NHRA: Forces of speed — Brittany, Courtney Force are preliminary No. 1 Qualifiers in Charlotte

NHRA
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Courtesy NHRA Media Relations

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA – Fans in attendance at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals witnessed two sisters take the preliminary top spots in their respective categories. Top Fuel pilot Brittany Force and Funny Car racer Courtney Force, are qualifying leaders after the first day of action at zMAX Dragway.
Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Cory Reed (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the sixth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
In the final Friday qualifying session, Brittany Force raced her Monster Energy dragster to a pass of 3.689-seconds at 318.39 mph to take the provisional top position. She has yet to have a No. 1 qualifying position this season but won the most recent event in Houston. Her elapsed time is a zMax Dragway track record.
“It felt good, especially compared to that first run we made earlier,” said Brittany Force. “I just wanted a clean safe pass and I wasn’t expecting to go No. 1. When they told me when I got out at the top end that was pretty exciting. My team is pretty pumped.”
Courtney Force, in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro, was able to retain the top spot with her 3.873 at 332.92 pass from the first of two sessions. She was the No. 1 qualifier in Phoenix, where she also raced to victory and notched her second top spot in Las Vegas.
“We have done pretty well here but have yet to take home a win,” said Courtney Force. “I love coming out here to Concord, to zMAX Dragway, (track owner) Bruton Smith always does it right, and it is a lot of fun to race on any of his racetracks.”
In Pro Stock, Skillman, behind the wheel of his Ray Skillman Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro, holds the top spot after driving to a 6.534 at 210.37 during the second qualifying session. Skillman has yet to record a No. 1 qualifying position of the year and sixth of his career.
“We finally made a good pass, our car has had the potential all season,” said Skillman. “Last season we ran really strong middle of the year and end of the summer. We got lost over the winter somehow but we are kinda inching our way back. We have been testing a couple of days ago and it is showing.”
Reed raced to the qualifying lead in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category during the second session with a pass of 6.838 at 193.54 on his Team Liberty Racing Buell. The 2016 Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner, the NHRA’s rookie of the year, is aiming for his first career No. 1 qualifying position.
“The thing took off and it was a rocket ship,” said Reed. “It was as smooth of a ride that I have had in a long time. I knew I was going fast and it was super smooth.”
Points leader Eddie Krawiec is seventh following his 6.872 at 191.29 recorded during the first session.
Two more rounds of qualifying continues at 2 p.m. on Saturday to determine those drivers that will compete in Sunday’s final eliminations.
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FRIDAY’S RESULTS:
TOP FUEL: 1. Brittany Force, 3.689 seconds, 318.39 mph; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.692, 331.61; 3. Antron Brown, 3.719, 331.77; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.731, 330.72; 5. Terry McMillen, 3.744, 329.75; 6. Doug Kalitta, 3.758, 327.98; 7. Clay Millican, 3.773, 289.82; 8. Shawn Reed, 3.838, 323.43; 9. Dom Lagana, 3.846, 270.21; 10. Pat Dakin, 3.933, 309.13; 11. Kyle Wurtzel, 4.019, 247.34; 12. Audrey Worm, 4.143, 256.84; 13. Mike Salinas, 4.225, 197.33; 14. Terry Haddock, 4.227, 283.43; 15. Leah Pritchett, 4.249, 217.56; 16. Scott Palmer, 4.888, 147.15. Not Qualified: 17. Richie Crampton, 6.331, 90.71.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.873, 332.92; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.886, 329.83; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.887, 328.70; 4. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.888, 330.96; 5. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.907, 326.16; 6. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.908, 321.42; 7. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.920, 323.50; 8. John Force, Camaro, 3.938, 328.06; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.949, 320.81; 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.966, 320.89; 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.973, 325.45; 12. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.983, 316.08; 13. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 4.062, 257.04; 14. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Stratus, 4.089, 315.12; 15. John Smith, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.156, 274.05; 16. Jim Campbell, Charger, 8.661, 77.26. Not Qualified: 17. Jeff Diehl, 8.756, 83.50.
PRO STOCK: 1. Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.534, 210.50; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.548, 211.00; 3. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.549, 210.08; 4. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.556, 210.31; 5. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.557, 211.26; 6. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.558, 210.90; 7. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.560, 210.64; 8. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.561, 210.24; 9. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.562, 210.01; 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.564, 211.39; 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.565, 210.57; 12. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.571, 210.93; 13. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.622, 208.81; 14. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.632, 208.39; 15. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.662, 208.07; 16. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 6.870, 201.79. Not Qualified: 17. Kenny Delco, 12.588, 69.70; 18. Tommy Lee, 15.830, 55.12.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Cory Reed, Buell, 6.838, 193.54; 2. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.848, 197.31; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.859, 196.64; 4. Hector Arana, EBR, 6.861, 195.48; 5. Matt Smith, Suzuki, 6.863, 193.21; 6. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.866, 193.63; 7. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.872, 195.22; 8. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.874, 194.18; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.881, 194.52; 10. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.882, 194.91; 11. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.898, 191.59; 12. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.934, 195.11; 13. Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.948, 188.91; 14. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.953, 192.63; 15. Mark Paquette, Victory, 6.980, 189.84; 16. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.985, 192.30. Not Qualified: 17. Angie Smith, 7.004, 191.29; 18. Scott Bottorff, 7.055, 188.12; 19. Lance Bonham, 7.315, 186.15; 20. Melissa Surber, 7.397, 152.92; 21. Kelly Clontz, 20.815, 25.48.

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”