2022 NHRA MIDWEST NATS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - WE CROWN WINNERS AT THE HALFWAY POINT FOR THE COUNTDOWN
ERICA NAILS THEM AGAIN - News flash... Erica Enders is a human being - though her performances may sometimes look robotic.
The four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion, with her win on Sunday at the NHRA Gateway Nationals, extended her point lead to 120 with a final round victory over Dallas Glenn. The victory marked her eighth of the season.
Enders also posted her sixth win at World Wide Technology Raceway and her fourth in a row. She beat Chris McGaha, Troy Coughlin Jr., and No. 1 qualifier Kyle Koretsky to reach the final round.
"Sounds to me like a good day," Enders said. "It was pretty intense. Coming in, we lost in the semis last week in Charlotte. My teammate Aaron went on to win, and we had a 64-point spread on him, and it got further as you went down. But second-round racing, my teammate TJ, I know exactly what he is capable of and the power that he has because I have the same. So being able to beat him and watching Aaron and Greg both go out that round, it was a pretty huge point swing there. Then going on to win the race was obviously the best outcome."
Enders raced at the strip in the shows of the Arch as far back as 15 years old, when she competed in the Super Gas division. In the time since, she developed an affection for the track, which remains in place.
Sunday's win made her the winningest driver now at two drag strips. She's also the winningest at The Strip in Las Vegas with nine.
"We have a ton of data here," Enders said. "We've been racing Pro Stock here for 18 years, and it always seems that the trend goes that way. Wherever we have been successful before, we are successful again. From Vegas with nine wins there, here, six wins, Bristol, Dallas, all of these tracks have been really, really great to us. So it was pretty cool to come in here. My sister said this a couple of years back; everything changes in St. Louis.
"It's in the Countdown. After this race, you kind of know where you stand within the points and what you have to do in order to go on and win a championship. So she says it always changes in St. Louis, and the last four years it really has, and I'm super excited that we've spread the gap."
This is where the human vs. robot comparisons come into place. Enders was actually nervous headed into race day.
"Not nervous in a negative way but excited, and I don't want to let it slip through my fingers," Enders explained. "I want to go out there. As a human, I'm the variable, so I want to go out there and showcase what my guys give me every weekend. So we were able to do just that today. It's my crew chief Mark Ingersoll's home track, and all his friends and family are here. So it was really great. The icing on the cake to win here for him."
Enders heads to Dallas in two weeks with a six-round lead in the championship chase. Only 12 rounds of competition remain in the 2022 season. She's not counting her chickens before the eggs hatch, but Enders likes her chances.
"I'll definitely speak with confidence about the remaining three races. We haven't had the success that we would want in Dallas, but we've won there before. We can certainly do it again. But then, heading to Vegas, we've won nine national events there. In '15, we locked up the championship there, so it obviously has a lot of fond memories. And then, going back to 2014 for our first world championship, final round winner take all in Pomona. So that memory always is at the forefront of my mind.
"So yeah, the next three tracks are definitely our tracks, and I'm excited. I think you're accurate in what you say, and I definitely feel confident in what we're capable of. And I say bring it."
With such a lead in the pocket, the temptation might be to go into cruise control.
"We race to win; we don't race not to lose," Enders said. "And there's a difference between playing offense and playing defense. It's not ours. It's not ours to protect. So we just need to go out there and throw down every single time. I always say when there's seconds left on the clock, we want the ball because we performed the best, and when [the crew's] backs are against the wall, they give me the best car.
"I love the pressure. I didn't love it at first 18 years ago as a rookie, but I've made myself love it. I would rather race somebody like Greg Anderson first round than have a No. 16 qualifier because you race differently when you race somebody that could come up and sneak in and take it from you. That's just been our mindset. I've raced that way for a long time, but I'm really getting after it these last couple years. I don't want it to be taken from us, and we're going to give it everything we have."
Spoken like a true robot... umm, four-time champion drag racer.
HIGHT GOES ON THE OFFENSIVE - George Washington was many things to many people and is largely credited with the paraphrased comment in 1799, "The best offense is a strong defense."
With all due respect, the first president of the United States never had to battle the likes of Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, and Bob Tasca III. And, he never did so behind the wheel of an 11,000-horse, nitro-burning Funny Car.
Let this sink in. Hight scored his second win of the Countdown to the Championship at the NHRA Midwest Nationals, stopping Ron Capps. Hight has won eight national events in 2022, two of three in the Countdown, and only leads Capps by 46 points. That's two rounds and six qualifying bonus points.
"You definitely can't be racing defensively," Hight admitted. "You've got to be on offense out here. Even if you're the points leader, you've got to be pushing and pushing it right to the edge every single round. I really feel that I have the best guys in my corner for that. This AAA Missouri team, you see what they've done all year. It's impressive. It's not like we don't have any competition. It gets tougher every weekend, and it seems like every round, it's tougher, every round you go. So we just keep digging and getting it done."
Even in winning, Hight can be his harshest critic.
"I didn't have my best lights all day, especially second round against Wilkerson, " Hight explained.
Hight wasn't exaggerating the point, as the final round was the only time he was quicker off the line all day against an opponent. He was .041 to Capps' .059 and needed it with the defending series champion having the edge in the final round.
"I really did good in qualifying, so I wasn't very happy," Hight added. "I knew going up in the final that I was going to have to pull one out because Capps, he was running better than us, and he had lane choice. And I just thought, 'Man, if I can hit the tree, and Jimmy and Chris can step this thing up, ooh, it's going to be a great race."
Instant gratification, the way today's world works, wasn't working in Hight's favor. Hight somewhat knew he'd aced the test in the final round but had to go old school to see if he passed.
"When I got in the car, my radio didn't work," Hight explained. "So I could talk, but I couldn't hear anything. That was painful. And then, the win lights on the wall aren't working, or at least I didn't see them."
"So it's like they're pushing you off the end of the track, and you have no idea whether you won or lost. And you're trying to look over where the TV booth is to see if I can see [team member] Eric or anybody going crazy, and nothing's happening. I go around the corner; I'm thinking, 'Well, do I go left as a loser? Or right for an interview?"
"When I saw Eric when I got around the corner, it was pretty awesome, but I don't like waiting that long.
"I want to know right away if I won and be able to congratulate the guys because they're going nuts. All the fun's being had out on the starting line, not down there in the shutdown area."
Even Hight will admit, no radio or win lights; winning this time in St. Louis was much better than his last time in 2018 when he exploded at the finish line, launching the body off of his Funny Car and leaving him with a broken collarbone.
"I didn't get to celebrate with the team in the Winner Circle.," Hight said. "We blew it up and had to go to the hospital, and do a repair job, and back at it. We went on to win the next race, which was Dallas, and that's what we need to do again."
Well, minus the explosion part. Hight knows he cannot afford any setbacks in this intense championship battle.
"It's amazing, the competition level. It's never been tougher. It's as tough as it gets. And to say that we've got eight wins, that makes me very, very proud. That's crazy. And if somebody would've told me at the beginning of the year, 'You're going to have eight wins,' I'd have said, "You're crazy." I'd have said anybody was crazy if anybody had eight wins. But here's the hard truth, if I don't have more than eight, I probably won't win the championship. So we got to stay focused and keep working hard. And we have three to go, 40-some point lead. That's nothing. So the final round was a 40-point swing."
"If Capps beats me, we go to Dallas dejected, more pressure on you and single-digit lead. Now we go in with a 46-point lead, which is no cakewalk, or it's not a security blanket by any means. So we just got to stay focused and work hard, and this team is up for it. At the beginning of the Countdown, we got together, and it's like, 'Okay, let's give it all we got."
"And basically, looking back to last year, we struggled. We were horrible. We just didn't get it done. So who knows if you're ever going to be in this position again? To win another championship with the kind of competition you have. So we don't need to leave anything left on the table. We need to give it all we got, and this whole group is up for it."
Hight knows he needs to stay the course.
"The truth is we really don't need to change anything that we've done all year," Hight said. "Do what got you here. And what we did, what we've done all year, has worked. So we can't change any of that. We can't overthink it; we can't overstress. We just got to keep steady doing what we did all year."
And that includes being on the offensive.
TORRENCE MAKING A RUN - Most NHRA Top Fop Fuel drivers would be satisfied with being fifth in the points standings with four races to go in the season.
Steve Torrence isn’t most drivers.
Torrence has won four Top Fuel world championships in a row and kept his chance for No. 5 alive by winning Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis Sunday.
Torrence clocked a 3.741-second elapsed time at 328.70 mph to edge Josh Hart’s 3.749-second time at 329.67 lap.
“Josh is very predictable on what he does on the tree,” Torrence said. “I had in my mind to be prepared for he didn’t want to go first, and he doesn’t hold you out or anything; he just doesn’t like to go first. I went in. I stole a little bit. The car probably ran a little quicker than it did. I’m thinking maybe a hundredth and a half or two. But that .027 (on the tree), none of us are Justin Ashley. That guy pulls out [.0]27s all the time. For my old butt to do it, I was proud of that one. Then I think Josh rolled his into, he was [.0] 48, but that’s what you do.
“In the final round, it’s time to race. It’s time to get it done. It’s time to just go up there and try to get the win light. A huge shot in the arm for the Capco boys. This has not been our best season. We’ve struggled self-inflicted. We’ve struggled with some things throughout this year. The Countdown is what it is, but it’s a difficult pill to swallow, especially for Brittany (Force) because she’s had the most dominant race car all year. I acknowledge that with her. They’re not doing as well as they were, but they’re still not out of this by any means. We’re back in the middle of it and I didn’t expect this to be a situation for us, not as close as it’s going to be.”
With his win, Torrence moved up to second in the points, only 14 points behind leader Ashley.
“This is going to be an all-out, brawl dogfight to the end because you got some of the baddest hot rods in the country that are going head-to-head right now, and it’s tight,” Torrence said. “Everybody can run .65, .67, .68. That’s what it’s going to take to win this thing. You got to be on the wheel to drive it. It’s going to be a tough, hard-fought battle all the way to the end.”
This was Torrence’s second victory of the season – he also won in Brainerd; Minn. Torrence also won in St. Louis from the No. 1 qualifying position with his 3.655-second run at 327.43 mph on Friday night.
Torrence now has 53 career wins and four in St. Louis. On Sunday, he defeated Buddy Hull, Clay Millican, Doug Kalitta and Hart.
“Going up every round was a big round for us,” Torrence said. “Going up there against Clay on the second round, I thought I lost. You never saw the light all day. You go around the corner, and I’m wondering if I won or lost. I felt like he was ahead of me. I watched him the whole way. I knew I was late. I’m thinking I lost on a holeshot. I’m going to have to deal with this crap for a whole week and a half. Then I come around the corner, and they’re wheeling me towards the TV. I’m like, ‘Well, here goes one of these; this is insult to injury because now I’m going to have to explain my holeshot loss.’
“I get out, and I’m walking over to Clay, and I’m like, ‘Hey, man. I’m sorry. I was dead late.’ He goes, ‘My stuff blew up right before the finish line.” I’m like, “I won?” He goes, ‘Yeah.’ Then I got happy about it. The third round against Doug was just a good race. You go up there, and I think I flickered the bulb no less than ten times. It never would lock on. Finally, I just said, ‘I’m going to bump in one more little bump and see if I can get it on.’ Then just a good drag race because they smoked the tires, but they were going for it. I mean, you have to. In these situations, everybody in the semis had run 76 the round before from 76.0 to 76.7 or 76.8.”
Torrence acknowledged that St. Louis has been a good fit for him.
“We’ve run well here,” Torrence said. “I remember one race, in particular, we were in the .60s all day, .67 and .68 in four rounds. This is a great facility. The track prep has been impeccable. I think, honestly, we had an opportunity to run quicker in Q3 than we did in the first qualifying session. The track was that good. (Sunday) things were a little different, but there was more sun on the track, and there was a little more heat in it. It came into a finesse round where some of these guys just finessed them down through there. As drivers, we had to keep it in the groove and keep it straight because there’s zero room for error. It just is what it takes to get a win in one of these. You’ve got to have some luck as well. We got away with one or two today that we probably didn’t earn, but we had luck on our side.”
No matter how Torrence got the Wally Sunday, he wasn’t apologizing or taking anything for granted.
“You have to capitalize on every opportunity,” Torrence said. “I think we’ve capitalized here before where we were able to extend our points lead. (Sunday) we were able to close that gap and try to get closer. Somebody just told me we were 14 points out, but there’s a lot of cars that are bunched up in there really tight. The one thing is some of these tuners, and some of these drivers have won championships, and some of them haven’t. I think that is an influencing factor as to how you race. We’ll see. The cream rises to the top. I’m not saying where the cream, but we’ve definitely been in these situations where we have experience, and that happens to be a benefit for us and some of the other teams that we’re racing against as well. It’s hard to be a battle-hardened warrior if you’ve never been in (the) battle.”
As frustrating as the 2022 season has been for Torrence and his Capco team he believes Sunday will be a crucial moment in his campaign.
“This is probably a turning point in our season definitely to get the ball rolling in the right direction, but there have been so many things that have led to this point,” Torrence said. “It goes back to 2017 and the trials and tribulations and struggles and trials and failures that we’ve had as a team to get us to this point. Being able to just sometimes you got to keep your head down and work and not look up and not be distracted by the things that are going on outside of you and around you because it’s easy to.
“If you’re not looking at the finish line, you’ll drive to whatever you’re looking at. That’s the same thing that you got to do when you’re trying to win. You get to focus on you and what you’re doing and not worry about cars going out or points or what they are because the points at the end of the day are going to count themselves. I’ve said this time and time again if you just win them all, you don’t have to worry about it. We haven’t done that, but we have before, and we’re going to try to do it again. We just need to stay focused on the task. That’s trying to win every round that we go up there and hopefully; we can leave here with a championship.”
The national NHRA schedule will have a week off before returning for the Texas FallNationals at the Motorplex in Dallas, Oct. 13-16. The final two races in the season are in Las Vegas, Oct. 27-30, and Pomona, Calif., Nov. 10-13.
“Oh, man. It’s going to be fun, kind of because of everybody from Capco and all my friends and family and everything. I mean, Dallas is a great racetrack for us,” Torrence said. “We’ve done well there in the past, but you have a lot of people that you haven’t seen all-year long, a lot of people rooting for you. We’re going to go there with a lot of support. I know that it’s going to be a big weekend for us, but I’m thankful that we have some time off. This has been a three-race swing. It’s been hectic. We’re going to get a weekend off. Then we’ll roll into Dallas, ready to go. Billy Meyer and all the people at the Texas Motorplex have done a great job with that facility. I look forward to going there and running well. The one thing we may have to battle with is heat. This has been very nice. This has been a great place to be. 50s in the mornings, or whatever it is. We won’t be that cool until December at home, but I look forward to it. I like to race there. It’s just a fun place for us.”
RICKIE'S BOY SHOWING OUT AGAIN - The drive for six NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world championships is alive and well for Matt Smith.
Smith, the reigning world champ, made sure of that by winning the Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis Sunday.
Smith, on his Denso-sponsored Buell, clocked a 6.756-second elapsed time at 202.00 mph to defeat Jerry Savoie, who came in at 6.819 seconds at 197.77 mph.
Smith, who arrived in St. Louis second in the points standings, 29 points behind Joey Gladstone, is back in first by 21 points over him now..
“Yeah, like I said before this even started, Joey was going to be the biggest threat, in my opinion, because he’s so good on the tree, and you just can’t give up a couple hundredths anymore in our class right now because it’s so close and I had to step my game up,” Smith said. “He beat me already, I messed up there, and he beat me, and so I knew I had to get on the tree and this old guy did. He left on Joey, 19 to his 23. So, proud of how I did today. I rode good and I did exactly what I wanted to do and luckily, the little parts failure didn’t cost us that semifinals win.”
Smith, the reigning PSM world champ, also won PSM titles in 2007, 2012, 2018, and 2020 becomes just the third Pro Stock Motorcycle rider to win five or more championships joining the late Dave Schultz, who won six before his untimely death in 2002, and Andrew Hines, who also has six.
“We’re going for six,” Smith said. “We’ve got five championships, and I would love to add my name to that sixth championship that Dave Schultz and Andrew Hines are currently tied for. If I can put my name in there, that’s what I want to do.”
Smith has 36 career wins and four this season in Richmond, Va., Denver, Indianapolis and now St. Louis.
On Sunday, Smith had a first-round bye, beat Kelly Clontz, Gladstone and then Savoie.
“The win against Joey was probably the biggest,” Smith said. “He knocked me out second round at Reading and he went on and won the race. All in all, that was probably the biggest race of the weekend for me and our class, and whenever you beat the points leader, the class, everybody can come up and try to battle for this championship. I went out there against Kelly and put it back to normal and started going 1.07s [60-foot] and that’s just where I left it at. I didn’t try to go .60s, I just tried to turn the wind light on and go mid-70s and my bike will do the rest from the eighth-mile to the finish line with no parts failure.”
It was a memorable weekend for Smith as he won from the No. 1 qualifying spot clocking a 6.709-second elapsed time at 202.82 on Friday, which set both ends of the track record and was the quickest elapsed time of his storied career.
“It started out good right off the bat, front and qualifying,” Smith said. “We went 6.70, that’s my quickest ET ever at 202-something and we came back on Saturday and went 203. So, we knew we had a good bike this weekend. It’s just a simple fact of little parts; failures will bite you. It almost got me in the semifinals. The transmission messed up, and luckily, we had enough time to swap transmission for the finals.”
The national NHRA schedule will have a week off before returning for the Texas FallNationals at the Motorplex in Dallas, Oct. 13-16. The final two races in the season are in Las Vegas, Oct. 27-30, and Pomona, Calif., Nov. 10-13.
The big controversy in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class this season has been Smith swapping from riding a Suzuki to a Buell, which he was riding in St. Louis.
“They probably want me on my Suzuki right now, but I can promise you Chip Ellis said, ‘Dallas is going to show them how fast that thing’s going to be.’
“I don’t have any secrets to hide from anybody. Chip is, we live 15, 20 miles from each other. He does a lot of stuff for us on the side, and we went to Darlington and tested, and I asked him, I said, ‘I want you to come ride this bike.’ And he’s like, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because I want to watch the bike. I know what it feels like on the bike, but I need to see something, to see if it’s what...’ Because the computer doesn’t always tell you everything. And just watching with my own eyes, I figured, with a closer look, I could tell what it is doing. He helped with everything, and I told him, I said, ‘I want you to come ride.’ So, he’s going to come ride at Dallas.”
Smith has had his share of success in Dallas.
“We won that race last year,” Smith said. “We were low qualifier; we won the race, and that’s our intention to go down there again. Really appreciate Billy Meyer putting up the extra money for our class and all the other Pro classes to do what we do. And when you have money put up like that, you want to go after it, you want to show who’s best and what you can do and that track always allows us to do that. Hats off to him for getting it done. I’m excited for these last three races because I am really good in Dallas, and I’m really good in Vegas. I’m really good in Pomona, so I feel like we have a good shot at this sixth championship, and I just got to go do my job, and hopefully, we have no parts failures, and the driver doesn’t mess up.”
SCARY MOMENT - Khalid Al Balooshi emerged uninjured following an accident during the first round of Pro Modified eliminations at the NHRA Midwest Nationals outside of St. Louis.
Balooshi, who qualified No. 11, had just scored a first round victory over No. 4 qualifier Mike Castellana, when he lost control of his Camaro while racing in the left lane and made an abrupt left turn striking the retaining wall head on.
He exited the car under his own power, was treated and released by on-site medical personnel.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK – A PACKED HOUSE SEES SOME GREAT RACING; FORCE RIDES DOWN MEMORY LANE
OH YEAH, BABY! The NHRA and officials at World Wide Technology Raceway announced a sellout crowd for Saturday’s racing action at the 11th annual NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Thanks to a passionate fanbase packing the track on Saturday, the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series enjoyed its second sellout crowd during the Countdown to the Championship. A capacity crowd filled Maple Grove Raceway two weeks ago to kick off the playoffs, while a huge crowd enjoyed a memorable day of qualifying on Saturday in St. Louis, furthering the incredible recent history at World Wide Technology Raceway.
“Once again, our race fans in St. Louis and the Metro East delivered,” said Chris Blair, World Wide Technology Raceway’s Executive Vice President and General Manager.
“As we’ve demonstrated time and again, they love NHRA drag racing as well as the other major events we host at World Wide Technology Raceway. This weekend is magical because it has ten years of date equity, perfect weather, and thousands of loyal enthusiasts. World Wide Technology Raceway is the greatest comeback story in the history of sports venues for one reason: We have the best racing fans on the planet.”
The sellout on Saturday marks the seventh sellout crowd for the NHRA in 2022. The NHRA SpringNationals in Houston, the NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H., and the Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway also featured sellout crowds during the race weekend earlier this season.
THE CROSSROADS OF ST. LOUIS - John Force was No. 1 on Friday night during the first day of the NHRA Midwest Nationals for as long as it took a pair to run, then he was No. 2. It wasn’t a loss at all, as the driver who took away that top sport was his team driver Robert Hight, so in losing, Force still won. World Wide Technologies Raceway, formerly Gateway International Raceway, has always had that kind of spin on it for the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion.
Back in 1979, Force was a rookie on the NHRA tour, and the biggest challenge for the kid from Bell Gardens, California, was keeping his Wendys-sponsored Chevrolet Corvette funded enough to get the team from one race to the next.
Force was contracted to participate in a multi-car match race at the track outside of St. Louis. Things were much different back then as the track ran from where the finish line is today to where the starting line stands today.
Force was a lot different too. There was broke, and then there was what Force was, three notches below broke.
“I was small change compared to names like Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudhomme, and Tom McEwen,” Force said. “I was a nobody, but I was racing with my heroes.”
Force has almost doubled the win totals of those he holds in high esteem, but he never envisioned a day when he would equal them. He still doesn’t.
On that May 1979 evening, Force found himself in survival mode without even a small lifeboat within sight. A fog had blanketed the track just before the eighth-mile and spanned nearly the length of the quarter-mile.
The drivers he admired were seasoned enough to know safety outweighed everything else, even getting paid. If only Force had the same luxury.
The promoter, in a panic, found the one team he could muscle into making a run.
“And it was me,” Force said with a smile. “He came right over and told me I had to run or I wouldn’t get paid.”
Today’s Force would have told him to pound sand, but the younger version was desperate.
“I was just sitting there on my trailer, and I was broke and hungry,” Force recalled. “I just looked at him and said, ‘why me?’”
“No one else was going to go up there, but I did. Some got mad at me, and the others told me I was stupid and crazy. I had no choice. When a man eats his last old baloney sandwich sitting under the truck seat, he’ll do just about anything.”
The definition of anything in this instance meant driving when no one else would.
“I drove right through that cloud and the good Lord was with me,” Force recalled. “I saw it about 400 feet down the track, and when I went into it, my old heart was pounding.
I drove in one side of the cloud and out the other.”
Force was shaking when he exited the car and couldn’t help but see the monstrous Arch in the distance.
“That foggy race was going to be my last,” Force said. “I was headed home if I could have borrowed some gas money. I was in the truck, everyone was going to a rescheduled NHRA race, and I was headed back home because I was broke. I listened to Glen Campbell, and he was singing Home Again.
“I always had a quarter in my pocket to call home collect. I told my dad I was coming home. He told me that some guy had called from a track in Houston. I told dad I was coming home because I didn’t have enough money to buy gas or pay back his credit cards. This was the real crossroads of my life.”
One more stroke in the wrong direction and drag racing might have never experienced John Force.
“I can remember sitting out here and my tractor trailer didn’t even have legal tags,” Force said. “We couldn’t afford to have them. We had Bob Fisher’s boat plates on it. Frank Bradley and Dick LaHaie came by, and they fronted me the money to pay the fines and go into the state of Missouri because I was broke.
“They used to tell me how pathetic I was because I couldn’t afford the tags, yet I had an eighteen-wheeler. What they didn’t know is that we had that so we’d have a place to sleep. So many times, people like Frank Bradley and Dick LaHaie saved me.
“Just goes to show you how the good Lord makes your course in life; all of those big names had bailed on the track in Houston. The promoter told me that he needed me down there. No one really knew me, but the promoter knew I could drive and I could talk.”
Force told the promoter, who he named as Lynwood Dupuy, he’d come under a few stipulations.
“I told him to give me the same money he was going to give Prudhomme. He told me he’d do it. I told him to have the money in his hand when I got there.”
Force commanded $200 for payroll and a hotel room for him and the crew.
“There were five of us sweaty guys in one room,” Force said. “We all went to the movie theater at 9 AM just to stay out of the heat because it was so hot.”
Force would later go on to finish runner-up at the 1979 NHRA Cajun Nationals, handing Kenny Bernstein his first career NHRA national event victory. He would finish in the top ten of the Winston points earners for the first time in his career,
Three decades later, Force would earn his 1,000th career round victory at the same track.
Another 14 years later, Force enters Sunday’s final eliminations as the No. 2 qualifier on the strength of a 3.853, 334.15 run from Friday’s evening session.
HEART TO HART - Josh Hart went into positive mode following his quarter-final finish last weekend in Charlotte, losing to Clay Millican.
“There is no doom and gloom over here with this R+L Carriers team,” said Hart. “It takes an army to get here. It takes so much effort from everyone on the team to compete at this level. You can’t shy away from that. It is truly a blessing to be able to do this, and I will never forget that. Of course, we want to be better, and that is what we are going to try and do. We are going to put it in God’s hands and go on to the next one.”
Hart had bigger fish to fry this week than dwelling on a race he knew he could have won. With Hurricane Ian bearing down on his home state, Hart ensured his employees and facilities were taken care of before leaving earlier than usual for St. Louis.
Once he arrived at the track located within viewing distance of the Arch, Hart focused on the task at hand.
“We have not gotten off to the start I wanted in the playoffs. We met as a team after Charlotte to pull together for these final four Countdown races,” said Hart, who raced to a final round earlier this season in Norwalk, Ohio. “I have an amazing team that is working incredibly hard to win this championship. The competition is strong, but we have to make sure we don’t beat ourselves, and we take advantage of every opportunity.”
Last year at World Wide Technology Raceway as a non-Countdown contender, Hart raced to the semifinals as the No. 10 qualifier beating the Countdown-qualified teams of Justin Ashley and Brittany Force before losing to eventual series champion Steve Torrence in the third round. The success in his rookie year with two wins and multiple semifinals racing on a partial schedule motivated the entrepreneur to make a major investment over the off-season to run the whole NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series in 2022 and battle for the world title. In his first run through the playoffs, Hart has seen the level of competition step up.
“We wanted to race with the best of the best when everything was on the line,” said Hart. “My crew chief Ron Douglas has given me a great R+L Carriers dragster throughout the season, and we have been making great progress. We were one of the quickest dragsters in Charlotte, running in the 3.6s, and conditions in St. Louis should play right into our hands. We have to keep the pressure on these other teams and make them press to catch up to us. We can win this championship, but we need a good race this weekend.”
Hart qualified sixth last weekend, but after three sessions, he was second quickest with a 3.667, 333.33.
“This comes at the right time,” Hart said following his Q3 run. “Ron Douglas is awesome. Our guys are really awesome. I mean, they bust their butts every weekend to make this happen for me, and I’m just the idiot that hits the gas. So, super lucky just to be in the seat.”
THE ONLY IMPROVEMENT ON THE LEADERBOARD - The competition in NHRA’s Pro Stock class is as tight as ever.
The qualifying ladder at the Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis was proof of that.
Kyle Koretsky (6.510 seconds and 211.00 mph) was No.1, followed by Greg Anderson (6.510 seconds, 210.97 mph); Aaron Stanfield (6.511 seconds, 211.33 mph), and Erica Enders (6.511 seconds, 210.34 mph).
“It felt good,” Koretsky said of his run. “I knew the team’s been working on the engines real hard. I’ve been struggling a little bit as a team with the engines, but Greg (Anderson) and Jeff, and all the guys back at the shop at KB have been really busting their butt to make sure that all these cars are fast. I think we’re all kind of in a little bit of a slump somewhat as a team, but to go out there and go low for Friday night was pretty cool.”
Koretsky came to St. Louis fifth in the points standings. This is the second No. 1 qualifying position this season to go with the one he had in Phoenix. He has three No. 1 qualifiers in his short career.
“Huge,” Koretsky said about what the run meant to him. “My confidence was good coming in, even though I was disappointed in myself in Reading. I really wanted to win that race, but my confidence is high. (My) team gives me a good car. Everyone works together and it flows over there at KB, so it’s nice to (know) you can jump in a car and know that this thing’s going to be good. It takes a little pressure off you as a driver.”
Counting St. Louis, there are four races remaining in the Countdown to the Championship.
“We’re in the Countdown, so now is the time to get all your ducks in a row and make every single run as clean as possible,” Koretsky said. “I think that’s what the KB car did here this weekend. Last run, we kind of swung for the fence; we had a little driver hiccup there. But we’ll be good for eliminations. Sunday, I think we have a bye run, so that’s nice. It takes a little pressure to get one win light, but yeah, we’ll keep going.
“I think the crew will try something (on the bye run). They’re always looking to better the team. So, we’ll try something and try to hit the tree on my end and try to make a clean run because we definitely want lane choice. It’s very important here and to make a clean run, A to B, and do the best we can.”
In the highly talented Pro Stock class, Koretsky knows he has to be up to the challenge.
“You just got to dig deep. Dig deep,” he said. “Every car here from No. 1 to 16 can win, and that’s cool. That’s why I love Pro Stock. It’s nothing (against) other classes (or anything) like that. Everyone’s fighting week in and week out to tear each other’s head off, and we’re here as a team, KB to put these three cars (Greg Anderson), (Dallas) Glenn, and (me) 1, 2, 3, every single weekend and yeah, we’re ready. We’re here as a team and we’re going to win as a team and lose a team, but we’re going to try to hold our position.”
Koretsky will have a first-round bye and then will face the winner of Bo Butner and Deric Kramer in round two. - Tracy Renck
GUESS WHO’S BACK? OR DID HE LEAVE? - Matt Smith’s quest for six NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world championships is back on track.
After dropping from first to second by 29 points to Joey Gladstone in the points standings after Reading, Pa., Smith is focused on getting back on top.
Smith did his part in qualifying at the Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis, grabbing the No. 1 position.
Smith clocked a 6.709-second elapsed time at 202.82 on Friday, which set both ends of the track record and was the quickest elapsed time of his decorated career.
“It was great,” Smith said about his blistering pass. “The last time we’ve been here was, I think, 2019. We came in 2020, but we didn’t really get to run because it was so cold and all that, so we finished the race at Dallas. But I held the speed record then and the motorcycles have evolved a lot in the last three years as far as ET and speed, so it’s good to be back here. It’s a fast track, a good track.
“I think we have the best bike out here—we kind of missed the tune-up a little bit second round. Spun the tire too much, too low of a gear, just tried to get out a little bit and it didn’t hold it, but we were still second of the round, and we come back this time and detuned it in low gear and was low of the round again. So, all in all, this Denso bike, it’s fast, it’s mean, and if I can just do my job on Sunday, we should be able to turn four win lights on. We turn the win light on every time we went down track in qualifying. So that’s the goal, that’s our goal (Sunday).”
This was Smith’s 51st career No. 1 qualifying position and fourth this season. He also was No. 1 on the ladder in Gainesville, Fla., Denver, and Reading, Pa.
“Well, if we get in late rounds and we got cloud cover, we know what we can do,” said Smith about raceday based on his Friday night record run. “We know that we can go up and hit it a little harder.”
Smith, the reigning PSM world champ, also won titles in 2007, 2012, 2018, and in 2020 became just the third Pro Stock Motorcycle rider to win five or more championships joining the late Dave Schultz, who won six before his untimely death in 2002, and Andrew Hines, who also has six.
Smith has three wins this season in Richmond, Va., Denver, and Indianapolis.
Smith had the quickest ETs in Q1 (6.709 seconds) and Q3 (6.755 seconds) and was second quickest in Q2 (6.773). He collected eight qualifying bonus points toward the standings.
“Baby points wins championships. It wins races,” Smith said. “Friday night is good for the fans. It’s a one-shot deal, either swing for the fence or you go out and lay one up, and we kind of swung for the fence because there’s not, but I think 15 bikes, so we knew it was going to be qualified. So why not go for it and try to get the points, and like I said, it stuck, and it could have taken more, so I’m excited about what we’ve done. We worked on the motor since Reading and found a little bit more power. So, I think we’ll be really good for the rest of the Countdown.”
Smith has two legitimate chances to win a world crown in 2022, and his wife, Angie arrived in St. Louis fourth in the points and is fourth on the qualifying ladder with a 6.748 second elapsed time at 201.19 mph.
“As long as one of us can take this championship home, it doesn’t matter,” Matt said. “Either I get six of them, or she gets her first one. That’s what we’re after right now. We’re out here to be the best team, and these guys and girls have to go through us because we’ve won the last two years. So, they got to go through us to get it and we’re going to put a dogfight up, and it’s going to be either me or Angie that they will have to bow to.
“Hopefully, we can turn two win lights on and she can turn two win lights on and we got to meet each other in semis and then one of us go on. But all in all, (Sunday’s) a big day. I’ve always said the first race of the Countdown is important, but the second race is probably the most important because that kind of shows who’s going to be able to run for the championship when we go to Dallas. It’s going to show because Joey (Gladstone) and Karen (Stoffer) got each other (Sunday). So that’s two Countdown contenders. As long as my bike cranks up and I can take the tree, I’m going to win first round. So, all in all, I think we’ll be fine, and hopefully, we can just do our job tomorrow. That’s all I got to do, no parts failures and just do our job.”
Smith has a bye in the first round. - Tracy Renck
THE STEVE-O SHOW - Four-time Top Fuel defending world champ Steve Torrence clinched his third No. 1 this season in his dragster, thanks to Friday’s run of 3.655 at 327.43 in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster. That was a season-best run for the defending event winner, who put together a pair of good runs on Saturday as well. That gave him plenty of bonus qualifying points heading into eliminations, where he’ll open the day against Buddy Hull and will look to make up some major ground in the loaded category.
“I’m looking forward to going into race day tomorrow. We’ve got good momentum. The car is running well, and we will be excited to see what we can do,” Torrence said. “It’s an opportunity for us to capitalize. We need to be there to try to capitalize on things the best we can. We’ve been working pretty diligently to try to get this thing turned around and in the direction that we want it to go, and that is what we have been focused on.”
ON THE RIGHT TRACK, THE STANFIELD VERSION - Aaron Stanfield jumped right back in the championship mix with his Charlotte win, but the rising star in Pro Stock said the chase for an NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series world title in the class won’t be his main focus this weekend.
Stanfield moved back to second in points heading to the halfway point of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs and now trails Elite Motorsports teammate Erica Enders by just 64 points with four races remaining this year. But the three-time race winner in 2022 insists counting points won’t be on his radar going to St. Louis.
It’s an approach that has never served him well before, and it’s a mindset he’ll be sure to avoid even as the title talk heats up at World Wide Technology Raceway. Instead, he’s focused on another win in his Janac Brothers Chevrolet Camaro, knowing full well that another standout playoff performance will keep him in a great position.
“We’re not going to give up and it’s still anyone’s shot,” Stanfield said. “There’s no better feeling in the world than winning an NHRA race, so I just want to keep trying to go to each race and focus with just that goal in mind. We wanted to come in and turn things around (in Charlotte) and we did that. I’m more worried about winning races, going rounds and being consistent as a driver. Every time I start to focus on points, I start to think about it, so I just want to continue to do well, produce consistent results and win races.”
This weekend is the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship and Stanfield believed his effort last weekend in Charlotte was perhaps his best all-around showing of the year.
That came at a perfect time, especially as Enders looked on the verge of running off with the title. She dominated the Countdown to the Championship opener in Reading and qualified No. 1 in Charlotte before an exit in the semifinals. But she remains the dominant force in the class in 2022 on the strength of seven victories and Enders has also ruled in St. Louis, picking up her fifth win last year at the track.
But having a four-time world champ as a teammate has also brought out the best in Stanfield, who will also have to deal with the likes of Troy Coughlin Jr., defending world champ Greg Anderson, Kyle Koretsky and Dallas Glenn in St. Louis. Stanfield has enjoyed a standout season with three victories and seven appearances in the final round.
“In my DNA, I want to be the best,” said Stanfield, who has seven career Pro Stock wins. “Erica is the best right now and she’s proven that time and time again. We’re a team and I support her, and she supports me, and it’s good to have that competition when you put the helmets on, but I would say we both push each other.”
BO KNOWS RACE DAY - Some of the best drag racing lessons can be taught in qualifying. Bo Butner and his Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage team learned one very important thing: they will have an opportunity on Sunday to claim their first win of the season. Butner is particularly keen to get it done as he is eager to secure a victory at a racetrack where he has never before earned a national event trophy.
Butner, a 29-time NHRA national event winner, has scored victories at racetracks all across the country, including all but seven on the current tour. In all, Butner has seen the inside of the winner’s circle at 14 different national event racetracks in six different categories.
“It would be really cool to win St. Louis, and we definitely need a win in Pro Stock – here, there, or anywhere,” said Butner, who has experienced a season of growth with his new team that has so far been without the reward that he and the JHG crew has diligently worked toward.
“We put down three pretty good runs so far this weekend, and we’re definitely capable of winning any round,” Butner continued, referencing passes of 6.540-second at 211.96 mph, a 6.528 at 210.87, and a final quarter-mile qualifying jaunt of 6.538, 210.01 that equated to a start from the No. 8 position.
“I’m happy with that; I just have to drive tomorrow,” he concluded. “The crew is behind me, the car is behind me, and now it’s up to me.”
PERSONAL MILESTONE ACHIEVED, BIG PICTURE JUST MISSED - Lex Joon could be disappointed, but he’s too darn happy to be sad. Joon ran a personal best of 3.878, eclipsing his previous best of 3.901. So what is there to be sad about? Joon ended up qualified 17th in the 16-car field.
“It’s really trying,” Joon said. “We have to go through a lot of stuff that is haunting us. It’s just not coming together. But every time something happens, we just never quit. I cannot quit anymore because I’m just one who never quits. So, although I’m really thinking about quitting because I’m getting fed up at it, we keep going. I was looking for a little bit more, but 3.87, you know what? It’s a personal best, so we will be moving on and getting faster and getting there.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – ANTRON’S TRIP BACK TO THE FUTURE, THE CANOPY DEBATE, TORRENCE MAKES A MOVE
IT ALL COMES FULL CIRCLE - Antron Brown, 46, and Justin Ashley, 27, are considered quasi-teammates, sharing a hospitality trailer and technical data. This dynamic didn’t happen overnight. Actually, the foundation was poured when the latter was only 14 years old.
The year was 2009 when Ashley’s father, Mike, purchased the assets of the David Powers Motorsports Top Fuel team, where Brown had just been named the driver. Ashley made one significant change once the sale was complete; replacing veteran crew chief Lee Beard with the duo of Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald.
Ashley wasn’t trying to build a team; he envisioned a family.
When Mike Ashley raced a fuel Funny Car, Corradi and Oswald were his tuners. Moving them to a Top Fuel dragster was a bit of a gamble, considering they had been Funny Car tuners for the duration of their careers. For good measure, Brad Mason, who had been with Brown since his switch from Pro Stock Motorcycle to fuel racing, was added to the tuning line-up.
Brown will never forget the words spoken to him once the team was in place.
Brown told CompetitionPlus.com in a November 2017 article, “Mike Ashley’s exact words were: ‘You guys are going to be great. This sport hasn’t seen what’s about to happen.’
“I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Here’s a rookie kid from New Jersey, one year in, and Mike Ashley, who won two races last year. Whoop-di-do.’ You know what I mean? And here come Brian and Mark, who can make a Funny Car run, and now they’re about to run a dragster. What are we going to do? And we won six races that year and almost won the championship in 2009.”
Brown has gone on to win three NHRA championships.
Fast forward to 2022, following a remarkable win at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, and the moment had come full circle. Brown had just won the race on a holeshot, and Corradi, who had just bared his soul on the PA speaking on the family atmosphere at Antron Brown Racing.
“What we have is more than just a team,” Brown said. “It’s a family.”
And part of that extended family is Justin Ashley.
If the Top Fuel fraternity is looking for someone to blame for helping this quick-reacting, cool-as-the-other side of the pillow under pressure driver get his start at the top of the food chain class, one needs to look no further than Brown.
“I never envisioned this happening in a million years,” Ashley, who currently leads the NHRA Top Fuel point standings, said. “At the time when my dad bought that team, I had so much admiration for Antron then, and still do, I could never have envisioned that it would come full circle like it did.”
Brown understood he owed the kid’s family a solid, considering the solid decision-making Mike Ashley had done for him in creating the atmosphere for the Matco Tools-sponsored team.
Brown lent the cockpit of his then Don Schumacher Top Fuel dragster to Ashley for his licensing runs and, on the first full pass, he ran a 3.788 elapsed time at 314.90 miles per hour. Corradi, Oswald, and Mason were the tuners of record for that day.
“Of course, I was intimidated by the whole experience,” said Ashley. “When I sat in the cockpit of his car, I had only made seven runs in a Top Alcohol Dragster. I was sitting in the world champion’s dragster. I felt confident in the crew surrounding me. But, I guess I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
Brown had an inkling that kid back then would be something special, and his performance since entering the ranks has confirmed it.
“When you look at stuff, like the movie Rocky III,” Brown explained. “When Apollo showed Rocky the tricks of the trade. I showed that kid the tricks of the trade. But this is the true, honest to God’s truth. You can teach people as much as you want to teach them. Either you got it, or you don’t. And that kid had it from day one. And that kid is dangerous.
“When you look at it, he’s only getting better. He’s not like he’s made the pinnacle. This is his second year of racing, and he’s in the point lead for a championship with the toughest field this class has ever seen. Period.”
TO CANOPY OR NOT TO CANOPY? NOT FOR MILLICAN - One of the first things Rick Ware did after buying the team that fields Top Fuel dragsters for Clay Millican was to order a new chassis from Don Schumacher Racing.
But unlike many of the competitors in Top Fuel – and especially those who drive DSR-built cars – Millican will continue to race without a canopy over his head.
He and Ware believe their reasons for eschewing that design are as solid as the argument that a canopy is aerodynamically superior.
“In my opinion – the crew chief always has the final say-so – but you’re adding 40 pounds where the driver sits,” said Millican, who wore the IHRA Top Fuel crown from 2001-06. “Why lose the advantage of having a 140-pound driver?
“I get that question a lot: ‘How come you don’t run a canopy?’” he added. “This car is currently the second-quickest car in the world, but we set the national record without a canopy.”
That was back in the 2018 season opener at Pomona, Calif., when Millican unleashed a blistering lap of 3.625 seconds in the final qualifying session; at the time, the quickest run in Top Fuel history.
That mark stood for over a year and a half until Brittany Force – in a canopied car – went 3.628 at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania in September 2019.
The difference between the car with the canopy and the one without? A virtually non-existent 3/1,000ths of a second.
“At the end of the day ... the aerodynamics become so minuscule at the far end that it doesn’t matter unless you hook these things up,” said Ware, who purchased the team from Doug Stringer in August. “If you could hook these things up, you could hang two more wings, two more magnetos .. if you could hook up another 1,000 horsepower, you’re going to run a .58.
“I’m not a big proponent of aerodynamics when you can’t even use what you have. And (Steve Torrence’s team has) proven that for four years in a row” with consecutive championships, minus a canopy.
“Here’s the other problem – and, again, I know just enough to be dangerous: This is all about the exact same things and consistency. Forty pounds doesn’t sound like a lot, except that it’s in a different spot, and if it’s in a different spot, it’s going to affect how the tires get hooked up, and they’re going to need more tire pressure or less; more clutch or less; later clutch. So I want two identical scenarios,” with dragster No. 2 being a clone of the current version.
After struggling with inconsistency in qualifying throughout much of the season, tuners Jim Oberhofer and Lance Larsen have found a sweet spot in their combination of late for their Drummonds, Tenn., driver, a 19-time finalist and three-time winner in his NHRA career.
A month ago, Millican qualified No. 5 at the U.S. Nationals at 3.707 seconds, and he followed that up with the No. 6 spot at Maple Grove at 3.721. Last weekend at Charlotte, he was third at 3.687, then advanced to the semifinals, where his 3.699 came up short against eventual champ Antron Brown’s 3.687.
TORRENCE PLANTS HIS FLAG AT NO. 1 - Steve Torrence isn’t pushing the panic button.
However, he knows his Capco team needs to step it up right now if he has any chance of winning his fifth-consecutive NHRA Top Fuel world championship.
Torrence took a small step toward that goal by snaring the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot at the Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis Friday.
Torrence clocked a 3.655-second run at 327.43 mph.
“The class has really stepped up, and everybody’s so quick and so fast right now,” Torrence said. “We needed to run well. We’ve struggled throughout the year, kind of self-inflicted, but at this time, we’re trying to get our way back in there. And we’ve kind of put ourselves behind the eight ball with two non-spectacular starts to the Countdown, and so we needed to run well. And that was great for us to come here. I don’t know if that’ll stay No. 1, depending on the conditions (Saturday), but I feel like we’ll be top three, at least.
“So just a great run for us. I mean, we’ve slowly got to where we need to be, and if we can maintain that pace right there and carry it through the rest of the four races, we’ll maybe have a shot at this deal.”
Torrence arrived in St. Louis fifth in the points standings, 105 points behind leader Justin Ashley with four races remaining in the Countdown counting St. Louis.
“No, I didn’t expect it to hold tonight,” said Torrence of his elapsed time. “I thought Brittany (Force) would be able to go a little quicker than that, and I think that we may have been a little quicker ourselves. The thing either put a hole out or was down there spinning a little bit at the end; the mph was down. That was our best half-track speed ever. So that’s what we really been working on is trying to get the car to run harder in the middle and be able to run harder out the back door. That’s indicative of what we were trying to do and just maybe a little more left in it.”
Torrence believes his Friday night run will benefit him for Saturday’s two qualifying sessions.
“That gives us some luxury to utilize the two runs (Saturday), which will be in the middle of the day, in the sun,” Torrence said. “That will replicate some of the rounds on Sunday. So, we will utilize that to learn, to try to get a set up for raceday, and see if we can’t pull one off.”
This season Torrence has one win this season in Brainerd, Minn., and qualified No. 1 in Houston and Epping, N.H. - Tracy Renck
HIGHT REESTABLISHES DOMINANCE - The outstanding 2022 NHRA season for Robert Hight keeps adding new accomplishments.
Hight’s latest moment of glory came when he captured the provisional pole with a 3.853-second lap at 336.32 mph at the Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis Friday.
Hight tied his boss John Force with the same elapsed time, but Force had a slower 334.15 mph, giving Hight the No. 1 spot on Friday.
“Well, it’s huge. I mean, No. 1, they’re only 15 cars this weekend,” Hight said. “So, the No. 1 spot is very, very important, and we’re counting points. We amassed a pretty decent lead leaving Reading, and we gave it back last weekend and let some of these guys back in. And it was a mechanical failure that blew out a spark plug and ended our day. So, we worked hard at the shop this week and tried to identify things that could be potential problems and come out here and make a run like that.”
Hight arrived in St. Louis first in the points standings, just 27 in front of Ron Capps.
“336 mph, that’s the fastest I’ve gone in a long time,” Hight said. “I know it’s the fastest run of the year for Funny Car, so that’s pretty impressive, but we do have great conditions. But when you’re sitting in the car, and you’re hearing all these cars ahead of you, smoking the tires, shaking, having problems, you start thinking. But your crew chiefs, you just got to have confidence in them. They’ve got you here, and we’ve made a lot of good runs this year, and they stuck to the course. They didn’t go back to the box and make changes. They are just very, very confident in their approach and their combination, and it showed out there. So very impressive.
“But I still think that (Saturday) night’s run at 5:30 p.m. for (Top Fuel) dragsters will be a little bit later, and we’ll be the last pair down the track. So anyway, it’s good for today. Three more points and we’re counting every single point, but it’s also good for AAA here in Missouri. We’re representing them this weekend and Cornwell’s here with us this weekend. It’s a good weekend to have a lot of success and we need to get some more points back. Twenty-seven points is not enough cushion.”
If Hight holds the No. 1 spot, it will be his fifth of the season and 76th of his career.
“Well, it shows that these Camaros, the teams work well together, and they’ve got their act together at the right time of year,” Hight said. “But this is just one night, and we got to go out there (Saturday). The first run (Saturday) is going to be as equally important because it’s going to be the same kind of conditions that we’re faced with on race day, which is what really matters. You’re going to throw these kinds of runs here out the window. That’s not what we’re going to have to race with on Sunday. So, to me, the most important run is going to be Q2 (Saturday) to make a very, very respectable run. So that sets you up for race day.” - Tracy Renck
KID CHAOS ROCKETS TO THE TOP - The 2022 Pro Stock championship is far from settled. With this in mind, second-generation Pro Stock driver Kyle Koretsky pleaded his case with a strong pass in the opening qualifying session in his Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro, taking the top spot with a run of 6.512 at 211.00. It puts Koretsky on track for his second No. 1 qualifier this season – and first since Phoenix in February – and third in his career.
Koretsky is currently fifth in points and looking for his first win this season. Getting it at the halfway point of the Countdown to the Championship would be a huge boost to his title chances.
“That was a great first run off the trailer,” Koretsky said. “St. Louis has been pretty good to us, and the guys have been working hard on the engines. We’ve been struggling a little bit, but the guys at KB Racing have been working hard and we don’t give up. It’s cool to sit No. 1 after Friday night, but you never know out here. Everyone is tough, and we’re going to give St. Louis a heck of a run.”
RICKIE’S BOY STILL HAS THE MAGIC - That Buell of Matt Smith’s keeps hauling the mail. The King of Switcheroo, for his noted talent of going back and forth between motorcycle manufacturers during an event, didn’t have to switch back to the V-twin; he was already on it.
Smith made an impressive run of 6.709 at 202.82 to set both ends of the track record as the sun was setting in St. Louis, and the five-time world champ also made the quickest run in his standout career. Bumped back to second in points after Joey Gladstone won in Reading, Smith is determined to have a big weekend as the season hits crunch time.
“The motorcycles have evolved a lot in the last few years,” Smith said. “I’m excited to be back, and it’s a fast track, and I’m looking forward to what happens tomorrow. If we have the same weather, we’re definitely going to go and swing for the 6.60s because we’ve never done that before, and we would love to do it.”
PRO MOD TITLE DOWN TO THE WIRE - There was a time when it appeared all but one racer in the NHRA FuelTech Pro Modified series was racing for second place in the championship battle. Thorne won three of the season’s first four events and held a 108-point lead over second-place Rickie Smith.
With a few key losses in the next four, Thorne’s lead has dwindled down to just 46 points with Smith breathing down his back. Last weekend at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, Thorne lost in the first round and Smith in the second. Third place in the points, Steve “Fast” Jackson, used the opportunity to make hay while the sun was out.
Jackson cut Thorne’s lead to 125 points from third place in the standings and stands as the last driver with a mathematical chance to catch the leader.
The NHRA Pro Modified Series returns to St. Louis for the first time since 2019. In the last two NHRA Pro Modified events contested at the facility, Jackson finished as a winner and runner-up, respectively.
He would likely need to win this weekend’s event and Dallas and hope for early exits from Thorne and Smith to pull off what would appear to be a miracle.
“If I’m in it, I can win it,” Jackson said after his victory in Charlotte last weekend. “If there’s a mathematical chance, I’m going to keep swinging at it, and hopefully, we can get another win and end up in the winner’s circle this weekend.”
Jackson made a good case for his cause on Friday, storming to the top spot with a 5.693, 257.04.
DID YOU KNOW? - Jerry Bickel built the first car to win an official Pro Modified race. Ed Hoover drove the Bickel-built Camaro to the 1990 IHRA Winternationals title, stopping Tim McAmis in the final round.
Bickel, whose shop is in nearby Moscow Mills, Mo., serves as the sponsor for this weekend’s event.
“We are really excited to sponsor the Pro Mod class in St. Louis as it is our home track. We are definitely committed to NHRA Pro Mod and all Pro Mod classes across the world,” said Bickel. “We work hard to craft a first-class race car using the latest technology and design for all our racers and are proud to have invested in our capability, facilities, and equipment with one goal in mind – winning! We are known as a “ONE STOP CHASSIS STOP” world leader.”
MORE THAN JUST PAINTING THE CAR PINK - Cruz Pedregon has been busy meeting cool people and doing extraordinary things lately. The only thing that outranks making his 600th NHRA start is what he unveiled Friday Night during the first qualifying session at the NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Pedregon and longtime sponsor Snap-on unveiled the newest Socket to Breast Cancer car design to support the Pink Fund® in the U.S. and Kelly Shires Foundation in Canada. The program is instrumental in furthering its work in helping breast cancer patients meet non-medical expenses while undergoing treatment.
It’s not just a pink scheme to Pedregon and at least one of his crewmembers.
Pedregon’s sister Dora is a breast cancer survivor, so turning his Funny Car pink is meaningful for him and the entire team. Bottom-end specialist Nate Hamm lost his mother to cancer. She was pregnant with him while fighting breast cancer.
“Dora is several years out from her diagnosis and is doing well, but she is still grateful for the guidance and information she received from the Pink Fund founder Molly MacDonald when she was facing treatment,” Pedregon said. “So, I guess you could say we have our eye on two prizes -- to win this race, since we’ve not won St. Louis before, and to let our loyal NHRA fans know about these organizations. They’re unique because they can provide real help with transportation, utilities, and the things of life that keep going even when patients may be out of work during breast cancer treatment. So far, Snap-on and its franchisees and customers who participated in sales promotions over the past seven years have donated more than $815,000 to support these organizations and their important work.”
Hamm’s mother, Lynn, suffered from Stage 4 breast cancer while pregnant with him. She beat the diagnosis, only to have the cancer return and take her life two years ago.
When Hamm was born in 2002, he knew his life would always incorporate taking a stand alongside his Mom to fight this killer. According to WebMD, one in six deaths are attributed to cancer. Over 43,000 deaths came from breast cancer last year.
“Whenever I was younger, me and my Mom would go to Relay for Life,” Hamm recalled. “It’s a fundraiser for breast cancer, pretty much. I remember just walking around these tracks that were at the school and the little bags that had candles in them with people’s names on them. That left a big impression on me.”
Hamm learned early in childhood the full scope of the battle she faced, just bringing him into the world. He also became aware that the child of a cancer patient learns the challenges the average child cannot grasp.
“I guess I was just old enough to understand it; what she was going through and the decisions they had to make and everything,” Hamm said.
Hamm also understood the rollercoaster ride of negative and positive scans. Years after a clean bill of health from Breast Cancer, Lynn was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She battled bravely for three years before losing the battle.
Hamm credits Lynn for the role he plays today in drag racing. He works as the bottom-end technician for Pedregon’s team and serves as the official welder for the crew. It was Lynn who influenced Hamm to get into welding.
“She came to me one day and was like, ‘hey, you’re really good with working with your hands. Would you like to try welding?” Hamm recalled. “I gave it a try and ended up enjoying it a lot. Then I got jobs working in fabrication shops and stuff, and that’s really where I started. That was my entryway into drag racing, I think, just working with my hands and then being a welder.”
Hamm wasn’t really into drag racing, but when an opportunity of connections led him down the pathway to join Cruz Pedregon Racing last year, just one look at the team’s 2021 Breast Cancer Awareness theme was enough to seal the deal.
Pedregon’s Dodge carried a pink and gray theme. The pink represented breast cancer, and the gray stood for brain cancer. Different colors represent different kinds of cancers in awareness.
“That was the coolest thing to me before I was even a part of this team,” Hamm said. “Seeing those colors, those were her colors. Now I don’t know how she would have reacted to me working on a car; I think, in some ways, it might have overwhelmed her to see what takes place behind the scenes.
“I think she’d be pretty proud of it. She probably wouldn’t say it, but I think she’d be really proud. Ever since she passed away, I’ve always just tried to do everything to the best that I can and really to honor her because I don’t want to let her down.”
Pedregon’s latest Socket to Cancer-themed Dodge is a beauty. The new pink design on El Mero Mero’s (The Big Boss) body features the Snap-on Socket to Breast Cancer logo on the hood, three main colors, pearl white, dark titanium, and pink, with the Pink Fund and Kelly Shires Foundation logos on the wing. The pink stripes form a forward-facing arrow to represent the momentum this presence on the Funny Car brings to the organizations.
For more information, check out PinkFund.org and KellyShiresFoundation.org.
BIKE RACERS GET PERSONAL BESTS - Ron Tornow scored his personal best out of the box during Friday qualifying by running a 6.886 elapsed time at 193.29 miles per hour. Kelly Klontz also recorded her best speedway by half of a mph, turning in a 196.93.
OH CHUTE, SUBSTITUTE EDITION - Dan Wilkerson was filling in for Chad Green, who was reportedly nursing a knee injury.
“We had an opportunity to let Dan drive; it’ll help him keep his license,” team owner/driver Tim Wilkerson said. Chad actually hurt his knee. And we have a brand new car here that we’re testing, and we’ll see what it does. Hopefully, it all works out well. Dan’s really excited, of course, to drive again.
The chassis is the one usually run by Green, but this weekend they are using a clone Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang body.
Wilkerson launched in the Q1 session, but the parachute deployed 100 feet into the pass, forcing him out of the throttle.
“It felt fast early, and then, as you saw, it felt slow all of a sudden,” Dan added. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s bizarre.”
“Then my guy was screaming at me on the radio, so I thought, “All right. Something went wrong.”
“I figured I had a bunch of holes out the way it drove.”
NEW SPONSOR ALERT - Matt Hagan has had several new to drag racing sponsors this season, and he’s sporting another this weekend. Baja Vida Snacks will adorn the side of Hagan’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car.
“It’s amazing to have a sponsor like Baja Vida on the side of the car,” Hagan said. “To bring them into the NHRA is exciting for me, and I genuinely enjoy their product. I love their dried mangos and the beef jerky. It’s a great product that I eat on the regular. I’m a cattle rancher, and beef is what we do.
“To see a company like Baja Vida come in and want to be a part of our sport is a great thing. Hopefully, we can help grow their brand. I’m very blessed to be able to run a new paint scheme and have a new group of folks come in and check our sport out. I’m looking forward to promoting them at Menards. We want to make people aware of what a great product they have.”
Baja Vida Snacks line of beef jerky has been a staple since the company’s inception in 2019 and launched with five core flavors – Traditional, Lime & Serrano, Sweet Orange, Salsa Fresca and Churro. Two additional flavors were added in 2021 – Crackin’ Pepper and Street Taco. Baja Vida Snacks also offers a variety of beef sticks, dried mangos, and seasonings.
Baja Vida Snacks joined TSR earlier this year as an associate sponsor, and the Midwest Nationals marks the brand’s first NHRA event as the primary sponsor of Hagan.
Pruett is representing Sparkling Ice +Caffeine on her Top Fuel dragster this weekend, and while the zero sugar, full-flavored sparkling water isn’t new to the NHRA scene, her associate Rite in the Rain is making its first foray into the straight line as an associate sponsor.
Rite in the Rain is a line of All-Weather notebooks and pens designed to handle any weather or environment.
TIME TO MAKE A MOVE - Try this one on for size when it comes to the competitiveness of the 2022 Top Fuel season. Brittany Force reached the final round in a third of the regular season NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series events and scored eight No. 1 to score the No. 1 seed headed into the playoffs.
Two races, two quarter-final finishes later, Ms. Force finds herself third in the points.
“We need to make some big moves this weekend starting in qualifying,” Force said. “We’re aiming to qualify top three and need to perform well on race day. I’m looking forward to St. Louis, especially since there is no downtime in between; we head straight there coming out of Charlotte. We plan to get this team back on track and back in a winners circle.”
Force is the track record holder for speed at World Wide Technology Raceway, thanks to her 337.66 mph run in 2021. She has otherwise been shut out at NHRA Midwest Nationals. Her best result came in 2015 when she reached the semifinals. Last year, after starting her Flav-R-Pac / Monster Energy dragster from the No. 2, she exited race day in the second round.
IF WE AREN’T COMPETITIVE, WE’RE NOT RACING - - So far, Buddy Hull is perfect in NHRA competition. It might only be just three races, but when you are a part-time racer, you take whatever good fortunes you can get.
Hull, a successful independent contractor by trade, is methodical in his approach to racing Top Fuel. He chose earlier in the season to wait later for supply chain issues to get better, and during the team waiting to race, procuring the best and most durable parts.
The second-year Top Fuel racer is competing this weekend with backing from Gates Belts, Tillitt Collision Centers, KE Baker Trucking, and Vertex Roofing and General Contractors. He’s added associate sponsors DFW RV Center, Lucky’s Diesel Shop, CamperLife Superstore, Roof 4 Vets, and 1st Class Graphics.
‘We had a good weekend in Topeka and I am working to build my program step-by-step,” said Hull, a third-generation drag racer. “This is a great event since it is close to my hometown. We have added Gates Belts and Tillitt Collision Centers to our team. Gates will be with us for the rest of the season and into 2023, and I am excited to have Tillitt Collision Centers and KE Baker Trucking on my Top Fuel dragster for this St Louis race. Both Illinois-based companies are excited to be part of the NHRA national event at World Wide Technology Raceway.”
The former competitive powerlifter is making a name for himself in the business and sports world. The young team is still coming together on Hull’s own timeline, and the aspiring full-time professional driver knows he must develop marketing relationships as well as team management skills to be successful. Hull has built several successful businesses, including Vertex Roofing and General Contractors, so he is leaning on that experience as well as his passion for following his dreams.
“After Topeka, we looked at all our parts and made the decision we could race in St. Louis with the continued help from Tim Wilkerson and my crew guys,” said Hull. “I have a great group of people working on this team, and we are making sure we do everything first class. If we can’t come out and be competitive, you won’t see me at the races. This weekend is another step in the right direction for our program.”
Friday night, Hull made his personal best 3.822 elapsed time at 315.78 miles per hour during Friday’s lone session.