Brittany Force and her team weren’t horsing around at Maple Grove Raceway in the heart of Amish country at the 35th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil when they set a new national Top Fuel elapsed time record on Saturday.
Ron Capps (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the 19th event of the 2019 season.
This weekend was the first time in NHRA history to feature three women in the No. 1 qualifier position out of the four professional NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories.
Force has been on a hot streak all weekend with her impressive runs in her Advance Auto Parts dragster, but it was her 3.623-second pass at 331.61 mph that wowed fans, reset the NHRA Top Fuel record and seeded her No. 1 for race day.
“That run was just outstanding,” Force said. “I knew before I even got into the car, in the staging lanes (crew chief, David) Grubnic jumped in the tow car with me and had a conversation with me about what the plan was. What we were going to do and how we were going to set a record. He told me to hang on and get the car down there.
“That surprised me. I didn’t think a .62. I didn’t ask him for a number, but he said if we get down there, it’ll be an awesome run and we’d break some records.”
Force set a new track record on Friday night at Maple Grove and was low of three of the four qualifying sessions at the first event of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs. But it was her run from Saturday that will be featured in the NHRA history books.
In Funny Car, Capps reset the Maple Grove Raceway track record on Friday night with his 3.837 pass at 339.28. He picked up his 24th No. 1 qualifier of his professional career in his NAPA Filters Dodge Charger SRT.
“We feel great,” Capps said. “It allowed us to test a little bit first round today during Q3 and typical (crew chief) Rahn Tobler, we went back up there and the advantage of being the last to run, he’s looking at Mello Yello points. We were surveying what everybody ran because I’m sure he was looking to see what the quickest was in front of us.
“Sunday is going to be such a different day. Sunny, mid-80s and it’s going to be much like it has been the last two years here. Again, I brag about the NAPA Know How of Rahn Tobler and adapting to conditions and we’re going to need every bit of him tomorrow.”
In Pro Stock, Enders went 6.480 at 211.96 to take the No. 1 spot in her Melling Performance / Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. The two-time Pro Stock champ picked up her first No. 1 of the season and 20th of her career.
“It’s definitely awesome (to be No. 1 with two other females). I was fortunate enough to be part of the first time two professional women won with Courtney Force and myself in Seattle in 2012,” Enders said. “I think all of us women drivers have been vocal about just wanting to be the best drivers we can be and forget the gender title.
“For our younger girl fans, I think it’s really cool to show them that there are no barriers and you can do anything you put your mind to. I think the two other girls that I’m fortunate enough to qualify No. 1 with speak that same message. I’m excited, that’s pretty cool.
“I feel really confident about our Melling Performance Chevy Camaro. It’s been running on mean for a few races now. I was super excited after Q1 here at Maple Grove when it translated from the U.S. Nationals to here. Every week you get antsy but my guys have worked tirelessly on this car and I’m so excited to have a good racecar underneath me.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Sampey picked up her second consecutive No. 1 qualifier of 2019 and 51st of her career on her Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson when she went 6.761 at 197.51.
“It was perfect motivation (to see two female drivers go No. 1) for me,” Sampey said. “I was nervous going into the second session because I didn’t know what I was going to do. I heard (NHRA announcer) Alan Reinhart talking about the two girls Erica and Brittany had No. 1 and he kept saying it’s, ‘ladies’ night at the Grove,’ and I said that’s right! It’s ladies’ night and I’m about to do this! It was perfect.
“I wasn’t real sure about the run. I was a little behind on my reaction time, I’m trying to learn to slow myself down a little. Then something funny happened in second or third gear and it wiggled a little and I really didn’t think it was going to be No. 1. But, Andrew (Hines) tunes it so I can’t take all the credit,” Sampey joked.
Race day eliminations will begin at 11:00 p.m. ET on Sunday at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil.