By Lee Elder
TOPEKA, Kan. (May 18, 2018) – The Pro Stock entry list for the Menard’s NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Motorsports Park is a mixed bag of veterans and newcomers. Veterans, potent newcomers and the usual band of ultra-competitive regulars began qualifying Friday for Sunday’s eliminations.
Division 5 Competition Eliminator champion Will Hatcher made his Pro Stock debut Friday and Elite Motorsports owner Richard Freeman made one of his infrequent appearances.
“I’ve dreamed of driving a Pro Stock car as far back as I can remember,” Hatcher said. “It feels a little surreal. I suppose I should be a little more nervous than I am but I’m just excited.”
Friday’s rounds of qualifying finished with Erica Enders leading Pro Stock with a pass of 6.625 seconds, 207.59 mph. Courtney Force led Funny Car at 3.911 seconds and 321.73 mph and Billy Torrence with a pass of 3.845 seconds and 298.87 mph led Top Fuel.
Every newcomer is good news for the sport of racing from a business point of view. While Hatcher is a long way from being a newcomer he is new to Pro Stock. Hatcher’s Dodge Dart should make the show as 16 cars made passes on Friday and the ladder for Sunday’s eliminations has 16 positions. That takes some of the pressure off the first-timer. The Kansas native has raced since he was 10. He car this weekend is powered by an engine from Elite Motorsports. He did not have a clean pass on Friday.
Freeman’s effort is anything but a one-car effort and he is not new to Pro Stock. His Elite Motorsports team has four other entries, former Pro Stock champs Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin, plus Alex Laughlin and Matt Hartford.
“This whole deal came together in the last week or so, which is an eternity, compared to some of our other projects.” Freeman said. The deal is for Freeman to drive a car owned by former Pro Stock driver V. Gaines, with an Elite engine. Freeman’s best run Friday was his first one, 6.739 seconds and 205.29 mph.
NOTES: Mark Hogan made a pass in a Chevrolet powered by a Dodge Hemi engine. It is believed the car is the first to take advantage of the new Pro Stock rules that allow any approved engine to be paired with any approved chassis in competition … Heartland Motorsports Park is also a sports car track, a beautiful and unique multi-use facility where the media center is at the finish line … New NHRA plans for the end of the event celebration Sunday now include bringing the crew chiefs of the winning cars to the victory celebration with their driver … The entry list showed 18 Top Fuel cars (17 made qualifying passes Friday), 18 Funny Cars (all 18 made passes) and 17 Pro Stock cars (16 made passes) … Shane Westerfield drove Del Worsham’s Funny Car Friday and is expected to do the same for the rest of the weekend … Tommy DeLago, released as a crew chief by Kalitta Motorsports this week, was at Topeka and spent time on the public address system with Alan Reinhart while the nitro cars were running. DeLago proved to be an excellent, concise commentator. DeLago and Reinhart share a common birthday.