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

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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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FRIDAY’S RESULTS:

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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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”