race reports

NHRA pros at Epping, NH


Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis

The Epping, NH, track sold out on Saturday and Sunday.


Matt Hagan won his second straight event of the season at the sixth annual NHRA New England Nationals. Hagan drove to victory on Sunday, July 8, in front of a sellout crowd for the second consecutive day at New England Dragway. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) were also winners at the 13th of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.



In directing his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster into the winners’ circle for the fifth time this season and for the 13th time in the last 33 Mello Yello tour events, the 35-year-old Texan put even more distance between himself and his rivals in an ongoing bid to win the regular season championship for the second straight year.


When racing resumes at the 39th Dodge Mile-High Nationals at Denver, Torrence will lead eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher by a whopping 190 points with only five races remaining before the NHRA adjusts the points for the Countdown.


Sunday’s success was a direct result of crew chief Richard Hogan’s decision to change his approach.  After mechanical failures at the two most recent events in the series, the veteran tuner, with input from car chief Bobby Lagana Jr., opted for a more conservative tune-up that delivered in the New England heat.


Although the Capco dragster was quickest in the final qualifying session and in all four rounds on Sunday, that performance might have been for naught had Torrence not regained his own form and thrown an .055 reaction time at close friend and former world champion Antron Brown in the final round.  That, coupled to a time of 3.909 seconds at 320.74 mph, was good enough on a 135-degree racetrack, the hottest this season. Brown ran 3.948 at 315.12 mph.


“It was good to race my buddy Antron,” Torrence said after beating the three-time champion in the final round for the fourth straight time.  “He’s been struggling, but I’ve been rooting for him.  I don’t want him to win over me, but I dang sure want him to win something and it looks like they’ve finally got a car that can do that.”

Brown and his Matco Tools/U.S. Army team were looking to this weekend as a turning point for the 2018 campaign. After struggling Friday during the opening qualifying sessions, the three-time Top Fuel world champion was confident entering Sunday’s elimination rounds because of a solid Q3 run Saturday during the heat of the day. He took down Clay Millican in the first round despite hazing the tires and getting loose late in the pass with a lap of 4.275 seconds at 236.42 mph to Millican’s troubled 6.083/105.53.


Brown used another solid light at the starting to jump ahead of reigning Top Fuel world champion Brittany Force and never looked back with a lap of 3.923 seconds at 314.83 mph to Force’s 3.935/305.15.


The semifinal against Leah Pritchett was won at the starting line as Brown earned a holeshot victory with his 0.058 light and lap of 3.955 seconds at 315.42 mph to Pritchett’s light of 0.071-seconds and lap of 3.945 at 304.80 mph to reach his first final of 2018.


“We’re taking one step at a time and we’re constantly getting better and better,” Brown said. “Our car has been running well, we just needed to be in the right spot at the right time. We thought this was our weekend and we’re just bummed (after losing in the final). This entire Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota team has just been working so hard together. We had three good runs to close out the day, but we were trying to make them a little better. We were able to pedal the car today in the first round and still go down the race track. We’ve got a lot of things that are positive that we’ll take out of today. We just need to keep focusing on that. Our team is coming together at the right time and by the time Indy comes up we’ll be hitting full swing. That’s our game plan.”

The U.S. Army announced on Sunday they were leaving drag racing and Don Schumacher Racing, but they will remain primary sponsor on Tony Schumacher’s Top Fuel dragster through the end of the season. Torrence got the semifinal win over Schumacher 3.942/309.77 to 3.963/314.97.



Hagan’s triumphant ride in Epping was the third consecutive and fifth of 2018 for a Don Schumacher Racing Mopar Dodge//SRT Funny Car driver. The win was Hagan’s third of the season and 29th of his career. He is currently second in the standings after making up nearly 100 points on the leader.


Hagan qualified No. 1 in his Sandvik Coromant Mopar Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car and began his march to the event win by taking out Terry Haddock with a 4.066-second elapsed time at 316.15 mph that was the quickest of all competitors in round one. Next, in a fight with DSR Dodge teammate Tommy Johnson Jr., Hagan’s 4.237/245.90 was more than good enough for the win after Johnson encountered problems early.


The defending 2017 Epping winner drew a second teammate, Ron Capps, in another all-Mopar Dodge matchup in the semifinals. Hagan was first off the starting line and first to the finish with a .062 reaction time paired with a 4.114/311.05 pass to advance to his 52nd final round and fifth of the season.  Capps turned in a 4.122 ET at 311.20 mph.


The two-time NHRA Funny Car World Champion remained on point in the final against Tim Wilkerson, recording a superb .042 reaction time in the money round and passing the finish line with a winning 4.156/292.01.


“We've just got a good race car. I think the biggest thing is (crew chief) Dickie Venables," said Hagan, who gained almost 100 points on category leader Courtney Force over the course of the race weekend. "The guy is smart. If you give him enough runs and enough opportunities at whatever it is, he’s going to figure it out. I think that’s why he’s been in the sport for over 50-some years. He’s been doing it since he was hanging on his dad's leg. He’s somebody that I want to keep myself around as long as possible. He works hard, this is his life and it goes to show on the race car. There’s also luck, that last lap it was like a dirt track. My rear-end was sideways and coming back around and I could hear Timmy (Wilkerson) over there and you’re looking around to see where they’re at. That’s what makes it exciting in a fuel Funny Car, man. You never know what you’re going to get. I’ve never had the same lap back-to-back.”

After finishing in the top 10 each year for the past decade, Tim Wilkerson, independent team owner, driver, and tuner of the Levi, Ray and Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang, had high expectations. This year, however, one unusual circumstance after another has prevented him from going rounds and maintaining a position in the top 10. The tables began to turn on Sunday, though, as Wilkerson wheeled a solid and steady racecar to the final round.


Starting from the No. 10 position, Wilkerson drew a tough first-round opponent in J.R. Todd. Wilkerson reeled off a 4.091-second pass at 313.29 mph to halt Todd’s 4.132 at 306.19.


For round two, Wilk was up for his meeting with Jack Beckman and left the starting line .003-second ahead of his competitor, and in the best side-by-side of the round, he got the nod on a 4.245, 264.39 to a 4.252, 294.05.

Shawn Langdon


The win light there sent the Springfield, Illinois-native on to the semifinals, where Todd's teammate, Shawn Langdon, was waiting. Langdon was a bit ahead as the two left the starting line, but Wilk got back in the game and put a 4.118, 309.91 on the scoreboard to a 4.144, 305.42. He lost lane choice in the final to Hagan, the No. 1 qualifier, by just .004-second.


"The fastest guy in the country [Hagan] ran a 4.114 in the semifinals, and we ran a 4.118," said Wilkerson. "We can run with the big dogs.


"We had something for them all day,” the Springfield, Illinois, native said. “It started spinning the tires and put some holes out in the final, but it was a pretty good day. I'm happy for the guys. They are tuckered out. It's kind of fun to watch that part of it, from my aspect. Three of our guys are really new, and it's going to take a few of these kind of weekends to get hustle in their step, but I tell you what, they did a spectacular job between rounds. We had less than an hour between every round, but they had it ready to go and gave me a good racecar. I think what we did here today shows that we can run with them. I'm excited for Denver."



In an all-Chevrolet final round of Texans, Chris McGaha was the beneficiary of a red light by Erica Enders to win the Pro Stock division of the NHRA New England Nationals.


McGaha, driving the Harlow Sammons of Odessa Chevrolet Camaro SS, secured his second victory of the season and seventh of his Pro Stock career. His pass of 6.570 seconds at 211.10 mph at New England Dragway was moot after Enders tripped the red light by .015 of a second, but nonetheless impressive on a hot, slick racetrack.


“Friday, I was ready to take the awning down and go home. There looked like no hope at all (before an engine change). It was like no way it was going to happen and now here we are,” said McGaha, the No. 9 qualifier, who earlier in eliminations recorded his 100th career round win.


McGaha, who turns 39 on July 16, defeated Enders for the first time in their three final-round matchups in posting his initial victory at New England Dragway. Enders dispatched Elite Motorsports teammate and No. 3 qualifier Vincent Nobile (Mountain View Tire Chevrolet Camaro SS) in one semifinal, while McGaha reached the finals when Kenny Delco (KD Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS), who earned his first round-win of the season earlier in the day, red-lighted.


If Delco hadn’t turned on the red bulb, he would most probably have won since McGaha went into tire shake and coasted to the finish line in 16.762 seconds at only 49.34 mph.


McGaha hoists the Wally for the first time this season.


“Absolutely crazy. Who ever said Pro Stock wasn’t entertaining. The first two rounds were something and then I had to race Kenny Delco. I ain’t going to lie, I was more worried about that than anything that happened this weekend. I really didn’t want to go race this guy; it’s that bad. He’s beaten me on some of the stupidest things I’ve done. When I saw him red light, I felt like I was racing a Comp race because the tree was coming down and I saw a car go by the Christmas Tree and I thought ‘Is this Comp Eliminator again?’ Then it started shaking and everybody was worried I was going to pull a Sonoma and get back in it and hit the wall or take a cone out. I didn’t because I saw the light. So, I just calmly went down to the end. Maybe the first two rounds helped the final because they probably knew we would come up there and try to swing, which we did, and more or less kind of hit a foul ball.”

The day wasn’t totally disappointing for Enders, the No. 2 qualifier in the Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro SS, as she rose to the top of the Pro Stock standings for the first time since winning the 2015 championship as her resurgence continues. She has advanced to the final round in four of the past six races, and an Elite Motorsports entry has reached the finals in each of the past 10 races.




Top Fuel

1. Steve Torrence, 1,086; 2. Tony Schumacher, 896; 3. Clay Millican, 881; 4. Leah Pritchett, 820; 5. Doug Kalitta, 801; 6. Antron Brown, 717; 7. Terry McMillen, 679; 8. Brittany Force, 634; 9. Richie Crampton, 522; 10. Mike Salinas, 506.


Funny Car

1. Courtney Force, 1,069; 2. Matt Hagan, 914; 3. Jack Beckman, 847; 4. Ron Capps, 834; 5. Robert Hight, 829; 6. J.R. Todd, 800; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 692; 8. John Force, 632; 9. Shawn Langdon, 614; 10. Bob Tasca III, 564.


Pro Stock

1. Erica Enders, 936; 2. Greg Anderson, 920; 3. Tanner Gray, 917; 4. Vincent Nobile, 893; 5. Drew Skillman, 808; 6. Chris McGaha, 803; 7. Jeg Coughlin, 766; 8. Bo Butner, 750; 9. Jason Line, 680; 10. Deric Kramer, 659. 



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