EPPING, N.H. (June 3, 2023) – Antron Brown picked up his first No. 1 qualifier award in nearly six years on Saturday at the NHRA New England Nationals to score the 50th pole of his career. Aboard the Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster, Brown powered his 11,000-horsepower machine to a 3.729 second at 329.99 mph pass during the weekend’s second qualifying session to earn his 39th Top Fuel pole (11 from Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Brown and the Brian Corradi/Mark Oswald-led team had to battle extreme weather conditions throughout the event’s abbreviated qualifying show to earn their first No. 1 qualifier award for Brown’s AB Motorsports organization, which made its on-track debut in 2022.
Friday’s lone qualifying session was contested in the heat of the day, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees, causing almost the entirety of the nitro field to struggle to make a clean pass. Brown was one of the few standouts, clocking a 3.899 at 310.98 mph run to earn two bonus points and the provisional No. 2 spot.
When teams returned to New England Dragway on Saturday morning, they were faced with rainy weather and nearly a 40-degree drop in temperature from Friday. Once again, while most of the field grappled with the extreme conditions, the Matco Tools team was able to quickly adapt, and Brown was one of only two drivers to post a 3.7-second run. After advancing to the top of the timing sheets, rain moved in and the fields were set based on the weekend’s two qualifying sessions when NHRA suspended on-track activities for the remainder of the day.
“It feels really good to get this No. 1 qualifier today,” said Brown, whose most recent pole came from the 2017 Seattle event. “What made it feel so good is how well our team was able to adapt to all of the different conditions. Friday, we were No. 2. We dropped a hole early, so we missed out on being No. 1 there. We were still able to get two bonus points, which adds up because we are tied for sixth in the point standings.
“Today, we were able to bounce back and were one of the few cars that made it down because the track got super tight, super good, but there was no give,” added Brown from the New England Dragway media center, where before starting his post-qualifying interview, he proudly showed off a photo of his oldest son, Anson, who graduated from Brownsburg High School in Brownsburg, Ind. earlier in the day. “We had to try to make the car give; Brian, Mark, Brad (Mason), and all of the Matco/Lucas Oil boys, they are good at adapting in situations like that. The hard part is we haven’t ran in conditions like that, so you had to get the right power level and back it down. We went for a safe run in Q2 to get down the track, so we could prepare for race day because we knew the conditions were going to be like this tomorrow. We know we can make it down, and now, we can pick at it and make it better and better with each lap. The track was good enough to run mid-to-high 60s if you hit it right, but you can hit it wrong like a lot of other teams did. That being said, just super proud of my guys; it makes me feel good to see where we are at and that we can adapt to so many different circumstances.”
As the No. 1 qualifier, Brown is rewarded with a Bye run in the opening round of eliminations on Sunday and will face the winner of the Austin Prock/Steve Torrence contest in round two. The three-time Top Fuel world champion has a history of success at the Epping, N.H. facility with one win in three final-round appearances. Brown, the winner of the 2023 Las Vegas NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, will be competing for his 73rd win and second of the season.
Chad Green had qualified in the top half three times this year heading into this event, and his best position so far was No. 5 in Phoenix. He drove his Bond-Coat Ford Mustang to a 4.10, 310.98 in the Friday session, thinking that with the vastly changing conditions he would have trouble keeping his grasp on the top spot. Saturday's conditions didn't produce the quick and fast numbers that had been projected, though, and Green's spot was secure. He will race No. 14 qualifier Jim Campbell in round one.
"I'm definitely happy about it and proud of my guys, but I haven't had No. 1 qualifier on my mind as much as winning a race," said Green. "It's pretty unexpected. When I woke up this morning, I never thought that our run yesterday would hold up for No. 1 today. This has been a really tricky place, and I'm very proud of my team for navigating the track yesterday and be able to make that run to get us in this position.
"I thought a lot of these big-time teams were going to go out there and really light up the track, set records, go really fast – and that just didn't happen. Tomorrow is going to be another day like today, so I don't know, we'll see. We'll put our heads together and see what we come up with."
Green claimed the pole based on his pass on Friday afternoon, but Alex Laughlin was the lone Funny Car to make it down the track on Saturday without even a hint of tire smoke or spin. His DiPinto Havoline machine, tuned by nitro legend Jim Dunn, cleanly sailed to a 4.19 while every other car shuddered, shook, smoked, or spun.
At the top end, Laughlin – who moved up to No. 3 – shook his head in disbelief.
"My expectations – with no disrespect to anyone – weren't super high for this round of qualifying," said Laughlin. "Every second down the track, I thought, 'This is where it's going to break loose; this is where it's going to spin.' But it was just right the whole time. I saw 4.19 come up on the scoreboard, and I said, 'Let's freakin' go.' "
Defending event champion and incoming points leader Matt Hagan is No. 2 in his Rinnai-branded Dodge on a 4.12 clocked on Friday, and reigning Funny Car champion Ron Capps is No. 4 (4.48). Robert Hight (4.62), Chicago winner Tim Wilkerson (4.76), Cruz Pedregon (5.40), and J.R. Todd (6.37) close out the top eight.
Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge
The predicted forecast was possibly for rain, but most certainly for cool temperatures that could have been conducive to record-setting runs and a pleasing outcome for the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge at New England Dragway. Unfortunately, the day turned into a tire-smoking affair before rain moved into the area and the day's action was called. The first round of the challenge was contested, though, and the drivers who advanced to the final will share the spoils.
Brittany Force was looking for revenge from her Chicago semifinals loss to Clay Millican, but it was not to be had. Force went up in smoke early and Millican soon followed suit, kicking off an intense pedalfest that rattled through New England Dragway. Force's engine gave way down track, and Millican narrowly missed crossing the centerline to get the win light, 5.09 to 5.24.
"It went out there and shook, I gave it a pedal, and it carried the front end, then it got over by the wall, I let off and got back on, and it spun again," said Millican. "I didn't do a very good job of it, but it was enough to turn the win light on. With this #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, there's a little money out there. I'd never do that in qualifying, but for this, you gotta stomp on that loud pedal a few times."
In the next pair, Leah Pruett had lane choice over Josh Hart, but lane choice mattered not as another wild pedalfest ensued. Pruett shook the tires violently at the hit and got off of the gas, but when she saw Hart fall into trouble, she got back in it. Pruett got the nod, 5.21 to 8.83.
"That was some hardcore tire shake," said Pruett. "We're still qualifying at the end of the day, but I wanted to get the trophy."
The first round of the Funny Car Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge set up a battle between Phoenix Challenge winner Chad Green and reigning world champion Ron Capps, who won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge in Chicago two weeks ago. Green left the starting line first but soon fell into a thunderous rattle of tire smoke. Capps soon followed into the trouble zone, and Green got back on the throttle. The two traded whomps down the racetrack, and Capps won the match on a 5.91 to a 10.01.
"I was like Fred Flintstone out there," said Capps. "To have this much horsepower in treacherous conditions, the fans ought to be loving this right now. As a driver in conditions like this, you want to do right by your team – but even the G.O.A.T. John Force had trouble getting down the track. That tells you how difficult it is."
In Force's match with Tim Wilkerson, he lost traction, pedaled, then crossed the centerline. As he did so, he took out two timing blocks, while Wilkerson lost traction and had to pedal as well. As the timing blocks had been taken out by Force, no time was awarded.
The Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge is set up to award bonus points that are to be applied when the Countdown to the Championship begins, but due to the rainout of the special race, bonus points will not be awarded. The cash payouts will be dispersed amongst the finalists as follows: Millican and Capps will each receive $5,000 as the quickest round-one winners, Pruett and Wilkerson will each receive $1,500, and the remaining drivers will each receive a $500 cash prize.
Semifinalists at the New England Nationals will meet for the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge at Bristol Dragway in one week.
The NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway continues with Sunday eliminations now slated to begin at 10:00 a.m. Television coverage will be aired on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) Saturday at 9:00 p.m. ET, with eliminations Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET.
See the full recap's from Kelly Wade at nhra.com:
NHRA New England Nationals Saturday photo gallery from NHRA National Dragster staff:
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