While NHRA’s strange decision to add weight to V-Twin Pro Stock Motorcycles after Denver seems to have decidedly hamstrung that configuration, the Sonoma Suzuki field is rich with mechanical diversity.
Angelle Sampey leads the field by a mile on a Vance & Hines 4-valve head Suzuki with a 6.700 at 200.95 mph, followed over 4/100ths back by Steve Johnson’s 6.743 at 198.73 on his inhouse-built, Monster 4-valve Suzuki.
Next comes Joey Gladstone at 6.757/200.26 with a V&H 4-valve head Suzuki similar to Sampey’s, followed by Matt Smith’s inhouse-built, Monster 4-valve Suzuki at 6.758/200.74.
After Smith comes Eddie Krawiec’s 6.761/200.44 on a V&H 4-valve head Suzuki, followed by Karen Stoffer’s 6.764/199.97 on a White Alligator Racing (WAR)-built V&H 4-valve head Suzuki.
Interesting enough, but then it gets more interesting. Finally in 7th we get the first V-Twin—Angie Smith on her MSR-built, Gen2 S&S powered Buell at 6.766/203.95.
After that is Jerry Savoie in 8th with a 6.816 at 197.45. “Ho hum,” you might think. “A mid pack qualifying effort from a top tier team. So what?”
The specific combination that Savoie is running made it’s debut Saturday. While the WAR team ran one qualifier at Norwalk with their radical new plain bearing Suzuki, that was in the chassis with the WARHayabusa body. Here in Sonoma, the team had the motor in the TL-bodied chassis.
“And it’s like, very different,” said WAR tuner Tim Kulungian. “Everything’s different.”
And remember—right now the plane bearing motor is topped with a 2-valve head. And the clutch is totally different, an MTC Gen2 based on a GSXR1000 with a smaller basket.
The clutch might be the most difficult component for Kulungian to get acquainted with this weekend. The bike ran a 1.06 60 foot in Q2 that Savoie found lacking. “Shoulda been a 1.04,” said Jerry.
But the bike actually fell of a number to 1.07 in Q3. “It’s gonna go faster,” promised Kulungian. “There’s a lot on the table for the tune-up. I’m gonna start tuning it and hopefully get what we want.”
“It’s smooth,” Savoie noted. “Like riding a Hayabusa.”
What does the team plan on running raceday?
“Time will tell. I’d love this thing to be competitive in the field, and I’d run it all day tomorrow. That’s what I’d like. But we’re gonna race with what gives us the best opportunity to win. And if I can get ET out of this thing in one run—first of all, I think it’d be pretty remarkable. I think it’d be a testament to the team and how well they can do it in a very short amount of time. But I’m also realistic, that may not be our circumstances.”
Circumstances will find Savoie racing Angie in E1, while number 1 qualifier Angelle faces Lance “Giant Killer” Bonham to start her day.
Bonham is riding the Ryan Oehler team bike, most recently ridden by Chip Ellis at Norwalk. The bike has an interesting history. Mitch Brown reminds me that the bike was originally owned by Ron McPhee with David Hope riding.
Ellis’ first shot at riding the bike was in 2011 as a Harry Lartigue-owned, Kuryakyn-sponsored, Vance & Hines-entered Buell. John Hall bought and raced the bike several years ago, and it’s now in Oehler’s hands and rebodied with what used to be called an EBR.
Sampey made the quickest run of each session Saturday and blistered the track record. That run closed out qualifying and also tied the third-quickest run in class history. It’s her third No. 1 spot of 2022 and 56th in her career.
“I’m still trying to be better and trying to improve, and I’m lucky to have a really successful team behind me,” Sampey said. “My focus is just on trying to get down the track and Andrew (Hines) has done a wonderful job tuning my bike. If we leave the starting line right, it’s going to be fast.”
Johnson is the points leader and provisional No. 1 qualifier on Friday.
Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.700, 200.95 vs. 14. Lance Bonham, Buell, 7.178, 189.31; 2. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.743, 198.73 vs. 13. Scott Bottorff, Buell, 7.034, 191.46; 3. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.757, 200.26 vs. 12. Jianna Evaristo, Suzuki, 7.015, 188.75; 4. Matt Smith, Suzuki, 6.758, 200.74 vs. 11. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.881, 197.74; 5. Eddie Krawiec, Suzuki, 6.761, 200.44 vs. 10. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.864, 196.50; 6. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.764, 199.97 vs. 9. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 6.847, 197.45; 7. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.766, 203.95 vs. 8. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.816, 197.45.
Robert Hight’s run of 3.825-seconds at 332.75 mph from Friday in his Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro held up, giving the Funny Car points leader his third No. 1 qualifier this season and 74th in his career. In addition to his three straight wins at Sonoma, Hight also has five victories in 2022, including two in a row, and he will open eliminations against Jeff Diehl on Sunday.
“There’s a lot on the line, but we just need to take it one round at a time,” Hight said. “You’ve got to try to be perfect and you have to be aggressive out there. To win rounds and come out on top, you’ve got to be on edge, and I’ve got the best guys in the business behind me to get this done. We’re very confident right now because we’ve won the last two races and we qualified No. 1 here, but you have to continue to take it one round at a time because the competition is so good. There’s a lot of good cars right now so to do what we’re doing makes it that much more special.”
Defending world champ Ron Capps qualified second with a 3.846 at 334.48 and Alexis DeJoria qualified third with a 3.867 at 330.63.
Funny Car — 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.825, 332.75 vs. 16. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 5.284, 137.55; 2. Ron Capps, Toyota Supra, 3.846, 334.48 vs. 15. John Force, Camaro, 4.757, 166.70; 3. Alexis DeJoria, Supra, 3.867, 330.63 vs. 14. Terry Haddock, Ford Mustang, 4.325, 244.21; 4. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.875, 331.04 vs. 13. Jason Rupert, Mustang, 4.130, 304.67; 5. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.898, 326.56 vs. 12. Steven Densham, Mustang, 4.067, 306.12; 6. Cruz Pedregon, Dodge Charger, 3.900, 323.58 vs. 11. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.018, 314.02; 7. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.903, 325.45 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Supra, 3.991, 325.30; 8. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.980, 324.75 vs. 9. Jim Campbell, Charger, 3.990, 24.91.
In Top Fuel, Leah Pruett earned her first No. 1 qualifier this season and 12th in her career when her pass of 3.689 at 327.59 in her Rayce Rudeen Foundation Top Fuel dragster stood up. Pruett closed out qualifying with a solid run as well, giving her confidence heading into eliminations. She’ll start raceday against Jim Maroney and after finishing as runner-up in Sonoma last year, Pruett will try to finish the job on Sunday and pick up her second consecutive win this season in the process.
“It’s extremely exciting to qualify No. 1 and it shows just difficult it is for anybody,” Pruett said. “We know exactly where we’re at. It feels like the work has been validated and we’re just going to keep digging on that. If we’re able to do what we did in Denver and make it to the final and possibly win it, that’s when we’re really going to see it come full circle. We are racers and we are finally feeling like we get to race, and that’s what is most exciting for us.”
Doug Kalitta stayed in the second spot with his 3.694 at 331.45 and points leader Mike Salinas jumped to third after going 3.696 at 332.67 on Saturday.
Top Fuel — 1. Leah Pruett, 3.689 seconds, 327.59 mph vs. 16. Jim Maroney, 4.012, 269.89; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.694, 331.45 vs. 15. Ron August, 3.916, 306.40; 3. Mike Salinas, 3.696, 332.67 vs. 14. Cameron Ferre, 3.900, 308.57; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.701, 329.91 vs. 13. Tony Schumacher, 3.898, 252.10; 5. Brittany Force, 3.705, 335.15 vs. 12. Austin Prock, 3.815, no speed; 6. Justin Ashley, 3.713, 332.51 vs. 11. Alex Laughlin, 3.815, 322.19; 7. Josh Hart, 3.752, 316.52 vs. 10. Clay Millican, 3.767, 324.36; 8. Antron Brown, 3.755, 330.23 vs. 9. Shawn Langdon, 3.766, 326.40.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Scott Palmer, 4.014, 84.30.
Erica Enders grabbed the No. 1 spot from Elite Motorsports teammate Troy Coughlin Jr. on Saturday, as the Pro Stock Car points leader jumped to the top with a standout run of 6.506 at 210.97 in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro. It gives Enders, the four-time world champion, her third No. 1 qualifier of the season and 26th in her career and she will open eliminations against Fernando Cuadra Jr. Enders will also try to pick up her first win at Sonoma Raceway, something that has eluded her thus far.
“It’s been a dream season to this point,” Enders said. “It’s always big to qualify on the pole. The other two we have this season we’ve carried it all the way through on Sunday and got it done. Hopefully, the trend continues, but the field is stacked and it’s super tough. We’ve got work to do and this is my favorite place to race, but we’ve never had super successful Sundays. We’re hoping to change that tomorrow. We just have to have a positive mindset and work really hard together, and one thing I have is the best team in the world. I wouldn’t want anyone else behind me, that’s for sure.”
Defending world champ Greg Anderson, who has six wins in Sonoma, made a big move on Saturday into the second spot with a run of 6.518 at 209.43, while Coughlin will start raceday from third thanks to his 6.521 at 210.90.
Pro Stock Car — 1. Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.506, 210.97 vs. 16. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Ford Mustang, 6.585, 210.24; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.518, 209.43 vs. 15. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.578, 209.85; 3. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.521, 210.90 vs. 14. Fernando Cuadra, Mustang, 6.574, 209.88; 4. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.522, 211.03 vs. 13. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.556, 209.79; 5. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.534, 209.20 vs. 12. Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.554, 210.83; 6. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.537, 209.49 vs. 11. Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, 6.549, 210.11; 7. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.539, 209.82 vs. 10. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.547, 210.34; 8. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.540, 211.26 vs. 9. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.543, 210.93.
Eliminations for the Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. Television coverage on the FOX broadcast network begins at 4 p.m. ET.
PSM story by Tim Hailey, photo by Auto Imagery, car stories by NHRA