Hight (FC), Brown (TF), Gray (PS), Arana Jr. (PSM) provisional No. 1 qualifiers for NHRA race in New Hampshire

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Robert Hight is back at it again, recording the first sub-four second Funny Car run in New England Dragway history during Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying for the NHRA Auto-Plus New England Nationals in Epping, N.H.

In the hunt for his fifth win of the season, Hight  powered down the 1,000-foot dragstrip at 3.988 seconds and 321.58 mph to become the early No. 1 qualifier in the Funny Car class. There are two more qualifying rounds on Saturday prior to Sunday’s final eliminations.

Ironically, even though he has four wins thus far in 2014 and leads the NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car points standings, Hight has not earned a No. 1 qualifying position yet this season. Coming into this season, he’s been No. 1 45 times.

“That was pretty awesome,” Hight said. “We made a nice run the first run. Mike Neff told me going up there we’re not going to be cowards tonight. We’re going to get after this thing. He honestly figured there were going to be others in the threes.”

Cruz Pedregon was second-quickest in Friday’s qualifying rounds with a top run of 4.026 seconds at 307.44 mph. Courtney Force is qualified No. 3 heading into Saturday’s two final rounds of qualifying.

Force recorded the fifth-fastest speed for a Funny Car run in HRA history with a clocking of 323.45 mph.

In other categories, Antron Brown was the No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel, Shane Gray was No. 1 in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. was No. 1 in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown drove his dragster to a time of 3.770 seconds at 323.58 mph.

“The track definitely had some teeth in it,” Brown said. “The first session we were actually on a good run, and we came back and just wanted to improve upon it. We definitely wanted to run lower than a .77. We wanted to run a low 3.7, but the track was so good. It had such great teeth on it that it sucked some of the tune-up out of the race car on the starting line.”

Brown, who is looking for his second NHRA Top Fuel championship in the last three seasons, is also looking for his fourth win and second No. 1 qualifying position this season. Points leader Doug Kalitta was No. 2 qualifier (3.773 seconds at 323.89), while Brittany Force reset the track record in speed at 323.35 mph and qualified fourth.

Gray sat atop the Pro Stock ladder with a track record time of 6.485 seconds at 212.79 mph.

“I’m not really used to this,” Gray said of qualifying No. 1 for only the second time in his career (he also was No. 1 last weekend at Bristol, Tennessee). “But, I’m real proud of [crew chief] Justin Elks, Paul Hoskins, and all the boys at the shop. Obviously, they’ve done their work and my job is easy.”

All told, all eight track records — elapsed time and speed — were set in the four pro categories on Friday, with a potential for even more track records on Saturday or in Sunday’s eliminations.

Erica Enders-Stevens has continued her momentum from her win in Bristol by posting a performance of 6.489 at 213.98 in her Elite Motorsports Camaro to claim the second spot. Defending world champ Jeg Coughlin is fifth, having set the track record speed at 214.25 mph in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart.

Arana led PSM with a top qualifying run of 6.807 seconds at 195.05 mph and is seeking his first No. 1 qualifying effort of the season.

“This Lucas Oil Buell has been amazing,” said Arana Jr, who also set the track speed record at 197.57 mph on his first qualifying attempt. “We won the crank lotto. There are issues with cranks right now, and every once and a while you find a good one. Luckily, we found a good one.”

Reigning PSM champ Matt Smith was second-quickest in Friday’s qualifying with a time of 6.816 seconds at 194.49 mph.

 

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Here’s Friday’s results after two of four rounds of qualifying for the Second annual Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway and Motorsports Park:

Top Fuel — 1. Antron Brown, 3.770 seconds, 323.58 mph; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.773, 323.89; 3. Richie Crampton, 3.774, 69.61; 4. Brittany Force, 3.776, 325.45; 5. J.R. Todd, 3.778, 324.83; 6. Spencer Massey, 3.796, 319.90; 7. Leah Pritchett, 3.812, 318.77; 8. Steve Torrence, 3.817, 81.21; 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.819, 320.81; 10. Tony Schumacher, 3.820, 322.50; 11. Bob Vandergriff, 3.877, 76.43; 12. Dom Lagana, 3.915, 319.29.  Not Qualified: 13. Clay Millican, 6.300, 77.40; 14. Todd Paton, 8.040, 76.28; 15. Shawn Langdon, 8.129, 83.32; 16. Terry McMillen, 8.215, 90.00.

Funny Car — 1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 3.988, 321.58; 2. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.026, 307.44; 3. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.031, 323.35; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.033, 318.24; 5. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.053, 315.27; 6. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.061, 313.80; 7. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.083, 297.61; 8. John Force, Mustang, 4.092, 311.70; 9. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.102, 77.81; 10. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.110, 84.75; 11. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.134, 68.27; 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.221, 278.92.  Not Qualified: 13. Jeff Arend, 4.537, 193.65; 14. Dave Richards, 4.653, 158.07; 15. Mike Smith, 7.535, 89.57; 16. Tony Pedregon, 9.552, 80.10.

Pro Stock — 1. Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.485, 213.03; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.489, 213.98; 3. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.493, 212.96; 4. Shane Tucker, Chevy Cobalt, 6.496, 213.94; 5. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.497, 214.25; 6. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.503, 213.40; 7. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.512, 213.10; 8. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.519, 213.77; 9. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.523, 213.70; 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.86; 11. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.538, 212.79; 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.551, 212.49.  Not Qualified: 13. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.697, 206.57; 14. Larry Morgan, 6.939, 207.40; 15. Val Smeland, 6.998, 198.23; 16. Kenny Delco, 8.198, 115.42.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.807, 197.57; 2. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.816, 194.49; 3. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.852, 193.65; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.858, 194.07; 5. John Hall, Buell, 6.876, 193.90; 6. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.895, 192.47; 7. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.901, 194.77; 8. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.901, 194.27; 9. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.908, 195.68; 10. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.938, 194.04; 11. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.942, 190.94; 12. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.970, 193.29.

Not Qualified: 13. Jerry Savoie, 6.973, 194.86; 14. Scotty Pollacheck, 7.025, 191.70; 15. Justin Finley, 7.064, 188.15; 16. Hector Arana, 7.328, 144.00; 17. Sam Hurwitz, 7.888, 178.76; 18. Brian Pretzel, broke.

(Updated) NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations immediately, cancels NHRA Summernationals

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

UPDATE: Hatcher reached out again to NBC Sports later Wednesday afternoon with an addendum that could be promising for race fans in other markets: “Upon hearing the news about the Englishtown track, we’ve received a significant level of interest from other track operators about hosting a national event in 2018.  We’re not sure if this is possible for 2018, but we’re definitely looking into it, if not for 2018, then perhaps for 2019.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”