Steve Torrence pushed Brittany Force from the top spot in Top Fuel while Friday's provisional top qualifiers of Ron Capps, Camrie Caruso, and Karen Stoffer each held on in front of fan filled grandstands at the final NHRA Camping World Series event at Houston Raceway Park.
Top Fuel drivers struggled In Saturday’s opening session as only three dragsters went to the finish line under power. The most impressive run was made by four-time champ, Steve Torrence, who made a pass of 3.768 in his Capco Contractors Toyota powered dragster. He later topped that with a final qualifying pass at 3.693 to secure the top spot. Tony Schumacher also earned two bonus points with a 3.801 while Cameron Ferre grabbed the final point after a 3.927.
Things improved for the field in the third and final qualifying pass as there were many 3.6 and 3.7 second passes from most of the top teams including Torrence, who is the top qualifier for the first time this season and the 32nd time in his career.
“Right now, Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana are working hard to try and get this car back to where it’s been. In this sport, when you’ve got Grubby and Brittany Force out there running 3.63, you’ve got to change and evolve. We’re picking away at it and with the weather getting warmer, we need to learn as much as possible. It’s only been four races, but everyone has been giving us crap about. We need to fix that.”
Fresh off of a win from the recent Las Vegas race, the Ron Capps Motorsports team continued to dominate at the NHRA SpringNationals, claiming the No. 1 qualifying spot for the second event in a row, and the third time in Ron Capps’ first five events as an NHRA team owner.
After laying down the quickest pass of the open qualifying session, Capps and the NAPA AUTO PARTS team rolled into Houston Raceway Park on Saturday ready to continue their stranglehold on the competitive Funny Car category. While nearly every nitro-burning car struggled to even make it down the tricky Baytown track in the heat of the day, the challenging conditions were no match for NAPA crew chiefs Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli and John Medlen, who tuned Capps to a stout 3.931 E.T. at 321.96 mph in Q2. With six ‘low E.T.’ bonus points under their belt, the NAPA team closed out qualifying with another impressive blast, clocking a 3.879 E.T. to collect two more bonus points.
“That Q2 run in the heat was a big deal and only one other car made it down in Funny Car besides us,” said the 69-time Funny Car winner. “To run a 93 in the heat, in the right lane that has some bumps in it, it surely changes things. Tomorrow will be hotter and those bumps tend to rear their ugly heads even more in the heat, so it gives me confidence knowing we can get down it no problem. I have so much confidence in my team knowing the car we have, and things are just clicking.”
Capps’ Las Vegas victory was won from the pole, and he appears to be in a good position for a repeat performance in Baytown. The two-time and defending world champion’s race day will begin with a Bye run but with the competition tighter than ever, Capps knows a second consecutive Funny Car triumph will be hard-fought on Sunday.
“The competition has been so bunched up in Funny Car lately and that carried into this season,” explained Capps, a four-time Houston event champ. “Robert Hight’s car has been so consistent, and in these conditions, he’s definitely our biggest threat right now but, you can’t count anyone out. You never know when someone like Dickie Venables or Del Worsham, or John Force or J.R. Todd will sneak back up on us. We’ve seen that so many times over the last several years. Right now, that Robert Hight/Jimmy Prock car is really good, but you can’t count anyone out, and to be honest, I always feel a little weird when I start naming names because the whole class is just so tough. Anyone can win it tomorrow. And, it’s Houston, you just never know. Sundays here in Houston have a tendency to be bizzare-o, and this is one of those places where you feel like you’ve raced two-to-three races in one day. It literally takes everything out of you.”
After two days of tough Pro Stock qualifying at the 35th NHRA SpringNationals rookie Camrie Caruso secured her first career No 1 qualifier in just her fifth race which ties her with last year’s Rookie of the Year Dallas Glenn as the quickest driver to earn their first career No. 1 in Pro Stock. She also became the first female to qualify No. 1 in Pro Stock at Houston Raceway Park’s NHRA SpringNationals.
Driving the Sand Haulers of America Chevrolet Camaro with Titan Racing Engine power under the hood Caruso posted her quickest elapsed time of the event on Friday night with a 6.547 second pass at 209.39 mph. The 2022 Rookie of the Year favorite then withstood two rounds of qualifying to hold onto the top spot.
“This means the world to me, my team and everyone who backs me,” said Caruso, a third-generation racer. “I am thankful and happy to head into race day as the No. 1 qualifier. I am super grateful for the opportunity to be the first female to qualify No. 1 at Houston Raceway Park. I never would have thought we would have achieved such a cool record so early. I know we had the capabilities, but this was just a great team accomplishment.”
In the final session Caruso was paired beside four-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders for the second session of the day since they were 1-2 in the qualifying order. Caruso was lined up in the left lane with Enders occupying the right lane. Caruso posted a solid 6.605 seconds at 209.56 mph with Enders lighting up the scoreboard with a 6.556 second at 210.54 mph. As both drivers approached the top end Enders’ parachutes caught Caruso’s rear wing as the veteran driver darted around the rookie driver. Caruso’s Sand Haulers of America Chevrolet Camaro sustained some damage to the rear wing and rear end.
“The race car needs to be fixed but we can get that handled,” said Caruso in the Houston Raceway Park media center. “We crossed the finish line and we both pulled the chutes. As we were approaching the top end the Safety Safari had their hands up so I stopped. It didn’t go as planned. The car will be all good and will be ready for race day tomorrow. It could have been anybody in the other lane. She is a great racer. I am sure she didn’t want this to happen either. It sucks that the incident happened and that’s just racing.”
Caruso becomes the fifth driver to earn their first career No. 1 at Houston Raceway Park. She joins a list comprised of Larry Morgan (1989), Mark Pawuk (1990), Ronnie Humphrey (2011) and Glenn (2021).
Karen Stoffer, Friday’s leader in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, didn’t get bumped from the top spot but she needed a significant improvement in order to keep it heading into Sunday.
Early in the session, Stoffer surrendered the lead to Steve Johnson, who rode to a 6.749. Johnson, who topped 200 mph for the first time in his career, later stepped up to a 6.739, but Stoffer ultimately captured the top spot with a 6.738, 200.35 on her Big St. Charles/Skillman Auto Suzuki. Stoffer now has six top qualifier awards in her career.
“This is amazing because the round we ran 6.738, I didn’t think it was that great of a pass,” Stoffer said. “Steve had gone past me for No. 1 and when we took it back I was really surprised. The pass wasn’t that great. That last run was also a tough ride. I had to correct a few times, but this is a beautiful piece of machinery and Tim has tuned up so fine for me. Thanks to Jerry and all the people behind me.”
In addition to Stoffer and Johnson, there were several notable improvements on Saturday. Eddie Kraweic moved to No. 3 with a 6.798 on his Vance & Hines Suzuki while reigning champ Matt Smith also improved with a 6.814 on his Suzuki. Jimmy Underdahl also made a strong run on the Scrappers Suzuki, running a seventh-best 6.846 and topping 199-mph.
Sunday should be amazing and all the drivers are extra motivated to take home the final Wally's from Houston Raceway Park.
Photo's: NHRA National Dragster
See the recap by Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor:
See the NHRA SpringNationals Saturday Photo Gallery from National Dragster: