Motorsports team were continuing to work out the bugs with his brand new race car that they introduced last weekend at Brainerd.
New car at Brainerd
"We brought out a new car in Brainerd and wanted to get data on it and struggled in qualifying and didn’t make any full runs," Todd said. "The idea was to come here and see if the car is similar to Doug’s and that was the plan when we built the thing is to make it pretty identical to his car. The plan is to get some data on it and go from there and get ready for next week. Overall the plan is to get it close to the Mac Tools car so we can share info and help each other out. With them at the top and us in the No. 10 spot, the overall goal is for these cars to finish one and two at the end of the year and that is what we are striving for."
Todd, who joined the Kalitta Motorsports team at the Las Vegas race in April, leads 11th place driver Bob Vandergriff Jr. by 130 points for the 10th and final playoff spot in Top Fuel.
"It would have been nice to wrap up the Countdown last week in Brainerd, but it is going to take a miracle for us to get bumped out of the tenth spot," Todd said. "I’m not saying it isn’t going to happen, but our main focus is the race. Take care of the race and everything else will take care of itself. It is the biggest race of the year and we don’t want to worry about the Countdown. We can just focus on getting this thing qualified hopefully Friday night solidly and go to work from there."
Rookie driver Richie Crampton posted the day's second best time with a 3.773 at 320.97 in the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster and defending winner Shawn Langdon, who also won the Traxxas Shootout in Top Fuel one year ago, powered to a testing best of 3.774 at 320.97 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. Antron Brown, 2011 U.S. Nationals winner, was fourth in his Matco Tools dragster with a 3.782 at 314.61.
Hagan tops Funny Car
In Funny Car, Hagan was quickest with a testing best of 4.032 seconds at 309.70 mph driving an all-black Team Mopar Dodge Charger.
"We are testing some new stuff and it is all going real well," Hagan said. "We laid down a nice number and it is fun to be out on the track with conditions and everything like that. Our car is starting to come around and running real good numbers, some of the best numbers we’ve run all year. I think we’re really starting to peak at the right time. Things are starting to come around."
Hagan is one of the Funny Car drivers who would like to add a U.S. Nationals victory to his racing resume. Last year here he was the No. 1 qualifier and set low E.T. and top speed, which are both the current track records, but like all of his rivals, the Virginia cattle rancher wants to add his name to the list of Indy winners.
"We are here to get tuned up for Indy," said Hagan, who has one victory this season and is seventh in the points standings. "Everybody wants to get that trophy because that is the biggest race of the year and every driver wants to put that trophy on their shelf. You don’t want to walk away from your career and say ‘I never won Indy.’"
Robert Hight's crew chief, Mike Neff, posted the second quickest time at 4.036 at 315.42 driving the Auto Club Ford Mustang. Jack Beckman, who is 11th in points and needs a strong performance at Indy to make the Countdown playoffs, posted a 4.046 at 317.87 in his Valvoline Dodge Charger. Four-time Indy winner John Force's best lap of the day was a 4.060 at 315.34 in the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang. Force comes to Indy as the new points leader in Funny Car and is riding a five-race final round streak. He and Ron Capps will also decide the Funny Car final from Brainerd at Indy on Saturday during the third qualifying session.
Force's daughter Courtney drove her Traxxas Mustang to a testing best of 4.101 at 316.45. Courtney is also trying to get her first Indy victory and follow in the footsteps of her older sister Ashley, a two-time winner of the Big Go. Courtney would also like to keep the current JFR streak of U.S. Nationals victories going, which started in 2008 with Hight.
"It is a lot of fun coming out here for testing," she said. "It is a lot more laid back and it is exciting. It is always great being back here with the teams and the pressure is off. It kind of helps you as a driver since we will be back on this track next week for the U.S. Nationals. It is nice to get a few laps under your belt. We want to get the win at the U.S. Nationals and we start that when we get into qualifying. In the long run everyone is looking to have a consistent racecar when we get into the Countdown and this is where you prep for that."
Steve Johnson made the only Pro Stock Motorcycle runs of the day and produced a best of 7.042 at 189.12 on his Suzuki. Former world champ Von Smith made the quickest Pro Mod run of the day with a 5.956 at 239.10 in his vintage Camaro.