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NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Friday News & Notes from the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals

News, notes, quotes, and photos from the opening day of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. (Updated throughout the day).
28 Jun 2024
Kelly Wade
Race coverage
Alex Laughlin

News, notes, quotes, and photos from the opening day of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. (Updated throughout the day).

The four Pro classes are scheduled to take to the track later this evening, but for now, the fans are split between enjoying a stroll through the pits or catching the on-track action. Either way, most folks everywhere are dipping into frosty cups of ice cream, as is the Summit Motorsports Park way.

Welcome to the Club

The ice cream hasn't been the only treat here today as Holley EFI Factory X burst onto the scene with one of the fastest passes in the budding history of the class. Diverse driver Alex Laughlin, who has campaigned everything from Top Fuel dragsters to a wide variety of door cars, became the second member of the Jesel 200-MPH Club with a 201.43 mph blast in Geoff and Jena Turk's Blackbird X Dodge Challenger. Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson was the first to gain entry into the prestigious club when he raced to a 202.55 mph pass driving the rocket-like Blackbird X last season in St. Louis.

Laughlin's entry into Jesel's exclusive club was accompanied by a tidy 7.056 elapsed time there in the first session of qualifying, naturally nudging into question who in the Holley EFI Factory X class will be the first to break into the ARP 6-Second Club. The quickest e.t. so far this season was recorded by Greg Stanfield in Charlotte; there, his 7.049 was good for the No. 1 qualifier award. Laughlin currently stands at the top of the pack here in Norwalk.

Taking (Factory) Stock

Friday is scheduled to host two sessions of qualifying for both the Holley EFI Factory X competitors and the Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown crowd. Although Stephen Bell struggled to get his Mustang down the track in the first session of Factory X qualifying, he was the quickest in Factory Stock Showdown competition with a 7.806, 179.35, in his Stanfield Racing Engines-powered COPO.  The multi-brand driver is having quite a season: he has seen the inside of the final round at four of the first five Factory Stock Showdown races and has so far claimed two wins to move to the top of the points.

Bell does not stand alone – Bristol winner David Janac, driving the Janac Brothers COPO Camaro, is 70 points back in the No. 2 position, while Mark "The Cowboy" Pawuk entered the event No. 3 in the points.

Pro Stock Motorcycle Q1

It was half-past-five when the first pair of Pro Stock Motorcycles rolled through the water box to make their first qualifying pass of the weekend. The sun had been peeking out between the clouds all day long, warming the racing surface during the earlier rounds of Lucas Oil Series eliminations – but by the evening, the sun had dipped way back, allowing the track and air conditions to somewhat cool.

Wesley Wells and Eiji Kawakami were the first pair out, and their somewhat troubled runs did not set the tone for the session. A handful of pairs later, Bristol runner-up Jianna Evaristo threw down a 6.802 next to defending event champion Hector Arana Jr., who clocked a 6.821 aboard his GETTRX Buell, and a pair of 200+ mph runs popped up on the scoreboards to emphasize their efforts. The best of the round was still to come, however, and Denso-backed six-time champion Matt Smith rode his Matt Smith Racing V-Twin to a 6.748, 201.31 to reset the track e.t. record.

The pleasantly plump crowd waited eagerly to see what points leader Gaige Herrera and Vance & Hines teammate Richard Gadson, No. 2 in the points, could bring to the table with their color-coordinated RevZilla/Mission Suzukis. Herrera went 6.848 and Gadson clocked a 6.803.

"I guess they left the sandbags on," quipped Smith from the top end.

Pro Stock Q1

Pro Stock veteran Larry Morgan stepped out with Fernando Cuadra Jr. to launch the session, and both put up decent numbers. Morgan went 6.674 next to Cuadra's 6.646. For Cuadra, the Corral Boots entry that he left in the hands of Bo Butner in Richmond was ripe and ready. Butner wheeled it to the semis.

Father-and-son Harlow Sammons Racing duo Chris and Mason McGaha made strong and promising side-by-side passes, illuminating the scoreboards with a 6.641 and 6.621, respectively. Eric Latino and his GESi Chevrolet claimed top speed of the round with a 208.36 mph pass, while Greg Anderson – flying the colors of Summit Racing here at his longtime sponsor's home race – grabbed hold of the top spot with a 6.592, 207.69. Deric Kramer's 6.605, 208.17 early in the session held as the best until Anderson's pass, so Kramer will pick up a pair of bonus points and move into the No. 2 spot for now.

Matt Hartford made a surprisingly positive move in his Total Seal/GETTRX Camaro after his troubled start to the season. The 6.606 that populated his scoreboard was third-best of the session for a bonus point and a little momentum.

"Yesterday, my wife Amber was burning sage in the trailer, the race car, over me. She said the demons have to go, and I think they're going," said Hartford. "We've got a great car, a great team, a great engine program – it's coming. It went A to B, and we should be good for tonight."

Cristian Cuadra and Erica Enders were unable to make it down the track, but Anderson believes that the later session tonight will be an opportunity for someone, and he'll have to work hard to protect his possession of the top spot.  

"It could pick up a hundredth or two," said Anderson. "The racetrack will cool down a little more, and it's not going to go down a ton, but it will get better. Everybody will have learned off the first run, so we'll have to step it up."

Funny Car Q1

Nitro Joe Morrison and Chris King are first here, and in the next pair, Bobby Bode makes a great run in his Bode Motorsports Toyota with a 4.030.

"We don't have that many runs with the adjustments we made so far, and I don't want to blow anything up because we're on a really tight budget," said young Bode. "I am making the final decisions [this weekend], but I couldn't do it without the help of Tim Wilkerson and Dave Leahy. They've been really mentoring me and helping me – that run wouldn't have happened without them. I can't thank my dad enough. I feel like I'm the luckiest 22-year-old alive."

Blake Alexander, the defending event champion, ran the same number this session that he did in the final to win it all last year. His 3.923 in his Schaeffler-branded Funny Car held him in the No. 1 position until well into the session.

"I knew we were going back to the well," he said. "But this place is going to be fast tonight. We're going to have to go faster and keep improving with Jim [Head, crew chief and owner] and the boys."

After Daniel Wilkerson clocks a 3.993-second past in his Scag Power Equipment Ford, his father and crew chief (and the former driver of the car) Tim Wilkerson said with a tone of dejection, "That's a D minus. I need to figure out what I'm doing wrong."

Bob Tasca III took his powerful Ford to a 3.898 to at least partially prove Wilkerson's point – there was more out there. Co-crew chief Aaron Brooks addressed the fact that the conditions this evening are a bit different from what has been seen on the tour as of late, and so they had to lean on their notes. Tasca was very pleased.

"They have the handle back on this racecar," he said.

And then came Austin Prock, holding down the fort for John Force Racing while teammate Brittany Force and the family are in the hospital supporting John Force, who is still in hospital following the crash in Richmond. Prock drove the AAA Chevrolet Camaro to a 3.892, 329.10 to bump right into the top spot.

"I've been looking forward to putting my helmet back on and just getting into race-mode, tuning the world out for 90 seconds," said Prock. "I'm definitely proud of this team battling through tough times. We're just trying to do the best job we can for him (Force)."

Top Fuel Q1

Krista Baldwin's first race as a team owner has Spencer Massey in the seat of her McLeod/Composite Specialties dragster, and he starts the session with a solid 3.830. Crew chief Scott Graham is pleased.

"There's going to be a ton out there tonight – I needed to set the table first and make sure it would go," he said. The second session is already on everyone's mind.

T.J. Zizzo earned his first career No. 1 earlier this year in Chicago, and here in his Rust-Oleum dragster he makes a strong 3.807-second pass that momentarily holds the top spot.

"We changed about a hundred things on this racecar after Chicago," said Zizzo. "If you want to be out here and be competitive, you have to work really hard. You have to be a workaholic, and every person on this team is."

Dan Mercier stuns as he deals out a 3.790 to take over the top spot, and it holds for the remainder of the session. Shawn Langdon is next-best with a 3.803. On the outside looking in at the conclusion of the round are Steve Torrence, Tony Stewart, and last week's winner, Doug Kalitta.

Pro Stock Motorcycle Q2

After not being able to make a clean pass in the first session, Angie Smith and her pink Denso V-Twin step up with a 6.798, 200.26. It's the fourth 200 mph pass of the weekend. A good lot of the riders improve, at least by a bit, but the top spot is still occupied by Matt Smith at the conclusion of the session.

Jianna Evaristo's career-best 201.13 echoes a pass she made earlier in the week in testing.

The top two spots are occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Smith, with Gaige Herrera No. .3, Jianna Evaristo No. 4, and Richard Gadson No. 5. Chase Van Sant, Hector Arana Jr., and John Hall round out the top eight.

Pro Stock Q2

After a strange snafu in the first session, Erica Enders breaks in with a 6.601, 207.15 in her JHG Melling Performance Chevy. Oddity continues as this session comes to a conclusion, though, as Greg Anderson's Summit Racing-branded Chevrolet will not fire. Deric Kramer takes a solo in his chase of the top spot and just misses. Anderson will stay No. 1 based on his earlier time. He was the only driver to have dipped below 6.60.

Pro Stock is insane, as it has been all year. The top eight cars this session ranged between 6.59-second and 6.61.

"It's a dog fight out here right now," said Aaron Stanfield, last week's winner in Bristol. "A lot of the drivers are driving really well, and the cars are really close. I'm glad we got it done last weekend, but this is a new race."

Funny Car Q2

Ron Capps was all the way down in the No. 15 spot heading into this session, but he made a promising run in his NAPA Toyota and vaulted up, at least for a moment, to the No. 4 spot. The session was a battlefield, though, with tons of shifting and moving before all was said and done. Capps landed No. 9 in the line-up, while J.R. Todd made an enormous move up in the DHL Toyota. His 3.865, 332.02 would have kept him in the lead, were it not for Austin Prock's continued stellar presentation. Flying the flag for AAA on his John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car, Prock came up in the last pair and offered up a 3.8634, 327.51 to grab the top spot back.

Top Fuel Q2

In an unbelievable late-night session of Top Fuel, Dan Mercier – who was No. 1 after the first round of qualifying – ended the evening in the No. 14 position. Jasmine Salinas was in, then she was out, then she was in again. Steve Torrence bumped up from the outside with a 3.788 that has him in the lucky 13 spot heading into day two, while Spencer Massey, Josh Hart, and Travis Shumake got locked out for the night.

Doug Kalitta was also on the outside of the 16-car field heading into the later session, but his bold 3.692 at 332.92 catapulted him to the top spot.