TONY STEWART RACING DRIVERS SCORE DOUBLE-UP; ENDERS MAKES HISTORY
When Tony Stewart entered drag racing the expectations were he would take his gritty style of competition he showcased in other forms of motorsports into drag racing. And, of course there was his championship mettle.
Sunday afternoon at the Texas NHRA Fall Nationals hosted by the Texas Motorplex, the Stewart style was in full effect as drivers Leah Pruett (Top Fuel) and Matt Hagan (Funny Car) secured both national event wins and the points lead in their respective divisions.
Additionally, Erica Enders secured the role of winningest driver in NHRA history and tied Angelle Sampey for the most wins as a female professional drag racer. Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Gaige Herrera continued to pull away from the competition as he secured his third win in the four Countdown to the Championship races.
Pruett secured the first-ever Tony Stewart Racing double-up as she thundered to the win over Texan Steve Torrence in the final round.
She drove her Mobil 1-sponsored dragster to a 3.684 elapsed time to pick up her first career win and her first-ever Top Fuel points lead.
“We’re going to take this momentum on and keep trying to do the best we can,” Pruett said. “Beating Doug was huge. You can’t win a championship here, but you can lose one and we made sure we are deep in the hunt, and I couldn’t be prouder. I think we showed (today) what we can do in the Countdown.
“Matt and I had some time in the staging lanes (before the final round) and we just talked about what it takes to be there. He said the key is just focus. I just made sure I was focused on what I could do to get the best performance out of my car. (Now) we’re going to try to do what Tony Stewart Racing does best and that’s to keep winning.”
Her momentous win included wins over Shawn Langdon, and previous point leader Doug Kalitta, and Clay Millican, making a trio of runs in the 3.60s. Pruett now leads Kalitta by just four points with two races left in the season.
For his part, Torrence took down Buddy Hull, Antron Brown and his father, Billy, to pick up his sixth finals appearance this year and 87th in his career. He also remains in the thick of the championship hunt, trailing Pruett by only 13 points.
In a season dominated by Robert Hight, and a Countdown commanded by Bob Tasca III, Hagan took control of Funny Car class by winning his second straight event. He stopped 16-tim43 champion John Force in the final round on Sunday in Dallas with a run of 3.883, 332.25 in his American Rebel Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.
Hagan now has six wins this season and 49 in his career. The triumph vaulted him from third to first in the point standings where he leads Bob Tasca III by 36 points and Robert Hight by 69 points.
Hagan, a farmer by trade, made hay while the sun was out as both defending series champion Ron Capps and Hight both lost in the first round. Tasca went out in the quarter-finals paving a way for Hagan's run to the top.
“It’s a dogfight in Funny Car,” said Hagan, who is seeking his fourth career world championship. “It’s just that tough out there. My team put a great car under me and I’m just super proud of them. It takes tons of support to do what we’re doing and to win six races in a year, it’s incredible. It’s just so hard to do and it says a lot about what our team is doing and how great Tony Stewart is as a team owner.
“This was our opportunity to rise to the occasion and our team did that. The chances for Robert, Ron and Tasca going out early is pretty rare, so it was an unreal day for us. We did what we needed to do to turn on win lights. To double-up with this team at TSR, it’s just incredible. I’m really proud of the organization I drive for and there’s only more great things to come, I’m sure.”
Force advanced to the championship round for the second time this season and the 266th time overall thanks to victories against Jeff Diehl, Cruz Pedregon and J.R. Todd.
Enders has been on the cusp of drag racing history for a while, and on Sunday reeled in the honors as she beat regular season champion Dallas Glenn in the final round. She entered the event as the points leader and extended the mark when Anderson lost early. She know holds an 85-point lead over him with just two races to go.
Enders' road to the winner's circle began from the No. 3 qualifying spot in Pro Stock's quickest-ever field. She delivered wins over Eric Latino, Cristian Cuadra and Troy Coughlin Jr. to reach the finals.
“We have a lot of wins that mean an awful lot to us, but as a little girl with big dreams to be a professional driver one day, this one will sit proudly alongside some other ones,” Enders said. “This has been quite the journey and it hasn’t been easy. (Team owner) Richard Freeman gave me this opportunity 10 years ago and I’ll always be grateful. My team has been awesome and we’ve never looked back. This was quite the weekend.
“We came in here on a mission. It’s such a tight field and you see how everyone qualified, and it’s absolutely crazy. It’s cutthroat competition, but I love racing at the (Texas) Motorplex. I’m so thankful for the Meyer family and we’re so blessed to race in Texas. It was a great day and my guys are amazing. I’m really grateful for this group. I’m so thrilled to be here and we’ve got the points lead going to Vegas.”
Glenn took down Bo Butner, Camrie Caruso and Aaron Stanfield to reach the finals for the ninth time in 2023.
Herrera finds himself challenged to come up with new things to say in the post-race media conferences after scoring his ninth victory of the season by beating his teammate Eddie Krawiec for the second time in a row.
He beat Krawiec in the final round with a run of 6.644 at 203.30 on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. It was Herrera’s seventh straight run in the 6.60s this weekend at the Texas Motorplex, a streak that included Saturday’s record-breaking blast of 6.627 at 204.16. He followed with his ninth win of his magnificent 2023 season on Sunday, strengthening his points lead in the process.
“A year can make a world of difference. I’m just here living the dream,” Herrera said. “This bike has been flying all weekend and this whole weekend has been cool. This is a special one right here and one I’ll never forget. It’s been this incredible what this Vance & Hines team has given me. My bike has been flying and it's crazy how fast it is and how easy it has been to ride. It’s on a string right now.
“It’s been an incredible experience this weekend in Dallas. Getting the national record (on Saturday) and then the win, and doing it in front of all these great fans all weekend, it’s been amazing.”
Krawiec advanced to his third final round this year and 84th in his career by getting past Cory Reed, Matt Smith and Joey Gladstone.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to action Oct. 26-29 with the NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.