By Lee Elder
BRAINERD, Minn. (Aug. 17, 2018) – Matt Smith topped all NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle riders Friday and has the preliminary pole position in the category in qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Speedway.
The other top qualifiers were Erica Enders (Pro Stock), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Antron Brown (Top Fuel).
Smith’s 6.852-second, 198.47 mph sprint down the quarter-mile Brainerd strip came in Friday’s first qualifying session. He hopes to go quicker and faster Saturday.
Smith said, “I think tomorrow we’ve got a shot to go 6.82 (seconds) or .83 at 199 (mph). I don’t think we can break 200 because of the altitude, but hopefully we’re the next ones to do it, whether it’s at Reading or Indy. We had the quickest time and speed here last year. We usually run really well at this track.”
Hector Arana Jr. and Eddie Krawiec were next behind Smith.
Enders topped the Pro Stock charts at 6.609 seconds and 207.53 mph. The next two drivers, Chris McGaha and Alex Laughlin, were not as quick as Enders (both at 6.613) but both were faster (McGaha 208.33 mph and Laughlin 207.59), promising speed and drama for the finals qualifying sessions Saturday.
Quick and fast as she was, her car was not running perfectly, Enders said later.
“We’re really excited to be number one, even though we can’t lock it in until tomorrow,” Enders said. “I’ve been driving a lot better, too, at that’s encouraging. Our Racepak computer, which records all of our data, didn’t work on our first run, so we were actually kind of tuning by Braille, as my crew chief calls it. My computer didn’t work that (second) run, either, so we have some kind of problem with it.”
In Funny Car, Hight edged Matt Hagan for the top spot, 3.971 seconds (and 326.95 mph) to 3.990 (324.51). Tim Wilkerson was a surprising third at 3.996 seconds (316.67).
Hight’s crew chief, Jimmy Prock, said, “Two good runs for us. I hope we’re getting a handle on this thing.”
Hight added, “That 3.97 first run, I was pretty happy with, but I also thought if we screwed up tonight, it would only be fifth. But, for some reason, nobody stepped up tonight and we actually slowed down tonight. Jimmy (Prock) said we needed more power, so maybe we underestimated the race track and it ate up the changes we made to it.”
Brown said his team is starting to build some momentum after a rough early part of the season.
“We’ve been working hard for this,” Brown told reporters. “It’s no secret that we’ve gone through our bumps and bruises, but you go through struggles so you can get to days like this. … We’ve finally settled in on our combination, where before we were changing things one at a time, race by race.”
With just the races at Brainerd and Indianapolis remaining, the drivers and riders who have qualified for the NHRA’s Countdown playoffs system include:
Top Fuel: Steve Torrence, Tony Schumacher, Clay Millican, Leah Pritchett, Doug Kalitta and Antron Brown.
Funny Car: Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Robert Hight, Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman.
Pro Stock: Greg Anderson, Tanner Gray, Erica Enders, Vincent Nobile and Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, LE Tonglet, Hector Arana Jr. and Jerry Savoie.
NOTES: Cruz Pedregon’s Funny Car team has a new crew chief, Tommy DeLago. Pedregon said DeLago previously worked with other members of the Pedregon crew and that played a role in his deciding to hire DeLago. Pedregon fired Aaron Brooks after the most recent Mello Yello Series race in Kent, Washington. … Jack Beckman clinched a berth in the Funny Car Countdown in Q1 and Antron Brown did the same thing in Top Fuel. … Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) had the top performances in Q1. … Former Pro Stock champion Jason Line is a native of Minnesota and won the Brainerd event in 2014, but the 2014 event was delayed by rain and eliminations had to be completed at the US Nationals.