By Lee Elder
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (April 7, 2018) – Few sports offer the potential for drama that the NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has and the teams lived up to that potential Saturday at the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA 4 Wide Nationals.
They saved the best for the last round of qualifying. Two of the three professional categories settled the top position in the heat of the final round at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The racing conditions reflected the desert location. The air temperature was in the 90s and the track temperature at the end of the day was 123 degrees. But the conditions did not preclude strong performances.
Tony Schumacher’s pass that clinched the top qualifying position came in the heat of Saturday afternoon during the fourth and final round of time trials. Courtney Force did the same thing, grabbing the top spot on the eliminations ladder on the final run of the day for the category. Greg Anderson was the top Pro Stock qualifier.
Schumacher’s 3.765-second, 328.46 mph run snatched the top spot in Top Fuel away from Antron Brown. Brown ended up second with Brittany Force third. Schumacher’s pole-winning pass came in the second of three quads in the four-wide competition configuration. Brown had a chance to grab the spot back in the final quad and gave it a good push, but his 3.904-second elapsed time left in next in line.
“That was just a perfect run,” Schumacher said of his pole winner. “Smooth and easy.”
Courtney Force grabbed the top spot in Funny Car after a few difficult runs in earlier rounds. “We’ve had some decent passes throughout qualifying,” Force said, “but we’ve had a little trouble keeping it on all eight cylinders … our incremental numbers were solid and we knew we could have a good run if it could just get there.”
She got to the finish in the final professional quad of the day with a pass of 3.927 seconds and 326.40 mph, yanking the top spot on the ladder away from Tommy Johnson Jr. Johnson qualified second and J.R. Todd was third.
Greg Anderson led Pro Stock qualifying with a pass of 6.669 seconds and 206.45 mph. Then, a little while later, Anderson won the final round of the K&N Pro Stock Challenge, a special race for the Pro Stock category. Anderson’s win was his seventh in the special event.
“It’s unreal,” Anderson said. “I guess I need to get the stakes raised. This deal raises the stakes.” The special event pays $50,000 to the winner.
Deric Kramer qualified second in Pro Stock and defending champ Bo Butner was third.
The first round quads, listed by category:
Tony Schumacher, Steven Chrisman, Scott Palmer, Terry McMillen
Bill Torrence, Clay Millican, Steve Torrence, Troy Buff
Antron Brown, Terry Totten, Leah Pritchett, Mike Salinas
Brittany Force, Terry Haddock, Doug Kalitta, Richie Crampton
Courtney Force, Jim Campbell, Cruz Pedregon, Jonnie Lindberg
Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Robert Hight, Gary Densham
Tommy Johnson Jr., Del Worsham, Matt Hagan, Tim Wilkerson
JR Todd, Shawn Langdon, Bob Tasca, John Force
Greg Anderson, Joey Grose, Vincent Nobile, Erica Enders
Chris McGaha, Jeg Coughlin, Alex Coughlin, Matt Hartford
Deric Kramer, Alan Prusiensky, Tanner Gray, Shane Gray
Bo Butner, Steve Graham, Jason Line, Drew Skillman
NOTES: The top qualifier in Funny Car has won the first three races of the 2018 season … Anderson has won more than a quarter of a million dollars in K&N Challenge competition … Schumacher qualified number one on Top Fuel for the 86th time … Funny Car driver JR Todd said drag racing Hall of Famer Don Prudhomme stopped by Todd’s pit on Saturday and gave Todd a pep talk. Todd raced for Prudhomme early in Todd’s career.