By Lee Elder
BAYTOWN, Texas (April 21, 2018) – National Hot Rod Association grand champion John Force failed to qualify for Sunday’s NHRA Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway. The 16-time champion had qualified for 222 straight Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events and had been in the field for all 33 previous races at Royal Purple.
Force missed the field on the same day two other cars from his John Force Racing team filled the top two positions in the Funny Car ladder and another of his cars qualified second in Top Fuel.
“That’s hard for me,” the 16-time champion said. “But you earn what you get.”
Leah Pritchett qualified first in Top Fuel, Robert Hight was number one in Funny Car and Greg Anderson topped the Pro Stock field.
Force’s failure to make the field proves the essential purity of drag racing, a discipline of racing where there is no provisional entry. Under NHRA rules, even if a qualified Funny Car is unable to start Sunday, or the team elects not to race, the position cannot be filled by an alternate.
Force came to the starting line for his final bid to qualify knowing he was out of the field and had to beat 4.31 seconds to make the show. His Chevrolet left the line smoothly but lost traction over the second half of the track. His time was 5.344 seconds.
Force teammate Robert Hight said, “I’m bummed the boss didn’t make it in (the field). That’s quite a streak he had going, but there is no one who is better at rallying the team.”
Some of the nitro category cars struggled to make complete runs on the newly resurfaced racing venue during Saturday’s third session, as they did on Friday. The NHRA’s fastest and most powerful cars mostly launched well but did not fare as well on the final 330 feet of the 1,000-foot distance, where the concrete patch ends and the asphalt begins. The cars that made full pulls had good elapsed times but their speeds were down from what the Top Fuel and Funny Car normally accomplish.
Funny Car driver J.R. Todd admitted after his third round pass, “It’s tricky. … As soon as we get on the asphalt, we spin the tires.” He added, “Had to get down through there. We started spinning (his tires) about 800 feet, like everyone else is.”
Cruz Pedregon said, “We love the challenging tracks. Guys are complaining about it but I say, ‘Fix your clutch.’” Pedregon finished the day qualified fifth.
Courtney Force said after her third-round pass in Funny Car, “That wasn’t all we had … We had a lot more speed and more mile per hour.” The pass Force eluded to was the one that put her first on the qualifying ladder, 3.911 seconds and 295.14 mph. Other Funny Cars had faster speeds in their third session passes. At the end of the fourth qualifying session, Hight’s 3.894-second run dumped Courtney Force to second.
It is not uncommon for a newly paved track to confuse the professional teams upon their initial visit because the grip levels are different from previous visits. As Todd alluded to it, the problem this time seemed to be the location where the concrete patch ends and the asphalt strip begins. The teams were starting to get a feel for the conditions Saturday.
But, after a brief rain delay between Saturday’s sessions, the teams showed they had started understanding the new normal at Royal Purple. Pritchett broke the track record on her fourth qualifying run, recording a 3.680-second elapsed time at 326.00 mph to take the top position on the Top Fuel ladder. She took the top spot away from Brittany Force, who will start from the second position during eliminations.
Pritchett said of her fourth-round pass, “We knew we needed to lay one down and the numbers we had in our packages before that told us we should be able to produce that.”
Hight said his crew chief Jimmy Prock, “Has changed the balance of the car and I can definitely tell that it has more traction.” Hight’s pole-winning pass lasted 3.894 seconds and he was clocked at 317.27 mph.
Anderson’s track record-setting pass he produced Friday stood through both rounds on Saturday. He said, “I’m excited. So far, this has been a great weekend. We knew after yesterday that the humidity was going to pick up and the conditions wouldn’t be as good, so we pretty much felt that run was safe.”
Anderson’s time was 6.492 seconds and his speed, which also set a track record, was 213.00 mph.
NOTES: 2-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders did not qualify for Pro Mod eliminations. Her best pass was 5.983 seconds.