2020 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - PRO STOCK NOTEBOOK
PRO STOCK WORLD CHAMP ERICA ENDERS WINS SECOND CAREER U.S. NATIONALS - A year ago, Pro Stock star Erica Enders watched helplessly as she saw a U.S. Nationals championship vanish.
Enders had a huge lead over Alex Laughlin only to have her Camaro break and Laughlin drove around for the win.
Fast-forward to 2020 in the U.S. Nationals and Enders wasn’t about to be denied in the finals Sunday.
Enders clocked a 6.606-second elapsed time at 208.55 mph to defeat Matt Hatford’s 6.610-second lap at 208.59 mph at Lucas Oil Raceway.
“It feels so excellent,” Enders said. “You never know what the future holds, you never know when your last Indy is. You have to execute the best that you can every single time because finals are so hard to get to and there’s no final round with the exception of winning the world championship that is more important than the U.S. Nationals.
“So just how prestigious this race is and how much it means. I’m almost at a loss for words. You work your entire life for moments like these and you pay an awfully high price to be able to do this. Whether it’s giving up a personal life, or never having any time at home, or just working your tail off alongside 38 great men at Elite Motorsports.”
This was Enders’ 27th career Pro Stock national event win and her second at the U.S. Nationals. Her first came in 2015 when she beat Drew Skillman in the finals.
Enders is a three-time Pro Stock world champion 2014-15 and 2019. She drives a Camaro for Richard Freeman’s Elite Motorsports team.
Enders improved her career elimination round record against Hartford to 14-2 and she is now 2-1 in career final rounds against him.
Enders had the starting line advantage and never trailed. Enders became only the second winner to come from the No. 6 position on the qualifying ladder. Greg Stanfield was the first in 2010.
Enders also put her heartbreaking final-round loss at Lucas Oil Raceway to Laughlin in perspective.
“Well you know I’ve figured it out through my career that there are a lot of peaks but there are way more valleys and you just have to hang on long enough because the trend will cycle and you just have to wait for the pendulum to swing in your direction,” Enders said. “That’s something that this team is really great at is perseverance, never taking no for an answer and certainly never giving up. This means a lot to me; it means a lot to my guys. It was super fun last year to race alongside my teammate.
After first round this year. I was the only Elite car left so it was kind of a change of pace. It was the Elite Performance juggernaut against the KB juggernaut and it’s just an interesting dynamic out here but to be able to be on the money for all the marbles is what this team is best at.”
The 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Series season – like sporting events all over the world – has been sabotaged by the COVID-19 pandemic – so Enders was grateful just to be competing this weekend.
“This year has just been so crazy, and we are extremely blessed to be able to still be racing through all of what’s going on,” Enders said. “A lot of people are having pretty tough times right now and we are all lucky that Richard Freeman has worked so hard to keep us all employed through this. It was definitely uncertain there for a while and we are still going through some uncertainty with the NHRA and all that’s out there, so having said that I feel very blessed to even be talking about a drag race at a time like this.”
Enders was especially thrilled that new fans were exposed to the sport of drag racing because of the appearance of Eric Trump, President Donald Trump’s son Saturday at the U.S. Nationals. Eric was a special guest of veteran Pro Stock driver Bob Benza, who was a member of the Elite Motorsports team.
“You know this weekend was extremely special for obvious reasons, being at the U.S. Nationals, but to be able to have Eric Trump, the son of our great president out here and we won’t get into politics, but regardless of who you vote for just look at the light that was shed on our class and our sport this weekend,” Enders said. “It was put in front of eyes that have never watched drag racing before because the millions and millions and millions of followers that the Trump family has, so you know I think that this weekend was truly great for our sport. I was proud to be a part of it and thank the Benza family for bringing him out here.”
Enders did take a moment to think about where she was going to put her latest Wally.
“You know what’s funny, I have every Wally from every win that we’ve ever had,” Enders said. “I have two nightstands in my bedroom and on my nightstand is the (Wally) from U.S Nationals win (in 2015) and on the other nightstand is my Houston win (in 2014). My first Houston win was the first Pro Stock race that my dad was there to see me win, so it has a very significant meaning to me. Then I kind of have the other Wally’s dispersed around the house. Winning the world championship in 2014 it was that shiny gold trophy, then winning the 25th Anniversary in Seattle was a shiny silver one, so those are on my mantle by my TV.
“I have some that mean more than others, that are in special places. I think the Houston Wally is getting moved out and she’s going on the other nightstand.”
ANDERSON GRABS NO. 1 QUALIFYING SPOT IN PRO STOCK – Over Greg Anderson’s storied Pro Stock career, the U.S. Nationals have treated him very well.
That trend continued this weekend.
Anderson, driver of the red Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, claimed his sixth career No. 1 qualifying spot at the U.S. Nationals with his 6.549-second elapsed time at 209.52 mph from Friday’s Q1.
This was Anderson’s 105th starts from the No. 1 position, the third-most of any Pro driver.
“It’s great,” said Anderson about his No. 1 qualifying position. “I make no bones about it; I love racing here. I love racing the Big Go. It’s the U.S. Nationals. There are a lot of people who kind of struggle with it and don’t look forward to the experience because it is just too much. Not me. I love it. I think the higher the stakes the better and I’ve had a lot of magic created at this racetrack. I have been able to do well many, many race Sundays and hopefully we will have another magical Sunday (Sept. 6).
“I have a great Hot Rod. My Summit Chevy has been fast since we rolled off the trailer. It loves racing at this racetrack, and I love racing at this racetrack. It is all positive and hopefully we can put on four win lights (Sunday).”
Anderson, a four-time world champion, has six wins at the U.S. Nationals – 2001, 2003-2006 and 2011.
The only currently competing professional driver to have more wins at the U.S. Nationals is Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher (10).
“It (his Camaro) definitely seems to have a good window,” Anderson said. “It has been very adjustable all weekend and we are not going to have a major change with the weather (Sunday). I’m certainly not scared of that. We just need to pick now between the three runs we made, what setup was best and go race it (Sunday).”
Anderson is eager to get to the round for the first round Sunday. He faces No. 16 qualifier Val Smeland in round one.
“I love it,” Anderson said. “The bigger event I think the better for me. It gets my heart started and I’ve always thought this place was the most special place to race. It’s an exciting time and I’m absolutely looking forward to (Sunday).”
BO BUTNER ENJOYING INDY WEEKEND – Bo Butner, the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Series Pro Stock world champion, has been getting plenty of attention lately for his political beliefs.
The controversy began two weekends ago when Butner, while behind the wheel of Rickie Smith’s nitrous-injected Pro Modified Camaro, unveiled a scheme touting the Trump/Pence ticket for the 2020 Presidential election.
Soon after a memo was distributed to NHRA professional drag racers limiting their ability to use their cars as a political billboard whether compensated for or donated.
At the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis this weekend, Butner has seen his share of race fans come to his pits this weekend to voice their support for his political beliefs.
“It has been an eventful weekend,” Butner said. “Now, we need to top it off with a big W. The whole things that’s going around (in America), everybody was all together (Friday) and it was pretty much 99 percent positive. Just to see the whole racetrack come together was awesome.
“I’m not (in the political business) but in my opinion for my life and my business it is very important for me for Trump to win. I believe he’s a businessman and I believe he looks out for everyone and I also believe in going to work every day. I don’t believe I’m entitled to nothing.”
Butner, a highly accomplished bracket racer and Pro Stock driver, has never won the U.S. Nationals.
“I have been runner-up I don’t know how many different times in 100 different classes,” Butner said. “This is like the only one I haven’t won. It’s on my bucket list. I will not stop coming to Indy until I do (win). I don’t care if it is on a golf cart, I’m going to win something here.”
Butner arrived at the U.S. Nationals eighth in the points standings. He has a 3-4 elimination round record.
“The car has been off,” Butner said. “I didn’t test any so us not being out much my driving could probably be better. I was happy with my run (Friday) that put us fourth. It is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Butner qualified No. 5 and faces No. 12 Alex Laughlin, the defending U.S. Nationals champion in round one.
Next weekend, Butner will be competing in the Derby City Classic bracket race in Louisville, Ky.
“It’s $100,000 to win,” Butner said. “I have never done a bracket race that big. I’m going take my roadster and run it in the race.”
CHRIS MCGAHA ENJOYING HIS TIME IN PRO STOCK – It seems that when people in drag racing circles talk about the Pro Stock class Chris McGaha gets overlooked.
Yet, McGaha, an eight-time national event winner, always is a force to be reckoned with.
Through two qualifying sessions, McGaha, who drives his family-owned Camaro, was second after two sessions of qualifying with a 6.553-second elapsed time at 208.52 mph.
McGaha was keeping things lose in his pits by wearing the Joker mask.
“This was the mask from the Joker movie,” McGaha said. “I had another one that had an American flag on it the last two races. I had this one (the Joker mask). I some other masks I might roll out. I have the mask from Saw.”
McGaha has been joined on NHRA’s Mello Yello Series Pro Stock trail by his son, Mason, 18, who is making his class debut.
“The fact that we are here we are glad, but the first two races didn’t work out like we wanted (with Mason),” Chris said. “I know the car is going to be good. They are just kind of behind the 8-ball. The last we shook both times and it wasn’t even his fault. The best motor I own was in (Mason’s car) at the other two races. The motor that went fast for me (at the U.S. Nationals) was the motor he had the first two races.”
Father and son – Chris and Mason – will meet for the first time in eliminations in round one Sunday.
McGaha said that main motor has been good to him.
“That’s been the best motor I’ve ever owned,” McGaha said. “I won the U.S. Nationals in 2016 with that motor. It was sweet to win more than anything because we caught everybody by surprise and even, we were surprised. Just to win one (national event) period is awesome. All I ever sat to do was win one and I have won eight now.
“I told Mason you need to qualify and then you need to start concentrating on every time qualifying and winning a round. Then, you keep progressing and pretty soon you will look up and you’re going to win one.”
The elder McGaha is already making plans for 2021.
“I thought about building another car for myself,” Chris said. “Mason has a brand new (2020 Camaro). We built it last year to do this. I may build me a new car because my (Camaro) probably has 600 or 700 laps on it now. My car has a lot of character. I built it to start the 2017 season and everybody has always called it the Silver Bullet. Probably the next one I build; I will paint it Silver. I’m going to do like (Don) Garlits, I’m going to stay with the same paint scheme and same name. Everybody likes it and it is simple.”
VAL SMELAND HAS WILD ADVENTURE AT STARTING LINE – Veteran Pro Stock driver Val Smeland got more excitement than he wanted when he prepared to do his burnout in Q3.
The Camaro he was driving – as soon as he rolled into the water box – caught fire.
“The fuel line loosened up,” said Smeland about what caused the fire. “We are adamant about checking these fuel lines. We always usually do a quick fuel check before we go up there. It must have been loose but not leaking and when I rolled into the water box, I saw the fuel just spraying on the windshield slightly, so I shut the motor off. Once the fuel landed on the headers that was it. It went in flames.
“I reached over to grab the fire suppression system just to get the fire out as quickly as possible so we would damage as least amount of parts as possible. The fire suppression kind of got me a little bit. I really took a lot of that fire suppression system in. It took the oxygen out of my lungs. Thank goodness for Richard Freeman. He ran in there and he got me out (of the car). I can’t thank Richard enough because he pulled me out of the car.”
Smeland said the damage incurred by the fire is fixable.
“We have the parts to fix whatever damage there is,” Smeland said.
BOB BENZA RETURNS TO PRO STOCK – Veteran Pro Stock driver Bob Benza returned to NHRA Mello Yello Series Pro Stock class this weekend at the U.S. Nationals.
Benza is part of Richard Freeman’s Elite Motorsports team.
“We had scheduled four or five races this season and we were going to start in Gainesville, Fla.,” Benza said. “Then, COVID came and that was canceled, and we came here (to the U.S. Nationals). We were going to do Reading (Pa.) and Charlotte, but those are canceled. We were always going to run (the U.S. Nationals). The plan is to race next year and go to about five or six races again.”
Although Benza has competed in Pro Stock in a limited basis in recent years, he never closed the door on the sport.
“We never really got out it (Pro Stock),” Benza said. “I had all my stuff and my truck and trailer. Richard (Freeman) bought my whole Pro Stock program right after Reading, Pa., last year. We’ve always loved racing Pro Stock. We have been doing it for a long time. I enjoy it a lot.”
Benza’s pit was plenty crowded Saturday, thanks to his special guest Eric Trump, the son of President Donald Trump.
“Eric is a dear friend and my daughter (Kimberly) works for the President,” Bob said. “It was crazy having Eric here. There were a lot of fans here and people that wanted to meet him. He came out to support us for the day. He had never been to an NHRA race, a lot of NASCAR stuff but never an NHRA race.
“He went to the starting line with us (Friday night) and he watched us run and then I went back and met him, and we watched a couple of the Top Fuel cars. He got to sit in Jeg (Coughlin’s Pro Stock car) and warm it up and he was happy with that. He’s a really smart guy and he has his own machine shop and he does a lot of his own stuff. I think he will back (to another NHRA race). It depends on what we do. He will come back to be racing with us.”
Benza’s best run in qualifying was 6.641 seconds at 208.71 mph, which was 17th-best.
TROY COUGHLIN JR. HAPPY TO BE IN PRO STOCK CLASS – It didn’t take Troy Coughlin Jr. to announce his presence in the highly-competitive Pro Stock class.
In just his second career Pro Stock event Aug. 9 at the inaugural Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Indianapolis, he made it to the final round.
Troy Jr. lost to his uncle Jeg Coughlin Jr., winner of five Pro Stock world championships in the finals. Now, Troy Jr. is at the U.S. Nationals to try and get his first Pro Stock Wally,
“Pro Stock is the most challenging thing I have ever driven,” Troy Jr. said. “It is processed oriented. It is very cognitive There’s nothing like it. I grew up in these pits. I really enjoy it. I feel at home in these cars. This is a whole new ball game. This is about being precise and being as consistent as you possibly can behind the wheel. There’s a lot to learn that’s for sure.”
Making it to the finals to race his uncle on Aug. 9 was an experience that’s still resonating for Troy Jr.
“It was an absolute honor to be next to my childhood hero, uncle Jeg that’s for sure,” Troy Jr. said. “You have great equipment and great people at Elite Motorsports and that’s a testament to them. They work very hard. The guys in the engine shop, the guys working on the cars are extremely hard workers who want to win and don’t give up.”
Troy Jr. has won the U.S. Nationals twice – in Super Gas and Super Comp.
“This being the 50th year of Pro Stock and being a huge Pro Stock fan myself you would have to pinch me if I won the U.S. Nationals,” Troy Jr. said. “It would be an absolute honor. It doesn’t get any more majestic than that. Your family is here and there’s just nothing like it, racing with family. That’s one thing by racing with Elite Motorsports that they one big family and it really adds confidence to your driving.”
Troy Coughlin Jr. said his goal is to compete in Pro Stock in 2021.
“I feel at home in these cars,” Troy Jr. said. “This has been my childhood dream to run these cars. I’ve been around this my whole life. It’s like a full circle deal.”
Troy Coughlin Jr. was dealing with the roller-coaster of emotion that come in racing as he didn’t qualify for the U.S. Nationals. His best run was 6.643 seconds at 207.27 mph, which 18th-best.
DERIC KRAMER TALKS ABOUT DIFFERENT YEAR – The COVID-19 pandemic left some people with more time on their hands than ever before.
That was definitely the case for veteran Pro Stock racer Deric Kramer.
“When March hit, I got a lot of time to work on stuff that I have putting off for a long time,” Kramer said. “The company I worked for laid off 20 percent of their employees and it gave me a lot of time to work on C&C projects and work on the shop,” Kramer said. “I also have a 1971 Chevelle I’ve been working on. It was dad’s car in high school and my car in high school. It has been radiator hoses, wheels and tires and just a handful of stuff for like nine years. I’ve been working on that. With a couple more weekends of work it will be drivable again.
“Doing the C&C stuff has been so much different. I’m an electrical engineer from school. I don’t have a mechanical engineering degree. It has been fun learning it and going through different online courses I found.”
Kramer, who has won four national events, has had a tough go in this challenging NHRA season. He arrived at the U.S. Nationals 11th in the points standings. He’s lost in the first round the four events this year.
“This is the goal we set out to do so that’s something I try and take very seriously and try and do as best I can every time, I come out here,” Kramer said. “If that wasn’t the case I wouldn’t come out. That’s what I want to be doing do that’s why I’m here.”
Kramer qualified No. 3 at 6.570 seconds at 209.82 mph. He meets Alan Prusiensky in the first round.
LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR RIVER – Pro Stock driver Robert River, fresh off qualifying for the Indy 3 event last month, had a tough break in Q1 of the U.S. Nationals Friday night.
“On the master disable switch for the driver that’s inside the cockpit one of the ring terminals a screw had vibrated and fallen out , breaking the circuit,” River said. “It was a master shut off and totally disabled the car. It was a 30-second diagnosis and a 30-second fix, it was just a bummer that it happened.”
The malfunction happened during Rivers’ burnout.
“I did the burnout and I was just about to push in the clutch and coast it out and put the brake on and as soon as I pushed in the clutch the car was totally dead,” River said.
Despite the misfortune, River was upbeat Saturday.
“It was a 30-second fix and a 30-second diagnosis,” River said. “It was more of a bummer and a small lesson learned, but we are all good. We’re excited to get back out there. The car is serviced and ready to rock and roll.”
River was plagued all week with trouble on three qualifying passes.
Robert is piloting the family-owned orange-painted Cobalt at the U.S. Nationals. He qualified for his first NHRA Pro Stock event – at the Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals Aug. 6-9 – in that car.
“We qualified No. 16 there,” River said. “That was just great. I found out in the burnout box before I ran (that I qualified). I was in the zone and got to the end of the track and the pit crew was excited and I was excited for all of us. There were a lot of people I had to thank and got to talk to over the last couple of weeks. It has been awesome,”
River’s race day ended with a first-round loss to three-time world champion Jason Line, but that couldn’t dampen River’s mood.
“To be there Sunday and compete with all these guys and gals and rub shoulders with all of them was a tremendous feeling,” River said. “Going up against somebody like Jason Line, what an opportunity to get to shoulder-to-shoulder on the starting line on Sunday with him. You know what, we went A to B we were there, and we went green and it was all I could ask for and it was a great time.”
River has appeared at six career national events as he took over driving from his father, David.
“It is wonderful driving,” Robert said. “I’m so used to driving our Top Sportsman car, which is an ex-Pro Stock car. It is an early 90s Firebird. It is clutch 5-speed car. There are few transitional things you have to keep in mind when you switch from car to car, but that’s every car, it is not just those two.”
Following Indy, Robert said he plans on competing in Pro Stock at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil Oct. 2-4 in St. Louis.
“The way COVID-19 is kind of crazy, and we are just taking things one week at a time, but St. Louis is the next race on our schedule,” Robert said. “The plan is for us to continue racing Pro Stock next year and we will keep rocking and rolling as long as we can.”
ANDERSON TAKES TOP SPOT IN PRO STOCK – Greg Anderson, driver of the red Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, has had tremendous success at the U.S. Nationals.
Anderson has six U.S. Nationals wins – 2001, 2003-2006, and 2011 – and has been the No. 1 qualifier in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2015, and 2017.
Anderson is in the mix for his sixth career No. 1 qualifying spot after Q1 Friday night. Anderson clocked a 6.549-second elapsed time at 209.52 mph to climb to the top of the qualifying ladder.
“That was definitely what I was looking for,” Anderson said. “We were either spinning the tires something else or it was really running, and it was really running.”
If Anderson’s ET holds through Saturday’s two qualifying sessions it would be the 105th No. 1 qualifying spot of his career.
FERNANDO CUADRA JR. OUT INDEFINITELY WITH BACK INJURY – Fernando Cuadra Jr., who is in his second season competing in NHRA’s Mello Yello Series class, is out indefinitely after injuring his back Sept. 1.
Fernando Cuadra Sr., Fernando’s father, said his son injured his back when he was moving an engine he was loading up in Boise, Idaho.
“Fernando (Jr.) hurt his back and (Sept. 2) he was having surgery in (Leon) Mexico,” Cuadra Sr. said. “The doctor said he needed to have surgery now because he might be paralyzed. The surgery went well and he’s good now. Instead of taking the 90 days to recuperate, he’s going to rehab for one year. The doctor said if he puts a lot of effort (into the rehab) by January or February of next year he can start doing a little bit of racing.”
Cuadra Jr. had competed in four events this season and was 14th in the points standings.
Fernando Sr. will be competing in the U.S. Nationals this weekend, driving Fernando Jr.’s Ford Mustang.
“I parked my green Mustang, and I’m driving Fernando Jr’s car with a Frank Iaconio Engine,” Cuadra Sr. “I have a good engine. I’m running (Fernando Jr.’s car) because that car is ready and running fast. My green (Mustang) just needs more laps.”
Cristian Cuadra, 21, Fernando’s younger brother, is driving the family’s orange Ford Mustang and Cristian’s car is running a Shane Gray motor.
“I was looking at this opportunity to get involved in Pro Stock and have my family be involved with me,” Cuadra Sr. said. “They love it. Both (Fernando Jr.) and Cristian have been driving better than me. I went to the finals twice last year and they are better than me. They are very consistent with shifting and they do their own clutches. They do their own back-half and now they are servicing the engines.”
Cuadra Sr.’s third son, David is running in the Top Sportsman class.
“He’s running a huge 750-inch cubic engine, it is a real fast car,” Cuadra Sr. said. “It goes 195 mph. David is going to the Division 4 race Sept. 17-18, in Dallas, and he’s going to get his Pro Stock license there. If everything goes well myself and my three sons will all be running Pro Stock next year.”
Cuadra Sr. is optimistic about what he can accomplish this weekend.
“The expectation is for me to qualify in the top eight,” he said. “I feel that I’m capable to drive the car good and I have the power. We are putting everything into (Friday’s) qualifying run. This is going to be our best qualifying session weather-wise.”
Cuadra Sr. clocked a 6.640-second lap at 308.33 mph. Cristian came it at 7.614 seconds.
LINE CHASING U.S. NATIONALS TITLE IN FAREWELL SEASON – There’s very little Jason Line hasn’t accomplished.
He’s a three-time NHRA Pro Stock series champion (2006, 2011, 2016) and 51 national events.
Unfortunately for Line, he has never won the prestigious U.S. Nationals.
Line’s best performance at the U.S. Nationals was a runner-up finish in 2011 to his teammate Greg Anderson.
Line won the Indy Nationals in July and won the rain-delayed Brainerd NHRA Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 2014 but is still chasing U.S. Nationals glory. He also holds the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis Pro Stock track record for elapsed time at 6.538-second, set in 2011.
“The last two races here have been for me,” Line said. “I probably coulda shoulda come out of here with two wins. Like everybody else, we are trying to make the best of a not-so-great situation. But now we are at the real Indy, so we will see what happens.”
Line announced that he will retire from driving his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro for Ken Black Racing at the conclusion of the 2020 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
He will remain an integral part of KB Racing as he continues to produce and finesse high-performance engines in the team's Mooresville, N.C., race shop, supporting their Pro Stock endeavors as well as their commitment to Sportsman racing. Line made his Pro Stock debut in 2003 in Columbus. Ohio.
“Negative, no sir, nope,” Line said if he had any second thoughts about retiring. “I will stay here as long as they keep me. I made my decision and I’m happy with that. Nothing lasts forever and I don’t want to overstay my welcome and it is time.”
Line took a moment to talk about what he’s enjoyed most being a Pro Stock driver.
“I think it has been more than one thing and it has changed over time,” Line said. “Initially what I enjoyed was just the fact that I was getting to do it. I really enjoyed the engine for a long time. Now, I probably enjoy the people more than anything else.”
Line, who has a 17-year streak of winning at least once in every full season of his career, isn’t putting any extra pressure on himself the remainder of this year.
“You just do the best you can and somebody else adds up all the numbers,” Line said. “It is what it is. I’m just trying to do the best I can certainly for Ken (Black). He stuck with me through times when I haven’t been so great, and I just want to do the best job I can for them and thank them for everything they have done for me and my family.”
Line clocked a 6.582-second lap.
HARTFORD COMES TO INDY WITH SOME EDGE – Last year veteran Pro Stock driver Matt Hartford had a career-best season.
The Arizona driver finished fifth in the NHRA Mello Yello Series points standings. He had one win at Seattle and five runner-up performances. He had a 27-17 elimination-round record.
Hartford believes those numbers have been forgotten in 2020. Hartford arrived at the U.S. Nationals ninth in the point standings with a 3-4 elimination-round record.
This season, Hartford is utilizing engine power from Ken Black Racing led by Greg Anderson and Jason Line.
“When you read National Dragster, they don’t even rate us a contender to win,” Hartford said. “Our approach is we are going to come out here and we are going to try to keep doing what we are doing in qualifying. We’ve been qualifying really well. Unfortunately, we’ve struggled in the second round. We’ve had to run Greg (Anderson) the last two races in the second round and lost to him by close margins. Our goal is to qualify well and try and go four runs on Sunday.
“We switched to KB power over the winter and I’m really happy with the decision that we made,” Hartford said. “We went to Orlando (Fla., March 6-8) at the Doorslammer Nationals, and we went 6.460 (seconds) in the next to last run in qualifying with their power. We are really happy with the power they provide us. It is a good fit for us. They allow us to control our own destiny.”
Hartford said his team needs to seize the moment in Friday night’s qualifying session.
“The best run is going to be tonight,” he said. “The weather is going to be favorable for Pro Stock by comparison to (Saturday) or Sunday. At least we have three runs of qualifying this weekend where we’ve getting kind of used to only having two runs of qualifying. Our goal is pretty basic. We would love to qualify on the pole, the main focus is just to be in the top half going into Sunday so we can have lane choice on race day.”
Hartford emphasized why lane choice at Lucas Oil Raceway is so pivotal.
“Indy is notorious for being a one-lane racetrack on Sunday,” Hartford said. “Not necessarily first round, but once you get in the second round and beyond the right lane just kind of goes downhill. That’s no fault of anybody. It’s just traditional Indy. You can win out of the right lane here - you just have to make all the right decisions and hope for a little bit of luck. If you can keep lane choice and stay in the left lane through eliminations as history as shown, you definitely have a little bit better chance.”
This season with NHRA races being put on hold or canceled because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, Hartford focused on the business he partially owns with investors Total Seal Piston Rings, based in Phoenix, Ariz.
“There’s no question that COVID-19 has been a disaster for the economy, it has been a disaster for the country and our hearts go out to all our friends and family who have struggled with their lives as well as with their jobs,” Hartford said. “It has been rough for everybody. We are hoping we are going to get through this and NHRA is doing a great job trying to run as many races as they can. At the end of the day, Total Seal is going to be a better company once we come out of this and we look forward to 2021.”
Hartford clocked 6.572 seconds at 208.88 mph in Q1.
VAL SMELAND ALL SMILES – A year after making NHRA’s Mello Yello Series Countdown to the Championship for the first time in his career, Val Smeland was all smiles to be back at the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Smeland entered Indy 12th in the points.
“It’s awesome to be back here,” Smeland said. “After this year (with COVID-19) just to be able to come out and race is awesome. It definitely feels great to be here. The weather is going to be great and I’m super excited. We are definitely going to try and make the best run we possibly can (Friday night) because you never know what is going to happen with the weather. If we can make a really good run it will give us even more to work with Saturday (with the two qualifying runs).”
Smeland won a career-best three rounds a year ago and finished 10th in the point standings.
“That was everything for me last year,” Smeland said about qualifying for the Countdown. “That was incredible. I will remember that for the rest of my life and that probably has been my best moment in racing right there.”
Smeland is once again teammates with Kenny Delco. They are both running Camaros and are powered by Frank Iaconio Racing Engines.
“He’s really working hard on the motors and we are making huge improvements,” Smeland said. “It’s just trying to put the whole package together. We are always improving, and we are making better runs and we are getting there. We see a bright future.”
Smeland knows nothing will come easy this weekend.
“I think you are going to see the closest field we have ever had,” Smeland said. “There are a lot of fast cars here and it’s going to be really good out there. I’m excited to see how tight it is going to be. Hopefully, we can make a really good run (Friday) and be in the middle of all that.”
Smeland clocked a 6.630-second run at 208.36 mph.
ALAN PRUSIENSKY LONE DODGE DRIVER IN PRO STOCK – No one could ever question Alan Prusiensky’s passion for Pro Stock racing.
Prusiensky has competed in 87 career NHRA national events, including four events this season.
Prusiensky has the lone Dodge in the Pro Stock class, and he’s upbeat as ever as he competes at the U.S. Nationals again.
“We ran well in testing and we want to win,” Prusiensky said. “We tested (Sept. 3) at Dragway 42 (in West Salem, Ohio). I made three runs there and I definitely liked what I saw. I like Dodge and I don’t want a Chevy. Dodge is what I like to run.”
Last season Prusiensky made news for the wrong reasons when he crashed during the second round of qualifying Oct. 11 at the Carolina Nationals in Concord, N.C.
Prusiensky’s 2018 Dodge Dart crossed the centerline then contacted the wall and rolled before coming to a rest.
“I broke my back in the crash,” Prusiensky said. “Last night I was in pain, but I manage it. I’m usually OK when I’m working and moving and by the end of the day, I’m usually horizontal on the couch.”
Prusiensky arrived at the U.S. Nationals 16th in the point standings.
“This is an awesome race to come to,” he said. “With the people who come and all the hype. You don’t think it matters but it does when you get here.”
With the craziness and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prusiensky has tried to keep things in perspective.
“I’m usually unpredictable myself, so it kind of works out,” Prusiensky said. “Usually I’m last minute, so if they tell us to go racing, I get in the car and go. I’ve gotten to work a lot more on the engine and a lot more R&D than I would’ve, so it probably helped me. I don’t want to say it was a good thing, because it is definitely not a good thing, but it has helped me work on some things I have always wanted to work on.
“I’m always saying maybe I should take a break and not race, and work on the motor, but I always like racing too. Most of the races I run my own engines. That’s why I got involved in Pro Stock because I love the class. I love the challenge and got into running my Dodge engines and winning with them.”
This weekend, Prusiensky has simple goals.
“First off, we have to qualify,” he said. “That’s not going to be easy. You can mess up on the good session and make your life difficult on Saturday afternoon if you have to try and get in. You want to make a good run Friday night and make an even better run Saturday morning because the weather might get a little worse on Saturday afternoon. It will put more pressure on you each qualifying session if you’re not in.”
Although Prusiensky has an uphill battle against the bigger budget teams, he has never lost his love of racing.
“It is what we do,” Prusiensky said. “It’s our job. We get paid by our sponsor to run good and go racing and there’s nothing better than that. It is a lot of hard work from my family. It is still awesome because my daughter is here, my wife is here, my dad is flying here. It’s awesome to be here with my family.”