Robert Hight (Photo courtesy NHRA)

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.

PIRTEK Team Murray rolls out several tidbits as Brabham preps for debut

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Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray
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It’s been a busy last week or so for PIRTEK Team Murray and driver Matthew Brabham around the Indianapolis area.

And they haven’t even begun practicing or qualifying or even racing in the Indianapolis 500 on May 29.

* First, the team announced that the most decorated police officer in New York City Police history, Walter Wasilewski, has joined PIRTEK Team Murray’s CK Crew of Veterans and First Responders that will take part in the Tag Heuer Pit Stop Challenge for the Indianapolis 500 (photo below; photo credit: PIRTEK Team Murray).

056Wasilewski received over 200 medals and awards before retiring. He made over 3,000 arrests during his career with the NYPD, and also served at Ground Zero following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The CK Crew, will allow the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation to host 500 members of the military and first responders at Indianapolis Motor Speedway throughout the month of May. Kyle was a highly-decorated NAVY Seal and sniper who was killed in 2013 in his native Texas.

Seven of those 500 members of the CK Crew will train and crew Brabham’s PIRTEK Team Murray car in the Tag Heuer Pit Stop Challenge, to be held on Miller Lite Carb Day on May 27.

“This concept is unique and it will allow a number of guys and girls to come together and form a team to hopefully get PIRTEK Team Murray to victory lane in the Pit Stop Challenge,” said Walter Wasilewski.

“Everyone knows what Chris Kyle did for America and Taya (Kyle’s widow) is carrying on his legacy with such dignity and class. I’ve had the chance to meet with Taya on several occasions in New York and she is an amazing American.

“My career in the Police Department was through some of the most dangerous times in New York’s history. Period.

“That training is going to come in handy when standing waiting for the PIRTEK Team Murray racecar to come at me. In the Police Department, you have to have faith in those around you to protect you – in this case, I have to have the faith in Matt to stop the car on his marks so we can then go about our job.”

* Second, Brabham recently had the opportunity to take part in the Indianapolis Colts’ NFL Draft announcement (see main photo).

Brabham, 22, joined four-time and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon in announcing two of the Colts’ draft picks: Hassan Ridgeway from Texas and Florida’s Antonio Morrison.

The draft announcement was made on the start-finish line of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I knew nothing about American football when I first moved back to the US from Australia in 2012, but I have really grown to love it,” Brabham said. “I have been to several Colts games and the more I know the more I am really starting to get into it.

“We had a fantasy football league with several of the drivers last year and I won it, so I must be learning something.

“It is great that we can combine two things as significant as the Colts and NFL Draft and the Indianapolis Speedway and the 100th Indy 500.

“To get up close to the Colts’ 2006 Super Bowl trophy (Vince Lombardi Trophy) was pretty cool. You don’t get to do that every day.”

* Third, Matthew Brabham’s grandfather, three-time Formula One champion Sir Jack Brabham, has been named to “The Top 100 Most Important People in Indy 500 History” by the Indianapolis Star.

“Sir Jack,” as he was called in the later years of his life, is ranked 56th on the list. The patriarch of the Brabham family passed away on May 19, 2014 at the age of 88.

Young Matthew is only the third third-generation racer to attempt to race in the 500, following his grandfather and father Geoff.

The other two families that have had three generations of racers compete at Indianapolis are the Vukovich family – Bill, Billy Jr. and Billy III – as well as the Andretti family: Mario, Michael and Marco.

“We have said it many times, but it is just an honor and a privilege to be part of this year’s Month of May and everything that goes with it,” Matthew Brabham said in a media release.

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Marty Snider’s son Myatt Snider set for ARCA debut

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Photo: Cunningham Motorsports
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Myatt Snider, the 21-year-old eldest son of NBCSN NASCAR and IndyCar reporter Marty Snider, will make his ARCA Series debut later this month.

His series debut will come at Toledo Speedway on May 22, driving the No. 22 Ford for Cunningham Motorsports. It will be the first of nine starts for him this year.

“This is the big opportunity that I have been dreaming about for several years,” the younger Snider said in a release. “I feel so blessed to drive for Paul Andrews and Cunningham Motorsports. I’m confident the move up to ARCA will be a smooth transition, especially since Jeff Caudill will be coming with me and continue being my crew chief.”

With Kevin Lee’s son Jackson also a rising star in the karting ranks, it’s cool to see the next generation of talent start to grow and develop in the stock car ranks. Marty Snider will work on NBCSN’s IndyCar broadcasts through Road America on June 26 on pit road, before the return of NASCAR on NBC on July 2 at Daytona.

A more extensive report can be found here via NASCAR TALK’s Nate Ryan.

Pagenaud disappointed by Boston drop; would love Watkins Glen option

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 17: Simon Pagenaud is the winner of the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17, 2016 in Long Beach, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
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The Verizon IndyCar Series points leader, Simon Pagenaud, was one of several drivers the series deployed to Boston (James Hinchcliffe was another) to promote what would have been the inaugural Grand Prix of Boston on Labor Day weekend.

“The underground aspect is very unique,” Pagenaud said in a series release in January. “I mainly look forward to hearing the sound of the car as I drive under it. The layout is very fun and the track itself is in a fast-growing area with a great dynamic. I should be able to get good speed because the wide track, fast corners and smooth roads after all of the work (is completed) will most likely make this track one of the fastest tracks there is.

“The Verizon IndyCar Series is very excited for the potential that Boston brings as a whole,” he added. “It is exciting to be able to reach out to another population in a great area and hopefully see its economy change for the better as a result of the race. I would really like to thank the city of Boston for this opportunity.”

But with news emerging late Friday that the race wouldn’t be on the 2016 schedule after all, Pagenaud reflected a bit of disappointment that people didn’t understand what the event could have provided.

“Yeah, I’m very disappointed,” Pagenaud told reporters Wednesday during a teleconference. “That was going to be a great event, perfect position in the city.

“I managed to see the excitement of I guess half of the population in Boston, because I know some of the population was not excited about it. There were a lot of people that were pulling for the race. I saw the excitement.

“The racetrack itself looked like it was going to be a beautiful layout. We were going to go through a tunnel, which would have been really cool.”

Naturally, the next follow-up question is where would Pagenaud like to race provided INDYCAR could fill the slot on the calendar.

A permanent road course in the vain of Road America – where Pagenaud’s had success in sports cars and clinched his Champ Car Atlantic crown in 2006 – immediately came to mind.

“I hope we can replace the race. For sure, I’m thinking of Watkins Glen. I’ve never been there, but it looks like a beautiful track. It’s been repaved, as well, recently. That would be a good market and really cool track to go to.

“There’s plenty of tracks in America that could be exciting to go to. I’d like to go back to Fontana personally. I love that oval. But I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

For what it’s worth, Watkins Glen has been discussed openly as an option although whether INDYCAR could make it happen and whether the track will be able to accommodate it remains to be seen.

Watkins Glen International Michael Printup told the Boston Herald that while the track would “be a great site for them,” it remains a long ways off and would require a minor miracle to do some schedule jostling.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but we’re not even there yet. It’s a huge challenge,” Printup told the Herald, with neither INDYCAR officials nor Grand Prix of Boston officials available for further comment.

I had to joke with Pagenaud, who’s now driving a Menards-backed entry with John Menard’s support for the full month of May and for IndyCar’s return to Road America in late June, whether he could persuade Menard to help IndyCar return – again – to the Milwaukee Mile.

“There you go,” Pagenaud laughed, although such an option doesn’t seem realistic at this juncture.

Space dreams occur for Hildebrand, Daly at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Hildebrand Daly
(Photo courtesy Conor Daly official Twitter page)
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To some awe-struck fans, their dreams of driving an Indy car are an out-of-this-world experience.

For Conor Daly and JR Hildebrand, driving an race car in the Verizon IndyCar Series is an orbital experience what they do for a living.

Earlier this week in Houston, on Tuesday, Daly and Hildebrand enjoyed a REAL out of this world experience as they visited NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The day-long visit was an exceptional trip for the two drivers, who hung out with robots, did a virtual tour of the International Space Station, saw mockups of the Space Shuttle and more.

But the best part for the duo was the opportunity to have a live 10-minute conversation with astronauts Tim Kopra, Jeff Williams and Tim Peake.

“Man, I wanna go to space,” Daly said, via IndyCar.com. Of note, the driver of the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda also went to “Space Camp” prior to the series’ most recent round at Barber Motorsports Park.

Added Hildebrand, “Ultimately, you end the day feeling overwhelmed about how much amazing stuff you got to see.”

Later, as their trip came to an end, the drivers were more than just appreciative. They left the JSC in a kind of awe that they’ll likely feel for a long time to come.

“Right away we were able to find common ground on things that we do compared to things that they do,” Hildebrand said. “Coming from the motorsports community, there is so much crossover in terms of the way that things happen at NASA.”

Added Daly, “This is probably one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

Check out some of the many tweets both drivers and their new friends, the astronauts in the ISS, posted, as well as tweets of others including Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles:

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