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Ron Capps set the early pace during qualifying for the NHRA Gatornationals on Friday. (DSR Photo)

Capps & Torrence Off To Fast Start In Gainesville

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Even with two new crew chiefs, Ron Capps started his NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season on a high note Friday.

Capps powered to the provisional No. 1 spot in qualifying in Funny Car at the season-opening 52nd annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also provisional No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the first race of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

Capps put together a pass of 3.895-seconds at 329.02 mph in his 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. It would be the former world champ’s 26th career No. 1 qualifier if it holds, and a noteworthy one after longtime crew chief Rahn Tobler retired in the off-season.

Capps is working with Dean Antonelli and John Medlen in 2021, a pair of proven crew chiefs in the Don Schumacher Racing camp who helped send Capps to the top on Friday.

“I talked about testing last week and how it went that first time with this team, and it just feels great,” Capps said. “We ran two 3.89s at testing last week, so it’s almost like we can dial-in a bracket car here so far. I’m honestly tickled. I just want to make the whole team proud. We already knew this was a great car. This is a team that battled for a championship the past few seasons and won a lot of races.

“There’s not a lot I can do other than be myself and drive the car the best I can. I just wanted the car to prove itself, and let Guido and John Medlen do their thing. There are so many things that are different to adjust to, but I’m getting more comfortable in the car. Unloading with a provisional No. 1 qualifier is great. What a perfect time to go up and show up.”

Alexis DeJoria is currently second in Funny Car with a 3.914-second pass at 324.28 mph and Tim Wilkerson sits third after his pass of 3.917 seconds at 324.28 mph.

Torrence, who has won the last three Top Fuel world titles, wasted little time asserting control in a class he has dominated in recent seasons thanks to his blast of 3.699 seconds at 324.90 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster. If it holds, it would give Torrence, who also won in Gainesville last season, his 28th career No. 1 qualifier.

Torrence was the only driver to reach the 3.60s on Friday, as veteran Doug Kalitta took the second with a run of 3.746 seconds at 307.37 mph. Brittany Force, making her first appearance in the class in more than a year, currently sits third after a solid run of 3.747 seconds at 330.47 mph.

Erica Enders picked up right where she left off a year ago, as the back-to-back Pro Stock champion made a strong run on Friday in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, going to the top with a run of 6.528 seconds at 210.77 mph. Enders picked up her fourth title a year ago and started her season impressively as the 29-time event winner looks for her first win in Gainesville. If it holds, it would also give Enders her 23rd career No. 1 qualifier.

Greg Anderson is currently in the second spot after going 6.536 seconds at a Friday-best 211.30 mph and Deric Kramer took the third spot with a 6.540-second pass at 210.08 mph.

Debuting a new four-valve Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki, Angelle Sampey impressed immediately in Pro Stock Motorcycle, jumping to the top spot with a stellar run of 6.746 seconds at 196.67 mph. If it holds, it would be the 52nd career top spot for the three-time champ, who is also among the first in the class to ride the new four-valve Suzuki.

Defending champion and event winner Matt Smith wasn’t far off Sampey’s pace, checking in at No. 2 thanks to a 6.768-second pass at a class-best 199.82 mph. Hector Arana Jr. is currently third with his run of 6.817 seconds at 198.32 mph.

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