CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb 4, 2017) The final day of Nitro Spring Training provided crew chiefs, drivers, and teams with a hot racetrack and fast cars. This was the last testing opportunity for Top Fuel and Funny Car teams to get their tune ups and data set before the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series kicks off next week in Pomona, California. It’s the first of 24 events that will span 9 months. Despite having a lengthy amount of time to run for the championship, every driver looks to make a great first impression by starting the year off hoisting a Wally in the winners circle.
As the third day of Nitro Spring Training came to a close, it became clear which teams looked like they were going to hit the ground running in Pomona. Don Schumacher Racing’s Leah Pritchett proved to be the biggest threat in Top Fuel when she made a 3.677 second pass at 323.27 mph on Friday night. Only to further improve her time and run 3.654 seconds at 331.85 mph on Saturday. Pritchett’s feat was the fastest elapsed time in the history of the NHRA. Due to the fact that it was done in testing, it won’t go in the record books. In order for an elapsed time or speed to become a record it must happen during an NHRA Mello Yello national event. Pritchett and her team made numerous runs and stayed consistent running in the 3.6 and 3.7 second range. When asked about her unofficial national ET record, Pritchett talked about having “expectation management.” “It’s fulfillment so the ‘hoora’ of leaving the test session as the quickest car, that’s kinda cool, but that’s not gonna buy you a beer on Sunday anywhere. We’re gonna jump into a whole other game coming into the start of the season,” she said.
While there wasn’t necessarily a standout in the Funny Car class on Saturday, John Force Racing’s three Funny Cars continued to make solid runs. Courtney Force, John Force, and Robert Hight all made multiple runs in the 3.8 and 3.9 second range. With a 3.80 pass under her belt, it seems like it would be a heavily guarded setup, but Courtney says that it really is a group effort between JFR’s three Funny Cars, “We definitely all come out here to try and learn from each other and continue to push these cars as hard as possible going into the season.” Don Schumacher Racing’s four Funny Car drivers, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Matt Hagan also kept pace with multiple runs under 4 seconds. According to Hagan’s crew chief, Dickie Venables, “If you don’t run mid 3.80’s you may as well go home.”
The team that surprisingly struggled all three days was Kalitta Motorsports. Their two Funny Cars, piloted by Alexis Dejoria and JR Todd, had a hard time getting to the stripe under full power. While on the Top Fuel side, Doug Kalitta and Troy Coughlin Jr. also didn’t make consistent runs down the racetrack. However, towards the end of the day, Doug was able to pull off a 3.697 second pass. Kalitta Motorsports had a number of issues to overcome which contributed to their inconsistencies. Troy Coughlin Jr. is experiencing the learning curve that comes with stepping into the driver’s seat of a 10,000 horsepower Top Fuel Dragster for the first time. Alexis Dejoria made her return to Funny Car having sat out due to injuries she sustained following a brush with the wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October of 2016. While long-time Top Fuel pilot, JR Todd is now driving the Funny Car vacated by former teammate, Del Worsham. Doug Kalitta’s crew chief, Jim Oberhofer acknowledged Kalitta Motorsports’ struggles during testing, “We’re not throwing out the big numbers we’d like to see but we’re taking small steps first. We’ll crawl a little bit before we can walk and we’ll let everybody else throw out those big numbers and hopefully we’ll be there when it comes time at Pomona.” He, however, is not phased by all of the off season shuffling that happened within the organization, “It’s a learning process for all of them. [Troy Jr.] has done a really good job he just needs laps. He needs to go make 330 mile per hour laps and get used to what the car is doing. TJ’s a really smart kid and he’s kind of a cross between Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon; he really understands a lot about what’s going on. Doug told me ‘[TJ’s] just overthinking it right now and he needs to just get into the car and drive it.’ Doug says you can’t think a lot in 3.7 seconds you just have to react. TJ will get there I’m confident that he’s gonna do a really great job. JR Todd is doing good, he’s gonna be just fine. He’s a racer. You can put him in anything and he’ll do a great job. We’re really happy about the progress of both of them. And then Alexis, it’s cool to see her back out here and smiling. She loves doing this stuff.”
Single-car teams and drivers such as Clay Millican, Scott Palmer, and Cruz Pedregon were also able to get multiple runs down the racetrack. Pedregon entrusted Aaron Brooks with the tuning responsibilities but the Snap On Funny Car only made it to half track on its best pass. Palmer was able to get a few runs in over the course of the day, while Millican made an astounding 11 over the course of three days.
With two unofficial ET records set, powerhouse teams at the top of their game, and privateers giving it all they got…if this is what Nitro Spring Training looks like, the upcoming season of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing is going to be a blast. The 2017 season is about to kick off next week at the NHRA Circle K Winternationals at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.