BRISTOL, Tenn. — With Bristol Dragway hosting an unprecedented doubleheader for the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series this weekend, Friday night provided a flurry of action under the bright Tennessee lights.
In the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories, the first round of qualifying for the Thunder Valley Nationals also served as the opening elimination round for the New England Nationals, after last weekend’s event in Epping, N.H., was rained out.
Meanwhile, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers kicked off a normal race weekend with two qualifying sessions, as neither category was scheduled to race in New England.
Top Fuel — Pruett Leads
Leah Pruett fired off a 3.75-second elapsed time (ET) at 372.42 mph in her elimination against Doug Kalitta, landing the Tony Stewart Racing driver a coveted spot as provisional No. 1 qualifier for the Thunder Valley Nationals and round one winner for the New England Nationals.
“We wanted to get all of it, get as many qualifying points as possible and get that round win,” an energized Pruett said. “It was an incredible run. I’m running down there in the left lane, go to throw the chutes and I mean, I heard (Doug) right there and I was just waiting for this glow in the left lane and it popped up.”
“This is going to be an absolute race to remember.”
The remaining dragsters in the 13-car field also settled the score for round one of the New England Nationals, setting the matchups for Saturday’s slate of eliminations.
Tony Schumacher bested Shawn Langdon, Justin Ashley put the pedal down on Dan Mercier, Mike Salinas pulled the victory over Clay Millican and Brittany Force defeated Josh Hart.
Antron Brown, who made a single-car run, will face off against Steve Torrence, who beat Austin Prock.
Funny Car — Hight Sets Low ET
Robert Hight set the lowest ET in the Funny Car category during his matchup against Alexis DeJoria when he traveled down the Tennessee drag strip in 3.938 seconds (321.35 mph).
The John Force Racing driver admitted there was a little more intensity at the starting line than what’s typical for a Friday night, with a round win being on the line.
“You’ve got to cut a light and be ready,” said Hight, who is the provisional No. 1 qualifier for the Thunder Valley Nationals. “I was focused on pedaling the car, because normally in qualifying, you’re not as worried about reacting to whatever the car does.”
As for the rest of the field, Matt Hagan topped Terry Haddock, J.R. Todd defeated Cruz Pedregon, John Force won against Tim Wilkerson on a .006-second holeshot, and Bob Tasca III passed defending world champion Ron Capps.
Chad Green and Alex Laughlin will also advance to the second round of eliminations.
Pro Stock — Enders Lands Provisional No. 1 Qualifier
Erica Enders powered to the provisional lead during the second Pro Stock qualifying session, recording a 6.627-second ET at 205.88 mph.
The Elite Motorsports driver was enthralled by the strong run as just a few hours earlier, she was discussing her rising frustration with her early season performance with the media.
“I was thrilled to have a little bit of payoff for the team,” said Enders, who has yet to secure a No. 1 qualifier or a Wally so far this season. “It was a big sigh of relief.”
Enders is confident that the performance will mark a turning point for Elite Motorsports, as her teammates Cristian Cuadra (6.632) and Aaron Stanfield (6.636) qualified second and third.
“What we found is going to change all of our race cars. I think you can look for really great things from our Elite Motorsports camp,” Enders said. “I’m absolutely thrilled that we have a race car back underneath me.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle — Herrera Continues Hot Streak
It didn’t seem to matter that Gaige Herrara had never raced at Bristol Dragway before when he blasted to the top of the charts on Friday evening with a 6.820-second ET at 196.93 mph.
Armed with a nothing but a sprinkling of advice from his team, Herrera expertly maneuvered his machine down the drag strip in the second session of the day to collect the provisional No. 1 qualifying position in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“I was mad at myself first round for what I did, but the track played out how I thought it was going to,” Herrea noted.
The Mission-sponsored rider will lead Eddie Krawiec (6.855) and Angie Smith (6.856) into Saturday’s sessions.