By Lee Elder
RICHMOND, Virg. (June 8, 2018) – The answer to the question was: Smooth, quick and fast.
The NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returned to Virginia Motorsports Park for the NHRA Virginia Nationals after a nine-year absence and, as with all new tracks or facilities the touring series has not visited for a long period, there were questions. How would the racers adapt to the track, especially in this era of a different track prep from what the teams had had before?
Friday’s answer was smooth, quick and fast. Teams contacted RPMHD early in the week with praise for the new venue. The track was smooth, they said. Friday’s opening rounds of qualifications showed the racers can be quick and fast.
“We were chomping at the bit to run here,” Brian Corradi, crew chief for Courtney Force, said over the track’s public address system. “Tomorrow it is supposed to be cloudy, I’m sure we’ll go faster.”
Tony Schumacher led Top Fuel after two rounds of qualifying, Courtney Force led in Funny car, Greg Anderson had the top spot in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. led Pro Stock Motorcycle.
At speeds above 200 mph for Pro Stockers and well over 300 in the nitro classes, even the most minute undulation on a track can upset the ride of a race car. A very slight change in track level can force a racing chassis to react, which could cause a momentary decrease in downforce. That can allow the 11,000 horsepower engines in a nitro car to suddenly break traction and spin its wheels, ruining a run. The same thing can happen in Pro Stock where there is less horsepower and much less downforce.
The VMP track’s surface was tested by the hot conditions. The track temperature was 139 degrees before nitro session one and 122 degrees at the start of the second nitro session. But the exemplary track construction gave the racers a racy surface even with the hot temperatures.
“Having not been here (in a while), it was important to be smooth and they did a good job of applying the rubber,” said Chris Cunningham, one of the crew chiefs for Robert Hight’s John Force Racing car told the NHRA’s All Access audience.
Anderson had the best laps in both Pro Stock sessions, his best pass coming in the second round at 6.571 seconds and 210.67 mph. Hector Arana Jr. led Pro Stock Motorcycle at 6.795 seconds and 198.15 mph. Courtney Force topped the Funny Car crowd at 3.983 seconds and 323.35 mph. Schumacher’s 3.777-second, 327.51 mph pass near the end of the second session gave him the lead after one day in Top Fuel.
“It takes all the worry out of the back of your head, knowing how smooth the track is,” said Arana. “You don’t have to worry about that and you can just enjoy the ride.”
Anderson said, “This track is as smooth as glass. I was talking to myself in the race car saying how smooth this surface is. My hat is off to the guys because this is what we love as Pro Stock racers, a smooth surface to race on.”
NOTES: The track temperatures for the first round of nitro qualifications was 139 degrees. … Bob Tasca’s Funny Car engine exploded during Tasca’s lap in Q1, severely damaging the car’s body. “I’m fine. All the safety stuff did its job,” Tasca said. One of his boots was much the worse for wear. … Tommy Johnson Jr.’s Funny Car started, did its burnout and was staged for its second-round pass but the car did not move when the green light flashed. The cause of the malfunction was not immediately detected. … There were 15 Top Fuel cars entered, 18 Funny Cars, 17 Pro Stockers and 21 Pro Stock Motorcycles.