September 30, 2023

Pruett, Hight, Enders, Herrera take NHRA Thunder Valley No. 1s

Gaige Herrera continued his perfect run in Pro Stock Motorcycle on Saturday at Bristol Dragway, winning the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge and securing his fourth consecutive #1 qualifier at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

In the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock) also won the bonus event in Bristol. Leah Pruett (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) all qualified #1 in the eighth of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

In the final lap of the bonus event, Herrera was faster at the start against Hector Arana Jr., posting a 0.009 second reaction time and a 6.849 second run at 194.83 mph on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. It’s Herrera’s second Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge win this season, with his 6.808 second run at 320.61 mph earlier on Saturday earning him the No. 1 qualifier. Herrera has not lost a round in 2023 and will aim for his fourth win in a row on Sunday as he opens the eliminations against Ron Tornow in what also marks Herrera’s Thunder Valley debut.

“It makes me feel better that I went out and did my job,” Herrera said. “I had to fight the bike a bit to get to the wall, so I think we slowed down a bit because of that. But that was a good run with Hector. I was happy to get the holeshot and come out on top. Just to be a part of the whole Mission Challenge is really cool.

“It has been a wonderful journey so far. This whole season is a dream come true, like I said, and to do it the way we’ve done it is just incredible. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Arana Jr. qualified second with a time of 6.839 seconds at 329.02 km/h and Eddie Krawiec’s 6.855 seconds at 328.03 km/h put him third.

Stanfield claimed victory in Saturday’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge in his Janac Brothers Chevrolet Camaro, clocking 6.637 seconds at 206.32 mph in his Camaro to beat points leader Dallas Glenn. Stanfield, the defending winner of the Bristol event, took his maiden specialty race win on the back of two outstanding runs, beating Deric Kramer on the opening lap with a 6.631s at 206.80mph. The young star will try to defend his crown in Bristol on Sunday, making it a weekend of double wins.

“This is really cool. Qualifying is normally about getting a nice clean run so to add a little bit of competition to that and turn the win light on and get a little bit of redemption is great,” said Stanfield.

“Drag racing has a lot of highs and lows, and we struggled a bit at the start of the season, but they worked really hard. We turned it around and I just got a really good hot rod. Last year I had a really good race car pretty much all year and I think we’re going to get back to that place.”

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Enders officially earned her first No. 1 of the season as her 6.627 second run at 205.88 mph from Friday in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet held up. It also gives the defending and five-time world champion her 30th career No. 1 qualifier and plenty of momentum as she heads for eliminations. She opens eliminations against Mason McGaha, looking for her first win of the season.

“I definitely have a lot more confidence than we’ve had on the other Sundays so far this season,” said Enders. “We seem to have a race car under us and that is really exciting, we just have to get to work tomorrow, give our best and try to park the JHG/Melling Performance car in the winner’s circle.

“We’ll see what happens tomorrow, but hopefully it will be a long, successful Sunday here in Bristol. I’m so glad we’re back. It’s just very exciting. Whatever happens, we’ve worked so incredibly hard, these guys haven’t had a day off in months, and you can see it coming to fruition.”

Stanfield qualified in second spot and Cristian Cuadra’s 6.632s at 206.04 mph put him third heading into Sunday.

In Top Fuel, Pruett enjoyed her first No. 1 qualifier of the season for Tony Stewart Racing as her 3.745 second run at 322.42 mph in her 11,000 horsepower Rush Truck Centers dragster from Friday easily held up on Sunday. It is also the 14th career No. 1 spot for Pruett, who will open eliminations against Spencer Massey. Pruett has been solid for most of the 2023 season, but she will be looking for her first win of the season and her first win at Bristol Dragway on Sunday.

“This number 1 is just a testament to the consistency this team has had all season. It’s the pinnacle of our achievements that led to this,” Pruett said. “There is nothing like racing on Sunday and racing in Thunder Valley. We have the highs and lows and the emotions of racing in qualifying. You get the echo of the cars here, and hopefully we repeat our performance from qualifying No. 1 and take that all day to race day. I’m excited. It will be an early morning for everyone, but the fans will have a long day watching cars.”

Brittany Force qualified second with a time of 3.747 seconds at 334.48 mph, and Torrence’s 3.753 seconds at 329.10 mph gave him third spot.

Funny Car’s Robert Hight earned his second No. 1 spot this season and 79th in his career based on his 3.938 seconds at 321.35 mph as of Friday in his 11,000 horsepower Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS. Hight will face Alex Laughlin to open the eliminations aiming for his second career win at Bristol Dragway.

“My team has a pretty good handle on all conditions – we’ve raced a lot of different conditions and we have a lot of data to look at,” said Hight. “We have a new combination and we are trying to get through that, but if we can fix the cylinder misfire, this thing can run for three seconds all day tomorrow. That’s probably what it takes to win, especially the first round.

“Tomorrow is a new day, we’re starting from a good place, we’ll be back to Cornwell tomorrow and we need to give them their first win.”

Capps took the second spot with his 3.962s at 318.92 mph Friday and Chad Green’s 3.969s at 322.50 mph gave him third.

Eliminations for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals begin Sunday at 10 a.m. ET at Bristol Dragway.

Story originally appeared on Racer

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