The NHRA’s traveling circus and sideshow roared thru Old Bridge Township Raceway Park this past June 1-3. Also known as Englishtown or E-town to followers.
I had the pleasure of attending the Friday afternoon into evening qualifying session and Sundays finals. A decision to make the Friday session wasn’t made until the noon news/weather reports. The weather man was saying showers at some point during the early part of the weekend. He just couldn’t do any better than throwing up a loose time frame that changed on an hourly basis. I’m planning on making the trip for the second round of qualifying. It would be dark, lots of flames. So, the weatherman is now saying it’s going to rain, bummer! Whoa, but not till after 10PM! Grab a few brews, the camera bag and hit the road.
All the time this weather watching is going on (the entire previous week) I had been planning to go hardcore and purchase a gas mask for the pits. Nitro fumes are, to say the least, a bit nasty when you are as close as you can get in the pits. (Check out the pic of Clay McMillin’s TF dragster in the pits warming up for his second round of qualifying. The only 2 people close to the crowd control barriers were me and another guy, and he’s wearing a mask too!)
So, I located my closest Army/Navy store that was more or less on my way to E-town. I found the address but it was a clump of trees between 2 other businesses. Shit! Back on the road. Thanks to the miracle of hand held internet on my iPhone, I found another 20 miles up the road.(I was stopped, of course!) Great! That too turned out to be a wild goose chase. Two stops for info on a location yielded the same results. “What Army/Navy store???”
Mind you, I’m trying to make the beginning of Pro qualifying that starts at 3:30. These 2 excursions off route have cost me 1 hour + and no cigar. More internet searching. Stopped again, of course, and I find another! With a phone#!! And someone answers!!! And he has 1 left!!!! $35, Israeli Army surplus!!!! They can reach close to $300. It should fit over my glasses and he’s only 2 miles off the Parkway!!!! So, another detour but now I have my coveted gas mask in my grubby little mitts.
I got to the track with no time to spare. I hear Pro Bikes making passes. I see Pro Stock winding up their Q1 session. Just in time for the first of 2 nitro sessions! Nothing spectacular about the 1st nitro session. Teams will often launch, run a couple hundred feet and shut it down. They’re looking for launch data to review in the haulers to see what the track might hold. BTW, those in the know are looking for the second sub 4 second FC pass in history. The first was last year by Matt Hagan.
Meanwhile, ambient air temp continues to drop. Humid, due to the approaching storm but very cooool. Q2 nitro session air temp is 67 and track temp is only 84! But, it didn’t look like the rain was going to hold off. A quick check of the WC radar and there’s drizzle to the north, west and south. We’re in a pocket of dry. FC numbers are looking really good. Lots of 4.0’s. Allow me to elucidate. Jeff Arend, Jack Beckman, John Force and Bob Tasca all ran 4.06’s. That’s only 7 hundredths off the sub 4 pass! 3 FC matches to go. 65 degrees. Matt Hagan and rookie Alexis DeJoria are the next pair. Matt runs a 4.035 and Alexis puts down a 4.040, a PB for her at any track. Next up are Robert Hight and Johhny Gray. Robert lays down a 4.013 and Gray a 4.022, both @ 312 mph and change. BOTH of these times were track ET records. Ron Capps and Mike Neff are the last FC pair. Air is now 64 degrees. Rahn Tobler, Capps’ crew chief, said “strap in, I’m throwing everything at it!” I’m thinking, “this could be it!” The run looked perfect, fast, not a bobble. Capps ran a 3.964 at 320.89. The second sub 4 FC pass in history!
Not to be outdone, the TF guys were seeing these numbers and they could smell blood. Most cars are running 3.7 or 3.8 ET’s in Q2. Cut to the chase…..Spencer Massey had run a 3.766 at 326.40 in Q1. He has yet to make his second pass and there are 2 pairs in front of him. Then, it happens…..WATER DROPS!!! It must have been very local because the show went on. Massey closed the day rocketing his FRAM/Prestone dragster to a 3.728 at 329.91! Another track record. Tony Schumacher lost with a 3.746 pass at 325.92. Wow!
NHRA has a 1% rule. Any car that lays down a new record, ET or speed, has to back it up on the same weekend by 1%. Will they do it?
We made it back for the finals on Sunday, but not before some fun with the holy gas mask in the parking lot. Oh, times remained mostly unchanged during Saturdays’ Q session due to higher air and track temps and the sun.
To start eliminations, there were 9 cars in the 3.7’s in TF. There were 13 cars in the 4.0’s in FC. These led by 2 track records.
Round 3 in TF saw Steve Torrence up against Spencer Massey. Trust me on these numbers. Torrence had a 2 thou holeshot on Massey. Ha-ha, holeshot? The ET’s were 3.813 Spencer to 3.814 Torrence. Remember the 2 thou holeshot? Half of that was the margin of victory for Torrence. 1 thou, 6 inches at 320 + mph! Torrence also got lane choice by 1 thou in the final with this run. Super tight.
Then the 10% chance of a shower turned into a full blown Jersey thunderstorm for about 30 minutes. We were ducking flying debris until we found refuge in the covered beer garden. Things could be worse.
After the track drying session, things began getting wrapped up. Torrence beat Brandon Bernstein in the TF final by 7 thou. In FC, Capps smoked the tires at 100 feet, handing the win to Johnny Gray. Capps and Massey were unable to back up their stellar Friday evening runs.