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June 19. 2013 8:50PM

New England Nationals in Epping: Hot rods, cool event


Scott Hall of Ledyard, Conn., looks over a drag car that he'll be racing in the top dragster sportsman's class at this weekend's Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping. The car is owned by David Lavoie off Peterborough. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

EPPING -- LANNY MIGLIZZI was impressed.

A longtime employee of John Force Racing, Miglizzi got down and dirty, and intently studied the concrete racing surface of the dragstrip at New England Dragway a little after noon on Wednesday. Then studied it some more.

"This is a really nice place," Miglizzi said. "Really nice."

Miglizzi's boss, John Force, and rest of the racers of the National Hot Rod Association hit New England Dragway this weekend for the NHRA New England Nationals.

It's the first time the top drag racing series has brought its Nationals to the dragway, and it's the first year of a 10-year deal that includes options for another 10.

"This is it; it's really going to happen," said Joe Lombardo, the dragway's general manager. "You start to realize you're going to make history for the track as well as the state. You kind of lose sight of that a bit and don't think of it that way when you're doing all the work to get ready for it. But you think about it as it ramps up. This is really going to be cool."While John Force, one of his racing daughters, Brittany, and fellow racers Robert Hight and Bob Tosca III were down in Boston doing promotional work at lunchtime on Wednesday, preparations for the weekend continued at the dragway.

Racing starts with qualifying this morning and builds with more qualifying on Friday and Saturday, leading up to Sunday's finals.

Brightly colored haulers carrying the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycles that will compete this weekend jockeyed into position and unloaded at the track.

Merchandise vendors, just in from the NHRA's stop in Bristol, Tenn., last weekend, unpacked boxes and stocked their walls and sales counters while a crew set up the NHRA Nitro Mall.

A "Fast & Flirty" Courtney Force collapsible cooler — coozie, if you prefer — to keep your favorite beverage cold, goes for $5 at the John Force Racing Travelin' Roadshow trailer. Same price for the "Fastest Force: Brittany" one supporting her sister.

Out near the start of the quarter-mile dragstrip, Alan Beckwith, a firefighter and EMT at the track, and Doreen Schibbelhute, an EMT, watched as race officials worked near the starting line.

"Everyone is so excited to have the NHRA here," Schibbelhute said. "Excited is an understatement. The public is all talking about it. Anyone who knows you work here is asking about it. They don't stop talking about it."Miglizzi was back out on the track, down on his stomach again on his wheeled platform and looking down the track through his binoculars. He got back up and jotted a few more particulars down in his notebook and then headed back to the starting line to get the temperature of the track again.It was 107 degrees at 11 a.m. under blue skies. It was up to 112.5 at 11:30 a.m. and 122 at 1:15 p.m., he reported.

He takes note after note. It's all about compiling as much information as possible in an effort to give the competitors at John Force Racing any bit of an edge in these super-powered dragsters that roar down the concrete straightaway at 300-plus mph.

The information, he said, will be shared with the NHRA and track management.

"We're one big family," he said.

One big family throwing one big block party — Lombardo expects crowds of 17,000 to 20,000 each day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday — this weekend.

alessels@unionleader.com; on Twitter @AllenLessels


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