The 14th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals qualifying brought plenty of thundering excitement over the weekend, as the event marks the fifth of six events in the Countdown to the Championship. With championships looming in all three professional categories and a season championship to be claimed in another, all the race teams were putting all the chips on the table.
In top fuel, Tony “the Sarge” Schumacher and his US Army dragster team came into the event with a 134 point lead, with two events remaining. At each event, a racer can earn up to 130 points. This meant that Schumacher had the championship pretty much wrapped up, barring any drastic events. It is not his nature to sit back and take it easy, and his team gave him a strong and consistent car, garnering him a 4th qualifying position at 3.75.4 seconds at a track record 330.55 mph. Taking the top spot was JR Todd with a career best 3.732 at 327.43 mph, followed by Spencer Massey (3.744 at 330.39 mph), Doug Kalitta (3.747 at 317.34 mph) and Ritchie Crampton (3.748 at 325.14 mph). The final qualifying spot (16th) is held by popular Chicago racer, TJ Zizzo and his Rust-o-leum dragster with a 3.835 at 316.15 mph. It represents one of the quickest top fuel fields in history.
In Funny Car, the battle for the championship is tight with only 41 points separating the leader, Matt Hagan and perennial fan favorite, John Force. Qualifying points were at a premium, as each of the two drivers battled for the quickest times in each of the four qualifying rounds and the ultimate top qualifying spot. When the battle was over, it was Hagan sitting on the top spot with a track record 3.983 at 322.42 mph blast. Ironically, this run was the final qualifying effort and ran side by side with John Force, who ran 4.022 at 320.66 mph to take the 2nd qualifying spot. The battle of the two titans had the fans on their feet and may be a peek at the future, as the two drivers are on opposite sides of the elimination ladder. They can only meet in the final round, if both of them make it all the way through three rounds. Courtney Force captured the 3rd spot with a 4.024 at 320.66 mph, followed by Ron Capps (4.037 at 322.34 mph) and Jeff Arend 4.042 at 310.91 mph). The final qualifying spot (16th) is held by Terry Haddock with a 4.290 at 294.69 mph. Though the main battle for the class championship is between her father (John) and Hagan, Courtney Fore is still in the hunt. If she runs well at these last two events and the leaders slip, she could become the first female Funny Car season champion in history.
In Pro Stock, the battle for the season championship rests primarily between two drivers, one a multi-time champion (Jason Line) and the other the first woman (Erica Enders) to ever win a race in the Pro Stock Category. Jason Line came into the event as the point leader, a mere 35 points in front of Enders. By the end of qualifying the margin would be only 23 points. Enders ended up on the pole with a track record 6.576 at 209.75 mph. She won the event at this track during the spring event and looks to be the odds on favorite to win here, again. She had one of the quickest cars each of the four rounds of qualifying. Line would end up qualifying 5th with a 6.605 at 209.56 mph.
The Pro Mod category consists of some very radical race cars. Many have engines that seem almost too big to fit in the cars. Some are supercharged, some are nitrous injected and others are turbo charged. Don Walsh captured the pole with a 5.841 at 250.51 mph effort. This category has already completed one round of eliminations with the following drivers advancing on; Don Walsh, Kevin Rivenbark, Jay Payne, Von Smith, Rickie Smith, Richard Snavely, Eric Latino and Troy Coughlin. If Rickie Smith wins the next round, he will be the 2014 Pro Mod class champion.
In a side note, John Force held a press conference in his pit area with the media, announcing one of his three new sponsors for the next season and beyond and the unveiling of his new race car for the 2015 season campaign. US family owned, Peak Anti-Freeze has stepped up as one of Force’s primary business partners for the next five years. At the end of last season, it became known that Castrol Oil, a partner for 29 years was leaving, as was Ford (a partner for 14 years). After 29 years of green, white and red race cars, Force will now run with blue color schemed race cars. Further announcements of other partners will be announced during the upcoming weeks and at the NHRA Finals in Pomona.