Story By: NHRA – EPPING, NH – Coming off a championship season, the Top Fuel team of Brittany Force made big changes heading into the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, knowing full well it may take time for the team to find its footing.
Heading to the seventh race of the season at this weekend’s NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway, Force is eager for that to now translate into wins in her 11,000-horsepower Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac dragster. She still sits second in points thanks to a consistent start, but the reigning champ will have two chances to find success in front of what’s expected to be another huge crowd in Epping.
Force is part of the new Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge in Epping, a special bonus race held on Saturday. The challenge features semifinal rematches from Chicago and then the two winners squaring off during qualifying, adding bonus points and championship points to the mix. Force will face off with Chicago winner Clay Millican, with Leah Pruett taking on Josh Hart in the other matchup.
It marks a great opportunity for Force to find success on Saturday and then turn that into her first race win of the 2023 campaign.
“I’m excited to be returning to New England Dragway this weekend with my Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac team. We’ve had some luck in Epping in the past with a win in 2017 and currently holding the track speed record at 334.90 that we set last season,” Force said. “This team is looking for more this weekend. Our plan is to qualify in the top five, attempt a Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge win during qualifying and chase down a Sunday win. We still have so much racing ahead of us this season but it’s time to turn things around going forward and get back to the top.”
Mike Salinas (Top Fuel) and Matt Hagan (Funny Car) were last year’s winners in Epping. This season’s race will again be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. It is the seventh of 21 races during the 2023 season and Force won’t have an easy task racing against Millican, who picked up his first win in five years with his Chicago triumph. He’s enjoyed every bit of that moment, but Millican and his Rick Ware Racing team is ready to keep rolling in his 11,000-horsepower Parts Plus dragster.
“We had so many changes and it had been a real struggle, but if you’re going to get the struggle bus out of the ditch, the way to do it is to leave with a Wally and that’s what we did (in Chicago),” Millican said. “What a great team we’ve got.”
Millican took down Hart in the final round, with Hart now getting a possible chance for redemption if he can get past Pruett on Saturday. Just as important, Hart and his team continued to show consistency, advancing to his third straight final round with his Chicago success. He’s bumped up to seventh in points in his 11,000-horsepower R&L Carriers dragster, intent on taking it an extra step – or two – this weekend in Epping.
“We will be ready,” Hart said. “These specialty races are great for the fans and when you get into the Countdown, those championship points could come in handy. I’m looking forward to getting after it. We have a car that can win rounds and we are looking to have more success in Epping than we did last year. We will have a busy weekend and I am looking forward to racing in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge for the first time.”
It will be Pruett’s third time in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, the most of any driver in the Top Fuel ranks. She will be looking for her first victory in the special bonus race, advancing as the second alternate after Chicago semifinalist T.J. Zizzo and quarterfinalist Jacob McNeal opted not to compete in Epping. Pruett is viewing it as a great opportunity to again compete in the challenge, this time in her 11,000-horsepower Rush Truck Centers dragster.
“I am thankful we get to compete in this third one, even if by default,” Pruett said. “But even if by default, that means we were the closest-qualified contender to be it. At this moment, I’m not focused on who we’re running. However, the balance is very real between using these qualifying rounds to sharpen our sword, which means tuning on the edge, while competing for coveted championship points and some cash for my guys. The goal is to have it all, a top-qualifier car to win the challenge and also win the race. That is what I believe we are capable of and intend to do.”
Hagan, who currently leads the field with three wins so far in 2023, will look to continue his momentum this season as well as in Epping and build on his points lead. To do so, he’ll need to get around reigning Funny Car champion Ron Capps, three-time champ Robert Hight, John Force, New England native Bob Tasca, Alexis DeJoria, J.R. Todd and Tim Wilkerson in the highly competitive category.
This year’s event marks the debut of the always thrilling Pro Mod division at New England Dragway. The loyal NHRA fans will be treated to dramatic racing from the stars of the class including Justin Bond, who has won the first two races of the year, JR Gray, defending world champion Kris Thorne and more.
The event also will feature standout competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which features some of the sport’s top drivers, as well as the popular snowmobile categories. Prior to nitro qualifying each day, fans will be treated to a Top Fuel Motorcycle exhibition run between Dave Vantine and Micah Fenwick. The Zona Motorsports’ nostalgia cars will also be making exhibition runs and cacklefests throughout the weekend. On Saturday, fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds.
Fans at New England Dragway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan-favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the NHRA New England Nationals event winners.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Epping. This unique opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 6 p.m. ET on Friday, June 2 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 3 at 2 and 5:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, June 4. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday, 9 p.m. on Saturday, and then eliminations action at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday.