September 1, 2014

Elyria
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76°F
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NHRA Summit Nationals: Times stay stagnant as temperatures increase, conditions get tougher

NORWALK — Though the temperatures were up from the first day of qualifying at the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, the times stayed the same during Saturday’s two sessions.

Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Michael Ray managed to slightly lower his elapsed time and raise his track-record speed, but Top Fuel’s Doug Kalitta, Funny Car’s John Force and Pro Stock’s Allen Johnson won poles with their Day 1 qualifying times.

“The conditions changed today,” Johnson said. “The track was a little hotter, a little grimier, a little harder to get a hold of … it made the motors a little harder to tune. The last I looked at it, it was supposed to be more of the same (today), maybe a little bit warmer. It could get a little tricky.”

Ray improved his numbers during the third round of qualifying, which took place before noon, then decided to skip the fourth round.

“After the first round this morning, we came back around and we looked at the data and saw that the bike, as far as tune-up, was just flawless,” Ray said. “(Crew chief George Bryce) just said, ‘Hey, man, we have a pretty good goal here of going to win a championship, and they’re not going to give them away this afternoon. So if you feel confident and you feel comfortable, we’re going to park it for the day.’”

Knowing that the oncoming heat wasn’t going to allow Ray — or his rivals — to beat his 6.912 ET, the team didn’t want to risk unnecessary damage.

“We’re really, really clicking right now. All the parts and pieces from the shop are really staying together for the bike,” Ray said. “We’re not having any dumb parts failures, so to keep seeing all the momentum moving forward we just didn’t want to go out there and take a chance on hurting a motor. We leave to go out West next week. Denver is really hard on parts, then we go back to Sonoma, so we have a lot of racing to do over the next few weeks and we don’t want to be behind the 8-ball.

“So a pretty good decision on our end, I guess.”

Kalitta was able to rest easy with his 3.767 ET and 327.74 mph qualifying run from Friday — the quickest run and fastest speed in the 50-year history of the Norwalk raceway.

“I’m happy to get that No. 1 qualifier and hope to turn it into a win,” Kalitta said. “I think it’s a good place to start from. It’ll be a level playing field again (today). We’ll take it round by round and see if we can keep going here.”

Johnson’s low ET of 6.592 earned him the Pro Stock pole, but series points leader Mike Edwards is right behind him at No. 2 and set the track record with a speed of 209.92 mph.

“I think we’ve closed the gap performance-wise, maybe even overcame (Edwards) the last couple of races,” Johnson said. “Now it’s what I call getting-after-it time. We’ve got these next three or four races to get in his pocket for points and hopefully secure that No. 1 position.”

It was a bittersweet day for Force, who has a long history with Norwalk.

He earned his first pole in the seven-year history of the NHRA event at Summit Motorsports Park, and today he’ll try to win the event for the first time.

“We proved we could run good,” said Force, who ran a track-record 4.021 ET. “It was cooled down (Friday), but we thought we could run better (Saturday) in the heat. So (today) can be anybody’s race, so that’s good for the fans.

“I know the track. I know where it pulls you and where it doesn’t. I’ve tried to put that to my daughters. Every track’s a little bit different and I’ve learned that here from 18 years of match racing.”
But Force had to watch middle daughter Brittany — a Top Fuel rookie — struggle and miss qualifying by one spot.

“I felt kind of bad for her at the other end. Her car got loose and got over the center line and she didn’t make the show,” John said. “She had a rough week last week, too.

But I told her, ‘You’re 25 years old kid. I had never even gone to the other end of a racetrack at that age … without being on fire.’ She has a whole future ahead of her.

“Part of that game is fighting the fight, and you have to take getting beat up with the good stuff. If I get beat up (this) morning, I’ll be right back out there rooting for my other cars. If they lose, I’ll be out there rooting for the buddy of mine who’s racing … that’s just how I do it.”

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @ShaunBennettct on Twitter.