CLERMONT, Ind. – Two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence claimed the top spot in qualifying for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals Saturday at Lucas Oil Raceway as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returned to action for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.
Torrence earned the No. 1 spot for the 25th time in his career with a 3.779-second run in his Capco Contractors dragster. He’ll face off with Luigi Novelli in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations.
“Those bad-to-the-bone Capco Boys made it fly during Q2 and we’re headed into race day No. 1,” Torrence said. “Now the fun begins. You can’t take anyone lightly. If we make a mistake, Luigi has proved he’s capable of just stepping up and slapping us. That said, I’m just glad to be back racing. I’ll be even better once we can get all our fans back in the mix.”
Doug Kalitta qualified second fastest, with Terry McMillen taking third.
Tony Schumacher, making his return to the Top Fuel category after two years, qualified seventh fastest and will face Don Schumacher Racing teammate Leah Pritchett in the first round Sunday.
Cory McClenathan also returned to action for Don Schumacher Racing, qualifying 12th. He’ll battle T.J. Zizzo in the first round of eliminations.
Tommy Johnson Jr. raced to the No. 1 spot in Funny Car qualifying, leading the way with a 3.983-second run in the MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge. He’ll face Ron Capps in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
“To be able to carry that momentum from Phoenix into this race and not miss a beat is great,” said Johnson. “It looks good. We’ve had a really good race car and it continues to be. It’s going to be a tough day tomorrow because conditions are going to be so much different but it’s good to know we have a good baseline and we’ll go from there. Testing on Friday was so valuable you can’t put a price on it. We probably wouldn’t have qualified if we hadn’t tested because we had issues with our new body. We also found a problem with one of our controllers for the clutch and the fuel system. To find those issues on Friday and come out and run so good on Saturday just shows you that we needed a couple of runs to work everything out after being off for four months.”
Jonnie Lindberg, racing in place of Motorcraft Ford racer Bob Tasca III while Tasca recovers after contracting COVID-19, qualified second. Jack Beckman ended up third.
Jason Line topped the Pro Stock field in his Summit Racing Equipment entry. He only took one run down the strip after a mechanical issue prevented him from making his second pass, but his first pass of 6.626 seconds ended up being enough to give him the No. 1 spot.
“I finally shifted right,” Line said. “Actually, I have to give Greg [Anderson] the credit for that because he worked way harder than I did,” said Line. “Obviously this is a strange time and none of us really knows how to handle it. We just did the best we could. We’re much better than we were when we left off from [testing in March]. I made a good run. Of course we didn’t get to make two but we got it fixed and we’re ready for tomorrow.”
Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified second ahead of Erica Enders in third.
The No. 1 position in Pro Stock Motorcycle went to veteran Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson FXDR rider Eddie Krawiec, who led the field with a 6.897-second run. Matt Smith and Andrew Hines followed.
“It’s great to be back to racing,” said Krawiec. “To come out the way we have today I believe the downtime efforts are showing. We just need to shift focus to race day now and keep the bikes running consistently and fast each round.”