It is go time for the inaugural Uni-Select NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire this weekend and BangShift is here. Not only are our stickers slatered on cars far and wide, but we’re rocking the mic, jamming photos, and making the magic happen all weekend long. This is the spot you need to be tuned in to for the latest news, insider info, photo updates, and more. We’re going to do the best we can to keep an up to date race weekend diary. In our usual fashion we’ll shy away from the boring stuff you don’t care about and concentrate on the unique, cool, and interesting stuff that you do. There are a ton of great stock and super stock gear jamming monsters on the ground along with some truly haul ass top dragster competitors. The gripload of nitro burning floppers and dragsters will also have us occupied during the race. Don’t hate, but this will be our second dose of nitro in seven days. We’re willing to subject ourselves to that in order to bring you the story.
SATURDAY PHOTO UPDATE: PHOTO GREATNESS FROM THE TOP END AND STARTING LINE BY RICH PASLEY PHOTOGRAPHY
Sunday Update 2: WARNING! WINNERS ARE LISTED BELOW! SKIP DOWN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM!
Spencer Massrey wins Top Fuel! This is his second win in two Top Fuel races at New England Dragway. He won Top Fuel at the last IHRA national event and the first NHRA event!
Courtney Force wins nitro funny car over her dad John Force in a close, dramatic, tire smoking final round!
Alan Johnson wins Pro Stock over Shane Gray on a hole shot!
John Hall wins Pro Stock Motorcycle!
Anthony Bertozzi wins Stock and Super Stock!
Ed Brooks wins Super Street!
Kent Hanley wins Super Comp!
Mike Sawyer wins Super Gas!
Ken LeBlanc wins Top Dragster!
History on the line – Both Anthony Bertozzi and Mike Sawyer have made it to their respective final rounds…all four of them. That is right, both men have the shot to win two classes! Bertozzi in stock and super stock and Sawyer in super street and super gas. If they are able to complete their tasks properly it will be the first time in NHRA history that two people have won two classes a piece at a single race. That would be a neat piece of history for the first ever race here at New England Dragway in Epping, NH. Stay tuned! We’ll keep you up to speed!
The 210 club – Four of eight first round winners in Pro Stock went 210mph, two went 209, one went 208, and Tom Martino went 205 in his hole shot victory over V Gaines. It will be interesting to see how the speeds hold up during the day as track conditions and weather conditions change.
Hole Shot – Tom Martino is here and competing in Pro Stock. It has been a long time since Martino was in a field, let alone celebrating a round win but he was able to do just that on Sunday after dropping the hammer on V Gaines. Martino’s .017 reaction time was scads better than Gaines’ .218 leaving time and that lead to one of the biggest hole shot victories we have ever seen in pro stock. Martion beat Gaines with a 6.73. Gaines? He ran 6.65. Wow!
Girl Fight - Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force squared off in round one with Force running away with the round win and moving onto the second round. Force’s 4.128/310 was too much for DeJoria’s 4.29/287 tire smoker. We still think it is cool that we’re in an era with drag racing that makes this pretty much a non-story. It would have been cool for them to be meeting in the final to make some history and judging by how driven and talented those two women are, it is inevitable someday.
Half and Half- Half of the first round flopper pairings were upsets! Jeff Arend, Del Worsham, Blake Alexander, and Tim Wilkerson all did what they shouldn’t have done and beat a higher qualified opponent. The Blake Alexander win over Matt Hagan was the largest of the upsets as Alexander was in the 12 spot and Hagan was the number two qualifier.
Cacklin’ Jack Beckman? - Roger Comstock, the owner of Mail Terminal Services, a big sponsor of Jack Beckman’s Funny Car and a close personal friend bought Jack an interesting gift the other day. Specifically he bought Beckman a beautifully restored front engine dragster called the Blood, Sweat, and Nitro machine that was restored by John Ewald. Beckaman is huge into the history of drag racing and this thing is sure to make appearances at nostalgia events on the west coast at least.
No hometown luck for Tasca – Unfortunately, Bob Tasca III wasn’t able to generate the happy ending that he was looking for as Jack Beckman knocked him out in the first round. The local favorite made his first runs down New England Dragway at the helm of his street car in the early 1990s. Tacsa III has certainly come a long way since those days as an enthusiastic hot rodder, climbing the ladder to drive the most powerful race cars on earth. Unfortunately, tire smoke and an expiring engine cost him the round win, much to the disappointment of the crowd. Tasca moved Beckman to the left lane at the last second as he had lane choice, but the move did not prove fruitful.
Packed house…again! - NHRA officials and New England Dragway track officials have to be absolutely over the moon with the response to this event. Typically, Sundays are lighter spectator days but not here in pluggy Epping, where the place is once again standing room only. Ok, not standing room actually as the track is allowing people to sit on the massive hill that rises out of the Earth at the top end of the track. Fans and photographers alike have reported it is probably the best seat in the house. The hill was a staple of viewing races here at NED for decades and it has officially been re-baptized this weekend.
Top Fuel upsets make round one interesting – It is not very often that we see a #14 qualifier upend a #3 qualifier in the first round of eliminations, but we saw that this morning when Terry McMillen beat David Grubnic in their match up. McMillen was understandably pumped up and thanked the New England fans and the track saying, “I’ve been coming here a lot of years with the IHRA and this place is awesome. I love this place.” McMillen was his normally excited self at the top end and his team really needs to make a move over the next few races to get themselves into good position for the tough middle section of the season. Morgan Lucas leapt from the #11 spot and beat #6 JR Todd in round one as well. Not as dramatic a jump as the McMillen/Grubnic pair, but an upset nonetheless.
Matching lights, mis-matched elapsed times: Antron Brown and Bob Vandergriff both left the starting line at the exact same time. .047 seconds after the green light came on. The didn’t get to the finish line at the same time though as Vandergriff powered down the right hand lane here at New England Dragway ahead of Brown, knocking the defending champ off in the opening frame of the day. It is rare to see two bracket guys leave the line on a sportsman tree let alone a pair of top fuelers on a pro tree. A weird one for sure.
New England Racers making their mark -We have LOTS of locals in contention here’s the breakdown!
In stock: Fred Thibeault (who lives 9hrs away and considers NED his home track) will take on Bob Horgan for the right to take on Anthony Bertozzi in the finals. A tall order for sure!
In super street: Eddie Brooks has a free pass into the finals where he’ll face either Mike Sawyer or Ray Butler in the final. I’m pulling for Mike because rules and has a chance to double up this weekend. Also, Mike is undefeated in final rounds. He’s 5 for five.
In super comp: Tom Hoosigian takes on Kent Hanley on one side of the ladder. Neither of those guys have made a national event final round, so that’ll be cool. On the other side of the ladder, locals Nick Willard and Ray Fredricks square off in semi-final action. Willard recently won two classes at the NHRA National Open race, so that’s a guy who has a hot hand. Fredricks has has roundly thumped his competition thus far so he’s also coming into the semis on a hot streak.
In super stock: Joe Santangelo and Anthony Bertozzi are going into the semis on one side of the ladder. That’ll be one to watch. Bertozzi can double up this weekend and is a multi time champion and national event winner. On the other side, Connecticut’s Mark Markow gets the bye run into the finals. His S10 truck has been a buzz saw all weekend. Should be great!
In super gas: Mike Sawyer has a bye into the finals, which as mentioned above, he is virtually unstoppable in. Sawyer will be looking at either Canadian Charlie Kenopic or Vermonter Tim Quintin when the tree comes down in the finals. Go Mike go!
In top dragster: Two of the four final racers are NED regulars. Frank Zeffiro will meet Ken Moses in the semi-finals in a match up that will be entertaining to watch. Zeffiro’s blown alky burning hemi powered dragster is the most powerful car left in the field by a ton and he will be running down Moses like a scalded dog on the top end. Looking on the other side of the ladder, weekly NED warrior Ken LeBlanc will be throwing down with Scott Luken.
So there you have it….a little preview of today’s semi-final rounds.
Good luck to everyone (with a little dash of extra good ju-ju to our local and regular NED racers!)
Saturday Update 2:
First round odd couple – John Force will face Dave Richards on Sunday morning’s first round of funny car eliminator. This is an interesting match up because Force collected his 142nd number one qualifier award this weekend and Dave Richards qualified for his first ever funny car field. In a even more telling stat, Force has raced 135 competitors going to Sunday, Dave Richards will be 136. Force will be Richards’ first competitor. Amazingly, Force has raced in 1593 rounds of competition going into Sunday making first round 1,594 to Richards’ humble 1. We love this stuff!
Odd man out – Mike Smith, driving the Ultimate Warrior funny car of Paul Weiss was the lone non-qualifier this weekend in a flopper. The machine consistently smoked the tires at about 400′ during qualifying runs. That spot in the track proved tricky to many competitors who seemed to struggle with it at least once during their four attempts to make the field.
The drought is over – Kenny Delco made his first Pro Stock field since 1992 here at the NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, New Hampshire. Delco has attempted to qualify 20 times over the course of the 20 years since his last Sunday appearance. We’re sure Delco is super excited to be hammering on his race car on eliminations day. Delco has the daunting task of running Allen Johnson in round one tomorrow, but we’re thinking that this is a race that could be upset city in a couple categories. Only time will tell.
The thrash is on - John Gaydosh came into the tower today to verify he was qualified in Pro Stock (which he is) holding a completely destroyed intake valve from his race engine in his hand. He was wondering about his qualified status because if he was in the field, he was going to make a call to the shop in Maryland and get a motor rolling toward Epping ASAP. We’re not sure of the logistics involved or how long the ride is, but safe it to say that those fellows are going to have either a really late night or a really early morning, depending on how you like to tell time. The valve was all kinds of mangled, so that $100,000+ pro stock engine has to be some kind of ugly inside!
They’re all in – With 16 top fuel dragsters on the grounds here at Epping, all of the competitors knew that they’d have a chance to race on Sunday. Two of the 16 are from Canada and those guys are Tom Boychuk and Ike Maier. Boychuk made a best lap of 4.33 seconds to qualify 15th and Maier brought up the rear of the field with a best of 5.40. The Maier operation didn’t run all of the qualifying sessions (probably as a budgetary move) and the ones they did resulted in some tire smoke. They’ll throw the kitchen sink at Doug Kalitta tomorrow in hopes of being on the right side of a titanic upset.
Three on the outs – The professional category with the most non-qualifiers was pro stock motorcycle. Three riders did not make it into the field of 16 and among them is local Sam Hurwitz from Newton, Massachusetts. Hurwitz rented a machine for the race this weekend from the Gann operation but their best effort of 7.30 was not quick enough to get them into the all six second field. Local fans were supporting the team big time especially when they appeared at the starting line sporting Boston Strong shirts in memory of the horrible bombing at the Boston Marathon. Hurwitz is a regular racer at New England Dragway and it would have been neat to see him in the field with the big names from across the country.
Pro Stock lite – So there are only 15 pro stock cars on the ground of New England Dragway this weekend and in that group of 15 there are several names who will be making their first field in a long time, some making their first field ever. Detractors would argue that this field is lacking on the quality side. We see it the opposite way. How bitchin’ would it be for one of the lesser name guys to come in here and march through the established names (Jeg Coughlin, Mike Edwards, Greg Anderson) for a victory? We think that would be boss and would create a great story line for the event.
Fuggetaboutit – The New York/New Jersey contingent is represented by three guys, so 20% of the field is from that area and those drivers are Vince Nobile, Tom Martino, and Kenny Delco. Nobile, who is a recognized ninja on the christmas tree claims that he grew up watching Martino race and that he’s always wanted to trade blows with him on the track. Martino is also known as a precision leaver. We’re thinking that fate will find the student and the master lined up side by side at some point in eliminations. That’ll be a fun one to watch, especially because Vince’s dad John is a big emotional guy who will be wound tight to see that match up.
Sea of Humanity – Yesterday marked what was possibly the largest single day crowd in the long history of New England Dragway. The crazy thing is that advanced ticket sales for today’s action are DOUBLE than they were for yesterday’s. This is both an incredible win for the track and a bit of a concern for officials as the place was about to burst at the seams yesterday and today’s crowd promises to dwarf yesterday’s Race officials were working yesterday on plans of handling the mass of general admission spectators because reserved seating is 100% sold out for today. There are few (if any) tracks on the Mello Yello tour that can claim that sort of situation. Even Sunday looks like it will produce a bumper crop of spectators. Clearly there was massive pent up demand for this race.
Top Fuel field is stout – Top Fuel qualifying netted some great performances on Friday evening. Doug Kalitta leads all competitors and he was the only guy to dip into the vaunted 3.70 zone with a 3.79/323mph lap. The top seven racers are all in the low 3.80s. The racers had what will be the best air conditions that that will see all weekend yesterday so the reality is that times will probably not improve over those two sessions. Today’s weather will be more indicative of the conditions that they will face during eliminations tomorrow.
Records (almost) fell – This is the first 1000′ drag race that New England Dragway has ever hosted, so all of the track’s records at in the quarter mile realm. That didn’t stop today’s NHRA racer from nearly knocking them off. Currently, Mike Strasburg is the owner of the Top Fuel speed record at a little more than 325 mph and several fuelers ran over 323 in 1000′ yesterday. The funny car speed record is held by Bob Gilbertson at a shade more than 318 mph and Matt Hagan went 317 and change, again in 1,000ft. It is amazing how quickly the teams have been able to close the performance gap on the mph front on a shorter race track over the last couple seasons.
The old guy has something left in the tank – It is no secret that John Force is the biggest star in the drag racing world. More people know of and about him than anyone else in the sport. Force has not been the dominant driver he was during the heyday of his career for some time and the whispers that he had lost his fastball had been getting louder. Those whispers have subsided as Force beat ‘em all in Bristol and rocketed his way to the number one qualifying spot here in Epping. He may be 64 and he may be in the final section of his career, but the man has a warrior’s heart and he’s not going to roll over for anyone. Also important to note, the largest ovation from the crowd came when Force made his lap. He’s still the dude.
Home again – This weekend’s lead announcer Bill Stephens has some New England Dragway history. Stephens, the voice and face familiar to drag racing fans from his days on ESPN covering the races worked at New England Dragway in 1969 as a kid handling duties in the staging lanes and other tasks. Word is that there are some old photos of him floating around on the internet doing said job. We’re going to do some digging.
Qualifying continues -Friday kicked off to blue skies and a stream of spectators coming through the gate. Early qualifying continues and fields have swelled as a bunch of racers arrived last night after leaving work on Thursday afternoon and driving late into the darkness to Epping. The weather forecast is exceedingly positive this weekend and that is expected to mean a massive fan turnout. Rumor has it that advanced ticket sales have topped even some of the largest events on the expansive Mello Yellow NHRA Tour. As I write this at 11:15am, the place is filling up rapidly.
Traffic concerns – One of the things that remains to be seen about this event is how the traffic flow will work coming in and out of the facility. Undoubtedly, the two largest crowds in the near 50 year history of the facility will be jammed into New England Dragway over the next two days. NHRA and track officials have worked up an extensive plan with the help of state and local authorities to ease the potential pain and backups, but like all plans, they look good on paper. We’ll see how it pans out this afternoon and evening when the throngs really arrive and then try to beat a hasty escape from the track.
Hall continues the family tradition – Moroso employee and pal of mine Scott Hall is continuing on the family legacy established by his dad Dale during a long and decorated career in the Pro Comp and Top Alcohol Dragster ranks. This weekend, Scott is competing in Top Dragster driving the David Lavoie owned dragster which is powered by a blown, alcohol burning Brad Anderson Hemi. Scott’s first qualifying effort was a titanic 6.004/232mph shot that planted him solidly in the number one spot. Even cooler? His 232mph shot matches his dad’s fastest career mph of 232. Pop has him by a couple of tenths of a mph, but they are living in the same neighborhood now. That’s cool as hell. Dale is no longer able to compete or attend races, but this was a proud accomplishment for Scott and we completely understand why.
No Erica Enders this weekend – Despite some last minute thrashing for cash and funding, Erica Enders and crew was unable to secure the dough to come here and compete at Epping this weekend. The Pro Stock field may actually be light with 15 cars currently on the grounds, a few of which are lower budget operations that will be potentially involved in Sunday eliminations for the first time in a long time. That’s good news for anyone into upsets and fresh blood getting a shot to shine on the big stage. We do think that it stinks Enders and company couldn’t make the haul to Epping, and wish them the best in securing the funding to continue their 2013 quest for a Pro Stock championship.
Flat is good – Lanny Miglizzi, John Force Racing’s Track Specialist performs an interesting ritual when the team visits a new facility for the first time. He calls it “mapping the track” and he literally scours every inch of the strip on his hands, knees, and on his belly crawling like a reptile. The point is to document any bumps, imperfections, or variations in the surface that would case a dragster or funny car to be somehow upset during a run. Remember, those cars have no suspension, so they can unload the rear tires easily and go up in smoke, causing a wreck or a lost run. Happily for New England Dragway officials, Miglizzi reportedly told people who asked that this surface was one of the flattest and most well conditioned that he had ever mapped. That speaks to the track’s attention to detail and the construction company that poured the all concrete strip.
Thursday update: Not a whole lot to report here as today was simply two rounds of sportsman qualifying and the day that all of the professional teams use to build their hospitality areas, get the cars ready for service, and lay out their equipment. Notable runs include a 6.004/232mph blast from Scott Hall in Top Dragster, leading the field and essentially impossible to top for qualifying position (it is illegal to run 5s in NHRA top dragster, making the run all that more impressive). Scott Gove’s completely gnarly Super Stock/A Modified Dodge with a reworked NASCAR engine lead all comers in Super Stock with an 8.05 blast that was more than one second under the index for his class. Another super stock notable is Steve Comella who is at the track with a real deal 1968 Hurst Hemi Dart. He ran 8.51 and is also close to the top of the sheet in Super Stock qualifying. That car is drag racing royalty.