NHRA: Worsham, Connolly, Skillman and Savoie No. 1 qualifiers in Texas

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Del Worsham (Funny Car), Dave Connolly (Top Fuel), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will go into Sunday’s final eliminations of the AAA NHRA FallNationals as the No. 1 qualifiers in their respective classes.

The fourth race in the Countdown to the Championship at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, the FallNationals are a pivotal race for those drivers who are not only in contention for the championship, but also those who are trying to stave off elimination.

Worsham was the only points leader in any of the four pro classes to qualify No. 1. His track record pass of 3.917 seconds at 323.58 mph held up during Saturday’s two additional rounds of qualifying.

It’s the first No. 1 qualifying spot for Worsham this season and the 17th of his career (10th in Funny Car). He’s already won two of the first three Countdown races (Charlotte and St. Louis).

“All weekend we’ve run well,” Worsham said in an NHRA media release. “Coming here and getting down the track all four runs definitely helped up the confidence.

“We’re looking good. We pretty much accomplished everything we needed to accomplish. As far as qualifying goes and getting ready, I’m feeling good about the car.”

Jack Beckman’s best run on Friday qualified him No. 2 (3.919 seconds at 323.97 mph), while defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan qualified No. 3 (3.921 seconds at 323.42 mph).

In Top Fuel, Connolly set track records for elapsed time (3.744 seconds) and speed (329.18 mph) in a run on Friday that held up through Saturday’s additional rounds.

“When I was up here yesterday, I didn’t want to say anything about it and jinx anything,” Connolly said. “We had some overcast weather today, and the track has been incredible all weekend. … We’re really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Billy Torrence qualified No. 2 (3.746 at 327.27), followed by Brittany Force (3.749 at 326.71). Points leader Antron Brown, who has won the first three races in the Countdown in Top Fuel, is the No. 7 seed, while defending series champ Tony Stewart qualified eighth.

In Pro Stock, Skillman grabbed the No. 1 spot – his third of the season – during his first run on Saturday (6.471 seconds at 213.47 mph). Skillman, who earned his first career Pro Stock win at St. Louis last month, is looking for win No. 2 on Sunday.

“We started racing Pro Stock this year from scratch,” Skillman said. “It’s a credit to the Elite Motorsports team that we were able to learn how to work with each other as the season went along.”

Jason Line qualified No. 2 (6.471, 213.40), while Bo Butner will start Sunday in the No. 3 position (6.475, 213.23). Defending world champ and current points leader Erica Enders qualified No. 4, while Greg Anderson, who is second in points, qualified No. 5.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Savoie recorded the fastest two-wheel pass in Suzuki history (6.765 seconds at 197.74 mph). The Louisiana alligator farmer earned his second No. 1 qualifying spot of the season and his also seeking his third win of 2015.

“We went a 6.78 at Englishtown, and the conditions were better here than in Englishtown, but we weren’t expecting anything more than maybe a 6.79,” Savoie said. “We would have been plenty happy with that. But to run a 6.76, that was amazing. It’s something we’ve been chipping at over the past few months.”

Eddie Krawiec qualified No. 2 (6.816, 195.00), while Chip Ellis will start Sunday No. 3 (6.824, 195.17).

Eliminations begin at 11 am CT on Sunday.

SUNDAY’S FIRST ROUND PAIRINGS:

Top Fuel — 1. Dave Connolly, 3.744 seconds, 329.18 mph  vs. 16. Jenna Haddock, 3.955, 263.10; 2. Billy Torrence, 3.746, 327.27  vs. 15. Kebin Kinsley, 3.910, 258.67; 3. Brittany Force, 3.749, 326.71  vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 3.815, 319.22; 4. Shawn Langdon, 3.754, 326.00  vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.814, 313.37; 5. Steve Torrence, 3.756, 323.12  vs. 12. Larry Dixon, 3.805, 321.96; 6. Richie Crampton, 3.758, 324.75  vs. 11. Doug Kalitta, 3.796, 324.36; 7. Antron Brown, 3.760, 322.19  vs. 10. J.R. Todd, 3.785, 317.64; 8. Tony Schumacher, 3.769, 324.75  vs. 9. Clay Millican, 3.774, 322.65.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Shawn Reed, 3.986, 307.51; 18. Cory McClenathan, 4.672, 162.86; 19. Pat Dakin, 4.711, 163.69.

Funny Car — 1. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.917, 323.58  vs. 16. John Hale, Dodge Charger, 4.140, 304.53; 2. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.919, 323.97  vs. 15. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.089, 303.50; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.921, 324.36  vs. 14. Blake Alexander, Charger, 4.081, 303.50; 4. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.941, 325.14  vs. 13. Cory Lee, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 4.076, 310.05; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.942, 324.67  vs. 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.029, 305.01; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.951, 321.27  vs. 11. Chad Head, Camry, 4.024, 314.02; 7. John Force, Camaro, 3.960, 320.28  vs. 10. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.018, 320.43; 8. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.968, 320.13  vs. 9. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.969, 318.09.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Dave Richards, 4.217, 295.59; 18. Brian Stewart, 4.382, 206.57; 19. Todd Simpson, 4.778, 182.21; 20. Terry Haddock, 5.728, 196.16.

Pro Stock — 1. Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.471, 213.47  vs. 16. Deric Kramer, Dodge Dart, 15.845, 210.67; 2. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.471, 213.40  vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Avenger, 6.691, 208.26; 3. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.475, 213.23  vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.602, 209.10; 4. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.480, 213.47  vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.543, 212.29; 5. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.484, 213.81  vs. 12. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.518, 212.90; 6. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.485, 212.76  vs. 11. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.514, 212.46; 7. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.486, 213.27  vs. 10. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.509, 211.89; 8. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.500, 213.33  vs. 9. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.507, 213.16.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.765, 197.74  vs. 16. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.985, 192.30; 2. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.816, 195.00  vs. 15. Angie Smith, Victory, 6.967, 190.46; 3. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.824, 195.17  vs. 14. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.958, 189.23; 4. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.825, 194.94  vs. 13. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.925, 192.44; 5. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.832, 195.79  vs. 12. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.910, 196.36; 6. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.841, 194.80  vs. 11. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.886, 194.13; 7. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.847, 195.87  vs. 10. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.870, 191.95; 8. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.849, 192.47  vs. 9. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.865, 194.83.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Redell Harris, 7.058, 186.36; 18. Lance Bonham, 7.188, 184.95; 19. David Barron, 18.983, 171.47.

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Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”