NHRA: John Force rolls to No. 1 Funny Car qualifier in first race without former crew chief Jimmy Prock


It wouldn’t be a total surprise if John Force thought to himself “Jimmy who?” after Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying of the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In his first race without now former crew chief Jimmy Prock, Force, a record 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ, stepped up his game to grab the provisional No. 1 spot in Friday’s first day of qualifying.

Joining Force at the top of their respective classes were Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

The final two rounds of qualifying for Sunday’s eliminations takes place Saturday.

Having parted ways with veteran crew chief Prock on Oct. 22 after Prock announced he had accepted a job with rival Don Schumacher Racing at seasons end, Force called upon longtime friend and team safety director John Medlen to step in and tune his Funny Car for this weekend’s race.

Medlen will likely continue in that role both this weekend and next week’s season-ending race at Pomona, Calif., as Force attempts to extend his own NHRA record of championships to 17 this season.

Medlen won the Funny Car championship with former Force driver Tony Pedregon in 2003. He left John Force Racing two years ago but returned earlier this year in his new safety director role.

But when Medlen took over for Prock, it was a seamless transition, and Friday’s results speak to that.

Force and his Ford Mustang led all Funny Cars with a pass of 4.039 seconds at 318.54 mph.

Ironically, Force likely gained some additional satisfaction by knocking rival Jack Beckman (4.045 seconds at 318.84 mph) off the top spot on the qualifying ladder, because Prock is now Beckman’s crew chief.

“We got down there so we feel good about the run,” Force said in an NHRA media release. “You’ve got to get every point you can. (Points leader Matt) Hagan picked up points too. When it gets down to the end, points do count. He picked up a point the last session and I don’t want him to get another round ahead of me.”

MORE: NHRA: John Force to announce new sponsor Saturday, new manufacturer Tuesday

The 2011 NHRA Funny Car champ, Hagan was second-fastest in qualifying at 4.044 seconds at 318.02 mph. Hagan still leads Force by 36 points.

In Top Fuel, Crampton shot to the top of the qualifying ladder with a stout run of 3.764 seconds at 322.42 mph. If he can hold on to the top spot after Saturday’s final two rounds of qualifying, Crampton will earn the first No. 1 qualifying spot of his career.

“It’s pretty exciting to leave here Friday night sitting on the top of the ladder,” Crampton said. “We’ve done that before but ended up getting bumped on Saturday.

“We’ll see how tomorrow pans out. I think we are going to have fantastic weather to lend itself to some great elapsed times. We will see how we do.”

Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon was the second-fastest Friday (3.766 seconds at 326.71 mph). It was announced earlier this week that Dixon, who has been running part-time this season for Bob Vandergriff Racing, will assume a full-time driving role next season as team owner Bob Vandergriff Jr. steps aside to focus solely on his ownership duties.

In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens covered the 1,000-foot drag strip in 6.647 seconds at 208.01 mph. Enders-Stevens picked up three points Friday, but still trails points leader Jason Line by 32 points heading into Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions.

“Those baby points are going to matter,” Enders-Stevens said. “They’re very significant especially with as tight as Jason, myself and Dave [Connolly] are right now.

“We were really conservative the first session. If you look at our 60 foot time, we were ninth and then went straight to the top of the page. We’ll throw something at it tomorrow and see what happens.”

Defending Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin was second-quickest Friday (6.653 seconds at 207.69 mph).

And in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Savoie, who earned his first career win in the class last month at St. Louis, roared to the top of the heap with a run of 6.946 seconds at 192.55 mph.

“We struggled at the first of the year,” Savoie said. “Fuel injection is a really funny thing. It can help you and it can hurt you. Beginning of the year we were hurting and now it’s helped. It’s a good thing, we’ve been blessed.”

Michael Ray was second-fastest in PSM (6.956 seconds at 193.82 mph).

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Top Fuel — 1. Richie Crampton, 3.764 seconds, 322.42 mph; 2. Larry Dixon, 3.766, 326.71; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.772, 322.81; 4. Tony Schumacher, 3.784, 326.63; 5. Shawn Langdon, 3.787, 320.66; 6. Spencer Massey, 3.802, 325.45; 7. Leah Pritchett, 3.806, 317.42; 8. Billy Torrence, 3.809, 326.24; 9. Steve Torrence, 3.820, 323.04; 10. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.824, 313.95; 11. J.R. Todd, 3.833, 322.58; 12. T.J. Zizzo, 3.835, 316.15.  Not Qualified: 13. Troy Buff, 3.836, 309.77; 14. Brittany Force, 3.893, 314.90; 15. Clay Millican, 3.934, 306.46; 16. Noah Stutz, 3.970, 298.14; 17. Antron Brown, 3.976, 248.98; 18. Bob Vandergriff, 3.988, 302.82; 19. Terry McMillen, 4.218, 206.76; 20. Steve Faria, 4.357, 203.52; 21. Steven Chrisman, 5.003, 153.58; 22. Kebin Kinsley, 6.104, 107.53.

Funny Car — 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 4.039, 318.54; 2. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.044, 318.02; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.045, 318.84; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.058, 318.62; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.065, 311.41; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.076, 308.35; 7. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.089, 316.52; 8. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.090, 311.13; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.122, 310.55; 10. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.145, 290.69; 11. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.147, 306.88; 12. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.160, 309.13.  Not Qualified: 13. Cruz Pedregon, 4.164, 294.05; 14. Tony Pedregon, 4.192, 278.98; 15. Paul Lee, 4.273, 279.73; 16. Terry Haddock, 4.309, 284.33; 17. John Bojec, 4.415, 232.51; 18. Jeff Diehl, 4.536, 199.58; 19. Jon Capps, 4.790, 194.72.

Pro Stock — 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.647, 208.01; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.653, 207.69; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.655, 207.75; 4. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.655, 207.72; 5. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.659, 207.59; 6. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.662, 207.62; 7. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.667, 206.92; 8. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.670, 207.15; 9. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.671, 207.46; 10. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.676, 207.43; 11. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.683, 206.86; 12. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.696, 207.85.  Not Qualified: 13. Matt Hartford, 6.698, 206.32; 14. Larry Morgan, 6.731, 205.38; 15. Aaron Stanfield, 6.746, 204.79; 16. Deric Kramer, 6.794, 203.31; 17. Steve Schmidt, 6.930, 199.64; 18. Jeff Isbell, 6.944, 196.56.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.946, 192.55; 2. Michael Ray, Suzuki, 6.956, 193.82; 3. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.974, 193.02; 4. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.979, 191.59; 5. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.989, 194.07; 6. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.992, 192.30; 7. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.010, 191.95; 8. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 7.015, 190.92; 9. Adam Arana, Buell, 7.016, 192.08; 10. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.025, 189.10; 11. Angie Smith, Buell, 7.035, 188.41; 12. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 7.040, 188.70.  Not Qualified: 13. John Hall, 7.048, 190.62; 14. Shawn Gann, 7.050, 188.38; 15. Freddie Camarena, 7.057, 191.67; 16. Steve Johnson, 7.080, 189.50; 17. Scotty Pollacheck, 7.099, 188.86; 18. Mike Berry, 7.104, 186.85; 19. Redell Harris, 7.115, 190.22; 20. Elvira Karlsson, 7.125, 183.74; 21. Angelle Sampey, 7.127, 187.05; 22. Rhett Lougheed, 7.413, 165.19; 23. Lance Bonham, 7.787, 172.94.

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Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

Tom Blomqvist
Rolex/Stephan Cooper

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”

Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”

Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is. I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”