Todd, Force, Nobile lead opening-day in Topeka

John Force raced to a track record performance to move into the Funny Car qualifying lead Friday in a rain-shortened day of racing at the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

J.R. Todd (Top Fuel) and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) also were qualifying leaders at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event. Teams were only able to get one of two scheduled qualifying sessions in before evening rain showers moved into the area.

Force, the 16-time and defending Funny Car world champion, powered his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to a 4.021-second run at 318.84 mph, setting both ends of the track record. If the time holds through Saturday’s two sessions (1:30 and 4 p.m.), it will be his third No. 1 of the season and 149th of his career.

“We’ve struggled this year since Phoenix," said Force, who has nine wins and 11 No. 1 qualifying positions at Topeka. “(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock and the team have been working really hard. We had a good racetrack and good conditions, and we got down there. I have a good hot rod right now. We’ll see if we can do it again."

Force set the previous track record here last year at 4.043 seconds. His run today was significantly quicker than second place Courtney Force, who posted a 4.078 at 316.23 in her Traxxas Mustang. Force said Prock is just like Babe Ruth.

“He has always swung for the fence," Force said. “That’s what he does. Jimmy Prock makes a lot of power like all of our cars do. We’re either fast or we’re almost not in. He said he actually backed it up, and it ran faster. We have to learn that strategy with this power curve. They’re like a woman – and we love ‘em – if they don’t want to dance, ain’t nothin’ you can do about it. Today, it danced."

Red-hot Robert Hight, the Funny Car points leader who is riding a six-race final-round streak into this event, qualified fourth in his Auto Club Mustang with a 4.091 at 312.86.

Todd set the pace in Top Fuel, posting a 3.747 at 322.65 in his Optima Batteries dragster.

“Driving for (team owner) Conrad (Kalitta), you can expect a quick and fast car, for sure," Todd said. “He definitely wasn’t shy. He swings for the fence every time he can. That’s rolling for a Top Fuel car. I’m honored to be driving his bad hot rod right now."

Todd has earned three No. 1 qualifying positions in his career, his last coming in 2009. In 2007, he was runner-up at this event, his only final-round appearance here.

“It’s nice to come to Topeka and pick up where we left off," Todd said. “That car is quick and fast every time, and it definitely plants you back in the seat when it’s going that quick, that early. It was a bit of a handful at the other end of the track, so there’s definitely more in it. This team has always had success here, so they have a lot of notes to fall back on. Hopefully, we can add to the success they’ve had in the past."

Steve Torrence was second with a 3.778 at 325.06 in his Capco Contractors dragster, and Tony Schumacher was third in his U.S. Army dragster with a 3.791 at 322.96.

Nobile was quickest in Pro Stock; the New York native covered the distance in 6.601 seconds at 208.71 mph in his Mountain View Tire Chevy Camaro.

"It was definitely a good start to the weekend," Nobile said. “It was a late start but a good start. We made a pretty good run. I couldn't have drawn it up any better."

Taking the top spot was a bonus for Nobile, who was just happy to make a run today after his team had issues getting their race car to the event. The team’s rig broke down just outside Atlanta Dragway and was stuck in Georgia for several days. Ultimately, they used a rental truck to carry the race car to Kansas, and it arrived just after noon today.

"On days like today, when you're scheduled to run at 4:30, you still get here at 8:30 in the morning because that's when you wake up and you're antsy to get to the track," Nobile said. “Then, when you make a decision early in the morning, you (end up) second guessing yourself most of the time. That always seems to bite you in the butt. Today, we didn't get that opportunity to overthink ourselves."

Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, who is one of five women trying to claim the 100th NHRA Pro win by a female racer this weekend, was second overall in her Elite Motorsports Camaro with a 6.611 at 208.81. Atlanta winner Jeg Coughlin Jr. was third with a 6.618 at 208.65 in his Dodge Dart.

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