A 164-time No. 1 qualifier, a first-time No. 1 qualifier and one of the fastest women on two wheels shared the spotlight on Saturday’s portion of the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
John Force’s track record-setting speed from Friday (3.850 seconds at 334.24 mph) held up in Saturday’s sun-drenched Funny Car time trials.
“It was a good day,” said Force, who corralled his first top qualifier of the season. “Let’s see where (Sunday) goes. I just love racing at this place because of Bruton Smith (zMAX Dragway Founder and Speedway Motorsports Executive Chairman).
“The crowd today makes us feel good. You can’t thank Bruton and (Speedway Motorsports President and CEO) Marcus Smith enough. I love what they do for this sport. I love coming to this track.”
Force, a 16-time World Champion, joined Pro Stock Motorcycle speed demon Angelle Sampey and Top Fuel driver Justin Ashley – celebrating the first No. 1 qualifier of his three-year career – in shining brightest on Saturday.
“It feels great,” Ashley said of his No. 1 seed for Sunday’s Top Fuel eliminations. “To be here and say we qualified No. 1, with the depth of the Top Fuel field this year, it really says a lot about our team. No matter where you are, No. 16 or No. 1, there’s always pressure. But to me, it’s all about going out there and putting our best foot forward.
“We’re just racing the race track. This is about positioning yourself for Sunday. It’s going to be a difficult race day. My teammate Antron Brown is going to be in my quad (for eliminations), so it’s going to be a tough challenge. We’re looking forward to it.”
Ashley’s 3.669-second, 331.77-mph run from Friday held up on Saturday. Pro Stock Motorcycle provisional pole-winner Steve Johnson, however, lost out on top qualifier honors to Sampey on Saturday.
Sampey’s 6.714-second, 201.16-mph run marked the New Orleans native’s 54th top qualifier result in her storied career.
“We were really overdue for this No. 1 qualifier. We should’ve had it in Gainesville or Houston,” Sampey said. “We have it now. (Crew chief) Andrew (Hines) did a great job setting it up and the guys back at Vance and Hines were amazing.”
The Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals builds to a thundering, 44,000-horsepower crescendo on Sunday, with high-octane eliminations getting underway at 11 a.m. Every ticket is a pit pass, giving fans unmatched access to the drivers, crews and cars who make drag racing a spectacle from the moment the cars unload to the final light of the weekend.
Tickets to the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals can be purchased at the gate, by calling 800-455-FANS or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/tickets. Any fan who brings a Polar Pop cup from Circle K to the dragway will receive $7 off tickets purchased at the gate. Kids 12 and under get in free all weekend long.