Competition Plus’ Water-Cooler Topics From The NHRA Norwalk Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.

1. BOB UP TO THE TASCA - Bob Tasca III had a little extra motivation Sunday.

Celebrating his son’s 18th birthday, Tasca received a special request from his boy to start the day that would eventually come to fruition.

“I woke up this morning and my son turned 18,” Tasca said. “I said happy birthday, and he said, ‘Dad, get me a Wally.’”

Tasca defeated Ron Capps to collect that Wally in his Ford Performance Dark Horse Mustang Funny Car, recording a solid 3.908-second pass at 330.47 mph in the final round. Unfortunately, what promised to be a race for the ages fell short of that mark as Capps smoked the tires. Still, it was a step in the right direction for Capps as he made his first final round of the season in his NAPA Toyota GR Supra.

After the race, Tasca dedicated his win to good friend and Funny Car competitor John Force, a theme that was prevalent throughout the winner’s circle Sunday.

“When I read that news about John Force this morning, that he is making progress, it was like a weight lifted off all of our shoulders,” Tasca said. “I’ll tell you what John Force told me every race in my career. He said, ‘Tasca, be safe out there and get home to your kids.’ John, if you are listening, get better and get home to your kids, they need you and we need you. Love you champ. I’m dedicating this win to John Force.”

In addition to the win over Capps, Tasca added a win over the Funny Car points leader and the hottest driver in the class, Austin Prock, in the semifinals. Tasca advanced to his second straight final and the 33rd of his career with a 3.929-second pass at 334.73 mph compared to Prock’s 3.927 at 328.06 mph. Tasca added wins over Paul Lee and Dave Richards on Sunday.

The win was Tasca’s 17th career victory and second of the season. It was his second triumph at Norwalk, with his first coming back in 2019.

2. LET THE GAMES CONTINUE - Gaige Herrera extended his win streak to 11 straight events and 49 rounds with another thrilling victory over rival Matt Smith on Sunday.

In a ongoing rivalry between the two riders, Herrera and Smith had a little gamesmanship on the starting line as the  competitors flickered the bulbs in an attempt to interrupt the other's focus, but it was Herrera that came out on top yet again. Herrera drove his RevZilla/Vance & Hines Suzuki to a 6.704-second lap at 200.77 mph to extend his NHRA-record win streak. Smith, meanwhile, began drifting toward the centerline and eventually clipped a timing block, disqualifying his run.

“Matt has a fast motorcycle, he just missed a little bit today,” Herrera said. “We were going back and forth on the starting line, and it is just a lot of fun right now. I’m having a ball and so is Andrew (Hines) and all of the guys at the shop. I’ve got to thank all of them back at Vance & Hines. This Vance & Hines Suzuki has been on rails all year, and we will see how far we can keep it going.”

Herrera has now won 16 total event dating back to the start of 2023. He has won every race in 2024 and continues to extend his championship lead over the field.

The rivalry between Herrera and Smith grew at Summit Motorsports Park as Smith took a couple of shots at the Vance & Hines team, accusing them of slowing the bike during qualifying to hide a perceived advantage. And that accusation didn’t lose any steam when Herrera came out and ran the quickest pass of the weekend in Round One.

Top qualifier Smith, after advancing around Wesley Wells in Round One in his Denso/MSR Buell, quipped, “We all knew the sandbags would come off. We have the second- and third-best bikes, and we will see what happens.”

Herrera added wins over John Hall, Chase Van Sant and Ron Tornow to reach the final round.


3. BROWN NEEDS MULTIPLE MOTORS TO GET WIN - Antron Brown and his team had to work just a little bit harder to get their second win of 2024.
After hurting an engine in the semifinals, the Matco Tools team went through two more motors before just making the call for the final round. In that final, Brown won in a thriller with a 3.736 at 330.55 mph to drive around points leader Doug Kalitta. Kalitta completed the 1,000-foot course in his Applied Innovation dragster with a 3.747 at 334.65 mph.

“We had a little trouble in that last round,” Brown said. “We actually hurt the engine. We put one in, and we found something wrong with that one. The boys stayed resilient and didn’t stop, put another one in, and we got it in and we got the win. It was truly a blessing. John Force, this is for you.”

Brown collected his 76th career win and first at Summit Motorsports Park in a decade by knocking off Kalitta, the hottest driver in the class. Kalitta has now been to four straight final rounds, winning two out of four. Brown added wins over Justin Ashley, Clay Millican and Dan Mercier.




4. STANFIELD GETS FIRST ICE CREAM SCOOP - Aaron Stanfield earned his first career victory at Summit Motorsports Park on Sunday with a win over rival Dallas Glenn.

In another chapter in the continued rivalry between Elite Motorsports and KB Titan Racing, Stanfield, behind the wheel of his Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Chevrolet Camaro, took a second straight from Glenn. Stanfield recorded a 6.539-second lap at 208.91 mph as Glenn, the current Pro Stock points leader, shook the tires and limped across the line in his Rad Torque machine.

Stanfield also beat Glenn last weekend in the finals in Virginia.

“Back to back feels great,” Stanfield said. “This is a home race for Melling, and I’m visiting them for the first time on Monday. This is going to be something really cool to show the guys. Thank you to Johnson's Horsepowered Garage and all of the boys at Elite Motorsports. This hot rod was flying today, and it feels good to get this ice cream scoop.”

Stanfield added wins over Cristian Cuadra, Deric Kramer and Chris McGaha in a wild day in Pro Stock that saw the top two qualifiers -- Greg Anderson and Erica Enders -- both eliminated in the first round, a feat that hadn’t happened since 2012.

Sunday’s win marked Stanfield’s 10th career win and second of 2024 as he continues to make up ground in the class.

5. FORCE UPDATE - Just a few hours before engines were fired for the beginning of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals on Sunday, John Force Racing released an update on the status of 16-time champion John Force following his accident in Virginia one week ago.

The statement read, “After five tense days during which he was heavily sedated while battling the effects of injuries suffered in the 300 mile-per-hour crash of his drag racing Funny Car, 16-time NHRA World Champion John Force has begun to show daily signs of improvement, according to family members who have maintained a presence at the trauma hospital to which he was transported by air ambulance on Sunday.

“Early in the treatment process of his Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), he failed to follow the series of commands to open his eyes, squeeze the hands of his care providers and move his extremities. Occasionally, he was able to respond with slight movements, but it wasn’t until he moved from trauma intensive care unit to neuro intensive care unit on Wednesday that he began to gain some momentum.

“He became more consistent responding to commands and finally opened his eyes on day five. Following days of failed attempts, his wife and daughters were overcome with emotion when he murmured his name, ‘John Force,’ and later when prompted, gave a thumbs up.

“The biggest challenge has been managing his extreme agitation and confusion, which causes him significant distress. He has repeatedly tried to get out of bed and has been restrained; his doctors have humorously described him as a raging bull. However, he recognized his daughters, wife, Laurie, and called them each by name. And spoke the words, 'I love you.' This, along with continued daily progress has uplifted their spirits.

“Brittany opted out of the cockpit of the Cornwell Tools Top Fuel dragster at this week’s 17th Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, to remain with family in support of her dad.

“Despite the welcomed progress, the 157- time tour winner still faces a long and difficult recovery ahead and for the immediate future, will remain in neuro intensive care with visitation restricted to immediate family members only.

“John’s family members extend their deepest gratitude to the medical professionals responsible for his well-being and recovery. They deeply appreciate the overwhelming number of heartfelt messages, prayers, support, and concern from the entire automotive and racing industries. Thank you to sponsors, fans, and the media for respecting the privacy of the Force family and the John Force Racing team members.”

6. TIME RUNS OUT ON CINDERELLA - The atmosphere in the grandstands absolutely hummed with positive energy.

As the sole representative of John Force Racing on site this weekend, Austin Prock, the young driver of the AAA Chevrolet Camaro, bore the weight of the entire race team, buoyed by the unwavering support of Force's devoted fans.

Throughout the emotionally charged weekend, Austin Prock exemplified grace and the composure of a seasoned veteran as he navigated lap after lap with the drag racing world watching.

But that Cinderella story eventually came to an end Sunday as Bob Tasca III unseated the young driver in the semifinals to send Prock home short of a final round for the first time since mid-May. In one of the best races of the weekend, Prock and Tasca were welded together at the finish line. Tasca won on a holeshot with a 3.929-second pass at 334.73 mph to Prock’s 3.927 at 328.06 mph.

Despite the result, both drivers were left smiling at the top end as they greeted each other in mutual respect.

“Man, that was close,” Prock said. “That was a great show for the fans and we just came up on the wrong end of the stick. That is going to happen. What an outstanding weekend for our AAA Camaro. Obviously we wanted to get the job done for all of our partners and for John, but it just wasn’t our day. We will regroup and the West Coast swing is up next. It is wild that we are halfway through the season already.”

After qualifying No. 1 on Saturday, it looked like the racing gods were going to be on Prock’s side Sunday after the points leader survived a scary near-upset in the first-round.

In that matchup, Prock left the starting line and immediately started losing cylinders, darting toward the middle of the track and nearly crossing the centerline. Thankfully,  opponent Joe Morrison went red, and Prock managed to stay in his lane.

“That was a very odd run for sure,” Prock said. “We got a freebie, got a lucky round, and it seems like you need one of those on race day. We left and it went straight toward the centerline, and I brought it right back, but it hung a right faster than I could even catch it. I don’t get to the centerline very often, and that thing definitely was driving me around.”

Prock would eventually fall to Tasca in the semifinals while still maintaining the championship lead.




7. VIEW FROM THE SKIES - The world-famous Goodyear blimp made an appearance at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals on Sunday.

Providing aerial coverage from high above the track, the blimp, operated by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in nearby Akron, Ohio, could be seen for miles soaring above the mostly flat northern Ohio landscape.

The appearance also accompanied a visit to Goodyear Tire’s Global headquarters earlier this week by NHRA racers Travis Shumake, Julie Nataas, and Michael Handras. The racers watched the creation of a Top Fuel rear tire and visited the Goodyear blimp hangar to check out the iconic Wingfoot 3 blimp.

The Goodyear plant annually manufactures approximately 100,000 racing tires for NHRA, NASCAR, and other racing organizations.

8. A NOTEWORTHY ROUND 1 - Where to begin in discussing the opening round of eliminations at the 2024 Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals?

In one category, it was a round of upsets that drastically altered the championship landscape, while in the other some unlikely performances resulted in a round for the ages.

In Pro Stock, three of the top four qualifiers lost in Round One as Greg Anderson, Erica Enders and Matt Hartford all fell by the wayside. Anderson suffered severe tireshake and shut it off in a loss to Larry Morgan, while Cristian Cuadra got away cleanly and used that advantage to beat Enders at her own game with a holeshot victory, running a 6.564 to her 6.559.

The last time the first two qualifiers lost in the opening round in Pro Stock? Way back in 2012. As for the last time that both Anderson and Enders both lost in Round One in the same weekend, that occurred in Gainesville in 2022.

In perhaps the most-surprising performance of the round, Hartford had the quickest pass of the entire weekend in the category, but lost on a holeshot. Fernando Cuadra Jr. produced a .004 light and ran a 6.598 at 207.59 mph to drive around Hartford’s 6.556 at 207.78 mph.

“The fact that I am out here talking and not feeling like I should be jumping off a cliff is a good thing,” Hartford said. “It just sucks when you let your team down. My left foot let us down. The light wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. He went .004, so hats off to him. They are a great team, and he is a great driver. We’ve struggled all year long to get this car to run fast and we went low for the event, so the car is back, now we just have to get the driver back.”

The statement was made Sunday that this weekend’s performance in the Top Fuel category was perhaps the greatest race from start to finish in many years.

It started in qualifying when Doug Kalitta broke the track record in his Applied Innovation machine with a 3.692-second pass, adding a 337.16 mph to earn his fourth pole position of the year. As for the rest of the field, just a tenth separated first through 16th qualifiers to generate a stout lineup.

On race day, the excitement continued. While the results weren’t surprising, the performances were.

Only three upsets occurred in round one as Clay Millican, Jasmine Salinas, and Billy Torrence all advanced from the bottom half of the ladder, but all of the top teams reported that their numbers were far from what they were trying to run. Those surprising performances from the top teams closed the gap and resulted in close, side-by-side passes separated by fractions at the line in one of the best rounds of Top Fuel in years.

Millican had the biggest upset of the round, defeating the man second in points in Shawn Langdon with a 3.742 at 333.25 mph to Langdon’s 3.802 at 303.37 mph. Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta won on holeshots over Shawn Reed and Kyle Wurtzel, respectively.




9. TYPICAL OHIO WEATHER - Ohio's unpredictable weather made for a challenging weekend at Summit Motorsports Park. Crew chiefs were put to the test with varying conditions: Friday brought scorching sunshine nearing 90 degrees, Saturday started with heavy rain and turned oppressively humid, and Sunday settled into cool, windy, and sunny conditions. Each day presented unique challenges, ensuring the teams had their work cut out for them.

“The most difficult challenge is when the weather turns to give you more horsepower and then the track turns to give you less traction,” said Bobby Lagana, crew chief for Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence. “We all experienced it this weekend. If you are in the back you might be able to adapt, but other times you aren’t as lucky. When those cross and you get free power from mother nature and you get less traction from temperature, that is a deadly situation.”

10. MANUFACTURER PARITY - The four manufacturers in the Funny Car class were well represented in the semifinals of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals on Sunday. Bob Tasca for Ford, Austin Prock for Chevy, Matt Hagan for Dodge, and Ron Capps for Toyota all put on an impressive display.

In the end, it was Ford and Toyota left standing as Tasca and Capps advanced to the final round in two drastically different matchups. Tasca had a tremendous drag race with Prock, winning on a holeshot with a 3.929 to a 3.927, while Hagan smoked the tires and Capps cruised to a 3.910 at 330.80 mph.