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Allen Lessels on Motor Sports: Pros, amateurs hit the line
Street dragsters line up before qualifying at New England Dragway in Epping on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
"A lot of people think you get in and hit the gas and it goes straight," said Top Fuel drag racer Morgan Lucas. "It often doesn't. Depending on the setup, sometimes it's violent and it feels like the car is a can of paint in a paint shaker. It rocks the car pretty good. Or it's like a bull riding competition and you only have to hang on for a short period of time: But it's not easy to do it."
Lucas and John Force and Antron Brown and the other heavy hitters of the NHRA start their two days of qualifying in four divisions — Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock Car and Pro Stock Motorcycles — today at 4:45.
Morgan, 29, started racing on the series in 2004 and was a career-best fifth in points in 2005 and last year won three events and finished seventh overall.
One key is avoiding first-round losses.
Qualifying today and on Saturday determines the 16 cars that will move on to elimination rounds on Sunday, starting at 11 a.m.
"To be honest with you, there are so many good cars and the competition is stiff, we're kind of on the Dale Earnhardt Jr. model," Lucas said. "We want to keep getting good finishes and keep putting ourselves in position to win."
"You have to be mentally strong, strong enough to box out distractions," Lucas said. "It's about reaction time and hand-eye coordination and making good decisions. When it shakes, you have to know how to react and have it be second nature."Patrick Kelliher of Manchester and Lauren Cultrera of Dover — amateurs who were on the track on Thursday — appreciate the mental side of the starting line, too.
Cultrera, 27, competes in a dragster in Super Comp against the likes of her brother, Kyle, 23, and Rob Hyatt of Salem.
She and her brother followed their father, Steve, into the sport. Kyle, a student at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, has been racing since he was 16.
"I went to my first race when I was three weeks old," she said. "It's always been part of my life, but I guess I wanted to go to college and get a big girl job first."
She went to school and works at Salmon Falls Family Healthcare in Somersworth as a medical assistant.
"I'd love to make a career out of this," Lauren said. "It's way more fun participating and being out there with everyone I grew up with, than it is watching."