By Lee Elder
READING, Pa. (Sept. 14, 2018) – Pro Stock racer Jeg Coughlin had the quickest pass in the first qualifying session at the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. He improved in Q2 but finished the second session second after teammate Erica Enders went quicker.
That’s how close the competition is as the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship opens. Each of the professional classes in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has 10 drivers in the Countdown and those are the 10 drivers eligible to race for their respective world championships.
Matt Smith led both sessions in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Courtney Force led Funny Car and Clay Millican topped Top Fuel.
“The really cool part for me was hearing the confidence back in the voice of our crew chief, Rick Jones,” Enders said. “That gives me confidence and helps me drive better.”
Enders best run Friday, 6.550 seconds, covered the field. Coughlin was second and Drew Skillman was third. The narrow margin between first and 11th in line was .035 of a second.
According to NHRA statistics, Enders has had Pro Stock’s best reaction time average this season, just .023 of a second. Compare that to defending Pro Stock champion Bo Butner, who has averaged .035 this season. In the world of Pro Stock racing, that .012 of a second difference is enough to make a driver break with his or her normal approach at the starting line.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Butner said. “You have to go up there and hit the tree real good. Back in the day a .030 (of a second reaction time) used to be good enough but now you have to be in the teens or a .010 or better.”
Enders’ reaction time for her Q2 pass was an almost non-existent .001 of a second.
That thin difference, less than a snap of the fingers or blink of an eye can spell the difference between winning rounds in the Countdown and wishing you had won one.
Millican led Top Fuel at 3.723 seconds and 330.72 mph. Brittany Force led Funny Car with a 3.907-second pass at 323.37 mph. Tim Wilkerson was second and Tommy Johnson Jr. was next. Matt Smith led Pro Stock Motorcycle at 6.828 seconds and 198.20 mph. Hector Arana Jr. was second and Andrew Hines was next.
NOTES: The entry list included 16 cars for Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and 19 in Pro Stock Motorcycle. … Teams are not required to make a pass in each qualifying session and only Pro Stock had every entrant make a pass in Q1. … Pro Stock Motorcycle star Angelle Sampey’s bike will be sponsored by iWi, a maker of a plant-based supplement, for the first three races of the NHRA Countdown. Sampey begins the Countdown 10th in points. … Courtney Force and Robert Hight were in New York to promote the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship but had to compete with coverage of Hurricane Florence. … Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson has reached the final round the last three events at Maple Grove but he was just 11th in qualifying after Friday’s rounds. … A Q2 Christmas Tree malfunction forced Brittany Force and Richie Crampton to shut off the engines of their Top Fuel cars after warming up and burning out. Crampton’s team topped off the fuel tank and made its pass as soon as the glitch was repaired, Force’s team elected to go to the back of the line and re-prep before making its Q2 run.