NORWALK — This weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals is more than just a homecoming for Elyria’s Ray Connolly. It’s also an opportunity to return home as the defending Super Gas champion.
Connolly recorded his eighth Super Gas and 11th overall national division race win Sunday at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Ill., where he defeated Ray Sawyer in the final.
“Last weekend was a really good weekend for us,” Connolly said. “There were a lot of weather issues there, too, but the key is to always be prepared and ready to go.”
After Friday’s racing, Connolly is still in the hunt for back-to-back Super Gas wins, something he hasn’t accomplished in his career.
“There are so many good drivers out here who are doing this every week … it’s hard just to win one,” he said. “The key to winning is just making the least amount of mistakes. Anyone out here is capable of doing it.”
Connolly feels good going into the second day of Super Gas eliminations.
“The track conditions have been changing with the weather, but we have been able to adjust and we’ll be ready for the next round,” he said.
Home track edge?
While many of his rivals in the Super Comp division travel the country competing in the Lucas Oil Racing Series, Elyria’s Eric Manuel is busy competing at Summit Motorsports Park.
If you think that gives the local driver an advantage when the NHRA comes to town, Manuel said just the opposite is true.
“I’m here almost every weekend bracket racing, but everything we normally do is different this weekend,” Manuel said. “The way they stage here is different and the way you react off the light is different, but so many of these guys have really helped me get prepared for this.
“Everybody thinks you just come down here and go fast, but there is so much more to it than that and when you get the chance to learn from the guys who travel the country making a living at this you better pay attention.”
Manuel, who qualified 25th but has already advanced to the second round of eliminations, will be keeping one eye on the skies with more rain expected this weekend.
“It’s been raining all year so I'm used to watching the weather,” he said. “It’s not just, ‘Is it going to rain?’ there are four or five different things in a weather forecast that a driver should know are going to affect his car by a few one-thousandths of a second.”
Just in time
Although rain caused an early end to Thursday’s sportsman series qualifying and delayed Super Comp and Top Alcohol qualifying Friday morning, the skies cleared in time for all four divisions of the Mello Yello professional series to get both of their qualifying sessions in as scheduled.
A number of area drivers had outstanding runs over the first two days of racing.
Grafton’s Ronald Matcham had the top qualifying run in the Super Stock Division, and Josh Gnandt of Wellington was the best among area drivers qualifying 11th out of 74 drivers in the Super Comp division.
“I was happy with my qualifying run,” Gnandt said. “I try not to let external factors affect me because the key to racing is having a good car and every time I go out on the track I feel like I have a good car.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135or firstname.lastname@example.org.