2023 NHRA FALL NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
FINAL NOTEBOOK - WINNERS ARE CROWNED, AS WE CROWN THE TOP STORIES OF SUNDAY
1 – Leah Pruett wins Top Fuel trophy to complete first “nitro double” for Tony Stewart Racing - Leah Pruett defeated Steve Torrence in an epic showdown between top-ranked title contenders and combined with Funny Car winner Matt Hagan to give Tony Stewart Racing its first double-nitro achievement.
Hagan took the points lead with his semifinal victory over Tim Wilkerson, then extended it by running away from a tire-smoking John Force in the final round.
While Hagan has won three championships, Pruett is the closest she ever has been to earning the Top Fuel title. And after working her way into the final round, the winners circle for the 12th time, and ultimately into the title talk, she said the emotion Sunday “surpasses [those from] my very first Top Fuel win. The excitement is super high.”
But she controlled her emotions all day long, saying she didn’t allow herself to think about her progress for the day or the season. However, following her victory in the marquee match-up of the day – her victory against Doug Kalitta – she was in line to inherit the Top Fuel points lead. And she said she was aware that she started the weekend in second place and had fallen to third place after qualifying was complete Saturday
Pruett knocked out No. 1 Kalitta in the second round.
“Beating Doug Kalitta, the points leader, was huge,” Pruett said. “You’ve got to do the best you can and make sure someone’s not running away with it. And Ron Capps said it best: Dallas, the Stampede of Speed, you don’t win a championship here, but you can lose one. We made darn sure we were deep in the hunt, at the top of the hunt.”
By then, No. 4 Justin Ashley, who had led the field into the Countdown after an outstanding regular season, already was out of contention. He lost to Clay Millican, even though Millican’s dragster quit before the finish line. Millican’s crew chief and Plano, Texas, resident Jim Oberhofer said, “We’ve got the ol’ Texas horseshoe up our butt.” It vanished by the semifinal round. Millican’s car looked as though it might do a wheelstand, but he averted disaster – and lost the race.
That sent Pruett into the final round, where she had the class’ other marquee match-up; i.e., against third-place Steve Torrence. He eliminated No. 5 Antron Brown in Round 2, then beat dad Billy by seven-thousandths of a second for the final-round berth. (“My dad’s my toughest competitor,” Torrence said. “He doesn’t come out here often, but when he does, he throws down.”)
2- Erica Enders makes history as motorsports’ most successful woman - Erica Enders made her first passes at Texas Motorplex as an 8-year-old from Houston, racing in the Jr. Dragster class, and in this most recent visit, one week after celebrating her 40th birthday, she is the winningest woman in not just NHRA drag racing but all of motorsports.
Enders defeated Dallas Glenn in the Pro Stock final round to earn her 46th victory in the factory hot-rod class. That achievement, coupled with one sportsman-level Super Gas triumph, broke a tie with three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion (turned Top Alcohol Dragster driver) Angelle Sampey.
“We came in here on a mission,” Enders said. It was a daunting task, the No. 3 starter said, considering the top half of the qualified field was separated by mere thousandths of a second.
“I’m really grateful,” she said. I’m so blessed to get to do what I do with people who mean the most to me.”
She said her goal when she started competing was to be the best racer, rather than the best woman racer. And with Shirley Muldowney’s 18 victories and “a bunch” by Sampey when she started, Enders said she never thought such a day like Sunday was possible. “I never thought I’d be racing long enough for this to happen,” she quipped.
3 – Hagan once again becomes the Funny Car dominator - For Funny Car winner Matt Hagan, Sunday’s victory was his fourth at Dallas and sixth of the season.
And in a season marked by momentum swings and all the twists and turns of a 330-mph soap opera, he knows the chase is far from over.
“It’s anybody’s ballgame. Look how close it is. We’ve won two races in the Countdown, and we’re not running away with anything,” he said. “I feel like I’m in a knife fight in a phone booth.”
In the end, though, he said, “We really, truly rose to the occasion today. You just ask for the ability to have a great day. You can’t ask for any more than that.”
And he was anticipating celebrating with his team owner.
“I know his pilot is here, but I hope he [Stewart] stays around so we can get drunk together,” Hagan said.
5 – Pro Stock’s Troy Coughlin Jr. escapes massive smoke cloud - Troy Coughlin Jr. was nonchalant after escaping from a massive cloud of smoke that enveloped his Jegs.com Chevy Camaro Pro Stock car during the semifinal round Sunday.
“It’s part of racing. You sign the waiver at the gate, and it's a danger. That's just part of the game,” he said after his engine blew up and he traveled most of the way down the quarter-mile course with thick smoke billowing from and around his race car. “But it's definitely unfortunate for everybody at Elite Motorsports and all of our sponsors. But I can tell you that everybody at Elite Motorsports is going to work extremely hard. We're going to get it together for Vegas.”
Coughlin steered his car to a stop against the wall in his lane in the showdown with teammate Erica Enders.
“It's definitely my driving force to becoming a better driver, really. I could have done a better job keeping it off the wall. I knew she [Enders] was probably around me where the motor started to expire, so I probably should have steered a little bit more to the inside,” he said. “So, just, things happened so fast and in the moment, but the cockpit was filled full of smoke. My helmet's filled full of smoke. You're struggling to breathe. You're not breathing your normal air. So a lot of things aren't like they are. You get into a routine, so a lot of things are so different. But we'll be back in Vegas” in two weeks.
As far as damage assessment, Coughlin said, “I would say there's definitely going to be some hours [of repairs] involved, so I would say I'm going to be getting a couple pizzas and a few things for the fellas.”
6 – Top-three-ranked Funny Car drivers make early exits - Sunday morning points leader Bob Tasca III looked like everything was going to go his way in the opening round when he got past Jack Wyatt, then watched No. 2 Robert Hight fall to lower-qualified Terry Haddock and No. 4 Ron Capps lose to Alex Laughlin.
But Tasca was a spectator at the outset of the quarterfinals. He lost to Tim Wilkerson. The big beneficiary was Matt Hagan, who entered the weekend as the No. 3 contender, but suddenly had the chance to move back into the points lead for the first time since the Topeka race. He could be atop the leaderboard if he could defeat Wilkerson in the semifinal round.
After Haddock advanced past Hight, Haddock’s crew chief, Johnny West, said his team didn’t beat Hight: “No, he did it on his own. They gave it to us. That’s their move.”
Capps, the No. 1 seed at the start of the Countdown, has slid down the order in the past four races. A bit all over the map in the playoffs (with a semifinal finish, a first-round loss, and a runner-up showing), the 2022 Dallas winner and current champion heads to Vegas in fourth place.
7 – Injured motorcycle racer Angie Smith to visit dragstrip again soon - Doctors have not given injured Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Angie Smith a timetable for her return to competition, but husband Matt Smith said, “Right now, we’re trying to have her maybe come back at Vegas.” That is the next race on the schedule, the Oct. 27-30 Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “She wants to just come back and hang out, not ride, but my goal is to try to have her come back for Pomona and hang out and show everybody and then go to the banquet. So we'll see how things go,” he said.
He reported that she has eight broken toes and that “eight bones were broken in her foot. So she got eight of the 10 of them.” When Tony Stewart facilitated Angie Smith’s trip home from St. Louis to North Carolina a few days after her accident and the group posed for a picture, she amazingly was standing.
“They had two hard casts on her and then a walking boot on. So they had it where she could stand up – not put total pressure, but at least put some pressure, on them,” her husband said. “Her heels are fine. It's just the front of her feet is what was broke.”
Smith, who suffered road rash so severe that it shredded her forearm to the bone, has had one surgery and faces a second one this coming Wednesday.
“I hope that's the last one, but we don't know yet, for sure,” Matt Smith said. But he said, “I think you'll definitely see her in Pomona. There's a chance you might see her in Vegas, but we'll wait and see.”
Angie Smith’s mother-in-law and sister both are nurses, so they take turns changing her dressings and caring for her needs. “So all in all,” Matt Smith said, “she's in good shape and good spirits. She just wants to get back out here.”
8 – Matt Smith has bike back but still perturbed by Tech Department’s procedure - After Angie Smith tumbled from her Denso EBR motorcycle two weeks ago at World Wide Technology Raceway, the NHRA Technical Department impounded her bike. It finally returned the vehicle to Matt Smith Racing this past Thursday.
Relieved to have it back, Matt Smith nevertheless saw no reason the NHRA needed to take possession of the motorcycle (“No, not at all,” he said), let alone to keep it for as long as it did.
“There was nothing illegal on the motorcycle, nothing whatsoever that they could accomplish that they didn't accomplish in two days,” he said. “It's just sad that they would do that to people and in their rulebook, which really needs to be changed, that they can confiscate anybody's bike, car, or anything and never have to give it back or have to pay for it. And that's totally wrong. We're not NASCAR. People don't have a ton of money like they do, and that don't need to happen in our sport. And that's something that needs to be changed.”
He said, “They shouldn't have kept it that long. I mean, I can understand if somebody gets very seriously injured, life-critical, or they died. I can understand that. But when somebody just has an accident, and they go to the hospital, and they get released, the minute they get released, that bike should be reinstated to the team, period, point blank. And for them not to do that is just wrong.”
Smith wasn’t prepared to guess whether the Tech Department was intent on finding whether the bike malfunctioned to cause Angie Smith’s crash or perhaps scrutinizing proprietary information.
“I mean, I don't know. I don't know. That's something [to] ask the Tech Department. But all I know is it's not right what they did, and they caused me a lot more headache than what I just had to go through.”
9 – Julie Nataas delivers triple crown weekend - Newly crowned Top Alcohol Dragster champion Julie Nataas needed a big truck just to carry home all the hardware she picked up at the NHRA Texas FallNationals. She drove the Randy Meyer Racing (RMR) Oslo Tapet & Gulvelegg (OTG) dragster to not only a Lucas Oil championship but also the race win and a JEGS Allstars victory.
“I think everything I’ve done has led up to this,” Nataas said. “My dad getting me a Jr. Dragster at nine years old, going drag racing on the weekends, and after school during the weekdays going go kart racing so I could be the best driver in one of these cars. He’s here every weekend with me.”
Nataas completed the hat trick, winning the FallNationals running a weekend best of 5.129 at 279.76, while Kirk Wolf had trouble early in the run and clicked off. The opportunity to win three titles in one weekend rarely comes in NHRA competition.
“It’s been a wild weekend,” she said. “A weekend I could only dream of. It’s going to be the most memorable weekend of my career. My dad decided to go to Dallas last minute, and I’m so glad he did and was here with me for this incredible weekend.”
To think, she has visions of racing Top Fuel.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - Competition Plus’ Top-10 News Items For Friday’s NHRA Texas FallNationals
1 – Motorcycle racer Chase Van Sant mending from gruesome knee injury - Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Chase Van Sant is out of competition for the rest of the year, his rookie-of-the-year hopes halted by an ugly knee injury he suffered in Friday qualifying for the Texas FallNationals that was almost undetectable by the Texas Motorplex crowd at Ennis.
The Trick Tools Suzuki rider from the White Alligator Racing team said he didn’t think many people saw the accident, which left him with “a golf ball-size hole that shows straight down to my kneecap.”
After more than 18 hours in a local hospital emergency room, Van Sant, 26, was back at the racetrack late Saturday morning, on crutches with his knee heavily bandaged, but in upbeat spirits.
“I think a lot of people still think that I probably hit the wall. And, basically, what I was trying to do was trying to get off the wall,” Van Sant said. “I was kind of hanging off the bike and had my knee a little closer to the ground. I'm one of the taller riders out here [at 5-foot-11], and unfortunately just hit a bump at the perfect time. And my knee bounced off the asphalt, and it kind of sliced and diced me a little bit. So probably going to need a skin graft. Luckily, nothing's broken, but it really scuffed the bones. I could see my tendons and all sorts of stuff. ... I'm actually going to catch a flight out tomorrow and get home, just to see doctors and get that processed.”
Home is Pella, Iowa, about 45 minutes southeast of Des Moines.
Van Sant said he went to the hospital following the accident Friday afternoon and was released around 11 a.m. Saturday.
“I basically went to straight to the hospital at four, and then they made me stay until I think 11 o'clock is when I got released. They were trying to keep track of infection. They just wanted to make sure that it wasn't infected. It had a little bits of asphalt and stuff in there, so I got it all cleaned out. Woke up this morning and everything looked OK. It didn't look like there were any signs of infection, so I've got to do some gauze changes and stuff like that in the meantime and keep it clean,” he said.
He said the doctor offered no timetable for his return.
“I think the big thing they're concerned about is getting range of motion in my knee back, and kind of the hard part about that is being where it's at, right at the front of my knee,” Van Sant said.
“If they would've just pinched it together and stitched it up, it just would've kept breaking apart. So if they do a skin graft -- I think that's kind of where they're leaning -- then it'll allow me to start moving my knee and be able to bend it and straighten it all the way again; it just heals naturally. It's just going to kind of keep breaking open the more I try. So they kind of made it sound like either way it's going to be a little bit. But hopefully when we get home, we can get another set of eyes on it and we'll see.”
Racing again by the start of the 2024 season is what he said he’s aiming to do: “That's the goal. So we're probably looking at a month, for sure. But we'll do everything we can to get [back] out as soon as we can.”
Fellow Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor Matt Smith said he didn’t know much about Van Sant’s accident, just that “his knee hit the ground, and it went pretty deep. I give my wishes to him and his dad [Bruce], because I’m going through it now. I know what kind of pain he’s in. He didn’t come off the bike, luckily.”
2 – Bob Tasca III runs fastest-ever Funny Car pass - In the fourth and final qualifying run of the weekend, points leader Bob Tasca III reeled off a 338.57-mph speed that was the fastest in Funny Car history. Asked how he got the Motorcraft QuickLane Ford to do that, Tasca crew chief Aaron Brooks said, “I’ll let you know when we figure it out.”
Tasca said, “We’ve got one of the best cars on the planet right now. Four runs at 330 miles an hour, I’m a little sore.”
He called the record-setting speed “pretty remarkable,” but said he and the team were anticipating a quicker elapsed time.
3 – Angelle Sampey beats Mike Coughlin, then Tony Stewart in TAD runoffs - In her first Top Alcohol Dragster eliminations, Pro Stock Motorcycle convert Angelle Sampey proved to be a natural, first defeating top qualifier Mike Coughlin, then Tony Stewart.
When three-time bike champion Sampey announced that she was going to trade two wheels for four, she only half-joked that she wanted to “kick Tony Stewart’s ass” as she joined him in the increasingly popular class. She got her chance and took advantage of it Saturday.
Against both Coughlin and Stewart, Sampey took the lead early in the run and advanced to the next round.
Her semifinal opponent Sunday will be Kirk Wolf.
4 – Steve Torrence still dislikes Countdown - Top Fuel’s top qualifier Steve Torrence meant no disrespect to 51-time winner Doug Kalitta. His remarks about Kalitta’s playoff surge had everything to do with the Countdown format he showed his disdain for it Saturday.
“The guy’s won 10 rounds all year, and he’s just been hot in the Countdown. Doug’s a great driver and a great guy. I like him. When you say ‘deserve’ to win a championship ... you don’t ‘deserve’ to win anything – you earn it,” Torrence said.
“I think that this point system is a crock of s***, and this is prime example. You got a guy who was not in contention with anything, and now he’s leading the points. He definitely can go out and he can earn a championship, do the best that they do through the Countdown, and be the champion. But it puts a little blight on your record when you had such a terrible first three-quarters of the season and finish off strong,” he said.
In his Friday night provisional No. 1 qualifier interview, Torrence said, “We’ve been the most consistent car across the board. We only won one race, but I don’t think we fell any lower than second or third throughout the year. Justin [Ashley] kicked everybody’s butt, but they were super-high or super-low. Doug has done well in only the last three or four races. I don’t think the guy won 10 rounds all year, then showed up in the Countdown and everybody thinks he’s the baddest man on the planet. They’ve done well. They’ve just only done well when it counted. So that’s the problem I’ve always had with the Countdown. It’s not indicative of who had the best car all year and who did the best all year. It’s just the last six [races].”
5 – It isn’t the leathers, or is it? - With Angie Smith’s nasty season-ending injuries at St. Louis and Chase Van Sant’s knee damage that’ll sideline him until 2024, some have wondered aloud if thinner leathers are to blame for the serious nature of the wounds to Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors. Matt Smith, Angie Smith’s husband and reigning class champion, said he doesn't think they are. Cory Reed, who’s advocating for more comprehensive safety clothing, has a slightly different opinion.
Smith didn’t blame the thickness or quality of his wife’s leathers for her crash that broke eight toes and other bones in her feet and ripped the flesh from her forearm to the extent that she will need at least one more surgery to fix the road-rash damage.
“It’s not that the leathers are too thin,” he said. "It’s the simple fact of the tracks that we run on are so old and the pavement is so gritty.”
He used two separate patches in his Motorplex pit area as examples.
"This is brand-new pavement,” he said, pointing to one patch, “and it’s very smooth. You take that pavement there, and it’s 30 years old. It’s like a cheese grater. And that’s what St. Louis is in the shutdown. Dallas is the same way. They’re good tracks, nothing wrong with them. The shutdown areas are typically the place that doesn’t get improvements when they tracks improve their facilities over the years. It’s just the main racing surface [that is upgraded]. It might be time to step up and try to fix some of these older tracks in the shutdown area to make them smoother.”
Jianna (Salinas) Evaristo fell from her motorcycle at Joliet, Ill., and walked away with little more than her pride bruised. Smith said, “That goes to show you that Chicago is a smoother track. It’s a newer track. She didn’t fall down before the finish line, and she really didn’t get hurt. When she had the wreck at Bradenton [Fla.], that’s an old track, real gritty asphalt, and she got hurt there.
“It’s not our leathers. It’s simply that the tracks that have older surfaces, the pavement is way coarser and it just grinds stuff up worse,” he said.
In Angie Smith’s case, other factors played key roles.
“She did hit a bump. But that was a brand-new bike we built at the beginning of the year. And the master cylinder we had on her bike, we made special brake levers because women have shorter hands, their reach. I built this bike for me. That master cylinder is not made anymore. I couldn’t just swap the lever, but she said she was fine with it. She just reached up and grabbed too much, and when she did, she hit a bump and it just was simultaneously she had too much brake and she hit a bump. And it just pitched her,” he said.
Reed said the complaint about thinner leathers carries a measure of truth.
“I think so. I mean, I think that we're hitting a threshold now that we're going at certain speeds or, and the bikes are heavier and everything's starting to add up. We're hitting that limit of too light of equipment, not enough protection on your feet, on your hands, on your arms and legs,” he said. “It's just everybody wants to wear lightweight stuff. I get it. It's uncomfortable. Wear thicker stuff. Bigger boots, uncomfortable.
“I think we need to do it because it's apparent that we're all getting hurt now,” Reed said. “Chase skinned his knee on the ground yesterday, and literally if you go and watch the video, [he] barely touches the ground going very fast. And it took his skin down to his bone on his kneecap – and it was a split-second that he drug it on the ground for. It wasn't like he was dragging it for a long period of time. It's very quick. And that's all it takes, apparently.”
Reed’s suggestion called for “maybe knee pads, maybe elbow pads, maybe thicker areas, maybe not the whole suit thicker, not just padding, either. Like an actual hard puck, like a Moto GQ style suit has the ... puck so you can drag your legs in the corners and stuff. Not to that extent, but something in that direction is I think where we have to figure out how to go. We're the only professional motorcycle sanction that doesn't wear real racing boots [like MotoGP racers wear]. That's actually the proper thing we should be wearing, but it's going to be very hard to get the class to do that. They are a bit uncomfortable. I don't think I'd have too much a problem with that, because I wore dirt-bike boots for so long and they're even bigger and bulkier. But if you look at all the top rankings of professional motorcycle racing, they all are mandatory to wear a boot like a dirt-bike boot or a Moto GP boot. They don't get the luxury of wearing something that's comfortable.”
He said that might not have prevented his grisly leg and ankle injury in 2021 at Charlotte, but “it would've helped a lot. If I was wearing an actual big nice boot, even a nice leather boot, it would've helped for mine, because what happened was I was wearing car shoes. They separate, and when my bone came out, my bone ground down on the ground for so long and for so much it took a third of my tibia off. I broke off chunks of my [bone], and they said I could have done reconstructive surgery and not had a fused ankle, but I had such a bad bone infection from it grinding down on the asphalt. The doctor was picking rocks out of my leg, and luckily they didn't try to torture me and try reconstruction surgery. They just told me straight up like, ‘Look, with your bone loss and the infection you have, it's going to be very, very unlikely that we get the reconstruction surgery to work.’
“So,” Reed said, “the best option was to fuse it and to do it this way. But that's why my ankle barely moves now. But if I'd have been wearing a nice big boot, sure, I probably would've broke my leg, but it wouldn't have come out of my leather or be exposed to the asphalt. It just annihilated it into the asphalt. So when we hit, stuck my leg out, the bike rolls it over, breaks it right there, and then I fly off the motorcycle and I start tumbling and now my foot is literally off. I have a compound fracture at that point. And every flip and every turn, every time my leg came back around, it dug into the ground and drug on the ground and dug into the ground. It was bad. And the bigger boot issue would've helped mine a lot.”
He said, “I wear definitely a better-quality deal now than I did, but that's when we get into racing. Now you're talking about weight. Now you're talking about now I’m adding two or three pounds on my feet when so-and-so's wearing slippers. And I don't know, at the end of the day it's stupid. Definitely, the comfort deal is probably the biggest argument you're going to run into with everybody else. But, yes, the lightweight kind of thing needs to be sidelined for safety because it's apparent that our lightweight stuff is not doing the job.”
According to Reed, “There's some other things that need to be addressed in our class, too, about ‘How do we stop safer?’ The bikes are going faster and faster now. They're heavier than they used to be. We're hitting that point in this class where all of our safety equipment, from our brakes to tire size on the front end to our boots, to our leathers, to everything needs to go to the next level, as well. Our class is going to the next level right now. I mean, Gaige [Herrera] has proven it.”
7 – Who needs a lottery ticket? - Chase Williams doesn't - By the time the sun went down, Chase Williams was a richer man. The Competition Eliminator racer from Carthage, Texas, pocketed $100,000 for winning the Rooftec D4 Competition Eliminator Bonus Fund title, plus just hours earlier scored the JEGS Allstars title for the complex division.
William lost in the second round to veteran sportsman racer Jeff Taylor. His loss left then fourth-place Mike DePalma as the only driver with a mathematical chance to catch him. However, DePalma's only chance was to win the event, and those hopes were dashed when he lost to Jim Greenheck in the third round.
"I don't even know what to say," Williams said. "It's been an awesome day, an awesome year. I can't thank my parents enough for the opportunity to drive this thing. I can't thank Panhandle Performance enough for the power today to drive this thing to winners circle and the JEGS Allstars and to clinch the Rooftec Comp Eliminator Bonus Fund. Pretty special.
"Also, race engine development, Scott Benham, David Cook, David Cook Jr., Dick Maris, all those guys. They've done so much for us. I really appreciate it. We had a bit of a heavy heart racing this weekend."
Williams dedicated the phenomenal race day to his aunt Martha, who passed away as he was preparing to leave for the Texas Motorplex.
"My thoughts and prayers are with my uncle, Terry my cousin, Clayton, Caroline, all the family," Williams said. "This one was for her for sure."
As a testament to his fight to win the title, going into the NHRA U.S. Nationals, Williams was in eighth place in the Rooftec Competition Eliminator Bonus Fund points. He finished runner-up in the $50,000 Rooftec Comp Clash to fellow dragster racer Don Thomas, and then ended up winning the U.S. Nationals crown in a five-round race that paid 1.5 times the usual points.
"It really was a longshot scenario," Williams admitted. "Before Indy, I was just hoping for a top 10, maybe. And then things totally changed at Indy, especially with the points and a half, and I saw we were in the lead and we really had a chance to win the thing. Everything fell in our favor today.
7A - The JEGS Allstars ends in thrilling finish - Let the record reflect, NHRA's Division 7 (Pacific Division) is the best of the best of the best in sportsman drag racing -- at least in JEGS Allstars competition. Division 7 scored the title by beating out Division 4 (South Central Division).
It was Division 7 racer Dean Hall, whose Top Sportsman victory that put the victory on ice after being set up by fellow divisional racer Art Hoover. Hoover won the Super Street title.
In the end, Division 7 won the team championship by a mere 100 points.
Other winners included defending Competition Eliminator series champion Ryan Priddy, Division 6's Troy Olsonowski (Supoer Stock), Division 6's Joe Sorensen (Stock), Division 4's Mark Powers (Super Comp), and four-time winner Rusty Cook (Super Gas).
Brandon Miller had a chance to double up, but secured the Top Dragster title after a runner-up in Top Sportsman.
Julie Nataas picked up her third Jegs Allstars title by winning the Top Alcohol Dragster title and Sean Bellemeur won the Top Alcohol Funny Car honors. The regional title ended up in a tie between the Central and North Central region.
8 – Even rivals praise record-setting Gaige Herrera - Gaige Herrera already has won eight of the 12 completed Pro Stock Motorcycle events this season. He has qualified first at 12 of all 13. He has set rack records. So what was left to do? Set a national record, maybe. Well, he went out on his Mission Foods Vance & Hines and did that Saturday en route to ensuring the top starting spot.
Herrera eclipsed Angelle Sampey’s 2022 track elapsed-time record of 6.728 seconds with his own 6.627-second pass that reset the national record. Karen Stoffer had set in March 2022 at Gainesville, Fla., at 6.665 seconds.
And not only did Herrera wipe out Matt Smith’s track speed record of 203.62 mph from last year, but his 204.16-mph clocking marked the second-fastest ever in the category.
Competitor Cory Reed said he admires Herrera’s achievements.
“Our class is going to the next level right now. I mean, Gaige has proven it. He goes 166.7 to the eighth mile. That is ridiculous,” Reed said. “It’s cool. Heck, yeah, it is. It shows somebody like me – we're all getting our butt kicked by him right now, but it's all because we're screwing up -- we're all not working hard enough or doing the right thing, and they are. And that's as simple as it is. But I like seeing him do very well and go very fast. It's showing the promise that everybody else has to figure out how to go do it, too. If they can do it, we can do it. Everybody can do it. Absolutely.
“But,” he said, “they're proving the point of ‘We're not going to go run [6.]80s anymore everywhere we go, but we're going to start running [6.]70s everywhere we go. Now the E.T. record's going to get lower and lower. It's cool to see that progression. I like it. I think it's a good deal. I think it's good for the sport.
“And I think we're all just missing it. Matt, if he wasn't stuck on the Suzuki thing this year, he had his red bike and he was continuing to run it every weekend, I think he'd be pretty close to him. Matt is good on that bike. It's fast, and he rides it very well and they got the tune-up for it and he does a good job of it.”
9 – Clark Smiley, Keith Hall crash in Comp Eliminator - Two of Competition Eliminator's more-seasoned drivers gained an experience they hoped would never come during the second round of the Texas NHRA Fall Nationals.
Clark Smiley lost control of his BB/Altered Grand Am as he chased down Keith Hall's C/Super Modified entry. He caught Hall and posted a 7.190 before his entry abruptly turned left and went into the other lane. Smiley made impact with Hall before crashing into the retaining wall.
Both cars came to a stop in the shutdown area, where the drivers emerged from their race cars under their own power.
"I just was going down the track, and everything's normal. It was going straight, and clutched it, shut off the engine," Smiley explained. "Went to get on the parachute lever, and it was sideways instantly. And then it was all over from there."
Hall, who saw Smiley at the last minute, said he did everything he could to avoid the incident.
"It just happened so fast," Hall said. "I didn't have time, but I tried to miss him. I saw him come in front of me, and I turned to the right, or tried to, as fast as I could."
Hall hit Smiley's rear tire, and it almost came through his windshield.
"It could have been worse," Hall surmised.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - Competition Plus’ Top-10 News Items For Friday’s NHRA Texas FallNationals
1 - Creasy, Richards collide in first Funny Car qualifying session - Funny Car owner-drivers Dale Creasy and Dave Richards were shaken but unhurt following their collision in Friday afternoon’s first qualifying session at the Texas FallNationals at Ennis. At about the 660-foot mark on the 1,000-foot Texas Motorplex course, Creasy – by then off the throttle – was unable to stop his Tek Pak Dodge Charger from darting across the center line into the right lane, in front of Richards and his Versatran Ford Shelby Cobra. The left front of Richards’ car struck the right rear of Creasy's car. The collision dislodged the body on Creasy’s car as they both skidded across the track and into the left guard wall. Both drivers exited their race cars on their own power.
Creasy was as down as he'd ever been at the dragstrip. The veteran independent has been on fire, suffered explosions, and once had a crash so bad that he was nearly crippled for life. But Friday's incident had him wondering if the time had come for him to retire.
Creasy was beside himself once he returned to the peacefulness of his pit area.
"It was going along and drifting to the right," Creasy said. "Then, all of a sudden, it was gone. Then it was banging and clanging. It was all my fault. I went across the centerline. Maybe it's time to retire."
Richards was smiling, despite apparent discomfort, in his pit area following the accident. He was quick to absolve Creasy of any blame.
"I've always feared that could happen," Richard said. "I always feared as I drive myself, I'm always fearful of getting into somebody's lane. That's the scariest thing I could ever imagine happening. I could see him blowing up and catching on fire, and that's the stuff that doesn't scare me. It's when something like this happens and I'm glad I'm OK. I hope Dale's OK.
“All I remember really was just all of a sudden the car's going down the track and, boom, he's right in front of me. And after that, it's kind of a blur. I remember bouncing off the one wall and heading towards the other wall and getting on the brake and I had nothing and I had no steering, and that's when I was just along for the ride."
Both cars were impounded by NHRA's Tech department immediately following the accident for an inspection. But that's of little concern for Richards, as he's out for the weekend.
"We're a hundred percent done," Richards confirmed. "The car's destroyed. We don't have a backup car. And honestly, the way I'm feeling now, as sore as I am, I don't know if I'd want to get in the car and feel comfortable just now. Because like I said, when you first get out, I felt a hundred percent fine, but I can feel ... I know I'm going to be a hurting dog tomorrow."
Creasy couldn't say whether something broke on his car, which may be challenging to determine at this point.
"I cannot say if something broke, but regardless, I always feel that I am in control of my car," Creasy said. "If it does something like that, I feel like I didn't do my job. It's sad because we don't have any money. All of our stuff is broken. Right now, all I can do is cry. Maybe it's something I couldn't have controlled. Right now, I am blaming me."
Though Richards was released by onsite medical personnel, he admits he felt discomfort when he returned to his pit area.
"It's getting sore by the minute," Richards said. "When I first got out of the car, I thought only my knee was bruised, but now I don't know. My rib cage is pretty banged up, but luckily, my head's fine. I bounced around there a little bit, but no headaches, no nothing. So, I think it was just hitting the wall that hard. I probably just did something to my ribs or something. But I mean, I can move my hands and my toes, move my feet. I can talk. I'm here."
Richards said he might go to a local hospital to get checked out further.
"The medical guy said he was going to come down, and I'll talk to him a little more," Richards said. "He is going to check out my rib cage and stuff, but I'll see what he tells me. I've never had a broken rib. All I hear is you just got to let it heal. So if he tells me to just deal with the soreness, then that's what I'll do."
3 - Friday low-qualifier bonus money inspires pro racers - Nothing motivates racers more than money. And Texas Motorplex owners Billy Meyer and daughter Christie Meyer Johnson provided a total of $42,500 to the provisional No. 1 qualifiers Friday night.
The Top Fuel and Funny Car racers each earned $15,000. Top Fuel’s Steve Torrence, from nearby Kilgore, did so with a track-record elapsed time of 3.636 seconds (at 336.62 mph) on the 1,000-foot course. It was the sixth-quickest pass in class history, as well as Torrence’s career best.
And in Funny Car, the "Friday Night Live” beneficiary was points leader Bob Tasca III, who took the tentative top spot with a 3.822-second, 335.55-mph performance.
Pro Stock’s Deric Kramer is $7,500 richer, thanks to his 6.486-second, 209.77-mph effort in the quarter-mile in his Get Biofuel Chevy Camaro.
Gaige Herrera surprised no one when he claimed the $5,000 Pro Stock Motorcycle bonus with a track-record 6.689-second quarter-mile blast on the Mission Foods Vance & Hines Suzuki at a speed of 203.41 mph.
4 - Angelle Sampey makes her Top Alcohol Dragster debut - Three-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Angelle Sampey earned the 16th and final starting position Friday for Saturday’s eliminations in her Top Alcohol Dragster debut.
Sampey, drag racing’s most successful woman with 46 victories, will meet No. 1 qualifier Mike Coughlin in the first round. But she said she isn’t disappointed that she didn’t qualify higher.
“My main goal was to become comfortable and learn as much as I can, and I already am 100 percent comfortable, and I'm learning still,” she said.
“In the car, I took it one step at a time. I mean literally from them starting the car to releasing the brake and then pushing me through, one step at a time,” she said, acknowledging that “a lot of times I start worrying about what I got to do three steps from now.” She said, “The whole beauty is there's no expectation. That's the best part. I'm enjoying it. I can't wait to do it again.”
She has had quite a change of heart.
Sampey drives for Antron Brown’s AB Motorsports Accelerate program. And when he suggested she try racing on four wheels, she resisted.
She said, “I told him, ‘I have no desire whatsoever to drive a car. I love motorcycles.’ And he said, 'What is there left for you to do in the bike class?' He said, ‘Why don't you consider driving a car?’ And I was like, ‘I just don't want to.’ He said, ‘Why don't you want to?’ And I said, ‘Because I'm afraid of it.’ He said, ‘What are you afraid of?’ I'm like, ‘Crashing, dying, I don't know. I'm afraid of it.’ He's like, ‘Well, let me put it to you this way: When's the last time you've seen somebody fall off of an A/Fuel dragster?’
“So I was like, ‘OK. I'll try it, whatever.' He kept pushing and pushing and pushing until finally I said, ‘OK, I'll try it.’ And then the first test session, I was petrified; literally, knees shaking in the car. I mean, I was petrified,” Sampey said. “It took the first two runs to finally start calming the shakes. And the third run, we were sitting there waiting to go, and he's bending over, talking to me in the car, saying, ‘You feeling OK? You ready? You excited?’ And I literally wanted to punch him in his face and say, ‘You need to get away from me right now, because I can't even believe I'm doing this.’ But it just took that first day. We did four runs that day, and after the fourth run, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I love this.”
She said she isn’t sure whether she can defeat Coughlin, who is driving the Samsel family-owned dragster that, ironically enough, she will be racing at Las Vegas in two weeks. “I'm kind of sad that I know what my chances are tomorrow and I may only get one run, but it's OK,” she said. “I get to do it again.
“I went from literally saying, ‘Oh, my God, I got to do this again’ to ‘Oh, my God, I can't wait to do this again,” Sampey said.
She said she has come to love the four-wheeled style of racing: “I have never been so excited to get on the racetrack ever in my whole career. I have been a nervous wreck for 26 years, and it's not until the bike starts that I can start to calm down and get myself out of that. But usually I wake up in the morning and I am nervous and my stomach's turning, because all I can think about is how bad I want to win and ‘Don't screw this up.’
“And today,” Sampey said, “I woke up two hours earlier than I wanted to, and I was so excited to get to the racetrack and couldn't wait to get in the car. And when I got in the car today, there were no nerves. It was all happy, all fun. I am so happy to be here. I haven't felt that in a long time.”
5 - Who’s In, Who’s Out in Countdown - With a total of 447 points possible and almost as many scenarios as the NHRA has championship contenders, it’s too early to rule anyone out of contention yet.
But as Pro Stock’s provisional No. 1 qualifier Deric Kramer said Friday night, “This is the last race. If you’re not in the hunt at [the end of] this race, you don’t have a chance the rest of the year. We all kind of knew that coming into this week.”
Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria is 195 points off Bob Tasca III’s pace, but she said even before arriving at Ennis, “At this point in the Countdown, we’re nearly 200 points back. And while anything is possible, realistically, with only three races left, our goal is to play more of a spoiler role.”
Funny Car’s final title-eligible driver is Cruz Pedregon, who is 261 points behind the leader.
In Top Fuel, Josh Hart is 12th among the Countdown-eligible drivers, and he’s 250 points out of first place. Bringing up the rear in a crowded Pro Stock field is No. 16 Fernando Cuadra Sr. at 361 points off the pace. And for all his domination, Herrera still has to look out for reigning champion Matt Smith, who has 99 points to make up if he is to catch Herrera. No. 12 Ryan Oehler, the last of the championship contenders in the bike class, has fallen 408 points behind.
6 – Antron Brown first of three to be honored as Motorplex Legend this weekend - The Texas Motorplex Friday night honored three-time Top Fuel champion Antron Brown as a track Legend, although Brown’s illustrious drag-racing career began with a Pro Stock Motorcycle victory here at Ennis. On Saturday, the spotlight will be on new Motorsports Hall of Fame of America inductee Darrell Gwynn, who was the first to make a pass down the all-concrete racetrack and, according to Christie Meyer Johnson, Texas Motorplex co-owner, helped put the facility on the map. Long-time NHRA volunteer Mickey Prestridge will receive the honors Sunday as the Stampede of Speed concludes.
Gwynn’s first pass down the Motorplex quarter-mile not only propelled him to the No. 1 qualifying position at the inaugural event, but it also set NHRA national records for both time and speed at 5.261 seconds, 278.55 mph. Although he eventually lost to “Big Daddy” Don Garlits in the final round, he also posted the quickest time during eliminations at 5.272 seconds. The following year, he beat Eddie Hill in the final round while lowering the NHRA record from 5.171 seconds to 5.084. He made four career appearances here.
“Being a Texas Motorplex Legend is a great feeling, because we had so many great memories of racing and winning there in the 1980s. It means the world to me,” Gwynn said. “The Gwynn family racing team history at the Texas Motorplex is quite a story. We went there in 1986, when it first opened, and we knew that place was going to be fast. We heard all about it being built, this all-concrete dragstrip. We just could not wait to get on it. As soon as we got on that magic strip at the Texas Motorplex we started setting records.”
7 - Funny Car’s Haddock has memorable week - Funny Car’s Terry Haddock began his week with a victory in the inaugural Texas Invitational match race that rang in the Stampede of Speed activities. He defeated Top Fuel driver Mitch King on Sunday night after outrunning fellow Funny Car competitor Jeff Diehl in Saturday’s opening round of the specialty race. King advanced to the final by outrunning a tire-smoking Buddy Hull in Saturday action.
Haddock said, “Any win is awesome, and I am super proud of my guys,” Haddock said while surrounded by his crew. “I am super grateful and thankful to the Meyer family for putting this event together. They are trying to grow the sport of drag racing, and we need more people like them out here. This Stars of Texas event with the concerts, bull riding, drag racing is just awesome. We had so many people come up to our Funny Car that had never seen anything like it and now they are fans. This was a great two days of racing and music.
“I like racing Mitch King and those guys as well as Jeff Diehl and Buddy Hull. This was a great group of drivers to show off for the fans on Saturday and Sunday. When you can run a Funny Car against a Top Fuel dragster and do something different, that’s a lot of fun. It was cool at the top end to see a Top Fuel dragster make the turn and pull up beside us. This was a great time,” Haddock said.
Fans were treated that weekend to a star-studded line-up of ‘90s country music stars, including performances from Texas country legends Sawyer Brown and Clay Walker and Midland. Throughout the festivities, fans were treated to junior bull riding and a variety of vendor booths, drag races, a country music-themed drone show, a lantern release by thousands of the fans in attendance, a beer expo, and Jambo’s BBQ contest.
As if that weren’t exciting enough for Haddock, he and Heather Duffin, his girlfriend of three years, became engaged Monday.
Haddock, a New Jersey native who has adopted Temple, Texas, as his home, is receiving plenty of support from sponsors from the Lone Star State. His primary sponsor at this race is San Angelo-headquartered Concho Supply, a parts wholesale distributor. Concho Supply, operated by Keith Kincannon, has been an associate sponsor. Also investing in the improving Haddock’s program are Temple Iron and Metal, Tovar Automotive, and Precision Fence.
Haddock has been improving steadily with the help of crew chief Johnny West. He said partnering with the veteran tuner West has been the best decision he has made in his racing career.
“He makes me see things differently. He’s a perfectionist. He makes you want to be better,” Haddock said.
8 - DePinto was more than a friend to the Dunn Family - The look on Jon Dunn's face told the story. Dunn, the team manager for the Jim Dunn Racing Funny Car driven by Alex Laughlin, came into the Texas Motorplex with heavy heart. The sadness was attributed to the loss of longtime friend and sponsor Rob DiPinto.
The DiPinto International Logistics sponsorship was on the car in Charlotte and St. Louis.
"Rob was just a tremendous guy," Dunn said. "My dad was quoted earlier as saying he was a pillar to our team and just in general, just a pillar of a person. Anything and everything if you wanted to talk about or needed, Rob always had a lendful ear. Good spirited. He's truly just going to be someone you're -- and our team and our family and anybody's ever met him -- is definitely going to miss."
Dunn described DiPinto as a fan who just happened to be a sponsor.
"He had his favorites out here for sure," Dunn explained. "Any given weekend we would talk about our team and there were a couple of other ones that he followed as well. Definitely a big fan of the sport. Started off with John Force and spent some time with him for a while. He moved over to Terry Haddock, and we started talking at the races, and he really enjoyed the relationship with my father, and being that my dad's an icon of the sport and we formed a great friendship and just never looked back."
Dunn said those who support his team are so much more than sponsors.
"I don't look at sponsors just as sponsors," Dunn said. "We look at a lifelong friendship, and that's what I'm going to miss the most. The sponsorship, sure, we enjoyed it. We really truly enjoy representing people and brands and companies that we believe in, and he was definitely one of them, but the main thing is going to be just missing him as a person and the friendship."
9 - And then there were two - Two drivers remain in contention for the Rooftec D4 Competition Eliminator Bonus Fund, the specialty series that rewards $300,000 in cash to the top 10 points earners in its series.
When Competition Eliminator qualifying began Thursday, there were four drivers eligible to win the $100,000 championship prize and another $25,000 for the runner-up. Chase Williams, the NHRA U.S. Nationals champion, came in as the leader, followed by Rodger Brogdon, Rick Brown and Mike DePalma.
After round one, Brown fouled opposite Monty Bogan Jr., and David Eaton beat Brogdon. Both Williams and DePalma won their first-round matches.
As it stands, Williams needs to win the second round to clinch the title. DePalma has to have Williams lose in the second round and win the event. DePalma, now in third place, can move into second place and earn $25,000 by reaching the semifinals.