CHANDLER, Ariz. (April 1) — Texan Bryan Sanders thrilled the crowd at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park with a scorching pass of 3.552 seconds at 259.47 mph Saturday to highlight the qualifying action at the season-opening Valley of the Sun Spring Nationals, the first of 10 races in the 2017 Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series.
After failing to make the call in the opening session of Top Fuel Hydro, Sanders silenced any doubters with his big pass in Tommy Thompson’s General Tire-sponsored “Nitrochondriac,” which was more than half a second quicker than his nearest rival.
“I’m very happy,” Sanders said. “We missed the first round with a little electrical issue. You know, we’ve been out of the boat for four months and even though we ended last season really well you come back out here and you really don’t know what to expect. But we got up there (in Q2) and she laid down a really good pass.”
The series last ran in November, once again at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, and the time off definitely played a role in Saturday’s
“It’s a whole new kick in the pants when you’ve been out of the seat for that long,” Sanders said. “Usually the first thing that goes through your mind is ‘what are you doing? Are you crazy?’ Then the next thing going through your mind is ‘I hope the guys got everything right.’ You just want to get that first (pass) out of the way. So when it rolled over, went straight, and hooked it on through there in (Q2), that’s all I needed.”
Sanders will open elimination action against last boat Lee Warren, who didn’t record an official time in the E3/Safety Kleen “Whiskey River 2” boat.
“For sure, come first round on Sunday, I’ll definitely get those first-round jitters,” Sanders said. “But I feel like if I get past first round it’s all behind me from there. This boat is set up like it was last year and it was a really, really dominant boat and we’ve put the same tune-up back in it, so we should be good. But, you know, this boat’s also been in a thousand pieces down to a bare hull and back together so you really don’t know exactly what you’re going to get.”
Californian Mike De Clark leads Top Alcohol Hydro in his GS Marine-sponsored “Little White Lies” entry after an impressive 4.378 at 203.73 mph. He’s followed closely by Andy Reynolds, who coaxed a 4.397 at 200.84 mph out of the “Running With Scissors” boat, and Bob Pizza, who is third in the “What A Tomato” vessel with a 4.406 at 203.03 mph.
“We went into yesterday’s (test) runs kind of soft just to find out where we were with the tune-up and we were pretty happy with how she acted so this morning we really poured the coals to her and it immediately got out of shape,” De Clark said. “We came back for the last round and just tamed her down a little bit and it paid big dividends for us.”
As the quickest pilot in the eight-boat field, De Clark will open opposite final qualifier Steve Streeter, who drifted to a best of 8.311 at 47.42 mph after shutting off his “Untouchable” entry early in the run.
“Race day’s a different deal and even though I don’t think I’ll be as nervous as I was when I first climbed in the boat Friday, you’re always a little cautious after that long vacation,” De Clark said. “You wonder if the boat is going to handle the same way and do the same things it was doing last year. You wonder if you’re going to be able to feel it through your butt and know which direction it’s going? Can you catch her if she does something stupid? You always get those doubts but I’ll go into it like I always do, giving ’em hell.”
Tony Scarlata had another Tommy Thompson boat, the Lucas Oil-sponsored “Shazam” at the front of Top Alcohol Flat. His 5.491 at 147.00 mph was more than enough to get the job done.
“It’s the start of a new year so we’re getting the kinks worked out,” Scarlata said. “We had a couple of mistakes on my end early on but we collected ourselves and qualified No. 1 in the second session. The weather’s been hot and cold, kind of a tuner’s nightmare, but nothing too bad. It’s always a challenge but we love Wild Horse Pass.
“We found a few things wrong with the boat today. It’s actually an old boat with a new engine and for some reason it’s going from left to right. I start way up against the barge, which is on the left side of the lane, and I’m ending up just missing the buoy on the outside lane. There’s something going on with my steering and it’s probably slowing me down about a tenth of a second. Fortunately, we have a bye first round so we can work on getting that fixed. If it’ll run in the mid-5.30s all day we should be there in the end.”
Seven boats qualified for Top Alcohol Flat.
The final two professional categories, Pro Mod and Pro Outlaw, were led by Keith Funk and Vic Esposito, respectively. Funk drove his boat “Animal” to a 7.017 at 162.67 mph on a 7.00 index. Esposito took “Freak Show” to a 5.475 at 165.40 mph on a 5.40 index to lead his class.
Sportsman class leaders were Tim Miller in Pro Eliminator (8.035 at 133.94 mph), Dave Lipinski in Quick Eliminator (6.038 at 148.40 mph), Duane Thornton in Top Eliminator (9.004 at 126.56 mph), Mike Munoz in Modified Eliminator (10.077 at 104.38 mph), Danny Montoya in Stock Eliminator (11.423 at 90.41 mph), Glendon Boehme in River Racer (13.824 at 71.42 mph) and Matt Howard in Personal Watercraft 1 (13.610 at 67.38 mph).