2021 NHRA NEW ENGLAND NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
BILLY TORRENCE CREDITS GOOD LORD, LUCKY LOBSTERS FOR TOP FUEL VICTORY AT EPPING - Mike Salinas came across the country from San Jose, Calif., this past week to the Northeast to pick up two items: his wife Monica’s diploma from Harvard University at Cambridge, Mass., and his own third Top Fuel trophy at Epping, N.H., at the TascaParts.com NHRA New England Nationals presented by Bandero Premium Tequila.
The Scrappers Racing boss’ third statue will have to wait, while Monica’s diploma takes center stage by itself on the family mantel.
The Wally statue went to Texas with Billy Torrence Sunday.
But it just might end up standing guard beside the crib of a two-month-old little girl.
Capco Contractors Dragster driver Billy Torrence used a holeshot to defeat the quicker and faster Salinas in the Top Fuel final and earn his seventh overall victory.
Torrence used a quicker reaction time (.082 of a second) to win at 3.827 seconds and 324.44 mph against Salinas’ quicker and faster 3.816, 325.37 on New England Dragway’s 1,000-foot course.
Referring to granddaughter Haven Charli, who was born April 7 to points-leading son Steve and wife Natalie, Torrence, 63, said, “I won me a trophy for my little bitty granddaughter who’s no bigger than this trophy. Steve’s been winning ’em for her, so the old man showed up with one now.”
Since Haven Charli was born, her daddy has earned three victories in four final-round appearances. Now Grandpa has one for her after becoming the fourth different Top Fuel winner this year – and giving the family four trophies from the season’s seven completed Camping World Drag Racing Series events.
And the Texas pipeline-company owner from Kilgore gave credit to “the Good Lord for watching after me,” his Jason McCulloch-led crew, and a group of lobster fishermen: “I love this place. The fans here are outstanding. Some of those lobstermen from Maine sent us lobster last night. Had to be the lobster.”
After advancing to his first final round since the 2019 Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn., Salinas said, “It felt like this is where we belong [in a final round], running hard like we’re doing. We’re right there and we’ll keep improving.”
He said his Scrappers Racing team test for two days at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis before the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, in two weeks. The Salinas family will test the Top Fuel dragster, two Pro Stock Motorcycles, their A/Fuel Dragster, and their Pro Mod.
Despite Steve Torrence’s loss to Salinas in their semifinal, Torrence actually extended his point lead over second-place Antron Brown from 140 points to 162. So Steve Torrence kept his lead, and Billy Torrence is third in the standings, an improvement of four places for Sunday’s winner.
“Another great job by the Capco boys,” Steve Torrence said. “It would have been great to race my ’ol man in an all-Capco final round. But hat’s off to Mike Salinas and that Scrappers team. We just didn’t have anything for them in the semis. But thanks to Billy and the boys, we’re taking another one of these little gold men back home to Kilgore.”
Now Haven Charli Torrence won’t need Daddy or Grandpa to win her a stuffed toy or kewpie doll on the midway at the Gregg County Fair over in Longview this fall.
JOHN FORCE EARNS WALLY NUMBER 153 WITH NEW ENGLAND NATIONALS VICTORY - Greatness does not have an expiration date for John Force.
The drag racing legend won his second race of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Series NHRA season and 153rd of his amazing career Sunday at the Tascaparts.com New England Nationals Sunday.
Force clocked a 3.972-second time at 327.51 mph to defeat his son-in-law and JFR teammate Robert Hight who came in at 3.993 seconds at 323.35 mph.
“This (Wally) represents team effort,” said Force, 72. “You have to look at both these cars and Brittany’s Top Fuel car, they have BlueDEF on them, they all have Auto Club on them, they have AAA, Flav-R-Pac, Monster, the list goes on and on. All the people who take care of me, that is really what it's all about. Robert helps me so much, and he should not just try to get me back in the driver’s seat where I don’t suck so bad. Right now, I have a car and I won (Sunday) and I did my job.
“I want to thank all the people in Epping for coming back. I want to thank (crew chief) Daniel (Hood) for a great tune-up and my grandchildren and Tim Fabrisi for fixing the cockpit in my car.”
Force and his PEAK/BlueDEF PLATINUM Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car defeated Cory Lee, J.R. Todd, Terry Haddock and Hight on Sunday. Force improved his record to 4-3 against Hight, the JFR team president, in final rounds.
This was the 51st final round between John Force Racing drivers but the first since 2018 when Courtney Force beat John in Richmond, Va.
Force is now second in the Funny Car point standings, just 15 points behind leader Bob Tasca III.
Force is a 16-time nitro Funny Car world champion, with his last title coming in 2013. He is the winningest driver in NHRA history and his JFR team has won 21 NHRA world championships.
John Force Racing heads to Norwalk, Ohio for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park June 24-27. This will be the seventh event on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule.
Force, who won at the Four-Wide race last month in Charlotte, improved his career elimination round record to an incredible 1,368-616. Tracy Renck
AARON STANFIELD WINS PRO STOCK TITLE IN EPPING - This was not Aaron Stanfield's first NHRA Pro Stock Wally, but he is going to cherish the second one just the same.
Stanfield won his second by beating world champion and No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson in the finals of the Tascaparts.com New England Nationals Sunday.
Stanfield clocked a 6.576-second elapsed time at 209.88 mph to edge Anderson’s 6.577-second run at 209.92 mph. He also had the edge at the starting line with a .037 reaction time compared to Anderson’s .066 light.
“It is a feeling I can guarantee will never get old,” said Stanfield about collecting Wally No. 2. “It’s awesome. I had him (Anderson) on the tree a little bit and we outran him by a thousandth. Tim Freeman (Stanfield’s crew chief) did a heck of a job making the calls. Towards the end of the day, the track gets hot and gets kind of tricky. When you are still in pretty good air like we are, and the track conditions go away it gets really tricky. Tim Freeman did a heck of a job making the decisions on what to do and we stepped it up in the final round.”
A year ago, Stanfield, 26, won his first career NHRA Pro Stock national event in Houston. He has been driving for Richard Freeman’s Elite Motorsports Team the past two seasons.
“Whether it is local racing or racing at the highest level, there’s not a race I don’t go to that I don’t go to win and be the best and do the best that I can do,” Stanfield said. “It is cool to be able to do my part and help the team get to the winner’s circle. It is just an awesome feeling.”
Stanfield’s victory parade Sunday consisted of wins over Alan Prusiensky, Richie Stevens, Mason McGaha, and Anderson.
“That was the first time I raced Mason one-on-one,” Stanfield said. “I try to keep it in my head to go up there and do the best I can do and try and not worry about who I am racing too much. Mason’s doing a heck of a job and he has shown what he can do. I think we both missed the tree a little bit, but we got the round win. I think he has done a heck of a job and it was good to get around him, for sure.”
Stanfield clocked a 6.595-second elapsed time with a .051 reaction time to defeat’s McGaha’s 6.616 elapsed time with a .056 reaction time.
“The championship is the goal,” Stanfield said. “From what I know from Elite, they just want their race cars to do good. If it were me or Erica (Enders) or whoever won
the championship on the Elite team they would be happy with it. It is cool to be a part of the team.
“If there’s anything I know about drag racing it's that you’re only as good as your last run. I am enjoying it while it is here because nothing lasts forever. I’m enjoying the moment and am just very fortunate and very blessed to be a part of the Elite team and people like the Janac Brothers and all my sponsors and all the guys at Elite Motorsports to help me accomplish my dreams.”
Stanfield won the Factory Stock Showdown season championship in 2020 with five wins in six races in the Janac Brothers COPO Camaro. He will be competing in that class again at the next NHRA national event – the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, June 24-27.
“I just love to race,” Stanfield said. Tracy Renck
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - EPPING ‘SNOW GLOBE’ GIVES PRUETT BLIZZARD OF MEMORIES, FORCE MAKES DISCOVERY ABOUT LATE HOFMANN, PRO STOCK LEADER ANDERSON ON VERGE OF MILESTONE, SHORT NITRO FIELDS STILL YIELD FUN MATCH-UPS
STEVENS HANDS OWNER MARK BEAVER FIRST QUALIFYING BERTH IN EPPING - Pro Stock team owner Mark Beaver raced for years in Stock and Super Stock racing and achieved reasonable success. In the back of his mind, he always wanted to be in Pro Stock.
Last year, Beaver decided it was now or never and made the factory hot rod division leap. Saturday, driver Richie Stevens provided him with his first opportunity to race for the big prize this season.
"It's amazing," Beaver said. "This [car] has given us fits for a while and we've been gaining on it. But the biggest change that we found with this car was shocks. We struggled with it, struggled with it. Adam Lambert fixed the set of shocks. This thing went right down Broadway. That's been our biggest gain with this car."
Beaver knows in Stevens, he's got a driver who can race strongly against the odds.
"He's doing an amazing job," Beaver said. "He's been oh-30 or better on the tree every time he's gone down the racetrack, every trip. Cars went A to B where we got Derek Kramer in the morning. He's a great guy, a great driver. I just need to get Richie as close to him as I can and put it in Richie's hands because he can handle it."
Beaver returned to drag racing after a stint in NASCAR's Truck Series, and while he had success on that series, none of compares with qualifying at Epping.
"It's at the top," Beaver admitted. "Since I was a kid, I wanted to run pro stock and with the help I've gotten from Strut Masters and Chip Lofton and Racerdirect.com, Jeff and Kenny Delco's group over here, Frank Iaconio Racing Engines. This is the pinnacle. Just qualifying for this race is like winning it for us." Bobby Bennett
‘WHAT IS EPPING GOING TO GIVE US?’ – For Leah Pruett, New England Dragway has been like a box of chocolates. She never knows what to expect – except maybe the unexpected. Actually, she described it as a snow globe and said, “Every year, what is Epping going to give us?”
One year it was heatstroke. “That was exciting,” she deadpanned. But she has many more fond memories from here than that. And she expects even more this weekend at the TascaParts.com NHRA New England Nationals presented by Bandero Premium Tequila: “This year we’re going to shake it extra hard, and as the lobsters fall, hopefully a Wally appears from it.”
Pruett said she’s absolutely thrilled to be here in New Hampshire this year: “For me, coming to Epping is like this holy grail of ‘We’re back!’” she said. We were No. 1 qualifier in ’17 and ’18. Then 2019 was a very difficult year for me – 2018 was my last year with Papa John’s. In 2019, the Army dropped out from all of motorsports. Funding race to race was a nightmare to get.”
So she has been longing to come back to New England Dragway longer than most. For her, it’s a joy “to not race here in 2019 – and in 2020 for everybody – and to go back and see people that I literally haven’t seen in three years. People haven’t seen them in two – I haven’t seen ’em in three! We’re coming back, and we looked forward to being with our New England fans in a way that some other teams probably don’t get to connect to in that way.
“We’re not operating out of vengeance for conquering Epping,” Pruett said. “But it is something that makes a difference for us, for this team. It’s a personal connection: wanting something that we couldn’t have. There’s a big I-want-to-do-well factor, because I got sidelined the last time we were here. And I don’t get to tell that story.”
She gets to tell it right here and right now.
“When we miss a race, we don’t promote it. [In 2019,] I couldn’t scramble enough money to make [this] event. And so we didn’t go. Did we still qualify for the Countdown? Sure did. We made the best year of it that we could. A lot of people don’t see the fact that this is a top-tier team that had to park a car, not because anybody wanted to. We struggled. We didn’t have a partner. Don [team owner Schumacher] did what he needed to do, what he thought was best. We had to park the team for that race.”
That’s not the whole Epping story for Leah Pruett, though.
She had a marvelous experience here in 2016, a race that carried eliminations into Monday because of lengthy rain delays Sunday. Again, her racing status was in a state of flux. She had earned her first Top Fuel trophy that February 28 at Phoenix, defeating Brittany Force in the sport’s first all-female Top Fuel final round in 34 years. Forty-three days later, she (as well as Dave Connolly) had no ride, as Bob Vandergriff abruptly announced his retirement and shuttered his race shop.
Vowing “I won’t lift” in her quest to return to competition, Pruett was true to her word and kept staying on the tour, driving various cars. She made the Charlotte four-wide race in the Lagana family’s Nitro Ninja Dragster, ran the Vandergriff car to a semifinal finish at Houston, acquired a part-time deal in Don Schumacher Racing’s fourth dragster for Atlanta, and by Epping was back in the Nitro Ninja entry.
“It was Monday. I remember it. 2016,” she said of yet another memorable trip to New England Dragway. “It was insane. I raced for Dom Lagana. I had already raced Atlanta for Don Schumacher, and we couldn’t keep it going consecutively. I got to race the Nitro Ninja [at Epping]. I was running back and forth between Schumacher, with a seat, and Dom. And it was in the midst of everything going on that year.”
She said that at the time, she felt she was off the media radar “because it’s not a real shiny story.” But it was a glittering gem for anybody who was paying attention.
Pruett remembers all of it: “the people who participated in it, from Lagana and Schumacher to all the crew chiefs, all that – the drama behind it, all the stuff that makes for real-life great stories. Most of the Lagana team had to go back to their normal workdays. So there were four of us left on the team. I was assisting with the clutch. I won first round [against Clay Millican]. In the second round, I had an .019 light against Tony Schumacher. I remember it. I know Don remembers it, because the driver he’s about to employ almost took out his No. 1 racer.
“I was just enjoying racing so much and loving it,” she said. “Dom had a phenomenal car. That car leaves awesome. And I almost beat Tony Schumacher.” Schumacher won that round by a mere 0.0097 of a second, or about five feet.
This year, in the micro-sense of things, has been frustrating for Pruett. But the big picture shows otherwise. She has matured in her approach to the sport, is celebrating 25 years of racing dating back to her Jr. Dragster days as an elementary-schooler in Redlands, Calif., and has a proven team that is capable of spinning fortunes around. She still owns the track record for elapsed time (3.673 seconds) that she set in 2017.
This weekend, Pruett is driving with livery touting DSM Precision Manufacturing, a division of Don Schumacher Racing that serves clients not only in motorsports but also in the aerospace and defense industries.
“It always excites me when I get the opportunity to fly the flagship banner for products and brands that I believe in, especially ones that carry such high relevancy in our performance, like DSM Precision Manufacturing. From mass-produced blocks, heads, and rods, to brackets, and custom-developed parts, our dragster is the perfect vehicle to showcase DSM Precision Manufacturing and its capabilities in aerospace and defense. I look forward to all of our parts, pieces, and people excelling at their job this weekend in Epping, which should deliver a finished product of Wally gold on Sunday,” Pruett said.
Following qualifying, she said late Saturday, “There are a couple of things ‘silver’ about this weekend, and this race marks my 25th year in NHRA and I’m very proud of that. The second silver portion is that we do have a silver lining in our qualifying. Silver lining outside of clouds. Clouds have to do with the weather, and the weather has to do with why we did not get down the race track Q1 or Q2. We had inadequate data that didn’t give us a fair shot at getting down the track. We rely on parts and pieces which have done great from DSM. Unfortunately, our weather data was in a different solar system when it came to tune-up. Another silver lining is that we figured it out and we were able to nip that in the bud for Q3 and figure out the issues. We were able to recalibrate and go down the race track for Q3. Starting behind the eight ball, but we’ve had good qualifying and not great Sundays, so we’re totally fine with our challenges and we’re ready for a golden Sunday.”
JOHN FORCE STILL FULL OF SURPRISES – It's no secret that 152-time Funny Car winner John Force, owner-driver of the PEAK / BlueDEF Chevrolet Camaro, wants to regain the winning form he had at Charlotte. There he also earned his record-extending 161st No. 1 qualifying position.
“We had momentum coming off a win in Charlotte but couldn’t get the win in the PEAK Chevrolet in Houston. Charlotte was a great weekend. All the hard work was paying off, but it was not so good for us in Houston. Luckily John Force Racing still left with a win thanks to Robert Hight and AAA,” Force said. “Just some bad luck, one bad weekend, but it doesn’t define how hard this team has worked, how hard I’m working to keep up with these guys and take this great PEAK / BlueDEF car some rounds.”
And it’s not confidential that he enjoys racing in this part of the country.
He said, “Love going to New England, love the area. The fans always come out strong. We’ve had some success there. It’s been a good season so far. Already got a win, and once that happens you’re even more motivated. My PEAK team, these guys, they’re hungry. We’ll go out there, qualify well, go some rounds on race day and hopefully come out with another win for PEAK, Chevy, Cornwell Tools, Jayco, ParkerStore and all our partners.”
And it’s not classified information that Force has split a pair of final-round decisions at this event. He performed well at the 2013 inaugural, making the final round from the top starting berth but losing to daughter Courtney Force in their career-first showdown.
But it was a surprise Friday evening what Force revealed about his former Funny Car nemesis Al Hofmann.
“A guy came up to me and said, Hofmann used to manage this racetrack or something. And I said, ‘No, he didn’t,’” Force said. “He said, ‘Yes, he did – then he went racin’.’
“Is that true?” Force asked FOX-TV’s Brian Lohnes, who years ago slept for a time in the New England Dragway tower because he wanted so badly to be part of the scene here and eventually broke into the announcing business.
“So, most of it is true,” Lohnes said. “Al Hofmann actually did live on the property of this racetrack for a time, and he worked, I believe, kind of running the maintenance side of things. I don’t think he ever managed the dragstrip itself. But he was part of the property management, making sure the place was up and running. My understanding is he actually lived for a season or two on the property of the dragstrip itself.”
Replied Force, just as newly informed as most of the people hearing that, “So the guy was actually telling me the truth.”
Hofmann, an extremely tough and unapologetic critic of Force in the 1980s and 1990s, passed away in March 2008 at age 60.
“Al Hofmann used to kick my car when I’d come back after a run,” Force said. “They painted Elvis on the hood, and he said, ‘Who’s that on the hood of your car?’ When they painted Frankenstein on my hood, he said, ‘Hey, they finally put your picture on it.’ That was Al Hofmann.”
ANDERSON RULES AGAIN – In Pro Stock qualifying Saturday, KB Racing’s Greg Anderson topped Friday leader Mason McGaha in the early session and held on for his fifth top-qualifying spot in the season’s first six races.
The HendrickCars.com Camaro driver’s 6.526-second elapsed time vaulted him past the young Harlow Sammons Camaro driver, whose time was 6.538. That set up a first-round pairing to watch: Mason McGaha will race dad Chris McGaha in the opening round of eliminations.
It marked Anderson’s 112th No. 1 start, which keeps him third on the all-time NHRA pro list behind John Force (161) and Warren Johnson (138). Moreover, Anderson is on the cusp of a milestone. If he wins Sunday, he’ll match Warren Johnson for the most victories in the history of the class (97). He’s already third on the all-time list for round-wins.
Anderson, who has set low E.T. of the weekend at all five completed races, is seeking his third victory of the year. He’ll start Sunday’s eliminations against No. 16 John Gaydosh.
Elite Motorsports’ Aaron Stanfield, who’ll face Alan Prusiensky in Round 1 Sunday, remained third with the weekend’s fastest speed so far at 210.90 mph.
TIGHT QUARTERS – The first 13 Pro Stock qualifiers registered 6.5-second runs, and No. 1 Greg Anderson and No. 13 Bob Benza are separated by just .069 of a second.
SALINAS CHANGES THE MIX – Scrappers Racing owner-driver Mike Salinas made a move of seven positions up the Top Fuel ladder, from ninth to second, in the first Saturday qualifying session with a 3.771-second elapsed time at 321.35 mph. That was .027 of a second shy of catching No. 1 Billy Torrence but enough to pass Justin Ashley by three-thousandths of a second.
That’s how they stayed through the final session: 1-Torrence, 2-Salinas, 3-Ashley. For Capco Construction Dragster driver Billy Torrence, his No. 1 performance was his fifth overall and second of the year. He led the field at Atlanta, as well.
Their pairings in the first round Sunday will be Billy Torrence v. No. 12 Joe Morrison, Salinas v. No. 11 Buddy Hull, and Ashley v. No. 10 Leah Pruett. This will be the second straight race in which Ashley and Pruett have squared off in Round 1. Salinas and Hull will face each other for the first time. The last occasion in which Billy Torrence and Morrison met was the first round of the 2020 event at Houston.
Clay Millican and Hull got on the scoreboard early Saturday at Nos. 8 and 9, respectively. Neither made a pass Friday. Millican fell to ninth and will go against No. 8 Shawn Langdon in Round 1 Sunday.
Brittany Force bounced up and down the ladder. She was fifth Friday, slipped to 10th early Saturday, but rebounded to seventh. Her first opponent Sunday on the 12-car ladder will be No. 6 Antron Brown. The Top Fuel field is four cars short this weekend.
HAGAN KEEPS TOP PLACE - Don Schumacher Racing’s Funny Car contingent has blanked in six races so far this season after sweeping the final rounds at all 12 events last year and the last three of the 2019 season. (In fairness, DSR has just two Funny Cars on the track this season as opposed to four in recent years.) But qualifying results Saturday indicate this could be the weekend the powerhouse team starts showing its power. Matt Hagan retained his Friday lead throughout Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions, and Ron Capps jumped up to second place on the 13-car grid.
Hagan, who has won the past three events here, has a bye to open eliminations. Capps drew No. 13 Terry Haddock as his first-round opponent. Hagan will take on the winner of the Blake Alexander/Tim Wilkerson match-up in the second round.
“Epping has always been very kind to us,” 36-time overall winner Hagan said. “[Crew chief] Dickie Venables has a great set-up for this track and these conditions. The car is responding well to what he’s asking it to do. We’ve got DSR Performance and the DSR.parts website on the car and when you combine those pieces with Dickie’s knowledge, it’s a tough combination. The car just handles so well. Kudos to our DSR fab shop. It goes straight down the race track. I’m excited. We have a bye, and that’s maybe the first time I’ve had a first-round bye. I’ll try hard not to screw that up. Like anything, you go out and work hard and when you do, it pays dividends and we hope to go rounds tomorrow. We’re excited and let’s get it done.”
As for Capps, he said, “It has been a tricky weekend. Friday night was very tricky for these crew chiefs and to come out Saturday after not making it down the track and bounce back with two great runs, you obviously feel a lot more comfortable going into race day. To go 3.92, the quickest of the session, and gain those small qualifying bonus points and confidence on the setup for this track is huge. It’s a demanding racetrack, and it’s going to take a lot of teamwork to get through the day. I’m having a blast with these NAPA AutoCare guys, with Guido [Dean Antonelli] and [John] Medlen. I’ll try to do my job, and I’m hopeful we can leave with the big Wally.”
FUNNY CAR RIVALS SPONSOR RACE, CAPPS EYES CHANCE TO RACE IN SRX, COUGHLIN TRUSTS ‘THE PROCESS,’ TORRENCE PERFORMANCE SET IN CONCRETE?
This weekend’s NHRA race here at Epping, N.H. – the sixth on the Camping World Drag Racing Series and nearly the halfway point of the so-called “regular season” – has a curious twist.
Competing Funny Car drivers Bob Tasca III and Alexis De Joria and their family businesses are sponsoring the New England Dragway event, the TascaParts.com NHRA New England Nationals presented by Bandero Premium Tequila.
Points leader Tasca has more to promote than the livery on his PPG Ford Mustang. He and his family are raising awareness of their multiple-medallion auto dealerships throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
“It’s the first time we’ve sponsored an event,” the Rhode Island native said, “and after talking with Alexis with her sponsor [Bandero Premium Tequila], we came together to support the race. It’s a big market and a big deal for us. Plus, it’s on FOX, so that adds more drama to it.
“We’ve stepped up on a big stage this year, and we can do it again,” Tasca, the back-to-back winner at Las Vegas and Atlanta said. “We’re going to go out there and give it our best effort, and hopefully we can come away with a win.”
De Joria, co-owner-driver of the ROKit Phones Toyota Camry said, “New England Dragway and Epping hold a special place in my heart. I love the racetrack and the passion the fans have for drag racing. For myself and my sister Michaeline, we are proud to pair up with NHRA and sponsor this event with our premium tequila company, Bandero Tequila.”
This is De Joria’s 17th race with the DC Motorsports team, which she owns with two-time nitro champion Del Worsham. The team hasn’t shaken off completely the typical growing pains, but De Joria has qualified among the top three at four of the first five races of this season and has qualified in the top five nine times in the past 10 races.
“We know this team is ready for that first win of the season. We have been running great in qualifying and just need to string four runs together on race day. I am feeling more confident behind the wheel, and I know I have a great race car every time I roll up to the starting line. It would be cool to put this Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota in the winner’s circle at the Bandero Tequila national event.”
DeJoria has experience and success racing at New England Dragway. This weekend’s race will be her sixth appearance after a three-year break. In 2014, she advanced to the final round but fell in the final to Ron Capps. (She returned the favor here the next season, beating Capps in the first round.)
Funny Car mainstay John Force said, “Tasca’s involved in this race, and so’s DeJoria. And we want to thank them – always promoting. This is Tasca Country.”
CONCRETE EVIDENCE – The racing surface at New England Dragway is all-concrete, and that is fantastic news for the Capco Contractors Dragster tandem of Steve and dad Billy Torrence – and for those who love obscure statistics. In the past 12 races on all-concrete tracks, either the points leader or his father has won 11 times. That includes Steve Torrence’s fourth straight four-wide Charlotte victory last month that made him the first three-time winner in all of the pro ranks this year.
But Steve Torrence said he doesn’t have any secret to the phenomenon: “We don’t do anything different on the all-concrete tracks. It’s all about preparation and application. I know that [crew chief] Richard Hogan and these Capco boys are going to give me a car that can win on any surface. I’d trust ’em on dirt. As I’ve said so many times, we’ve got a really good group that works well together. About all I can do as the driver is screw it up. And fortunately, I’ve been doing an OK job lately. When you have a car like this, it just gives you more confidence as a driver. You don’t feel like you have to do too much. You just have to do your job.”
Without question, the 43-time winner from Kilgore, Texas has done his job. For the past five seasons, he has compiled a 217-52 record – after beginning his Top Fuel career with a 68-87 showing through his first 95 pro races. He said, “It just comes with time and the experience of having to go from complete focus to being able to relax and then to go right back into the zone. I’ve got a lot of laps in these things.”
Torrence has won the last two times he has competed here, but he didn’t win a round at all until his fourth appearance in New Hampshire. Staring in 2013, he lost in the first round in successive seasons to Clay Millican, Tony Schumacher, and Dave Connolly. Torrence advanced to the semifinals in his fourth race day at New England Dragway and lasted until the quarterfinals in 2017. In both 2018 and 2019, he won – and defeated a total of eight different drivers to get those trophies (Dan Mercier, Shawn Reed, Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, Austin Prock, Terry McMillen, Richie Crampton, and Scott Palmer).
As for those 11 victories on all-concrete tracks . . . The only time the Capco team didn’t win was in Sept. 2019 at Reading, Pa. His other victories between April 29, 2018, and May 16, 2021 came at zMAX Dragway (five times, including three times in four-wide format), three times at Texas Motorplex near Dallas, twice here at New England Dragway, and once at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading. Billy Torrence won in October 2019 at Dallas, but the other 10 went to the younger Torrence.
Steve Torrence never has been No. 1 qualifier here. But his dad has a strong shot at being this year’s top qualifier, although the not-full field has two more qualifying runs scheduled for Saturday. Billy Torrence was one of only two Top Fuel drivers Friday to complete his run under full power, and he tentatively is atop the leaderboard with a 3.744-second. 324.98-mph performance.
WILL HE BE KING OF SUMMER SWING? – Antron Brown has dubbed this event the start of the circuit’s “Summer Swing” and is looking to shed that No. 2 label. After winning here in 2016, he has finished as the runner-up in 2017 and 2018. And the Matco Tools/Toyota Dragster drive is ranked second in the Top Fuel standings, 140 points behind Steve Torrence.
Despite how that might sound, three-time series champion Brown is having a great year so far. He has carried over from 2020 the momentum he had at the season finale at Las Vegas, winning at Atlanta. If he wins Sunday, he will have three victories in the past seven events, dating back to last November.
The New Jersey native who lives at Pittsboro, Ind., said he’s excited about “seeing some familiar faces from my old stomping grounds not too far away in New Jersey. New England Dragway has always been good to our Matco Tools/Toyota team. The weather is looking really good this weekend, mid-to-high 70s, and the track surface is always super-smooth here.”
Brown is the seventh and most recent pro racer to sweep the Western Swing. He did it in 2009, following Joe Amato (1991), John Force (1994), Cory McClenathan (1997), Larry Dixon (2003), Greg Anderson (2004), and Tony Schumacher (2008). He has included this Epping race sort of as part of that stretch, although the series will visit Norwalk, Ohio, in two weeks before heading west.
Brown is debuting his 2021 Matco Tools paint scheme, which he will run at the remainder of the events (with the exception of his pink Breast Cancer Awareness livery in October).
JUSTIN ASHLEY, MEET NEW ENGLAND DRAGWAY – This is the second time this season that Justin Ashley is getting a first look at a track on the tour. Atlanta Dragway was a new venue for him in May, and so is New England Dragway.
And he navigated it Friday evening better than most of his Top Fuel rivals, registering a 3.774-second elapsed time at 322.58 mph. He was the provisional No. 1 qualifier until Billy Torrence came along in the next pairing and upstaged him with a 3.774, 324.98. Ashley is No. 2 in the order overnight, with two final qualifying sessions set for Saturday.
After his Friday run – and after saying his ability to be the first and ultimately one of the few Top Fuel racers to make it down the full 1,000-foot course was “a testament to my Davis Motorsports team” – he said, “I’m considering this a home track.
“Aside from Maple Grove Raceway [near Reading, Pa.], this is the closest track to my home in New York,” the Plainview, Long Island, resident said. “All of that gives this race extra significance. But once the race begins, it’s all the same from there.
“Every race I get great direction from my crew chief, Mike Green,” Ashley said. “My routine stays the same. But having an increased awareness of the top-end turnoff and starting-line area come into play. For me, it is all about preparation and focus.” The second-year driver said, “There are tracks I have some experience at but other tracks, like New England Dragway, where I will be learning on the fly. I love the challenge, and I am looking forward to a good weekend.”
Ashley runs a real-estate investment organization when he is not at the races but continues to add sponsors, thriving on the business-to-business opportunities drag racing offers.
“We brought on BBQ Nation right before this race through a relationship with Menards, and we have a number of partners that use our team and the sport to grow their brands,” he said. “The ability to interact with the fans throughout the races is a huge plus for our marketing partners, and we are constantly looking for creative ways to promote their products.” Among those also investing in his Davis Motorsports team are Auto Shocker, KATO Fastening Systems, Red Line Oil, The Daily Crave, and RISE Brewing Company.
“The sponsorship and marketing aspect of racing is something I also really enjoy,” Ashley said. And that’s clear, for he starts to run out of breath just saying the name of his Smart Sanitizer Dragster powered by Strutmasters.com.
Smart Sanitizer joined Strutmasters.com as primary sponsor of the car during the recent four-wide race at Charlotte. This weekend executives from Smart Sanitizer will be at the races, continuing to network and introduce their sanitizing kiosks to NHRA fans. Meanwhile, Ashley will be trying this weekend to improve from his No. 8 position in the standings.
CAPPS SAYS HE’D LIKE TO RACE IN SRX – While NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Funny Car racer Ron Capps is competing in New Hampshire this weekend, he has his eye on some racing that’s kicking off its inaugural season just to the south, in Connecticut, Saturday.
The first of six Camping World SRX Series (Superstar Racing Experience) short-track events will air live on CBS from Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway. It will feature a handful of invited motorsports legends, including recent Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, grinding it out in two 15-minute heat races and 100-lap main.
And maybe in the future, Capps will have a chance to show that drag racers can keep focus for more than three seconds, can turn left, and can mix it up with the best motorsports has to offer. Actually, Capps, Cruz Pedregon, and now-retired Gary Scelzi already have proved that, racing in similar circumstances.
But SRX racer Paul Tracy, longtime open-wheel standout and current NBC analyst for the NTT IndyCar Series broadcasts, said Capps would be his choice if the series were to add a drag racer to the entry list one day.
And Capps said he’s game.
“I think Capps is the guy. He likes to drive cars and road race. He’s a big fan of everything. So he’s a good guy, always been a fan of road racing, IndyCars, and stock cars. I think he’d be my pick if they were to bring in a drag guy,” Tracy said in a recent Zoom meeting.
Before the popular IROC Series ended its run, Capps said, “I went and tested at Talladega and Chicagoland with the IROC people. And I got to be on the track with [NASCAR notables] Dick Trickle and Dave Marcis and the guys that were test drivers then and then, of course, going out with some of the IROC drivers, as well. That that was quite an experience. I did that three times and then raced in the Prelude to the Dream, Tony Stewart's dirt race [at Eldora Speedway], all those years. I got to do that every year that they had that, with drivers of every series in it.”
Capps said, “That was the only time, I've told people, that you could walk in the pit area and see most of the drivers smiling all the time. You don't normally see most of us, especially NASCAR guys but most of us, smiling at any given moment at the racetrack like that.
“Then you go out on the track and everybody was just having fun, but it was so serious at the same time. Of course, there was a lot of beating and banging going on in that race. So, you know, it was cool for me to go down the back straightaway and have Tony Stewart on one side and Kyle Busch on the other. And you're trying to stay wide open into the next corner,” he said. “Those are moments you'd never imagined you'd be in. So yeah, I had a blast doing that.”
And versatile veteran Willie T. Ribbs promised the beating and banging would have fans on the edges of their seats. He said he and the rest of the SRX racers are “going to be yucking it up and ohhh Sweet Caroline and oh, man, ‘We’re so Kum Ba Yah.’ Well, it’s going to be Kum Ba Ass when that flag drops.
And that sounds like fun to Capps.
Evidently, Capps’ name has come up in SRX discussions, for he said he has received a call from a prominent member of the media involved with the series.
“It has come up a bunch, actually,” Capps said. “They’ve got to work around scheduling, obviously, with all the different motorsports.” He got a note saying, “Hey, man, we were just talking about [the fact we’d] love to have you in the series next year. Let's chat, maybe do dinner when you get to Charlotte again.” Said Capps, “So it was like, ‘Ooh, that could be good.’ So hopefully yeah.”
Capps’ boss, team owner Don Schumacher, likely wouldn’t have a problem with his driver spending some spare time with the Hall-of-Famer-led contingent.
“Oh yeah. He lets me go do other stuff like that,” Capps said, acknowledging “a lot of scheduling” would have to take place if he were to be invited to participate. “I wouldn't be able to skip any of our [NHRA] runs to get to some [SRX races].”
Whatever happens, Capps said he’s an SRX fan: “I'm excited about it. You know, obviously, they put together some pretty cool stuff. It's going to be fun to watch.”
Among the SRX drivers are series co-founder Tony Stewart, Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan, Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte, and Michael Waltrip.
Tracy said, “It’s an honor to be invited to this. Current drivers and guys who have been shortly retired and guys who have been out of the sport for a long time have called me and said, ‘How do I get in this? I want to be in this.’” He said he refers them to co-founder Ray Evernham.
Ribbs said, “This is a big gig. I mean, CBS, live? There’s a lot of drivers that would love to be in this show. They’d pay to be in it.”
But he teased, “Drag racers, they like to finish early. They like to go home early: ‘Four and a half seconds, then let’s take the rest of the day off.’ But what we could do is put a dragstrip next to the bullring and we could have two different events. We could race each other on the bullring and then jump over to the dragstrip and drag [race] each other.”
He liked the suggestion that Las Vegas Motor Speedway could accommodate such a spectacle, with its Bullring next to The Strip: “That would be perfect.”
Ribbs said, “It’s great honor to be picked, but it’s going to be even a greater honor to go out there and put on a show. That’s what we are there to do: race each other, but we are going to be putting on a show. We’re going to be exciting. We’re going to put Excitement on the side of our car.”
Ron Capps understands excitement. He has been plenty exciting for racing in spurts of three to four seconds. He has driven faster than 339 mph. He has ridden out fiery engine explosions. He has tried to steer his 11,000-horsepower, nitro-powered monster even after the body of his car has been shredded to smithereens. He has hung upside-down on a catch fence for longer than an entire round of eliminations would take. So no one has to explain excitement to Capps.
And he – probably like Pedregon or Funny Car competitor JR Todd or Top Fuel grinder Doug Kalitta, the 1994 USAC national sprint-car champion – would love to take a spin with the SRX series. Until they might be invited, the SRX schedule calls for events this month and next at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway, Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Slinger (Wis.) Speedway, and Nashville (Tenn.) Fairgrounds Speedway.
For the moment, though, Capps is concentrating on breaking a tie with Robert Hight for fourth place in the NHRA Funny Car standings. He tentatively is in the No. 4 qualifying position at Epping, with two more Saturday sessions to go. He’s seeking his third victory here, after winning in 2014 and 2016.
Capps, who watched the Boston Red Sox defeat the Houston Astros 12-8 Thursday at Fenway Park along with some local NAPA customers, called himself “a win waiting to happen.” And he said he’d love to celebrate his first victory of the season with his “NAPA family” from throughout New England.
“We’re heading into a stretch of races that probably a lot of us took for granted up until COVID, when so many stops on our schedule got canceled, including this race in New England, and the upcoming races in Norwalk, Denver, and Sonoma,” Capps said. “The fans that come out to New England Dragway are like no other. When we first started racing there back in 2013, it was so eye-opening to see how loyal and rabid the NHRA fans in the area are. And, New England Dragway has got such an old-school feel to it, so being able to win there in 2014 and 2016 was awesome. Last year made me really, really miss the area, and it taught me not to take any of our races for granted.”
He said, “We’ve qualified well, and have had a great race car every weekend this year, and that’s really all you can do. I’d love nothing more than to [win] this weekend in front of our New England NAPA friends at New England Dragway.”
BANG BELIES PROGRESS – For the second straight race, Funny Car owner-driver Cruz Pedregon has done something that pleases neither the owner side nor driver side of him. He has banged into the wall with his Snap-on Dodge Charger Hellcat. He did it at Houston, in the previous event, and again Friday night during qualifying. So he ended up with no time Friday but has two chances Saturday to make up for it.
Unfortunately, this latest mishap comes at a time when Pedregon’s spirits were buoyed. He has started eliminations from the top half of the field at every race this year so far. And he had used the break between races to resolve a timing issue and repair the body that scraped the wall in Houston. He has been building up the team’s inventory and preparing for the busiest part of the season.
“The team is working so hard,” he said, “and you can see it paying off with a 3.94 second run at 323 [mph]. We're going to keep chipping away, going rounds and moving up in the points. With each race, we're getting better, and that feels good."
Despite Friday’s incident, Pedregon said, "Epping’s always a fun race, and I’m looking to claim a Wally at a track [on which] I have yet to win. So I'd like to punch a ‘W’ here. There aren’t too many races we haven't won. This would be one of them. The best is yet to come for us, and we're just getting started.”
He’s right at .500 with a 5-5 race-day record, which might not sound exciting. But Pedregon has earned more round-wins so far this year than he did in all of last year. He was 3-11 in 2020. At this pace, he’s almost sure to improve his 2019 performance (7-24) and his 2018 mark (13-22). He had a perfect reaction time in the first round of the Charlotte race. That made him, surprisingly, the first Funny Car driver to achieve that since 2008. He is one of only four drivers to do so in the past 40 years.
PROCESS, THEN PERFORMANCE – Pro Stock’s Troy Coughlin Jr. refers to it as “The Process.” It’s something his wise grandfather, championship-racer dad and his uncles taught him. It’s more about form and routine than it is about outcome. And it’s what is keeping him on an even keel so far this season after two final-round appearances and three first-round exits in five events.
The driver of the JEGS.com Chevrolet Camaro for Elite Motorsports said, "I need to stick to the process and make the best lap possible every time I pull up to the starting line. I know we've got the horsepower, the best crew chiefs and crewmen, and an awesome race car. The ingredients for sustained success are right here. We just need to keep after it.
"I've learned from my uncles and grandfather to be more process-oriented than performance-oriented,” Coughlin said. And it's important to enjoy the process and never forget what a privilege it is to drive one of these cars at this level."
The Camping World Drag Racing Series has had three weeks off, and in that time, Coughlin trained himself to trust the process while competing in the Derby City 50K bracket race at Ohio Valley Dragway at West Point, Ky. He drove a JEGS-branded dragster alongside his sister Paige Coughlin and their cousin, Makenna Brown.
"Different car but same process,” the Pro Stocker said, “so it was good to get some seat time and have fun with Paige and Makenna. I entered twice, so we ended up running more than 20 passes in competition. I even managed to make a little money by reaching the semifinals of a 32-car shootout that was part of the program. It helps you remember the good times when you have a chance to turn on some win lights, which is the mindset you need to keep. When your luck is running cold, it only becomes an issue if you make it one. We're not going to do that, because we have so many great chances to win ahead of us.”
Last year’s event was dropped from the schedule because of the pandemic, and Coughlin is thrilled to be back at Epping, where the fans are especially famous for their love of the Pro Stock class.
"A couple years ago, I remember a bunch of the fans at the Epping race coming up and saying, 'Thank you for being here.’ They were so excited to have us in their backyard,” Coughlin said. “I thought it was kind of odd to hear that, because I was wanting to thank them for coming out and being such great supporters of our sport. They've been waiting an extra year to see us again, so I'm sure it will be a big weekend for all of us. I know we're all ready to get started.”
HARTFORD IN STRONG POSITION – Matt Hartford, the Pro Stock class’ most recent winner (at Houston), said he entered this event “confident and hopeful we can put on a good performance.”
The Total Seal/CIP 1 Chevrolet Camaro owner-driver did that Friday, taking the No. 4 spot in the provisional lineup in which the first six qualifiers are within .018 of each other.
Mason McGaha leads the field so far with a 6.538-second elapsed time.
“We just need to keep our head down and capitalize on the little bit of momentum we’ve built,” Hartford said. “Our entire team realizes we had some good fortune go our way in Houston, and hopefully that can continue. In Pro Stock, the cars are so closely matched. You’re winning and losing by inches, and you really have to be able to perform when it counts.
“Show me one car in our class that can’t qualify near the top of the field and can’t win on Sunday,” he said. “It’s a very evenly matched class. But I look forward to the challenge of it, and I look forward to how we can make sure the car is set up to the best of our ability to put up a good number on the board. I really like the challenge of what happens in between rounds.”
Hartford, who lives at Phoenix, said he enjoys this area that’s about as far from his home as it can be and still be in the U.S.
“Epping is a track where the owners roll out the red carpet,” Hartford said. “You see all the diehard fans and it’s very fan-friendly. It’s a race that brings out everyone in the Northeast. If you win on Sunday with all the fans in the stands and all that energy, it really does hype you up.”