2023 NHRA MENARDS NATIONALS - TOPEKA NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - OMG! IT'S THE TEN FROM TOPEKA
1 - Tasca Goes Back-to-back - Bob Tasca III’s family is Ford royalty. So when he convinced them to return to NHRA because he’d deliver wins, he scored a big one on a rain-delayed Sunday in Topeka, kan.
For Tasca and his team, there was nothing easy about this one.
“It was a hard-fought day, I tell you,” Tasca said. “I give all the credit to the guys, I tell you. I don’t know. Every time we warmed up the car, there was something wrong, like from a fuel leak to couldn’t get the [engine containment device] on one run. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to miss the race because we can’t get the diaper on.'
“They just fought through it. The car shut off in the first round, car shut off in the second round, car shut off in the third round. And we were struggling with putting cylinders out and having the safety box shut the car off. And I just said to these guys, ‘I mean, look at the incrementals.” You could see the car was trying to run ridiculous ETs. We need all eight (cylinder) this run to beat Hagan, and we had all eight. And that run was a monster run.”
Tasca emerged victorious by defeating points leader Matt Hagan in the final round, boasting a run of 3.885 seconds at 332.26 mph in his BG-sponsored Ford Mustang.
“We’re going into Brainerd, going into Indy,” Tasca said. “My goal was to be in the top five. I think everyone wants to be No. 1 leaving Indy. But the truth be told, if you’re in the top five leaving Indy, you got a really good chance to win the championship. I think we’re fourth or fifth leaving here. We get two big races to go before the point reset, and this car can go in any race and win, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been able to say that before.”
2 - Ashley wins another one - With Jim Epler fielding questions about his milestone first 300-mph run in a Funny Car, he always ended every interview by stating because he never won at Heartland Park; that he believed he was carrying around unfinished business for a long time. Sunday, Epler got his closure thanks to Justin Ashley.
Epler, who was the driving force behind Ashley’s Phillips-Connect sponsorship and is a partner in Maynard - Ashley Racing, finally got his Topeka win thanks to a barn-burning performance from the driver he endorsed years ago.
Ashley won his sixth national event of the season and extended his points lead over Steve Torrence by beating Brittany Force in the final round.
Ashley, who is one of the most-focused drivers in the category, said Sunday’s recurring weather delays challenged him.
“I think just staying focused, especially with the layoff, was tougher than ever,” Ashley admitted. “It’s hard enough to stay focused throughout the day on a normal race day, but we really didn’t know what today was going to bring. Every driver, every team was under the same circumstances. We understood that, but with conditions changing, not knowing when and if we were going to get a race in — let alone four rounds today, which really speaks volumes to the Safety Safari, to be honest with you — was probably the biggest challenge of all. You’ve got a lot of confidence as a driver when you have the kind of Phillips Connect team that we do.”
3 - Enders A Driver’s Race - There are racers where a driver can out-horsepower the competition, and then there are others where the driver plays a larger role in the equation. Sunday’s performance proved Enders, who only had one win to her credit to this point in the season, still could outdrive the competition.
Enders pulled to within two victories of surpassing Angelle Sampey as drag racing’s winningest professional racer by beating Greg Anderson in a final round where the conditions were not the greatest for the factory hot rods.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Enders said. “They work so hard in the engine shop. They work so hard on the race car. There’s so many things, so many parts and pieces that go into this, aside from horsepower, chassis setup, shocks, all of the things. But being able to turn the beacon on because I did my job every once in a while is pretty nice.”
Enders, while promptly pointing out that all of her wins were tough, said without a doubt beating Dallas Glenn in the second round was challenging.
“They gave him the nickname after one year of racing, ‘Double-Oh Dallas.’ And we were ‘Double-Oh EE’ way before he even arrived, so we had to show him up a little bit, and I was glad to be .009 against him and turn that win light on. That was super important. But my crew chief said, ‘This is the race that will determine the race. So, you win here, we’re winning this whole thing.’”
4 - Mother Nature Makes her presence known - Let the record reflect that Mother Nature was an attendee at the final Menards NHRA Nationals on the final weekend of NHRA competition at Heartland Motorsports Park. While she often gets credited for the wet stuff, she also brings along the heat.
The temperature went as high as 96 degrees Friday and cooled slightly to 93 on Saturday. The relative humidity was around 55 percent. Reportedly the Heartland Motorsports Park medical center treated at least 50 patients for heat-related issues.
NHRA officials moved Sunday’s start time up to 10 a.m. Central when Mother Nature was expected to bring thunderstorms in the night. She did. And she kept on storming into the afternoon. Sunday’s start time was delayed by 5-1/2 hours.
NHRA got in two rounds of nitro competition before the anticipated rain hit almost on time. After a 30-minute delay, racing resumed with the quarter-finals of Pro Stock.
Rain hit again after the nitro semifinals pushing completion into the early evening hours..
5- Hunter Green gets his Wally - Hunter Green, the son of nitro Funny Car racer Chad Green who drives an injected nitro car for Randy Meyer, scored his first career beating Shane Conway in the final round. Green scored the final Top Alcohol trophy at team owner Randy Meyer’s home track.
“All I know is me and my dad have worked hard to get here,” Green said. “He’s doing good [in nitro Funny Car]. I’m doing good with Randy Meyer now. It’s been a lot of hard work. It’s a long time coming. We started in Pro Modified and graduated to Funny Car.
“I just started driving a few years ago. We’ve been out here for a while, and things are going well for us. It’s been a long road to get here. It’s been a long, hard weekend.”
The elder Green was understandably proud.
“It feels so awesome,” Chad said shortly after the win. “Nothing better than watching your kid win like that. It’s better than myself winning; that’s awesome.”
While Chad hasn’t won in a nitro car, he does have an NHRA Pro Modified victory to his credit, beating Jason Scruggs in the final round of the postponed 2020 Lucas Oil Summernationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
6 - Let the speculation begin - One could call it the Antron Brown Traveling Warm-up Tour. In Denver, Brown opened the cockpit of his Matco Tools dragster to Kenny Bernstein. On Saturday, twice he provided Angelle Sampey, his former Pro Stock Motorcycle teammate, the opportunity to warm the car.
While expressing an interest in nitro racing, Sampey is adamant that nothing is in place for her to move forward.
Brown said he’s working on it.
“The coolest part of it is that she’s got some interest in doing some other things,” Brown said. “I just wanted her to see what this fuel racing is all about because I’ve told her for many, many years, I think she’ll be great in a fuel car because she rode those motorcycles like no other, winning three championships. And one thing is she’s always been a headliner in our sport for riding Pro Stock Bike. Get that picture: Imagine Angelle racing a Top Fuel car. Period.”
Sampey confirmed she’s warmed up a nitro car now eight times. It sounds like preparation to us.
7 - Torrence Ends #2Fast2Ashley Streak - Let the record reflect; the streak lasted 11 rounds. Steve Torrence stopped Justin Ashley in the final round of the #2Fast2Tasty Top Fuel Shootout on Saturday. Ashley had won all five of the events he participated in.
“Justin Ashley has shown himself to be a fierce competitor, and he’s got a good team over there,” Torrence said.
The win was Torrence’s third consecutive in the specialty event.
Also winning titles were Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Dallas Glenn (Pro Stock).
7a - Palmer gets his upset - On paper, Tony Schumacher looked like the overwhelming favorite to beat Scott Palmer in their first-round match. Palmer didn’t get the memo, and though Schumacher left first by a slight margin, his later tire smoke enabled Palmer to drive by for the win.
Only two Top Fuel drivers won from the bottom half of the ladder, Palmer and Austin Prock (Doug Kalitta).
“It was a good run; I got out there and pulled it back to keep it safe,” said Palmer, who benefited from tuning help by John Stewart and the CAPCO Top Fuel team. “It’s hot out here, and that’s something crew chiefs don’t like to hear.”
8 - Factory Experimental Fizzles - After a significant build-up, the Factory Experimental concept was expected to debut at the Menards NHRA Nationals. Numerous construction delays with building the cars, primarily due to parts availability, left the entry list with only one car.
9 - The Battle of the Retired Consultants - When Paul Lee and Cruz Pedregon met in the first round, it represented a battle between the two teams employing past championship tuners who gladly enjoy their time as consultants.
Lee, who hired John Medlen as a consultant for his McLeod Clutches team, won first round in two consecutive races after going the first five of his part-time season without a round win.
Lee has openly admitted he hired Medlen after seeing the success Lee Beard brought to Pedregon’s team.
The two left side-by-side, but Lee pulled away when Pedregon lost traction.
10 - Say What????!!!???
“Admittedly, we’ve not been the CAPCO boys of the past, and so we’re doing the best we can to get back to that. I think that at some point, we might’ve given some of these guys a false sense of hope that we weren’t the team that we used to be. - Steve Torrence, following his #2Fast2Tasty Top Fuel win on Saturday
“I don’t know if someone hexed me. But I’m going to get some sage, and sage my whole pit.” - Alexis DeJoria following her car’s shutoff in Saturday qualifying.
“I can’t lie, everybody red-lighted the whole entire day. And here I am.” - Super Stock winner Mike Cotten to NHRA announcer Joe Castello on the secret to his victory.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - THE PITS ARE BUZZING WITH FANS AND STUFF
SCHEDULE CHANGE - NHRA moved up the first round of eliminations for Sunday’s action at the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor at HMP to 10 AM, CST, hoping for a break in the weather that never came. Despite a forecast for strong afternoon thunderstorms, a small window has race officials shooting. to make the most of the slim opportunity. At 1 PM, track drying began.
GO COWBOY OR GO HOME - Scott Palmer believes what he believes. One doesn’t need to ride a horse or straddle a bull to be a cowboy.
“I’m a cowboy. I must be a cowboy,” the Professional Bull Riders [PBR]-sponsored Palmer declared. “Even the PBR asked me, ‘Can you ride a horse?”
“I told them I’m not real corporate and we are a little rough around the edges sometimes here. But they asked me, can you ride a horse? I said, ‘Absolutely not. I cannot ride a horse.”
Palmer said the PBR executives said that proved their point.
“That’s why they’re so popular,” Palmer added. “You don’t have to be able to ride a horse to be a cowboy. Sometimes being a cowboy is mentally, are you a cowboy or not? Over here, it’s kind of odd because I went to a high school in Marlow, Oklahoma, and it was Marlow Outlaws, so I grew up an Outlaw, so I think it just stuck with me.”
Outlaw, Cowboy... Palmer said they are one in the same. As he sees it, he’s perfectly content not being the corporate-influenced Top Fuel racer.
“I don’t really know why that is, but I don’t like people telling me what to do, for one thing,” Palmer said. “I don’t like making a plan. If you never make a plan in life, you’re never disappointed. That’s one of them. But that’s the truth if you think about it, that is the truth, and that’s why my PBR deal is good. These are a bunch of cowboys that are outlaws.”
Palmer said he’s one of the PBR outlaws... er, cowboys.
“They’re just like me,” Palmer explained. “They just ride horses and bulls instead of hot rods. Sometimes they’re beat up and sore and don’t want to get out of bed early like me. They socialize with everyone, and they stay out late and have a few cocktails, and they’re just good old boys like a lot of racers are. I think some of us racers have forgotten that.
“Like last night out here we were having a few drinks with the fans out here and I bet we had 50 people in our pits at midnight. And it’s not that we were staying up late partying. We’re just visiting with the fans that are staying in the campground. That’s what our sport needs. We need to bring those fans back in here.”
Palmer carries major sponsorship through his longtime association with executives at PBR. He said he had been approached multiple times about carrying their brand on his race car and repeatedly turned down all offers. He told them, “I’m not your guy.”
“They said, ‘That’s exactly why I’m the guy. Because they are that way,” Palmer said. “Even though PBR is a big business, it’s also a bunch of cowboys that have not forgotten where they come from. They’re still ordinary people at heart. They just ended up in a sport that is huge. PBR is bigger than NASCAR, so it’s a big sport. But they’re still ordinary people. I mean, they promote all their riders. They promote from top to bottom. They don’t care if you’re the world champion last year or a rookie this year. They promote you the same.
“That’s one thing we need to do out here [in drag racing]. We need to promote everybody out here. We need to promote everybody who’s out here racing.”
Palmer said the upcoming PRO Superstar Shootout [Bradenton, Fla.] is a prime example of the spotlight major league drag racing has needed for a long time.
“Our sport needs more spotlight, and one of the ways we’re going to get that,” Palmer said. “Baseball has an all-star game. We’re going to have a superstar race. Of course I would like to be in it, but I won’t be in it because I’m not a full-time car. But as far as for our sport, that will give us a spotlight. To me, it’s going to make our sport more legitimate because now we’re running for a purse that’s a big purse like it’s still not as big as other motorsports, but just the fact that the general public is going to see a race for $250,000 is going to make our sport more legitimate.”
Palmer has no regrets that he’s not a full-timer. He did that in 2017 and 2018 and hasn’t done it since.
“To be real honest, I proved my point,” Palmer said. “What I wanted to do is prove that a little guy, given the opportunity, could get in the top ten and we did that two years in a row and after that, I don’t want to do that. I love drag racing, but I love Pro Mod racing. I love Top Fuel racing. I like match races. I like taking the Top Fuel cars to little tracks like Ozark Raceway and Mo-Kan Dragway and putting on a show, and I enjoy that.”
Pamer has a robust fan following that can rival many of the leading professional drag racers, and he’s got the t-shirt sales to prove it.
“I judge everything off t-shirt sales,” Palmer said.” If you are selling a lot of t-shirts, I don’t sell them out here, but we have a pretty good following that orders stuff from us, and it’s because we go to these small venues and put on a show and hang out with the fans. Same as last night. Last night we had a pit full of people, and none of this would be any fun if you couldn’t share it.
“Out here, you’re 30 days away from being out of business. I mean, guys like us, we’re out here scratching and clawing, doing the best we can, but we are, honestly, we’re kind of like bull riders. They’re eight seconds away from being out of business. They could get hurt, whatever. We’re in the same boat.”
MISSING IN ACTION - The Factory X concept, the projected next level of the Factory Stock Showdown, was scheduled to make its national event debut at Topeka and then run again at Brainerd. The reason it didn't run in Topeka was there was only one entry ready to compete. We are told there will be a race at the NHRA U.S. Nationals since there will be four committed entries.
SAMPEY GETS HER TURN - Last month it was the "King of the Speed" Kenny Bernstein.
On a sweltering Saturday afternoon in Topeka, it was three-time NHRA champion Angelle Sampey.
As Sampey points out, it's the seventh time she's warmed up a Top Fuel dragster.
It's another edition of the Antron Brown traveling nitro warm-up show.
"The coolest part of it is that she's got some interest in doing some other things," Brown said. "I just wanted her to see what this fuel racing is all about because I've told her for many, many years, I think she'll be great in a fuel car because she rode those motorcycles like no other, winning in three championships. And one thing is she's always been a headliner in our sport for riding Pro Stock Bike. Get that picture. Imagine Angelle racing a Top Fuel car. Period."
Sampey said there's nothing to report or talk about; it was just a warm-up and nothing more.
One couldn't help but notice the tears streaming down her cheeks following the brief warm-up. Those were not tears of joy. They were tears of nitro.
"They [fumes] were getting under the mask," Sampey amitted. "I don't guess I had it tight enough. It's usually for him, to fit him. I pulled it tight, and I know now you got to make it even tighter. But I haven't had any issues with it before because the wind's been going the correct way. But yeah, it's overwhelming, and there's a lot you have to do. I mean, once you learn how to do it, and it's just a few simple steps, but when you're used to it, it doesn't seem like it's much.
"When you're not used to trying to learn the procedure, it seems like a lot. I mean, you really have to think about what you're doing the whole time. It's not just sitting in the car while it's running. I think everybody thinks they're just sitting in the car while it's running, and that's not the case."
Whether Sampey is planning a new career in nitro racing or not, it's definitely on Brown's mind.
"That's something that we're throwing out there, and hopefully, we could keep working on it, and she keeps on working... if she shows some interest," Brown explained. "She's still deciding in her mind what she wants to really, really do. The cool part is, she likes it, and I think she got that nitro bug, but that's something that you have to ask her."
As if Brown doesn't need another rumor after having to set the record straight that he's not leaving the long and skinny cars to race Funny Car.
"One day, I'd like to field one with my team, but not me driving," Brown confirmed. "Not sure how all of that got started."
Brown and Sampey do have history as teammates, riding as teammates on U.S. Army-sponsored Pro Stock Motorcycles. If and when she wants to take the plunge into nitro racing, Brown said he's got her back with Antron Brown Motorsports.
"She's family and got the willingness to learn and the willingness to win, and that fits great with ABM," Brown said. "That's what we're all about, man and crewchiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, all of them, they've been out here, they've been working hard, and they enjoy that. They enjoy the new stuff."
Sampey said the most significant hurdle she still faces in racing is putting intense pressure on herself to perform.
"I have a whole new respect because we do a lot on Pro Stock Motorcycles," Sampey said. "There's a lot going on from the start line to the finish line. I used to think there wasn't a whole bunch going on in a Top Fuel car, but now I'm like, holy crap, just warming it up.
"I've been studying it. I videoed doing it the first time, and I watched it for a week. Going over the timing and the routine, the steps in my head. The first time they put me in it, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I don't know if that's just because I take everything so seriously and I'm so hard on myself, and I want to be exactly perfect. I want to do it exactly like Antron does it so that the crew doesn't know any different.
"And when I'm just a little bit off, I get upset. So I mean, it shows for people that have knocked me for my emotions all these years; this is why I'm such a perfectionist. I'm so hard on myself. I have to be the best at what I do. And when I'm not, I get emotional."
And as Brown will attest, nitro can bring out all of the emotions.
#2FAST2TASTY WINNERS CROWNED - Matt Hagan emerged victorious in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, securing his second win for Tony Stewart Racing at Heartland Motorsports Park on Saturday. The Funny Car champion defeated Chad Green in an electrifying final round, adding to the excitement of the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor.
Steve Torrence in Top Fuel and Dallas Glenn in Pro Stock also emerged victorious in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge held in Topeka.
"That bonus money goes a long way with my guys, and you want to dig deep on the starting line for them," Hagan said. "But Chad had a .010 light against me, he was digging a little bit deeper than I was, I think. Chad's a great driver, he's come a long way with his program and what he's doing. They're a tough car, and there's just no easy draws out here. You have to bring everything you've got, and then you have to bring a little bit more. That's just what it takes to turn win lights on in a Funny Car."
"I've been very, very blessed to have (Dickie Venables) tuning the car and letting me drive the wheels off of it. I'm excited we were able to pull down our second #2Fast2Tasty win, and I can't wait to see what happens on raceday tomorrow."
In Top Fuel, Torrence secured his third consecutive victory and did so over points leader Justin Ashley in the final round with a time of 3.767 seconds at 319.90 mph. His recent successes in Seattle, Sonoma, and now Topeka have solidified his championship aspirations, as he handed Ashley his first defeat in the bonus race. Notably, Torrence defeated Antron Brown earlier in the day and delivered the best run in his class on Saturday, further enhancing his sterling performance.
"Justin Ashley has shown himself to be a fierce competitor, and he's got a good team over there," Torrence said. "Admittedly, we've not been the CAPCO boys of the past. We're doing the best we can to get back to that. I think that at some point, we might have given these guys a false sense of hope that we aren't the team we used to be. Maybe we're not there yet, but we're coming back. It gives me a lot of confidence and makes me feel excited about the rest of the year. We're building the steam, building the momentum at the right time, and that CAPCO train is coming."
In Pro Stock, Dallas Glenn made his presence felt in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, claiming victory against Erica Enders in the finals. Despite Enders fouling, Glenn's outstanding performance would have made it difficult to catch him. Garnering the quickest run of the weekend in his category, Glenn completed the race in 6.642 seconds at 205.26 mph in his RAD Torque Systems Chevrolet Camaro, leaving the defending world champion no room for error.
“This definitely takes some pressure off,” Glenn said. “I've been in four or five of these already and just haven't been able to seal the deal so to finally be able to do it when I've got such a good car, it means a lot. To try to get three championship points, that's a big deal. We've got the points lead right now going into Sunday, we've got No. 1 qualifier. This car is running awesome right now and I just want to keep the momentum going.”
JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE HIGHT HOUSE - Robert Hight did act surprised Saturday afternoon when he was presented with his newest accolade at Heartland Motorsports Park. By holding onto the top qualifying position, Hight secured his 80th No. 1 qualifier.
“Eighty No. 1 qualifiers, that’s a big number; it just shows I’ve been doing it a long time,” Hight responded.
Indeed he has, and it all started at the dragstrip located in Topeka, Kansas. Hight began his employment with John Force Racing, and the first race where he worked with the team was in 1995. A year later, Hight worried that it might be all over.
In the year that he worked as a crewman, Hight was entrusted with building the team’s engines.
“I can remember standing there when the team fired the engine, and John immediately complained that the engine didn’t sound right when it fired,” Hight recalled. “It was nice and cool outside, but the engine, as John believed, ‘just didn’t sound right.”
There was no time to adjust anything, so it would have to be a make-or-break moment for Hight.
“I’m as nervous as I can be standing there,” Hight recalled. “[Crewchief] Austin Coil had pointed out there wasn’t much of a choice. Of course, I am sitting there wondering if I had done something wrong. It was a brand new engine, and that wasn’t how brand new engines were supposed to do.”
Force hit the throttle, and the car went straight as an arrow en route to the first 4.8-second run in the quarter-mile for a Funny Car.
Hight remained employed. In fact, eight years later, Force gave him the chance to license in a Funny Car. Where did Hight complete the licensing process?
“It was on a Monday in 2004, after we finished the race here in Topeka,” Hight answered.
“A lot of history here, and sad to see it go, sad that this is going to be the last time we come here because there’s been a lot of cool things happen here,” Hight said.
Indeed, many of those cool things happened in Topeka, and Hight was the beneficiary. Hight has won three times at Topeka, one of which was in 2011 when he beat then-teammate Mike Neff to score John Force Racing’s 200th career team victory.
“This place has been really good to us, and hopefully, it is one more time,” Hight said.
LIGHT IT UP - With rain and general bad weather expected to wreak havoc on Sunday's schedule, and Hight has a suggestion for the last event at Heartland Motorsports Park. Make the event a night race.
"Kind of wish this race was a night race because this is probably the best-lit racetrack in the country," Hight said. "It's like they turn on the sunshine at night, and you could race all night here. Especially when you have conditions like this, I think you'd have more fans, and it'd be more comfortable for them and the racers. Who doesn't like header fire."
SEEING DOUBLE - The first time he saw it, Justin Ashley wanted to grab it and run out of the store with it under his arm.
Ashley, who had won five #2Fast2Tasty shootout titles headed into Pomona, saw his likeness on a cardboard standup display, and didn't know exactly how to act.
"The first thing I thought of was when I was eleven years old, that I started racing juniors and how crazy it actually is that fast forward just several years later, and to be in that position and actually be in a store representing NHRA and Phillips Connect and Mission Foods," said Ashley, who entered the weekend as the points leader. "I'm really humbled. I'm really grateful for it. I think it's amazing. Part of me wanted to pick up that cardboard cutout and hug it or something like that. It was something I've been waiting for, so it's really exciting."
The second thing Ashley thought about, well, had nothing about thinking about how far he'd come.
"I was hoping that a cardboard cutout would make me look a little bit taller," Ashley said with a chuckle. "It did not. But it was awesome just seeing that in Walmart. Just being able to represent the great team that we have was something special."
Ashley doesn't shy away from his love for the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty which demands racers treat qualifying like an elimination round.
"I think that's one of the cool parts about this deal, is, like, when you're at a race and, you know, you go to the semifinals, you're, 'Alright, I have a shot at the Mission Foods deal the race after."
"That's exciting. It's normally, as a driver, you try and treat every round the same qualifying or race day, but naturally, it just feels a little different, especially mentally, knowing that you're competing in a meaningful round of racing that has money but has championship implications on the line while you're qualifying. That's a big deal.
"I know we won those five. Those points will add up; they always do. But we take the Mission Foods challenge very seriously and want to win every time we get on the racetrack."
ANDERSON'S ASSASSIN STRIKES AGAIN - Dallas Glenn is having a career-best season in NHRA’s Pro Stock ranks, and his momentum keeps picking up more steam.
Glenn won the #2Fast2Tasty Pro Stock Challenge Saturday and his 6.642-second elapsed time at 205.26 mph against a redlighting Erica Enders also gave him the No. 1 qualifying spot for the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor in Topeka, Kan.
“Definitely it takes some pressure off, because I've been in, I don't know if it's four or five of these already and I just haven't been able to seal the deal,” Glenn said about winning his first #2Fast2Tasty Pro Stock Challenge race. “So, to finally seal the deal when I've got such a good car, finally it means a lot. Try to get three championship points, that's a big deal. We've got the points lead right now going into Sunday. We've got number one qualifier. This car is... It's running awesome right now and I just want to keep the momentum going.”
This was Glenn’s second No. 1 qualifier of the season – he also was No. 1 in Chicago a race he won. This is the fourth No. 1 qualifier of his Pro Stock career.
Glenn came to Topeka first in the season points standings on the strength of three wins in his RAD Torque Systems Chevy Camaro.
“As a driver, you could not make any mistakes,” Glenn said about racing in the highly competitive Pro Stock class. “If you miss one shift, you could fall back four or five spots. It's just that easy. I don't even know exactly what it is, but it's probably less than two hundredths between number one through number nine. So, it's going to be a really tight field. It's going to be a really tough Sunday. We've got a lot of different weather rolling in for (Sunday), so that's going to throw an extra variable into the mix, but I think we've got a really good car for them.”
NOTHING BUT SMILES - Drag racing might be a business to some, but Funny Car racer Paul Lee isn't one of them. Lee is quick to point out that driving his McLeod Funny Car is his fun time.
Lee is even quicker to point out that earlier this season he wasn't having fun.
Enter championship tuner John Medlen, and now Lee cannot wipe the smile off his face... not that he wants to.
"Since we bought John Medlen on board and he's helped Jason Bunker and the guys with lot of details that we basically, frankly, overlooked, and he's really fine-tuned a lot of issues on the car that needed to be addressed and it's really showing progress.
"I'm back to having fun again because that's why I'm here. I don't do this for a living. This is my fun. I get to go out and promote McLeod, FTI and Silver Sport transmissions, but it's fun. But wasn't until lately. Now we're starting to have fun again."
Lee knew Medlen's mission wouldn't be completed overnight, so there was no need to temper his enthusiasm.
"We could go out there and smoke the tires in the next run," Lee said. "But you have to look at the big picture. What's the big picture? We're making down the track more than we were before, and that's the direction we want to be in. We want to be able to go down the track. I'm not saying we want to set low et, but we want to go down the track, pull the chutes, and have something to show for our fans and our marketing partners."
Lee said it's not only the crew benefitting in the learning process.
"He's actually showed me a few things differently about driving the car, fine-tuning the throttle linkage so I can get the best reaction time, little details like the clutch tug and little details of driving the car that he's reminded me about," Lee explained. "He's certainly been around long enough and he showed his drivers the right and wrong way to do things, for sure. I look at the teams that he's tuned over his career, world champions. So if he asks me to do something a certain way, I'm certainly going to do it."
And as Lee puts it, he will smile while he does it.
ENDERS ON THE CUSP OF HISTORY - Erica Enders has said she would rather be known for her success as a drag racer than as a female drag racer. However, the thought of being drag racing's winningest female drag racer has piqued her interest. Enders is now within three victories of tying Angelle Sampey.
"I don't care about it, but in the same sense, I think that would be really cool," Enders said. "Angelle is a woman that I've looked to my entire life, even starting as a Junior Drag Racer, so to even have my name mentioned in the same sentence as hers is pretty spectacular. We haven't had the best season, but I feel like we have a much better hot rod now and I definitely have something to work with. So, got three more races before the countdown starts and then it's balls to the wall, so I think we can get her done."
Enders has won five NHRA championships and 44 national event victories to her credit. But there was a time when Enders, who has 51 DNQs, wondered if she would win one race much less become one of the winningest of her gender.
"I don't feel like I'm close to being done yet, so it's not just a goal to get to that number, it's to surpass it by a lot and just keep rolling," Enders said. "Richard [Freeman] always says if the crickets had pistols, the birds wouldn't mess with them. But if we can secure our sixth world championship in the future, the only person that would have more than us would be Bob Glidden, so we’d be tied with Warren Johnson. So it's a really cool place to be in as just a little girl who had big dreams."
Three races means three missed opportunities and Enders remembers every missed opportunity.
"I was dead late in the finals against Greg Anderson, although I was very happy that he won for the final time with Ken Black," Enders said. "Triple zero one margin of victory in Seattle with TJ, but got to be alongside of him for his first Pro stock victory. And then, of course, the Bristol blow up. We were turning that beacon on for sure. So there's your three right there that got away from us last year in a 13 final round season. So, again, whatever, we'll just do our best and we're going to have fun."
PRO STOCK KRAMER MAKES MOST OF DOWNTIME - Deric Kramer has had an outstanding 2023 season in NHRA’s Pro Stock ranks.
The Parker, Colo., resident arrived in Topeka, Kan., this weekend for the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor at Heartland Motorsports
Park fourth in the season points standings.
However, Kramer -- like the rest of his Pro Stock competitors -- had to shake off some rust as the class had not competed since July 14-16 at the Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., near Denver.
So how did Kramer spend his vacation away from Pro Stock – he was quick to answer.
“I was sitting at home on the Plasma Cutter cutting out brackets to organize my garage a little so I can put some stuff away,” Kramer said. “I had enough time that I could actually do some work at home. I like to be organized but I’m terrible at doing it. Inevitably, I will get home and I will put something on the floor somewhere until I can figure a spot or a place that I can build something to put it on.”
This season, Kramer is part of KB Titan Racing, which also includes Greg Anderson, Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky, Matt Hartford, and Camrie Caruso.
Glenn is first in the points standings on strength of three wins. Hartford is second in the points and has one win. Kramer is fourth in points and has one win. Anderson is seventh in the points, while Caruso and Koretsky are eight and 10th in the points, respectively.
With such powerful team lineup, Kramer acknowledged it makes things easier for his GetBioFuel.com Chevy Camaro to succeed without testing sessions.
However, after coming back from a break and the national event only has three qualifying sessions – like Topeka – there are new challenges.
“That’s what makes an event like this when there’s only three qualifying sessions, so difficult,” Kramer said. “You’re trying to learn something, but you can’t throw away a qualifying run. When we only have three of them it makes it exponentially harder to go faster throughout the weekend let alone throughout the rest of the season.
“The benefit of being in a team as big as KB Titan team is we do have access to more data than if we were out here on our own.”
Kramer knows if his team was on its own, he would made plenty of laps in the break in the Pro Stock action.
“Between Denver and now we would have gone somewhere hot and we would have started making runs just to get more information.”
GREG ANDERSON LOOKING TO AMP UP HIS SEASON - This hasn’t been a Greg Anderson-type of season so far.
In nine races this season, Anderson has yet to find the winner’s circle or qualify No. 1, but he has had solid weekend so far at the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor at Heartland Motorsports Park.
Anderson, thanks to his 6.645-second second elapsed time in Q3 Saturday, grabbed the No. 2 qualifying position in his HendrickCars.com Chevy
Anderson is NHRA’s all-time leader in Pro Stock national event wins at 101, and he won world championships in 2003-2005, 2010 and 2021.
This season he came to Topeka seventh in the season points standings and has yet to make a final round. His elimination round record is 9-9.
“Well, we made a lot of changes,” Anderson said. “We've certainly made a lot of changes already through the year and they haven't seemed to gain too much. But we made a lot of changes. We had three weeks at home, and we did a lot of work, made a lot of changes. And you just never know until you get to the racetrack what you got. So far this year I've been let down when I get to the racetrack.”
Back in the day, legendary John Force once said when he hired Tony Pedregon, he hired his own assassin.
In 2023, KB Titan Racing includes Anderson, Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky, Deric Kramer, Matt Hartford, and Camrie Caruso.
“I am blessed with a lot of holes in my feet. But no, I'm not going to feel sorry,” Anderson said. “This class is, I think, as good as it's been in a lot of years, and theres so many guys that can win. But a lot of them are young guns, and we need that in our sport. We need that in this class, because we can't have people my age continuing this into the future forever. So, it's good to see that we've got young guns that are doing well.
“And I feel good, and I certainly feel like I've had a little bit of something to do with that to help create it. So, I'm proud. I hope we can pass the torch to those guys, and they'll carry this class into the long end of the future and do a great job with it. So, as tough as it is to go up and race them right now, I still feel proud of what we've created. Yeah, a gaggle of (assassins). Yeah, they're everywhere. They just come from every direction.”
Anderson was the No. 1 qualifier in Topeka in 2003 and 2007, should have realized his fortunes would change in Topeka. In addition to his No. 1 qualifiers at Heartland Motorsports Park, which is closing after this season, he has four wins at the facility (2003-2005, 2007). Only Warren Johnson has more Pro Stock wins in Topeka at five, his last coming in 1998.
"(I should have) stopped pouting. You got Topeka coming up and it's going to be hotter than blazes. You're going to do well,” Anderson said. “So, obviously that's something we've been missing. Now we got to figure outwhy that is, why we excel in these conditions. But, yeah, you come to a race like this, and you see the forecast, and you just grit your teeth, and you think, ‘Man, it's just going to be brutal.’ But obviously, we did a great job with it. So, I'm very proud of the guys.
“I got a lot of great memories here, no question about that. We've created a lot of magic here, not only in my own driving and racing career, but before that, when I worked with Warren. We had a lot of great times here, won a lot of great races and had a lot of fun here. So, it's certainly going to be sad if we don't get to come back next year. Hopefully things will change. Just like some of the other racetracks, you just never know. So hopefully we can come back and do it again. It's a great facility, fantastic facility. And it would
really be a shame if we weren't able to come back. I'm going to cross my fingers that everything we're hearing has changed by next year.”
Anderson also knows what his team accomplishes on Sundays happens during the week.
“These races that we win are won in the shop,” Andersons said. “That's my opinion. I' ve always thought that. They're won in the shop. And what you can create at that shop, then you go to the racetrack, and you just try to show what you've done for the last two, three weeks. Obviously, I've had a great run as far as KB (Titan) Racing this year with all the team players, all the teammates that I've got. But, personally, I haven't done well. So, I've tried to focus a little bit more on my project, be a little bit selfish, which I haven't been this year. I've been trying to make the whole race team better. And I guess it's time that I think a little bit about me and see if I can get just a little bit of success this year.”
With final six-race Countdown to the Championship on the horizon, Anderson knows it is time to get things rolling.
“I haven't had a great run up to the playoffs, but we all know, it only matters what happens during the playoffs and you have to peak at the right time of the year,” he said. “I certainly hope I haven't peaked yet and I hope I'm going that way now. It's certainly a good start here. Got three races to get ready, and to climb that mountain and to basically roll into the playoffs with the best product I've had all year.”
RON CAPPS TALKS ABOUT HIS SRX DEBUT - Ron Capps is three-time NHRA nitro Funny Car world champion – 2016, 2021-22 – and is
considered one of the best drivers ever in the sport of drag racing.
Capps was able to show off his skills on Thursday at Eldora Speedway when he made his debut in the Superstar Racing Experience. Eldora Speedway is owned Tony Stewart, a NASCAR world champion, and owner of Tony Stewart
Racing in drag racing.
The SRX race was won by Stewart, while Capps came in 10th place.
“Well, when you're invited to race to the group, like you saw at SRX, that's the ultimate dream as a race car driver, right? And that's what I said on the telecast, dreams are possible because I was there racing SRX with the likes of Tony Stewart, obviously, and Ryan Newman and I mean, just the list was crazy, to look around,” Capps said. “Bobby Labonte and just so many good race car drivers. Tony Kanaan had an Indy car.
“Yeah, but so overwhelming. I got in that place and looked around. I'm like, ‘What am I doing?’ I didn't have very many laps in that car. It's a unique car because it's purposely built for them to make identical race cars for different
drivers. Much like the IROC was when you and I were younger, we had the privilege of watching an Earnhardt battle and Unser and Andretti all on the same track. And that was fun to watch.”
SRX, founded by Stewart, Ray Evernham, Sandy Montag, and George Pyne, features six short track races on a mix of pavement and dirt with drivers
running identical cars.
“Everybody at SRX created such a neat event, but to be the first drag racer and have all that to look forward to, once I got in the car and got on the
track, thankfully Tony spent some time with a few of us that had never been in that car on dirt,” Capps said. “I wish every fan could have sat in that little meeting we had, pre-race, because it was Chase Briscoe, who was a great NASCAR driver, and Austin Dillon, who's another. And Tony gave us a speech about some little things that we expect on the racetrack, but he also -- and I'll
paraphrase and leave the dirty words out -- but was pretty dang cool. And he's right, to be on the track in this day and age with those kind of
race car drivers in an event like that. He was right, and it was very cool to hear how excited he was to do it himself.”
Capps also was aware the drag racing spotlight was on him Thursday.
“Knowing that everybody was in Kansas and all the race fans that were in Topeka were all huddled up around restaurants and bars and tuning in to watch. That was a little more pressure for me, but it was such an experience,” Capps said.
The fact SRX drivers can bump and bounce off each other’s cars was a concept foreign to Capps.
“No, you don't want to (bump other cars),” Capps said. “You know it's coming, right? It's too hard not to, especially, and one thing you got to
remember, that's one of the fastest, most insane banked half-mile dirt tracks in the world. I mean, it's well known to be one of the most gnarly ones. You talk about sprint car drivers and late models and guys talk about that is the track where it'll test everybody, your manhood. And everybody always said, ‘Man, you go 330 miles an hour, this speed won't scare you.’ Well, yeah, in a
car that you're not used to and going into turn one and throwing it sideways with a Tony Stewart on one side and God, pick anybody that was around. I mean, Brad Keselowski on my inside, trying not to bump each other when you're going that fast on a high bank track is tough.”
Capps tried his best to keep his car damage free during the hectic race, but he did have some tense moments.
“I stayed pretty clear, but I ended up getting into the fence near the end,” he said. “I ran a great heat, finished third, passed a couple people even. So, I mean, it was great. And as the track got slicker, I tried to go up high, which everybody says that's the way to do it. And I think I ran out of talent and got into the wall, but I still got to finish in the top 10, which is amazing. So, it was just cool to roll in. The best part was all day (Friday) and (Saturday) morning, every autograph session, if not every fan, it was crazy to hear. Everybody said, ‘Man, I watched Thursday night. You did awesome.’ And that's racetrack, that's here in Topeka, all our fans here. And that's been fun. To know everybody kind of tuned in to see and cheer for an NHRA driver.”
Capps accepted the invitation to the SRX event, and it begs the question, what if he invited some of those other racers to drive a Funny Car on a
circle dirt track?
“Yeah, I don't know about that. You had me at eight beater (Funny Cars), because it would be fun to get eight beaters and get some drivers out there. J.R. Todd, and of course, Doug Kalitta,” Capps said. “There's a lot of dirt racing and oval track fans in the drag racing pit area. So, it would be fun to get together. And we used to do it in the past and we'd go race some dirt and have some fun. But the tearing up parts and equipment, it’s not a good thing.”
JACK WYATT BRINGS HIS BAND OF BROTHERS TO COMPETE - Jack Wyatt is not a household name in NHRA’s nitro Funny Car ranks, but he’s quite the veteran in the class. Wyatt has been racing nitro Funny Cars in
NHRA since 1987 on a limited basis.
Wyatt is back at the track this weekend – with his band of buddies in his crew – competing in the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor in Topeka, Kan., at Heartland Motorsports Park, the last race at the facility as it is scheduled to close at season’s end.
“I just go anywhere, back alleys anywhere,” Wyatt said. “These guys (his crew) are all from home and they always wanted to go but had work or
something and I couldn’t, so I brought them down (to Topeka). Two of them had never really been to a big race like this and we are training them, and they are getting along pretty good.”
Through two qualifying sessions, Wyatt was No. 15 in the field with a 4.270-second elapsed time at 245.54 mph. He eventually wound up 16th.
Wyatt acknowledged assembling his makeshift crew does have to go up against his crew members having a honey-do list at home.
“The problem is they all have families and have work, so it is tough to get away,” Wyatt said. “This is close for us we are only about four hours from the house, so it worked out pretty good. I don’t know what they are expecting, but I will do the best I can to feed them and take care of them and make sure they have a good time.”
Wyatt took a moment to talk about what winning an NHRA Wally would mean to him.
“You know we have won races back in the AHRA, IHRA, and I have been two-time IHRA world champion and runner-up world champ to (Dale) Creasy, and I have been a world champion with Doug Herbert in the IHRA and I have worked on some great teams. I was the assistant crew chief to help Morgan Lucas win his first U.S. Nationals. To win one these would just be unbelievable. No gimmes, flat out run them. It would be awesome. But this game is tough. Any of these cars are such top level. Even the low guys, and people say they are just a small team, but they all play hard ball, and we are trying to win, and it would be really great to do that.
“Every time you step on the gas on one of these things, you hang on and just hope you can just win. It would mean everything, it really would, but I’m running out of time. I’m getting tired and getting old and I’m just going to try and do the best we can, and I will never give up. This is my life, where all my friends are.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - RACERS AND FANS LAMENT HEARTLAND MOTORSPORTS PARK'S DEPARTURE
THE TRACK ISN’T THE ONLY THING GOING AWAY - When the Top Fuel dragsters cross the finish line at Heartland Motorsports Park, Topeka drag racing fans will hear their version of “The Day the Music Died.”
The facility formerly known as Heartland Park - Topeka has been a hotbed of drag racing history.
The most famous historic moment transpired on October 3, 1993, when Jim Epler ran the first Funny Car 300, stopping the clocks at 300.40 miles per hour in a first-round defeat of Gordon Mineo.
Epler, who was at Heartland Motorsports Park on Friday, said the track’s closing is exceptionally disappointing.
“It’s like unfinished business for me. We went 300 here, and then we never got a chance to win a race here. It’d be nice for [Justin Ashley] to win the last race here. I think that would help close that chapter. But when we did the 300, this was state of the art, and the track still is. It’s just a shame that it’s going away.”
Earlier in the weekend, Chuck Etchells had run the sport’s first four-second run in a Funny Car.
John Force, the 16-time Funny Car champion who was the front-runner at the time of the Epler and Etchells accolades, earned his place at the 2021 NHRA Heartland Nationals when he and his daughter Brittany scored the first father/daughter sweep of the dragster divisions.
“I’m really sad to see it go away,” said Brittany Force. “That’s a racetrack. I raced A-Fuel in the sportsman divisions, and I had my first-ever double-up with my dad in 2021 there. It’s a very special track with a lot of memories.”
John’s part in Topeka was more of a story of redemption.
He won in 2008, completing a comeback from a devastating 2007 crash at the Texas Motorplex.
Tim Wilkerson’s first career NHRA victory came in 1994 when he was still a Top Alcohol Funny Car racer.
“It’s gonna be tough to lose this place,” Wilkerson said. “Even though it’s August, and we’re in the Midwest, and it’s miserable weather, and we’re all going to suffer, but it’s a neat place. It really is. Everything changes; nothing stays the same. You never know; something miraculous might happen, somebody might take it over. Somebody that can take care of it and make it a good racetrack, and we will go.”
NHRA announced on July 28, 2023, that the new Flying H Dragstrip in the Kansas City area will be part of the upcoming NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series national event schedule in 2024.
STEVE-OH FINDING HIS GROOVE - Don’t look now, but Steve Torrence is finding his groove.
Torrence, who won four NHRA Top Fuel world championships in 2018-2021, is returning to his former dominant self.
Torrence, who won his first race of the season in Seattle on July 23, and has won the last two episodes of the Mission Foods 2Fast/2Tasty Challenge, which features the semifinalists from the previous Camping World tour event, rocketed to the top of the qualifying board Friday in Topeka, Kan.
Torrence, driving his CAPCO Contractors Top Fuel Toyota, clocked a 3.764-second elapsed time at 326.24 mph in Friday’s lone qualifying session at the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor at Heartland Motorsports Park.
“This is a huge confidence booster, just for getting the momentum going early in the weekend and getting us set up to go into (Saturday) for the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge,” Torrence said. “We needed to have a good qualifying run (Friday night) to set us up to go into that race tomorrow with a competitive car and try to compete for those three points.
“That’s going to be huge going into the Countdown, where we’re able to kind of cut that lead down or see if we can cut it to nothing between now and then with Justin Ashley being so far ahead of us. These guys, we’ve been working hard. Everybody is putting in a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears in this thing.”
As Torrence sees it, years of experience is what led to Friday’s top run. That’s about how much he knows about what went into it.
“If I told you what it would be, I’d be lying because I just drive the car and try not to run over anything or anybody,” Torrence admitted. “We’ve been picking away at it a little bit at a time, and we got to where we felt confident in the tuning up, but we needed to start working on polishing it and getting that thing where we could go down a racetrack like today. These conditions are something that we’ve never seen with the way we’re running the car now. So that was really an educated shot at the dark, and it did exactly what we wanted it to do.
“It’s like a fighter that gets in with a lot of fight wins and a lot of experience, and that’s what I attribute to the Capco boys going up there and throwing that shot, calling their shot, and doing what we needed to do. When you see the funny cars go 94, 95 out there, typically we’re 18 to 20 quicker than that. That was representative of what the funny cars did. I don’t know what happened to the rest of the gang, but I’m glad they didn’t run as good as we did.”
THE PARTING SHOT - If a track is about to hold its last race, the smart money would bet on Torrence. This weekend’s final race at Topeka Motorsports Park will mark the eighth time in his professional career that Torrence has raced in a venue’s final NHRA tour event. Sadly this is his third time this season alone. He last won in Topeka back in 2019.
Torrence is the benchmark for success in farewell events, winning more professional rounds of competition (18) and 75 percent of his races, never finishing less than a semifinalist.
“The biggest thing is that we’ve finally got a car again that responds to what Hoagie (crew chief Richard Hogan) and Bobby (Lagana Jr.) tell it to do,” Torrence said. “We won four championships on consistency, and that’s what we’re getting back to, being able to make the adjustments that give us the best chance (for success) whatever the conditions are.”
Torrence, hot off a win in Seattle, came into Topeka just 32 points behind Justin Ashley. He’s been the picture of consistency, and although Ashley has won five times, he’s never slipped below second in the championship standings.
“The only time it’s important to lead the standings is on November the 13th – after the (In-N-Out) Finals,” Torrence said. “Right now, whatever happens, you know the pencil-pushers are gonna redo the points after Indy, and then it’s just a six-race shootout to the championship with a whole lotta teams in the mix – not just mine and Justin’s.”
In addition to his last win at Heartland Park, Torrence won twice at the Topeka track in 2005 en route to the Lucas Oil Series Top Alcohol Dragster World Championship. He is the only driver to have won NHRA championships in the Top Fuel and Top Alcohol categories.
REMEMBER ME? - The 2023 NHRA slate began strong for former nitro Funny Car world champion Robert Hight.
Hight, who pilots an entry for John Force Racing, won two of the season’s first five races.
However, the last seven races could have been better for Hight as he lost in the second round five times and first round once. His best run in that stretch was a run to the semifinals in Bristol, Tenn.
Hight is trying to change his fortunes this weekend at the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kan.
Hight, who is behind the wheel of the Cornwell Tools/AAA Chevrolet Camaro SS this weekend, clocked a 3.948-second run at 321.19 mph to take the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot after Friday’s lone qualifying session.
“Oh, it was definitely much needed,” Hight said about his lap. “We went off last year, and we ran 93 here, similar conditions, but we’ve been struggling, so it hasn’t been cooperating with every adjustment Jimmy (Prock, his crew chief) makes. He’s really set on this new clutch combination, but he believes he’s been the one making the mistakes, so he beats himself up pretty bad. It was just awesome to hear the excitement in his voice when he told me what it ran. We needed that run big time. We’re coming off a win at the Norwalk Match race (Night of Fire), and that was good for the team, good for morale, and we ran well, so maybe things are on a little bit of an upswing for us.”
If Hight’s position holds through Saturday’s two qualifying sessions, it would be the 80th of his nitro Funny Car career and his third of the season. Hight is a three-time world champion in 2009, 2017, and 2019.
“Well, it’s going to be a lot hotter (Saturday), and I’d be surprised if anybody runs better than 94 with the times that we’re going to be running during the day,” Hight said. “Going to be pretty hot out there, and it’s really setting yourself up for race day. It’s not going to do us any good to make a good run here (Friday night) and go out there (Saturday) and smoke the tires or drop cylinders or do something stupid. Two runs. We really need to make two quality runs so we’re set up for Sunday and get to where we can race this thing a little better. Cornwell Tools, a new sponsor, they joined a team that won eight races last year and haven’t got them a win yet, so we need to do our job for them.”
NO, YOU’RE MISTAKEN - Greg Anderson is a master of making the most progress in downtime. He provided an object lesson in his one and only run Friday at Heartland Motorsports Park.
“I was told before we went up there that anything under a 6.70 was going to be fantastic, so when I saw Kyle Koretsky run 6.70 right in front of me, I thought, that’s pretty damn good. Hopefully, I can get close to that,” said Anderson, who surpassed his KB Titan Racing teammate’s run with a 6.677-second pass at 205.38 mph.
“When I got down there, and I heard, I ran .67, I said, no, you must be mistaken,” continued Anderson, who is heavy in the hunt for the 122nd No. 1 of his career. “I’m pleasantly surprised. I haven’t had one of those runs yet this year, so it feels pretty darn good. We’ll see if we can build on it over the weekend.”
KB Titan Racing claimed five of the No. 1 qualifier awards up for grabs in the first nine races this year, but so far, Anderson has yet to score a pole of his own for HendrickCars.com in the 2023 season. Something about Topeka’s Heartland Motorsports Park speaks to the five-time Pro Stock champion, though. Last year, he was the No. 1 qualifier here, and he is the most winning active Pro Stock driver at the racetrack laid out right in the middle of the Heartland with four previous victories.
Anderson doesn’t credit his success so far this weekend solely to luck, and that’s why he trusts that he and his team can build on what they saw on Friday in Topeka.
“We had three weeks at home since the last race, and we did a lot of work – but you just never know what you have until you get to the racetrack,” he said. “This year, I’ve been kind of let down when I get to the racetrack, so this was a good night. It’s a great feeling, and when we pulled the run up on the computer, we could see that it’s got a little bit of room. I think we can do even better.”
PRETTY STOKED - Chad Green could be lamenting the fact he’s been close to winning national events and fallen short. Instead, the former nitrous racer turned nitro Funny Car front-runner is stoked he’s running third place in the championship point standings with just three races remaining in the regular season.
While some might have considered a successful ride such as the one Green has been on as a pipe dream, he admits his competitive fire burns to the point he’s not content just being in the game.
“I’m pretty competitive,” Green confirmed. “So my whole goal always was to come here and be competitive, not just show up and get to run a Funny Car. If I’m going to run one, I want to be competitive. I want to have a chance to win. That’s me.”
In 12 races this season, Green has reached the semifinals seven times. Two weeks ago, he reached the finals for the first time, losing a tough race to J.R. Todd.
“It’s been very exciting,” said Green, whose Ford Mustang Funny Car is tuned by second-generation drag racer Daniel Wilkerson. “We started out the season well in Gainesville, had a good start, and it’s one of those things where success breeds success.
“I’ve watched the confidence in my team grow, and there’s nothing better than going rounds on Sunday. I’ve been saying all year you haven’t seen the best of us yet, and it seems like we’re turning the corner. We always seem to run well when it’s hot, so we’re excited. It’s definitely been a lot of fun this year so far.”
Green stumbled in Friday’s lone session, lifting early and coasting to a 5.013 elapsed time at only 148 miles per hour.
Green understands the complexity of professional drag racing, having won a national event in Pro Modified. Still, as tough as doorslammer racing is, he understands winning a fuel race takes it to another level. Green doesn’t hope for that win; he believes it’s coming.
“It’s something that I’m expecting,” Green said. “Hopefully, pretty soon. This weekend maybe even. But yeah, that’s what we’re going for. Hopefully, that one and many more after.
But just because I believe I will win doesn’t mean I think it will be easy. You have all these teams with all the money in the world that we’re competing against, and we’re a small team, so for us to be able to perform like we’re doing and compete with them like we’re doing is really great.”
MR EVERYTHING BACK AT IT AGAIN - If variety is the spice of life when Alex Laughlin’s drag racing career is complete, he may very well end up the spiciest competitor of them all.
Laughlin, licensed to drive nine different styles of drag racing car, is pulling double-duty this weekend, driving Jim Dunn Racing’s fuel Funny Car and a Procharged CC/Altered in Competition Eliminator.
“I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment more than anything,” Laughlin said as he stood in the staging lanes at Heartland Motorsports Park on Friday. “Like, I really need anything extra at this moment.”
Laughlin and his father Kenny, who regularly competes in NHRA Division 4 Competition Eliminator, purchased the small block Camaro about a week and a half ago. While Laughlin is no stranger to racing centrifugally supercharged doorslammers, the smaller displacement combination has rendered a new learning curve.
“We’ve started it twice now on the jacks,” Laughlin admitted. “I sat in it for the first time [on Friday], and there’s just a lot of new car nuances that we’re going to be going through. I hate to be doing it at a national event, but you get what you get. As far as the drivability of this thing, it may not be perfect. What we were looking for on the first run was for this car to look like it’s been down the track several times before and just blend in.”
Laughlin ran to just shy of the eighth mile both times and clicked it off.
With Competition Eliminator only getting two qualifying sessions, he ended up No. 24 out of 25 in one of the largest fields the class has had outside of Division 4.
Laughlin fell in Saturday’s first round of eliminations to Greg Kamplain’s C/Dragster Automatic.
THE GET RIGHT WEEKEND - Antron Brown always looks to last year’s NHRA Nationals as the weekend his Matco Tools team “got right.” It also served as a bit of history as it was the first place Brown scored a victory as a team owner.
Brown entered the event last year outside of the top ten among points earners, which had been a foreign territory for the multi-time NHRA Top Fuel champion.
Just how bad was it?
Brown entered the 2022 Topeka race in 11th place after a string of nine first-round losses and a DNQ. After winning Topeka, Brown and the ABM team went on to race to victory at the U.S. Nationals two races later before recording a Charlotte win, a runner-up at the season finale in Pomona, Calif., and a pair of semifinal appearances during the Countdown to the Championship to finish the season in second place
“Love going to Topeka, love going to Gary Ormsby Drive,” Brown said. “We’re the defending champions from last year and we’re coming off of Sonoma with some momentum. We’re going to go in there with our heads down and do what we do. It can get hot, it can get tricky out there like we saw last year.
“That’s where we turned our season around last year and got on a roll, and we’re looking forward to one last showing out there and gaining some good points and momentum as we approach Indy and the Countdown.”
Brown was No. 12 after Friday's lone session, and if he should eclipsed Torrence's 3.764, he could break a tie with Cory McClenathan for the most No. 1 qualifiers at Topeka with four.