NHRA’s Hagan (FC), Todd (TF), Enders-Stevens (PS) and Arana Jr. (PSM) top first round qualifying in Charlotte


On the same weekend as NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, the National Hot Rod Association’s Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship is also underway at zMAX Dragway in suburban Charlotte.

The top qualifiers in Friday’s first round of the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals were Matt Hagan (Funny Car), J.R. Todd (Top Fuel), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

The Countdown is a series of six playoff races that ultimately determine the champion in each of the four professional classes.

Hagan took the top spot in Funny Car with a run of 4.114 seconds (at 304.25 mph). Hagan won the series championship in 2011 and was runner-up last season despite not winning a race in the regular season.

He’s bound and determined to change that in this year’s Countdown.

“We are thankful to get two great solid runs down the racetrack,” Hagan said in a NHRA media release. “Hopefully we can go some rounds on Sunday (in final eliminations).

“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 has a strong affection for zMAX Dragway. It was there that be became the first Funny Car driver to break the four-second mark at the track in 2011.

A sign commemorating his 3.995-second run that day still hangs on the retaining wall near the track’s starting line.

He also lives in and operates a cattle ranch less than 100 miles away in southwestern Virginia.

“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.”

In Top Fuel, Todd – who is the 10th and final seed in the Countdown – shot to the top of the qualifying charts with a field-best run of 3.828 seconds at 310.34 mph.

“I’m happy to get three bonus points,” Todd said of qualifying No. 1 (there are two more rounds on Saturday). “We started No. 10 in the Countdown so we need every point that we can get. There’s nowhere to go but up.”

In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens, who is seeded No. 2, recorded a stout run of 6.591 seconds at 210.11 mph.

“It’s just a really good start,” she 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.

“We just have to do our job day in and day out, and make every little point count. 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.”

And in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. is the No. 3 seed in the Countdown, but atop the qualifying ranks heading into Saturday with a Friday-best run of 6.876 seconds at 195.48 mph.

“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.”

The final two rounds of qualifying occur Saturday at 1 and 3 pm ET. Final eliminations on Sunday begin at Noon ET.


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Here’s Friday’s results after the first two rounds of qualifying for the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.:

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.

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Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).