MOHNTON, Pa. – Leah Pritchett raced to her first career No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel on Saturday at the Dodge NHRA Nationals.
Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the 21st event of 24 on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
NHRA officials were forced to cancel the second session of qualifying on Saturday due to persistent showers and misting. Since Friday’s sessions were also cancelled, racers had only one session to qualify for Sunday’s eliminations, which are scheduled for noon.
Pritchett piloted her Mopar/Pennzoil dragster to a 3.705-second pass at 327.35 mph to claim her first top qualifier. Pritchett, who notched her first career victory earlier this season in Phoenix, is competing in the Countdown to the Championship for the first time in her career as well. She entered the Countdown 10th in points and is currently ninth. Pritchett will battle Shawn Reed in Sunday’s opening round.
“It feels pretty phenomenal,” said Pritchett, who was the No. 2 qualifier at this event last year. “It’s right there behind winning a race, but this is do-or-die time. This is the time of digging deep for the Countdown and to be No. 1 at one of the fastest race tracks says a lot about my team. There were a lot of things going on with that run, and to be No. 1 is really awesome, but we came here to win the race.”
Defending Top Fuel world champion and points leader Antron Brown is second with a 3.731 at 321.42 in his Matco Tools dragster. Brown is a five-time 2016 event winner and the defending Reading winner. He will go against J.R. Todd Sunday morning.
Shawn Langdon is third and will race Smax Smith while three-time 2016 event winner Doug Kalitta, who entered Maple Grove Raceway trailing Brown by 13 points, is fourth and matched with Ike Maier.
Hagan pushed his Mopar Express Lane / Rocky Boots Dodge Charger R/T to a 3.873 at 333.99 to set both ends of the track record in Funny Car at Maple Grove Raceway. Hagan, a two-time world champion, claimed his fifth No. 1 of the season and 26th of his career. This is the second time he has gone No. 1 at Maple Grove in his career. He is currently sixth in the points standings with three wins and two runner-up finishes on the year. He will open eliminations against Jim Campbell.
“I was watching everyone ahead of me shaking and blowing the tires off, and (crew chief) Dickie (Venables) leaned in and said, ‘I don’t know what it’s going to do,’ so I already had it in my mind that I might have to pedal it,” said Hagan, who won this event in 2014. “I knew I could slap it and still make a decent run and be top half of the field. It’s always fast here. You get here and you have to be in the mindset where you put your mouthpiece in, you pull your helmet on and pull your belts down tight because it’s going to be a ride if it hooks.”
Tommy Johnson Jr., who raced to runner-up finishes at the first two Countdown events, is second with a 3.897 at 330.80 in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T. Johnson Jr. started the Countdown seventh in points but jumped to second after the strong back-to-back performances. He will meet Cruz Pedregon in the first round.
Reigning world champ Del Worsham is third and will race 16-time champ John Force while points leader and Ron Capps is fourth and paired with Alexis DeJoria.
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