Brittany Force made the quickest run in zMAX Dragway history on Saturday, as the defending Top Fuel world champion rocketed to the No. 1 spot at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Matt Hartford (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified No. 1 at the fifth of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
Force went 3.651s at 336.32mph in her 11,000-horsepower Flav-R-Pac dragster, breaking her own track record at Charlotte in the process. It gives the reigning champ her third No. 1 spot this year and the 45th in her career as she looks to pick up her first victory of the 2023 season. After struggling in the opening qualifying session, Force and her team responded with three strong runs, giving her plenty of momentum going into Sunday, where she’ll opening eliminations in a quad also featuring Doug Foley, Las Vegas four-wide winner Antron Brown and Clay Millican.
“That was an incredible run, it was more than our team expected,” Force said. “Three of the four runs were solid, and hopefully, that will carry over and we’ll go some rounds tomorrow. We’ve had success here in the past, and I’ve always loved this track – but four-wide is tricky. That’s what makes it rewarding.
“We were doing some testing and finished that up yesterday, and that was part of our game plan coming in. We kind of expected that it might not go down there that first run, but it got down there on the second run and today was a whole new set-up. Like Grubnic said, it flew. (Crew chief) David Grubnic always wants more. He expects the best and he pushes hard, and he wants to win them all. I think that motivates all of us, and we all want to win together.”
Justin Ashley qualified second with a 3.662s at 332.84mph and Leah Pruett jumped to third with a 3.678s at 334.65mph during the final qualifying session. In all, six drivers dipped into the 3.60s during qualifying.
In Funny Car, Tasca showcased a strong performance on Saturday, vaulting to No. 1 in his 11,000-horsepower BG Products Ford Mustang with a run of 3.852s at 324.59mph. It’s the second No. 1 spot for Tasca already this season and the 11th in his career. After a tough loss in the opening quad in Las Vegas, Tasca is looking for redemption and his first victory of the 2023 campaign. His car has performed at a high level for most of the season, as Tasca also just missed out on a career-best pass and the track E.T. record. Still, he feels confident about his chances on Sunday, which starts with a quad that includes Dave Richards, Tim Wilkerson and defending world champ Ron Capps.
“I said leaving Gainesville, the first five races of the season (will be) really critical to show performance,” Tasca said. “We’ve had two No. 1 qualifiers in the first five races, and we haven’t won a race yet, but we’ve been working on getting this car to run really hard and compete. Come championship time, if you’re not running mid- to low-3.80s, you’re not running for a championship. That’s just the hard reality out here.
“That was the run we’ve been looking for since we put this together. We’re five races in with a completely new team and complete new package, and we’re racing against guys with thousands of runs and a plethora of data. We don’t have that yet as a team, and yet we’ve still competed at a very high level. That gives a lot of confidence. To have this under our belt, I’m way ahead of where I was the last three years. I’m very pleased at this point, but I really want to get a win. My goal was to get a win in the first five races.”
Cruz Pedregon jumped to No. 2 in the final session by going 3.859s at 330.23mph, just missing out on his third straight No. 1 qualifier, and Robert Hight is third with a 3.865s at 330.23mph.
After car struggles before the second session on Friday, Hartford made a big move on Saturday, driving to the top spot in his Total Seal/CIP1/GETTRX Chevrolet Camaro with a run of 6.538s at 208.52mph. Not only was it a huge jump for Hartford, it also gave the veteran his second straight No. 1 qualifier and another huge opportunity to grab his first victory of the season. His opening round quad will feature David Cuadra, who is making his first Pro Stock start, Deric Kramer and Troy Coughlin Jr., with Hartford sweeping the No. 1 spot at both four-wide races this season.
“Let me tell you, getting out of here late last night – none of us were in a good mood,” Hartford said. “We went to bed really disappointed, knowing that we had a car that could go to the pole. But luck was on our side last night, because if we had that failure past the finish-line we wouldn’t be here for this.
“But we regrouped. Coming out here, we were the first car out, which means we had to pull back some, but we made a good run. We came in this morning with the idea that we could go into the top five, and that if we made the right run, we could go No. 1. That’s what we did. It’s a rocket ship right now. This is the best car and the best team I’ve ever had, and we just have to capitalize on it.”
Points leader Dallas Glenn, who has back-to-back wins this season, qualified second with a 6.553s at 209.07mph and Kyle Koretsky is third with a 6.557s at 208.52mph.
Herrera’s dominant start to the 2023 season in Pro Stock Motorcycle took yet another impressive step, making two more great runs on Saturday, including a 6.735s at 201.52mph on his Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki to secure his second straight No. 1 qualifier to open the year. His opening round quad includes Marcus Hylton, Ryan Oehler and Kelly Clontz, as Herrera looks to make it two straight wins to start 2023. The young standout has praised the performance of his team and a bike that has delivered incredible results thus far this season.
“Just being part of this, I can’t ask for anything better,” Herrera said. “You’re always trying to improve, always trying to out-do yourself each round, and for us to make that big improvement – Andrew (Hines), our crew chief, has both bikes on rails, and it’s showing. It makes me feel good, but it puts more pressure on my shoulders. It’s exciting to know I have a top tier bike, and it’s a lot of pressure on me. There is more pressure on me than there is on the bike. The whole team, they have a lot of confidence in their machine. At the end of the day, it’s all on me.”
Herrera’s Vance & Hines teammate, Eddie Krawiec, qualified second with a 6.765s at 197.77mph and Steve Johnson, who has won the Charlotte four-wide race in back-to-back years, is third with his 6.804s at 196.27mph.
Eliminations for the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals begin at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday at zMAX Dragway.