2023 NHRA READING NATIONALS - EVENT RESULTS
MONDAY FINAL - KALITTA, HIGHT, HARTFORD, M. SMITH TAKE HOME WINS
Doug Kalitta needed to string four consecutive race-day victories together. After 1,079 days, he finally sealed the deal, beating newly christened point leader Steve Torrence in the Top Fuel final round.
Joining Kalitta in the winner’s circle at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, PA., were Robert Hight (Funny Car), Matt Hartford (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Kalitta extracted a bit of revenge on Torrence in the Top Fuel final, as it was the Capco-sponsored driver who beat him earlier in the season at the NHRA event in Seattle. Interestingly enough, Kalitta has raced Torrence in his last three final round appearances, and prior to Seattle, the two raced in 2020 during the finals of the Midwest Nationals outside of St. Louis.
“This is huge. To get that monkey off my back and get that 50th win, now we can concentrate on the next five (playoff) races,” Kalitta said. “Getting this victory, that’s been big on my list. It was a great job for my team, and I’m real proud of their effort. To run like that and go in the 60s in the final it shows their talent, and I couldn’t be happier. I love running here and my guys worked their tails off. It never hurts to have a thrash and I’m just really proud of this team.”
Kalitta’s triumph was no “just enough” victory as he recorded a 3.662 second elapsed time at 336.99 mph in his Mac Tools dragster to beat Torrence. This win propelled him to third place in the championship standings.
Along the way, Kalitta beat Josh Hart, Shawn Langdon, and Leah Pruett before the final round against Torrence was postponed to Monday due to inclement weather.
With his appearance in the final round, Torrence secured his fifth finals appearance this year and his overall 86th. He now holds the points lead, with a seven-point advantage over Justin Ashley.
Kalitta wasn’t the only driver playing in milestone territory as Hight was competing in his 100th career final round, dating back to 2005. He sealed the deal behind the wheel of his Cornwell Tools-sponsored Camaro Funny Car, beating Chad Green.
Hight was like a bracket racer on nitro, having qualified with a 3.87, ran another 3.87 in eliminations, then a 3.86 and two 3.85s. The victory marked the 64th of his career and third of 2023.
“This car is running good at the right time, and we did exactly what we needed to do today,” Hight said. “But we have to stay focused on the task at hand. We learned a lot of things, but we have to keep working and keep our heads down because it’s not going to get any easier. You’re probably going to have to win three, maybe four times in the Countdown to win a championship, so we can’t get too carried away yet. It was a job well done by this team this weekend, and we’re excited about that, but it takes major work to win a championship.
“That race against Hagan, when it’s that close, it can go in either direction. You’ve got to be mentally prepared and ready against all these guys. We’re thrilled to win, and we can use it as a confidence-builder, but we have to continue to work hard.”
The win vaulted Hight into the points lead by three points over Ron Capps.
In Pro Stock, for Hartford, just making it through the weekend was a milestone. Seven days earlier, he found himself in the hospital with appendicitis. He was cleared to race, only to find himself with an ornery race car that would only generate the 13th quickest pass in Pro Stock qualifying.
A trip to a local body shop was all that he needed to fix what was diagnosed as a wiring issue.
Hartford ultimately fought his way to the finals by defeating Greg Anderson, Camrie Caruso, and defending world champion Erica Enders. In the championship round, he beat Kyle Koretsky, securing his second consecutive win and claiming the points lead for the first time in his career.
“The last week and a half has not been fun until today,” Hartford said. “Our team had to work harder this weekend than they have in years, and they really pulled together. Things went our way, and we had a really good day today. We’ve got a good car and a car that can run well in all conditions.
“It was a grueling weekend for everybody, and the emotions were high. Our team never gave up and now there’s 20 win lights left in the year. If I just keep doing my job and keep my head on straight, I think we walk out of here with a white (world championship) hat after five more races.”
Koretsky, racing at the track his family owns, reached the championship round for the second time this season and eighth time overall, thanks to round wins against Jerry Tucker, Aaron Stanfield, and Troy Coughlin Jr.
Drag racing has long been regarded as a team sport, and for six-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith, the camaraderie was on full display.
Smith beat teammate and designated blocker Chip Ellis in the final for his second consecutive race win of the season and put him into the point lead. Prior to that, Smith beat Chris Bostick, Marc Ingwersen and teammate Jianna Evaristo to reach the final round and picked up his 38th career victory a round later. With five races remaining, Smith now holds a 17-point lead over Herrera.
“Today was exciting. We’ve won races on Monday before and we pulled it off today,” Smith said. “All in all, we had a great weekend. Personally, my bike still isn’t the bike I need out here to win a seventh championship. We just have to get my bike better. My bike isn’t 60-footing the way it needs to. We know we have really good power; even though we qualified fourth, we’re still way behind.
“(But) we’ve won six championships because we play our cards right, and we’re smart and we do what we need to do. We brought a fourth bike (to this race) and that was our goal. When you don’t have the best stuff, you have to bring other stuff in to try to learn. All in all, that’s why we brought that bike to Reading and Chip knocked out some people that we needed him to knock out.”
Ellis, who qualified second and was hired by Matt Smith Racing to ride a team bike during the Countdown, took down Cory Reed, Eddie Krawiec and Hector Arana Jr. to reach the championship round.
NHRA’s highest profile Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series racer, Tony Stewart, scored a double victory in winning the Top Alcohol Dragster title and ascending into the championship points lead. Driving his Mobil 1 McPhillips Racing dragster, Stewart’s victory in the final round against Madison Payne came after his win at the divisional event at Maple Grove Raceway a month earlier.
“This is huge. This is McPhillips’ home track, so a lot of friends and family in the pit this weekend,” Stewart said. “To win for Rich and Richie (McPhillips) and all their friends and family here, a win is always special, but to do it under these circumstances at a home race for them is that much more special.
“I’ve always liked the opportunity to hopefully get a point lead, at least be in the lead, even if it’s just by one point. The fact that you’re in the lead, I feel like, carries weight. To have a weekend like we had, we battled through a lot to get here. This is huge. There’s not, but a handful of races left this year. We’re trying to make the most out of every one of them. Getting maximum points (this weekend) is a huge deal for us.”
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series will continue with the 15th annual betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte from September 22-24.
SUNDAY ELIMINATIONS - EVENT PUSHED OVER TO MONDAY MORNING FOR COMPLETION
Mother Nature was the big winner on the scheduled final day of the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa. Persistent rains began to fall before the completion of the semifinal and final rounds, forcing NHRA officials to push the remaining racing over to Monday at 10 AM.
Top Fuel will kick off the delayed action with the remaining Top Fuel semifinal race between Steve Torrence and Tony Schumacher. The Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series finals will also be held on Monday. The race will be televised at 9:30 PM ET on Monday on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).
Doug Kalitta from the Top Fuel category is the sole driver to have progressed to the final round of the first race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. His consistent runs in the 3.60s, including a time of 3.684 seconds at 332.84 mph, secured him a holeshot victory over Leah Pruett in the semifinals. Should Kalitta emerge victorious in the final round, he would celebrate his 50th career victory.
Funny Car low qualifier Bob Tasca III advanced to the semifinals by beating Alexis DeJoria and will race Chad Green.
Green secured victories against Terry Haddock and Tim Wilkerson. The second semifinal features Ron Capps, the points leader and back-to-back world champion, competing against Robert Hight following Capps' defeat of John Force in the second round. Hight's performance in the second round against Matt Hagan advanced him into the semis.
The only other remaining low qualifier, Pro Stock's Erica Enders, set a torrid pace en route to the semis by running 6.497 seconds at 210.83 mph in the first round. She will face Matt Hartford in the semifinals. The elimination of Dallas Glenn in the first round leaves Enders, Hartford, or Troy Coughlin Jr. competing for the points lead on Monday. Coughlin will go head-to-head with Kyle Koretsky in the other semifinal round.
Jianna Evaristo, who was ninth headed into the Countdown, scored the triumph of the century in the second round, taking out the seemingly unbeatable Gaige Herrera.
After setting new track records earlier in the weekend, Herrera encountered difficulties in the quarterfinals, allowing Evaristo to claim victory with a 6.894-second elapsed time at 196.44 mph. Evaristo will now face teammate and defending world champion Matt Smith in the semifinals. In the other semifinal matchup, Hector Arana Jr., who entered the weekend in third place in the standings, will compete against Chip Ellis.
SATURDAY QUALIFYING - LEADERBOARD REMAINS UNCHANGED HEADED INTO FINAL DAY OF NHRA READING NATIONALS
Bob Tasca III picked up his fifth No. 1 qualifier of the season in front of a sellout crowd at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, located outside of Reading, Pa.
Also maintaining top spots at the opener for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship were Justin Ashley (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
This event marked the 16th race of the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the first of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Notably, it was the seventh sellout crowd of the season. Due to the anticipated bad weather, the Sunday eliminations were moved up to 9:30 a.m. ET at Maple Grove Raceway.
Tasca, currently ranked fourth in points, drove his Motorcraft/Quick Ford Mustang to a 3.866-second elapsed time at 328.30 mph. This secured his fifth No. 1 spot this season and the 14th of his career. Tasca, seeking his third win of the season and second career victory at Maple Grove Raceway, was thrilled with his team’s performance throughout the qualifying sessions.
“The car performed flawlessly,” Tasca said. “As a driver/team owner, that’s what you ask for from your team. They give you a car that can go out there and compete, and you put yourself in a position to win. We have a lot of unfinished business here this weekend, and tomorrow is a big day.
“I think it’s going to be a very challenging day early in the rounds. We’re going to be here at 9:30 (a.m.), and the track is estimated to be somewhere around 75 degrees. You can shake really easy. You could see some big-time upsets, but we just want to go up there and do the best we can. We’ll manage the conditions as they go. As the day progresses, I think you’re going to fall into the conditions that we’ve run really well in. That gives you a lot of confidence going into Sunday.”
Defending world champion Ron Capps made a late jump to second place in the final session, while Robert Hight, who held the No. 1 spot on Friday, slipped to third.
Ashley secured his third No. 1 spot this season and his fifth as a Top Fuel driver. The Phillips-Connect sponsored driver has already secured six victories this year and faces Scott Farley in the opening round of eliminations.
“We feel great. You’re trying to put yourself in the best position to win the race on Sunday, and I feel like we accomplished that,” Ashley said. “We went down the track three out of four times, and we had that .68 in the quickest session, but tomorrow is going to be different in a lot of ways. It’s going to be faster than what we’ve seen.
“Inherently, there’s more pressure because the playoffs are on, but it doesn’t change our approach. Our mentality is to continue to do the same thing that we’ve been doing since the start of the year. There’s a reason we’re in the position that we’re in now. I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in it being the playoffs and changing what you’re doing or focusing more intently. But we take every race the same way, playoffs or regular season. There is more pressure, but as a group, we’ve stuck to our guns that we’re to have fun, we’re here to have a good time, we’re here to win. I feel confident in the group that we have, and I feel confident that we’re not going to let the pressure get to us.”
Defending world champion Brittany Force stayed second with her 3.689 at 336.57 from Friday and Doug Kalitta took third with his 3.696 at 331.45.
Enders solidified her No. 1 seed for Sunday on Friday with an impressive run of 6.494 seconds at 211.13 mph in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro. This marked her 32nd career No. 1 qualifier and propelled her to second place in the points standings.
With two strong showings on Saturday, including the quickest run in the final qualifying session, Enders is determined to defend her event victory from Maple Grove Raceway. She will start eliminations against Val Smeland, aiming for her third win of the season and the title of the winningest female in NHRA history.
“It was definitely cool to follow up today with two really great runs,” Enders said. “Super proud of my team, we made some changes this morning to try to pick up a little bit and it went in the opposite direction, so we fixed it and were able to outrun the field. It was pretty substantial, but it’s a challenging race day ahead of us tomorrow, and we have to make sure everything goes right. I’m excited and proud of my guys. We’ve really turned this season around. I’m stoked and ready to go.
“We were waiting for that pendulum to swing back in our direction after our really sorry to start for the year, but we knew with hard work and determination. My guys have this awesome, never-quit attitude and just amazing tenacity. I’m proud of them. It’s not something that’s easy to go through as a team. We’ve been through the trenches before, but this was a tough one. We rallied together, and we’re doing well. A lot can change in the next six Sundays, but we’re going to ride this wave as long as we can.”
Troy Coughlin stayed second but improved his performance with a 6.497 at 211.23. Aaron Stanfield also bettered his qualifying mark, going 6.500 at 211.13, to qualify third. Points leader Dallas Glenn qualified ninth.
Herrera continued his dominant run in Pro Stock Motorcycle, capturing his ninth No. 1 qualifier in 10 races this year. Herrera’s impressive 6.672-second run at 202.94 mph on his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki tied for the quickest run of the year.
Herrera also secured the most possible points in qualifying by making the quickest run in all four sessions.
“I’m very confident. I have to give all the credit to the whole Vance & Hines Mission Suzuki team and Andrew (Hines, crew chief) and all the guys back at the shop,” Herrera said. “We’re basically just showing off their hard work, and to go out there and run that, I’m very happy with it, Andrew is very happy with it. We’re definitely happy with it, and I’m going into tomorrow with all the confidence in the world. I’m glad to get as many points as I can so far going into the Countdown. My whole goal is to try to get as many as I can again. That was my goal, and Andrew is always shooting to be No. 1, so he was all for it.”
Chip Ellis made a big jump to qualify second thanks to his run of 6.741 at 200.17, and Hector Arana Jr. took third with his 6.747 at 201.85.
Sunday’s eliminations are set to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET.
FRIDAY QUALIFYING - ASHLEY, TASCA, ENDERS AND HERRERA SET THE PACE ON THE FIRST DAY OF NHRA PLAYOFFS
Justin Ashley is well known for his lightning-quick reflexes, which have landed him in the winner's circle many times. Understanding the importance of supplementing his first No. 1 seed in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, he reacted in familiar fashion, racing his way to the No. 1 spot in Top Fuel provisional qualifying at the 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals.
Bob Tasca III, Erica Enders, and Gaige Herrera also showcased their skills and claimed the provisional No. 1 spots in their respective categories at Maple Grove Raceway, located outside of Reading, PA.
Ashley drove his Phillips Connect Toyota dragster to an elapsed time of 3.687 seconds at 335.57 mph. If the run holds, it will mark Ashley's third No. 1 qualifier of the season and fifth in his career. Although pleased with his accomplishments, Ashley remains focused on the ultimate goal, the championship.
"That was a great run for this Phillips Connect Toyota team," Ashley said. "We didn't have a great run in the first session. This is basically a home race for me since I am from New York, and we have a lot of friends and family here. You want to do well to start the Countdown, and this was a great start. That run felt really good and was a great way to wrap up the first day of the Pep Boys Nationals."
Tasca, who has showcased his team's skills in both hot and cool weather, stole the show during qualifying. In his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang, Tasca blazed down the track with a 3.874 at 334.90 mph. Tasca is now in line for his fifth No. 1 qualifier of the season and the 14th of his career.
Tasca is exactly where he wants to be.
"Every point matters right now, every run now through the end. I think we got five bonus points, and that's big. But to be here at Maple Grove – the Koretskys are like family to us; this is the track I debuted professionally in my alcohol Funny Car," Tasca said. "I've won here in my nitro car. We have great memories here, and to see what they've done to this facility, see these fans on Friday night, and run low ET, it's a lot of fun."
Iconic Pro Stock racer Enders finds herself hot at the right time. The defending world champion delivered impressive performances in both sessions, ultimately recording the quickest run of the season in Pro Stock. Her Johnson's Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro posted a standout pass of 6.494 at 211.13 mph. She's in line for her third No. 1 spot of the year and 32nd in her career.
"That was good," Enders said. "Being able to secure our first win here last year changes that whole feeling of rolling through the gates. We came off the trailer and went to the No. 1 spot that first session, and we nitpicked the run and felt like we could have gone high .48 low .49. We came back second session and did just that. I'm really proud of my team."
In the regular season, Pro Stock Motorcycle sophomore phenom Herrera found success early and often on the drag strip. Friday at Maple Grove was more of the same as he shattered the track elapsed time record during both runs on Friday, concluding the day with an incredible 6.678 at 202.45 mph aboard his Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki.
He already has eight No. 1 qualifiers to his credit this season.
"I was kind of shocked it ran 6.67, but Andrew (Hines, crew chief) isn't," Herrera said. "He said all the conditions are there to do it. To come out and be able to get the provisional No. 1 qualifier in the start of the Countdown and get as many points as we can – all those little points add up – I'm happy with today."
As the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals continue, qualifying will resume at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday at Maple Grove Raceway.
Friday's results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, 16th of 21 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday's final eliminations.
Top Fuel -- 1. Justin Ashley, 3.687 seconds, 335.57 mph; 2. Brittany Force, 3.689, 336.57; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.696, 331.45; 4. Steve Torrence, 3.698, 332.43; 5. Antron Brown, 3.716, 329.50; 6. Shawn Langdon, 3.728, 331.12; 7. Austin Prock, 3.728, 329.83; 8. Tony Schumacher, 3.737, 328.54; 9. Leah Pruett, 3.743, 327.90; 10. Doug Foley, 3.755, 322.11; 11. Clay Millican, 3.761, 325.45; 12. Mike Salinas, 4.201, 199.29; 13. Josh Hart, 4.219, 198.90; 14. Dan Mercier, 7.474, 92.33.
Funny Car -- 1. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.874, 334.90; 2. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.879, 329.34; 3. Chad Green, Mustang, 3.887, 330.07; 4. Ron Capps, Toyota GR Supra, 3.888, 335.65; 5. John Force, Camaro, 3.898, 334.32; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.901, 322.04; 7. Alexis DeJoria, GR Supra, 3.915, 331.04; 8. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.915, 327.03; 9. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.916, 328.78; 10. J.R. Todd, GR Supra, 3.923, 327.90; 11. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.936, 327.98; 12. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.004, 309.20; 13. Alex Laughlin, Charger, 4.058, 295.59; 14. Jim Campbell, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.087, 299.66; 15. Dave Richards, Mustang, 4.140, 278.17; 16. Cory Lee, Mustang, 8.910, 79.15. Not Qualified: 17. Mike Smith, 13.747, 53.46.
Pro Stock -- 1. Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.494, 211.13; 2. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.505, 210.21; 3. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.507, 211.46; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.513, 210.37; 5. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.515, 209.49; 6. Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.521, 210.47; 7. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.526, 209.98; 8. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.527, 210.21; 9. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.530, 209.98; 10. Jerry Tucker, Camaro, 6.537, 210.28; 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.548, 209.69; 12. Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.551, 210.57; 13. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.564, 210.11; 14. Eric Latino, Camaro, 6.572, 210.34; 15. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.592, 211.06; 16. Fernando Cuadra, Mustang, 6.605, 209.82. Not Qualified: 17. Kenny Delco, 6.620, 210.50; 18. Alan Prusiensky, 6.620, 199.76; 19. Brandon Miller, 6.719, 207.50; 20. Fernando Cuadra Jr., 6.942, 200.98; 21. Mason McGaha, 7.057, 199.43; 22. Larry Morgan, 10.063, 90.81.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- 1. Gaige Herrera, Suzuki, 6.678, 202.45; 2. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.747, 201.85; 3. Chase Van Sant, Suzuki, 6.754, 200.02; 4. Chip Ellis, EBR, 6.756, 200.59; 5. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.773, 201.70; 6. Matt Smith, Suzuki, 6.788, 200.05; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.801, 197.02; 8. Jianna Evaristo, Suzuki, 6.844, 199.08; 9. Eddie Krawiec, Suzuki, 6.860, 198.12; 10. John Hall, EBR, 6.862, 197.62; 11. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.865, 194.02; 12. Marc Ingwersen, EBR, 6.873, 196.42; 13. Chris Bostick, EBR, 6.892, 189.84; 14. Ron Tornow, Victory, 6.896, 195.11; 15. Cory Reed, Suzuki, 7.226, 188.41.