Rain washed away the fourth qualifying session Saturday for the NHRA Kansas Nationals, but Heartland Park Topeka already has witnessed the fastest weekend of Funny Car racing in history.
Seven drivers made a total of eight passes under 4 seconds during the first three rounds of qualifying, establishing new benchmarks for the most drivers and most runs below that magical mark at a single event.
Four drivers made passes below 4 seconds in 2013 at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., and there were seven such runs among three drivers in 2014 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.
If this is Heartland Park’s swan song after 27 years as an NHRA national track, it’s going out with a bang.
“This is the toughest Funny Car field I think I’ve ever been up against,” said John Force, a veteran of 667 career NHRA Funny Car races.
Force, a nine-time winner at Heartland Park and 16-time Funny Car champion, qualified fifth in 3.990 seconds.
The Funny Car field was so fast that top qualifier Chad Head, who set a new track record with a career-best 3.967 that stood up through Saturday’s third round, was stunned to claim his second career pole.
“I expected to see us get knocked off,” Head said. “Actually, I was shocked that we didn’t. There’s a lot of good cars.”
Tim Wilkerson scorched the drag strip for his fastest elapsed time (3.971) and top speed (322.58) during Saturday’s qualifying run.
“Boy, the track was just stupendous,” said Wilkerson, who qualified second. “I was trying to do that last night and the thing just hiccupped on me and I had to shut it off, but I really thought (the car) had it in it.”
Cruz Pedregon, who briefly held the track record Friday during the first round of qualifying, grabbed the No. 3 seed for today’s elimination rounds with an elapsed time of 3.979.
Ron Capps (3.989), Jack Beckman (3.991) and Alexis DeJoria (a career-best 3.994) also ran 1,000 feet in under 4 seconds, while Matt Hagan narrowly missed with a 4.000.
Beckman also ran a 3.992 on Saturday.
“It’s pretty remarkable for our class right now,” DeJoria said. “We’re so competitive and most of the top cars are running in the 3s. To do it all at the same race in Topeka, where it had never happened, it’s incredible. It’s the best conditions we’ve seen out here ever in what very well might be the last race we have here. It’s kind of cool to be a part of it.”
The track record entering the weekend was 4.009 by Courtney Force during qualifying last season.
“It’s unprecedented, but this class is so competitive and everyone’s getting faster and faster,” DeJoria said. “Anymore, if you’re not running in the 3s, you’re not one of the big dogs.”
The field is so fast that Courtney Force only qualified 11th despite establishing a new national record in the Funny Car division with a top speed of 325.06 mph.
NHRA rules require a two runs within 1 percent of each other on the same weekend to establish a national record, but Courtney already had set the track record Friday at 324.20.
That made Saturday’s run one for the record books.
“It’s a fast race track, and that’s why they’ve got to keep it,” John Force said. “Even in this economy. Hell, I survived the economy and I took some major hits, but we’ve got to fix this deal.”
Heartland Park faces an uncertain future because of an ownership quagmire, which threatens to permanently close the facility.
The record for most runs under 4 seconds at any track is 10 at Auto Club Raceway across four events, another record Heartland Park could eclipse before the eliminations are done.