2023 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - PRO STOCK NOTEBOOK
On Sunday, Matt Hartford believed he had the quickest Pro Stock car on the Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park property.
Monday, he proved it.
Hartford clocked a 6.624-second elapsed time at 206.57 mph in the final round to defeat Fernando Cuadra Jr., who slowed to 7.099 seconds at 178.87 mph.
This was Hartford’s seventh career Pro Stock national event win and first of his career at the U.S. Nationals. This was the second this season. He also won in Norwalk, Ohio. Hartford ended the regular season a career-best second in the points standings. The points standings will be reset for the six-race Countdown to the Championship, which begins with the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa., Sept. 14-17.
Hartford’s victory parade Monday consisted of wins over Mason McGaha, Camrie Caruso, Erica Enders, and Cuadra Jr. He did it from the No. 1 qualifying spot.
“Look, we came in here Friday night, as I told everybody that our goal was to qualify No. 1 Friday night,” Hartford said. “If we could do that, we felt that that would stick, and we would have four really good test runs to just try different stuff. What we ran in the final was what we tested in one of the qualifying runs. The track conditions became basically what that was. So that being able to be on the pole and have that test data played a huge role in the final.”
And Hartford acknowledged none of the drivers he faced were easy.
“Mason, he went to the finals in Gainesville (Fla.),” Hartford said. “He’s a killer in the tree. Sooner or later, they’re going to find their footing again, and when they do, there’s going to be people going, ‘Oh my god, how did they get beat by him?’
“They’re a great team, good driver, and he’s hungry to win. So, we didn’t go up there soft. We went up there knowing we had to make a run. And I was a little bit tardy and got back, and I said, ‘Okay, I need to work on that.’ So, we worked on a few things. Then Camrie... Well, Mason, he slow-played me really well. He tried to play the trick that I like to play on Erica just typically, and he waited forever to stage or pre-stage and then stage—no big deal. We get up there with Camrie and she’s basically putting on the second bulb because I’m so pre-stage. I’m like, ‘All right, we can be this way.’ I actually got it in a little deep. So, our 60 foot was off, and we ran a little bit slower, and we have a (6.) 64.3, and I thought, man, that’s not good because now we’re not going to have lane choice, and we’re going to be first pair out.”
Despite the frustrating run, Hartford’s attitude changed when he did have lane choice over Enders.
“Well, I got down there, and I’m looking at the numbers, and we did have lane choice, and we were second pair out against Erica, so my whole attitude changed pretty quick,” Hartford said. “And going up there against Erica, you guys know, I think we’re pretty good rivals. But neither one of us plays games. We both basically bumped into the first ball pretty close to each other and the second ball pretty close to each other. I don’t know if I went in first or she did, but nothing was out of the ordinary. It was just get in and go. We made a nice clean run, our win light came on, and Eddie (Guarnaccia, Hartford’s crew chief) came on the radio and said, ‘All right, let’s go. Let’s close this deal.’
“We get up here for the finals, and there’s no pressure. I realized I don’t know how to do a burnout in a Pro Stock car. Let’s just add some drama for everybody. So, after I figured out how to do a burnout, Eddie’s like, ‘Okay, that play’s over. Focus on the job at hand.’ I’m like, ‘I’m already past that. Let’s go.
“The only issue was, by screwing up in the burnout, I put a ton of fuel in the engine. The engine didn’t want to start after I tried to refire it to do the second burnout. The manifold distilled the fuel. The thing was idling at about 4,000. I couldn’t get it to come back down. And finally, it got back down about 2,800 before I pre-staged. I said, ‘I don’t care. We’re looking for wide-open throttle anyway. I don’t care what it’s idling at. And this is the finals at Indy, so it’s going in.’”
Then, the rest was a blur for Hartford.
“I let the clutch out, I pulled second gear and never saw (Cuadra Jr.),” Hartford said. “Put it in fifth gear, and I’m still deaf from my crew chief screaming in my ear. So that’s the recap. I sat in the car for a little bit and just took it in before I got out because once you get out, and I have all of this and cameras, and I just wanted to sit in my car and just chill for a second. So, I did.”
Hartford’s first national event win came in 2018 against Enders at her hometown track. He was the heavy underdog then and knew anything could happen – especially on Monday.
“What I do know is when I rolled up into Houston in 2018 for the final, there was no way I was expected to win, and I did. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, please don’t let this be one of those days to where he’s not expected to win. Just based on performance, nothing else. He is as good a driver as anybody; they have as good a team behind him as anybody. But if you just look at numbers, just data, we were favored, he was not. “But in Houston, when I won my first race, we were definitely not favored. It was 99 to one; she was favored over me. So to me, I did think about that, and that may have led to a little bit of what happened in the burnout. I’m just like, ‘Don’t make a mistake.’ And the minute you think, don’t make a mistake, you make a mistake. And they’re a great family; they’re great competitors. I want to see them win races. I don’t want to get beat by them, though.”
Although Hartford’s burnout was a mess, he didn’t let it ruin his run.
“I have a lot of faith, and I wasn’t concerned at all,” Hartford said. “What I was concerned about is the fact that he’d already done his burnout and backed up, and I didn’t want the starter really standing out in front of me, trying to get me to shorten my burnout because I wasn’t going to. I really didn’t want to have an issue with that. So, it’s Indy, I’m doing my full burnout, and I’m backing up. And they were quick about it, so it’s not like we’re going to hold anybody up. But that was the only thing that went through my head is, don’t make it to where they got to shorten my burnout ’cause that would be a detriment.”
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - HARTFORD GOES NO. 1 IN INDY FOR FIRST TIME; ENDERS EYES WORLD CHAMPION NO. 6
HARTFORD CAPTURES U.S. NATIONALS NO. 1 QUALIFYING SPOT – Matt Hartford’s career best Pro Stock season got even better on Sunday.
Hartford, in his Total Seal Camaro, parlayed his 6.569-second elapsed time at 209.23 from Friday into his first career No. 1 qualifying spot at the prestigious U.S. Nationals.
“My entire crew and especially my crew chief is badass,” Hartford said. “I mean that (6.601 run in Q5) with those conditions. That's (crew chief) Eddie Guarnaccia, he’s a genius, KI, my brother Adam, wife Amber, they all, everybody works their hearts out on this team and to come to Indy and qualify No. 1 is a dream come true, plain and simple. That 60 with a one, to me, that's more impressive than the 56 that we ran on Friday night.”
This was the fourth No. 1 qualifier of Hartford’s career and the fourth this season. He was also No. 1 on the ladder in Las Vegas, Charlotte and Norwalk, Ohio.
Hartford has one win this season and runner-up efforts in Phoenix and Pomona, Calif. He came to Indy second in the points standings. And,
Hartford knows he has the car to beat on Monday.
“I need to get focused (Sunday night), so therefore, I'm going to have to do something, I might have to involve vodka, or wine, or something, but I got to make sure to clear my head when I go to bed because getting up (Monday), it's a brand-new day,” Hartford said. “It doesn't matter what you did on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. What matters is what you do on Monday, it's going to be four grueling rounds (Monday) we're going to be in conditions similar to this.
“I think we have a great race day tune-up. We went into Q3 and Q4 testing some stuff. Obviously, we fell back into the middle of the pack. When we did that, we decided to go up here and try to really put in a tune-up that would be representative of what it's going to be like (Monday) and see if it would take it and it did.”
Hartford admitted his No. 1 qualifying lap on Friday night could have been even quicker.
“The 6.56 run should have been a mid 6.55,” Hartford said. “I drove horribly. The next run, I forgot how to drive. And then Q3 and Q4, we were testing some stuff that we were just slow. So that (the run in Q5 Sunday) was the first run of the weekend that I would say was representative of how we should have run. That's why I'm saying it was nice to go up there and actually have a run on the scoreboard, on paper that we look at it and say, ‘Okay, now that's our potential.’”
Hartford took a moment to take a trip down memory lane regarding Indy.
“I remember coming here in the early 1980s, and sitting in the stands right down there, and watching the fuel cars, and watching the Pro Stock parade back then,” Hartford said. “A lot of people, maybe people in this room don't remember that. I remember all the cars drove down the track and it was awesome. Now we tow them to the line. But back then they were driven up. And I loved Pro Stock from the first time I've ever saw one. I thought, how cool would it be someday to go to race one of these. Now to be at Indy, and to wear a yellow hat, and our entire team to wear a yellow hat, we're going to have a good time (Sunday night).”
The weather in Indy Saturday and Sunday was hot and humid, but these conditions aren’t unfamiliar to Hartford.
“(Sunday) was miserable. We've had two races back-to-back, Topeka (Kan.) and Brainerd, (Minn.) that really got us accustomed to this,” Hartford said. “So, it isn't like we've got here, and this is the first we've seen it. You, everybody in this room's had to deal with it, it's the heat and humidity has not been fun this year through the summer months. And I don't think we're out of it yet. I think we're going to have a few more races where we're going to get into this. But this morning (Sunday), our first thing we did instead of working on the car is we worked on the air conditioner in our trailer because it was so hot in there.”
In eliminations – starting in round one against Mason McGaha – Hartford is going to take a simple approach.
“I'm just going to go up there and it's just another qualifying run,” Hartford said. “We get to pick what pair we want to go. I can tell you right now we're going to pick fifth pair. We think there's a strategy to where you put yourself and if we have a choice, we'd like being fifth pair out. You're far enough back in the pack to where you can watch some other cars. And you're also in a position, hopefully you win first round, you go to second round. The best you can be is four cars back. So, we're going to go up there with some strategy (Monday) of trying to put ourselves in a good position and know what the track will be like after X amount of cars run.
“If I just do my job in the car, my crew's going to do theirs. All I have to do is do my job and this car will go forward.”
ERICA ENDERS READY FOR PUSH TO SIXTH WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – Back in 2005, Erica Enders began her NHRA Pro Stock career, winning eight rounds in her rookie season.
Fast-forward to 2023, and Enders has become one of the best Pro Stock drivers in history.
Enders won world championships in 2014-15, 2019-2020 and 2022. In the process, she has won 45 national events in Pro Stock – add that to the Wally she won in Super Gas in 2004 in Houston, and she is tied with Angelle Sampey for most national event wins by a woman in NHRA history at 46.
“The next one's the one that counts, and it makes us the winningest woman in motorsports,” Enders said. “So yeah, that's really cool. But as a little kid with big dreams, Angelle was one of my favorites. So, to have my name mentioned alongside of hers is pretty cool, and she's being so gracious about it. We're excited on one side of it. And the other side, I always (say), I'm just a racer.
“We focus on the female thing all we want, and that's going to definitely be a very cool accolade and something that can hopefully showcase our sport to more mainstream media when we solidify that position. That's the part that I'm excited about. So, we'll see, but either way, we got our work cut out for us, and it's hard to win one of these.”
Enders would love to break the record at the storied U.S. Nationals.
“It would be storybook to do it here at the U.S. Nationals,” Enders said. “It would be unbelievable because winning here would also make us the winningest U.S. Nationals champion for a female. So, we kind of get two of those birds with one stone. I'm tied with Ashley Force right now. We both have three.”
Enders Indy Pro Stock victories came in 2015, 2020, and 2021.
The wins were memorable, but Enders has also experienced Indy’s agony of defeat when she lost to Alex Laughlin in the finals in 2019 when she had a huge lead and her car quit.
“I was .007 (reaction time) and then Alex Laughlin was like .120,” Enders said. “I was far ahead, and my car broke. It was gut-wrenching. That was probably one of the worst losses. It physically made me ill. I threw up afterwards. You get so close, and you do your job so well and to have it ripped from your fingers like that is pretty sucky. We had an experience like that here in 2012, when Dave Connolly and I raced in the finals. Some shady sh*t went down there too. But it just goes to show, you stick with it right? When God rewards you, it makes it that much sweeter to have the victory here at the U.S. Nationals with the people that I have now instead of the ones I had before. So, I'm proud to be associated with Elite and I did it with Rick Jones and all my boys and it's very meaningful.”
This season, reports of Enders’ demise in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance/Scag Chevy Camaro were premature after a rough start. Enders came to Indy fifth in the points standings on the strength of wins in Bristol, Tenn., and Topeka, Kan.
“I feel like we're directionally correct. I mean, the way the year started off was not great and when we found our issue, it was kind of lights out after that,” Enders said. “So, we were low that round of eliminations when we found it (in Chicago) and then went on to the next race (Bristol) and we won it. We have a good car, just a good car, and we're working on that.
“We found some stuff at the shop last week, so I'm just hopeful that it all translates to the scoreboard. But I feel like I've got some of my confidence back as a driver and that's definitely going to help during the Countdown. We have an opportunity to close the points gap significantly (Monday). If all goes well, we can go into Countdown in the number two spot and that's our goal because of how far ahead Dallas is. If we can do that... And either way if we do or we don't, it's balls to the wall for the last six races. And as always, my money's on us. We've got a little chipping away to do at it, but I think we'll be Ok.”
Following Indy, the six-race Countdown to the Championship begins Sept. 14-17 in Reading, Pa.
There were times – from 2005-2010 – when Enders was doubting her drag racing career choice. Those six years, Enders had zero wins and her best finish was 13th in the points standings. In 2008, she ran just one Pro Stock event and was 44th in the points.
“There were a lot of days where I'd put my head down on my desk and would cry and just think to myself, I have an education, I can go make way more money doing something else,” Enders said.
Enders graduated from Texas A&M in College Station with a degree in marketing and business management.
“But I don't think I would ever truly be fulfilled. This is my passion and something I've done since I'm eight years old,” Enders said. “So, I am not sure how I would survive in a nine-to-five world, but I'm going to keep at this as long as I can. But those valleys are what make the peak sweeter, right? But going through them is painful and gut-wrenching and you question your sanity and all those things. But if you quit, it's just a great lesson of why you don't quit. When all the bad things happened at the end of 2013 with my ex-team (Victor Cagnazzi Racing), I wanted to quit, and then Richard (Freeman) hired me to come over here.
“That's a perfect lesson, right? Had I quit, then I would've never won one world championship, let alone five. I think it's just a testament to having tenacity and a never-give-up attitude, but it doesn't mean... It doesn't make it easy.”
Enders acknowledged having Freeman’s full support has made things much easier for her.
“I think that's what allows me to do my job so well is to know that when I turn around, I know exactly where they're standing. I don't have to worry about somebody trying to snake my seat or my sponsorship,” Enders said. “That all comes from the outside, not internally like it had before. “So, it means a lot to be able to work for a family like this, and we have a lot of fun together. Richard's crazy, and sometimes we want to rip each other's throats out. But what he's done so well, he's a great leader and he's put the right people in the right places to be able to do their job. And that's why we succeed and what's so fun about it is that you can't buy that.
“That's why it's so coveted, and I think that's why we do so well together. We have a lot of fun, we have a lot of success, but we've also been through sh*t that would tear most people apart, like running the Dodge in 2016 and the beginning of this year. It just like we've been through our valleys together as well. I'm pretty lucky.”
There’s really nothing left for Enders to prove in Pro Stock, but she hesitated to say when she will walk away from the sport.
“I said last year I was going to retire at the end of the year, and this year I said, this year will be my last year,” Enders said. “And then I'm like, well, we're not... The way we started this year, I was like, ‘I want to go out on top, not on the bottom.’ So, to be honest, I don't really know. I've always wanted to have a family, so I'm kind of getting to that age where that's going to be out of the question here in the next few years. So, I think of a move home (to Houston). Yeah, and to start that life is something on my wish list.
“But at the same time, how do you give up this when we can go out and win more races and more championships? And when we do secure our six world title, the only person that will have more than us is Bob Glidden (with 10), so the sky is the limit. It would be really hard to give that up so I don't have an answer for you on how long, but as long as I'm good, I guess.”
A sixth Pro Stock world championship would tie Enders with Warren Johnson for second on the all-time list with six, with just Glidden ahead of them.
DALLAS GLENN READY FOR CHAMPIONSHIP RUN – Dallas Glenn has had a magical season in 2023.
In his third year competing in NHRA Pro Stock, Glenn has been dominant. He entered Indy first in the points standings. He has four wins; three runner-up finishes and a 28-7 elimination round record.
He wants to rinse and repeat that success with Indy and the six races in the Countdown to the Championship.
“Going into the last seven here is just kind of try to keep doing what we've been doing and keep the momentum going,” Glenn said. “I've had a really good car. I've been really lucky, and I've been driving decent enough to get wins and that's kind of the same mindset going into the final six into the Countdown, is kind of keep doing what we've been doing, just tighten up where we've been missing a little bit and just try to hold everybody off with the little points lead that we're going to have going into Reading (Pa.).”
Glenn came to Indy with a 284-point points lead over second-place Matt Hartford.
However, after the U.S. Nationals the points will be reset in the six-race Countdown to the Championship – which begins in Reading, Pa., Sept. 14-17 – he will only lead the No. 10 driver the points by 100 points.
“The Countdown is good and bad. Last year we were happy about the Countdown because it brought us within reach of Erica (Enders) when she was way out, but this year, obviously, I wish we didn't have the Countdown,” Glenn said. “So, you got to take the good with the bad and this year it was bad. The other years it's good. It is the same for everybody every year, we know what it is going into it, so all we got to do is just try to keep winning races in the Countdown and we'll let it all sort itself out.”
From being an unknown driver to tops in the class in three years is something Glenn is still trying to digest.
“It's kind of, I don't know, surreal is more of a good word for it,” Glenn said. “I try not to let it get to me too much. I try not to think about it too much. I just kind of go out there and do what I know how to do. And one of the good things about working on your own car is I'm so busy that I don't have much time to think about it. I just try to do my own thing up there and try not to think about it.”
Being the best in Pro Stock is something Glenn imagined but it didn’t seem like it become a reality.
“You always think about it back in the day, but to have it actually happening is kind of a whole different thing,” Glenn said. “I don't know if it's ever really set in yet. It might be something mid-winter or something like that be like, ‘That was actually quite something.’ We have a 284-point lead coming into this race and that's a pretty big achievement. But even with that big points lead, if you don't capitalize in the last six races, then it could all be for nothing. You could go in first and come out eighth if you don't capitalize when it matters.”
The cockpit in his RAD Torque Systems Chevy Camaro is definitely Glenn’s happy place.
“There are so many different things that I enjoy about being in the car,” he said. “Obviously, there's the adrenaline rush, the speed and all that, but I feel like time slows down in there. The time that I take staging or making a run feels like an eternity compared to when I try to watch it on video. I watch it on video, it's like bam, bam and done. But when you're in the car, it feels like it takes 10 times longer.
“The one thing I really enjoy about it is it's just one guy in the car. We have the setup in the car, and we hope we did all the preparations right, but it's just me, it's up to me. I kind of like that part of it. I like having the ball in my hand, so to speak. So, in the end, it all comes down to my job in the car.”
Like so many Pro Stock drivers, Glenn knows there’s a slim margin for success in the class.
“That kind of comes down to the bracket racing thing, trying to be as most consistent as you can and nitpick all the little details and pay attention to the weather and tire pressure and engine temp and all kinds of stuff,” Glenn said, “So that kind of just played right into it and it's just kind of gotten more extreme.
“Now it's staging RPM and how long you do a burnout and everything, all matters. You just got to do everything exactly the same every time. When you can do that several times in a row and make good, clean runs every time in a row, it makes it easier for the crew chiefs to dial it in a little bit better. That's when the performance really shows.”
Glenn have enjoyed working with the KB Titan Racing team.
“The transition has been a lot of work,” Glenn said. “There are a lot of things to swap over and new stickers and decals and paperwork and all kinds of other stuff. But it's been good. We've got a good addition with several guys back at the shop, new guys who seem really passionate about winning. And that's what you need in any good team. So, it's been good. A lot of good relationships and it seems like a lot of good improvements coming. I think we're only getting the first taste of what this team's really capable of.”
KYLE KORETSKY BELIEVES HIS TEAM IS READY TO MAKE A MOVE – This hasn’t been the season Kyle Koretsky was hoping for in 2023,
Koretsky, after fourth and fifth-place finishes in the points in 2021 and 2022, he arrived in Indy ninth in the points standings with one runner-up and one semifinal finish.
“I think I'm really getting my head on straight now. It's time to get serious and it's time to get everything going,” Koretsky said. “The Countdown's coming up, it's the last race before the Countdown, then Maple Grove, and we just struggled all year. I think it is a little bit of everything. Pro Stock is combination. It's driver, it's car, it's set-up, and it's engine. It's not just one thing, so there's no one thing that was wrong. I think everything just wasn't happy, and now the car's starting to get a little bit happier and it's kind of getting happy at the right time.”
And Koretsky would love everything to converge on Monday to win the U.S. Nationals.
“I was runner-up here two years ago, and to get the win here would be huge,” he said. “I mean, this is the biggest race of the year emotionally, I think, to win the U.S, Nationals. But yeah, I mean, to give my dad and our family (that win) would be huge. But if we could put one together here at the U.S. Nationals this year, that'd be definitely big thing on my list.”
Koretsky acknowledged he was using Sunday’s two qualifying runs to get prepared for Monday.
“(Sunday), we'll do a little bit of clutch testing for me, try to tighten my tree up a little bit more so we're ready for Monday,” Glenn said. “Because out here, the Pro Stock's so competitive, you need to be in the low teens, twenties if you think you're going to win anything.”
As busy as Indy is, Koretsky will likely be busier at the next race in Reading, Pa., Sept. 14-17 since his family bought Maple Grove Raceway in April of 2022.
“Oh, it's crazy,” Koretsky said about his team running Maple Grove. “It's a lot of work. It's a lot of work, but we have a good team, good crew, good family, great fans and great racers that keep continuously support us and help us. It's racing. It's what we love. I do enjoy it a lot. Definitely a lot easier sometimes than our normal work in the construction business, but we enjoy it. It's work for us. It's seven days a week. That's what we do. That's what my dad taught us to do is work seven days a week to get what you want, and that's what we're going to do. We're going to keep working seven days a week so I can race. “
Koretsky is happy to roll out the red carpet for the upcoming Reading national event, but that isn’t the lone event that keeps his family’s track going.
“We definitely enjoy when the pros and NHRA comes to town, but that's not our only event,” he said. “We have tons of other events; we have tons of other customers and fans that support us. Just our local bracket racing is huge. Everyone always asks me, ‘Oh, you need the NHRA, and you need the pros to come.’ That's not true. We love to have them, don't get me wrong. But there's more to racing than just the pros. The bracket racing people will keep us alive, and our car shows and our festivals and stuff. So, we can't forget about those people because that's really who keeps the sport (going) and keeps us, Maple Grove Raceway, continuously pushing.”
DERIC KRAMER IN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENTION – This is a different vibe for veteran Pro Stock driver Deric Kramer.
Kramer has been competing in NHRA’s Pro Stock ranks since 2012. He has had some decent seasons – finishing a career-best sixth in 2019 and 2020.
However, Kramer arrived at the U.S. Nationals in Indy this weekend third in the points standings. The six-race Countdown to the Championship begins in Reading, Pa., Sept. 14-17.
Kramer pilots the GetBioFuel.com Chevy Camaro.
“I try not to make it any more than it is. I mean, we've had a lot of lucky breaks this year,” Kramer said. “I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I can see it as well as everyone else can, but we're going to go out there and we're going to make the best runs that we can make, and hopefully the light comes on in the other end of the track in my lane.”
This season, Kramer won in Charlotte, N.C., and was runner-up in Las Vegas and Chicago.
In 2023, Kramer is a viable choice to win Indy and he understands the importance of the storied race.
“I think it's easy to get caught up in the hype,” Kramer said. ”For me, it was never a really big thing being out in Colorado, way out west from here. It was so far away and always during the school year that it was never a race that I was ever going to get to go to. It was never a thing that we would even attempt to try because school had just started, and I wasn't going to be able to try and do it. Obviously, I'm out of school now and I'm racing and working and being a real adult, now that I started coming here the first couple of years, it was definitely a, ‘Oh, this is a big deal to a lot of people.’ It was just so far removed for me that it never really was. But it's really easy to get caught up in the hype after coming here for so many years now that it definitely starts to mean a little bit more than it did when I first started coming.”
Kramer does like the fact more points are available to obtain in Indy.
“If we rolled up and we needed those points and a half to make it in or something like that, I'm glad that there's that format and that extra piece to make it even more special,” he said.
Back in 2017, Kramer had some Indy success he won the “Pro Stock Battle of the Burnouts”.
Kramer, who won two of the four burnout challenges that ran throughout qualifying during the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, was declared the winner of the Pro Stock Battle of the Burnouts, edging Shane Gray for the title.
“I mean, it was great. I mean, back then I was running my own stuff, so it was a lot easier to make the decision that I'm going to melt this stuff down the ground,” Kramer said. “Now that I'm leasing engines from KB Titan it's little... You get a little bit more slap on the wrist when you do that kind of thing.”
Kramer knows he has to be on his ‘A’ Game in Indy and the Countdown if he wants to capture a coveted world championship.
“Obviously I'm not going to get to the No. 1 spot with the amount of lead that Dallas (Glenn) has, but I'm within a handful of points of the car ahead of me and a handful of points of the cars behind me,” Kramer said. “I think it's the tightest field we've ever had, and I think the reset is going to keep it that way, and it's really just going to bring the No. 1 back to something attainable.”
The first driver in the points will only be 100 points ahead of the No. 10 driver in the points when the Countdown to the Championship points are reset.
“In years past, you've had to do semifinals or better. You didn't even have to win a race,” Kramer said about the Countdown. “I think at this point, if you don't win two of the six races, you probably don't have a chance. So, I think that's going to be our goal. Semifinals or better in two races, so that's kind of the goal for the next six. We know that KB Titan makes good power, and we just have to figure out how to get it out of the engine and get it into the ground.
“I went to most of those tracks before I started running the full circuit. So I went to Dallas, St. Louis, Charlotte, but not during the Countdown and obviously Pomona and Vegas all before I started doing the full season. So, the only track that I really added when we started doing the full season was the one all the way across the country for us in Reading (Pa.). I really do like all those tracks. I've got a lot of runs there and I've had a lot of fun at a lot of those places.”
When Kramer isn’t behind the wheel, he has a day job writing software for iOS apps for different companies.
“I'm really lucky that I'm able to get (to work remotely) and make money while I'm on the road doing this,” Kramer said.
Kramer has no plans of stopping racing.
“I think maybe a long-term dream for me would be to put race car driver on my tax returns,” Kramer said.
JERRY TUCKER TALKS HIS FIRST SEASON IN PRO STOCK – Jerry Tucker had done all types of racing in his career, Sportsman, dirt cars, dirt bikes, and go-karts, but he had never done any Pro Stock laps.
That changed in 2023 when Tucker joined the Elite Motorsports team run by longtime family friend Richard Freeman.
There’s no question there has been a learning curve, but Tucker has been decent, winning six rounds and coming to the U.S. Nationals 12th in the points standings in his Chevy Camaro.
“It's been awesome. These guys are good, and they make it pretty easy when the experts are trying to teach you what to do,” Tucker said. “Richard and I all went to the same high school in a little old bitty town (Lindsay) there, southern Oklahoma.”
Tucker said getting in the cockpit of an NHRA Pro Stock has come with challenges.
“These things are very difficult to drive and it's hard to drive,” Tucker said. “So, it hasn't been real, really easy, but we're about to get it. We're about to figure it out.”
Tucker is optimistic he will be running in Pro Stock in 2024.
“We're working on a couple of things for next year and if it works out, we're going to do it, and if it doesn't, I'll go back to Top Sportsman racing,” Tucker said. “We have got some guys who wants to race a little bit next year, so we're trying to put the deal together right now and if it goes, great, and if it doesn't, it's been good.”
In Top Sportsman, Tucker pilots a similar car.
“It's a Camaro just like these,” said Tucker, who owns an oilfield service company. “It's almost exactly the same as this car. You can't even really tell the difference in looking at it.”
Tucker hasn’t been running his Top Sportsman Camaro because of his Pro Stock commitment.
“These (Pro Stock) cars are so precise. Every little mess-up is a hundredth of a second. In most other racing, you have some time to make up for mess-ups. If you mess up just a little bit, you're basically done in this deal. The tree, the reaction time, the shifting, driving it straight, stopping, burning out right. Backing up right. Everything about it is just splitting hairs. It's very, very important.”
Tucker qualified No. 15 with a 6.664-second elapsed time at 206.80 mph.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -STANFIELD COMES UP BIG, HARTFORD COMES TO THE MEDIA CENTER
AARON STANFIELD WINS SEASON MISSION 2FAST2TASTY NHRA CHALLENGE SEASON TITLE - Aaron Stanfield proved again on Saturday evening that his Elite Motorsports Camaro can never be counted out.
Stanfield, who arrived at the U.S. Nationals seventh in the Pro Stock standings, got some much-needed momentum when he won the season title in the 2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge season title by defeating Kyle Koretsky in the final round.
Stanfield clocked a 6.630-second elapsed time at 207.56 mph to defeat Koretsky’s 6.644-second at 207.05 mph lap.
“It's pretty cool. To be honest with you, I didn't even know I had a shot to win the championship of it,” Stanfield said. “Sometimes that's the best way to go into something like that. But I got to thank (Juan) Gonzalez (Mission Foods President and Chief Executive Officer) and Mission Foods for putting on a program for us to add a little bit of more competitive juices out throughout qualifying and throughout the race. My guys gave me a really good Hot Rod today and I drove good enough to get it done and it's always good to do it at Indy.”
Stanfield earned $15,000 throughout the season in the eight 2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge events.
“Well, even in qualifying, I like to turn the win light on,” Stanfield said. “It doesn't matter, so to add a little reward to that is good.”
Stanfield adds to his family’s history at Indy – as he joined his father, Greg, who won the Pro Stock title at the U.S. Nationals in 2010.
“It means a lot. I mean, I saw how much it meant to him to win this race, and obviously I want to do the same thing and that's what I'm here to do. I'm here to really win two trophies this weekend,” Aaron said. “I want to win one in Factory Stock and one in Pro Stock. That's the goal.”
Stanfield has a 13-11 elimination-round record and came to Indy seventh in the points standings. A year ago, Stanfield finished a career-best third in the points standings.
“I think we're getting really close,” Stanfield said. “I say it all the time. You got to peak at the right time to win a championship. I think in years past we've done it really good at the beginning of the year and kind of tapered off. So hopefully we're seeing a taper up.”
Stanfield is plenty busy this weekend competing in Pro Stock and the Factory Stock Showdown, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don't even think about it anymore, really,” Stanfield said about driving multiple cars at national events. “I just remember which switches or what, and that one's got a clutch pedal and oh, I got to shift this one and we're good to go. But I've done this for a couple years, so it's been pretty fluent for me.”
Stanfield admitted inside the car is where he is at peace.
“I always say when you sit down in the car, you just got to clear your mind and focus,” he said. “If we let everything outside of the car affect us, nobody would probably drive very good. So, I think that's it. Just focus on what you got to do when you get in the car. Kind of calm down a little bit and focus, instead of getting pulled in a couple different directions. But that's kind of all the fun of it and that's why this race is just so... Everybody knows how big it is. It's the Super Bowl of drag racing.”
Stanfield is optimistic Saturday’s win will parlay into Monday.
“Well, I definitely hope that it means we're taking a step in the right direction,” Stanfield said. “I'd like to compete for a championship this year, and I know we're a little kind of outside hope, we're a little further down in the points, but hopefully this race, we get it going in the right direction. I think we still got some left in the tank, from what I felt in the race car. We made some really good runs, but I still think, yeah, we have some improvement.”
MATT HARTFORD REMEMBERS MEDIA OBLIGATION - Veteran Pro Stock driver Matt Hartford had never been No. 1 qualifier at a national event – until this year. He has three this year in Las Vegas, Charlotte, N.C., and Norwalk, Ohio. And he’s on the cusp of No. 4 at Indy. He sits atop the qualifying sheet with a 6.569-second elapsed time at 209.23 mph.
“2006 to 2023, what a difference, right?” Hartford said. “2006, we're trying to qualify. 2023, we're sitting potentially as the No. 1 qualifier at Indy. It's a lifelong dream come true. That's the only way to put it. I mean, the only thing that would be better, there's two things that would make this season better. The number one thing is winning the championship. Number two thing would be to win Indy. So, I mean, our goal is to go four rounds here on Monday and then go four rounds for every race in the Countdown (the final six races of the season) and see where the points stack up.
“But our team is really gelled. We've had the same team now for a long time. We're all family. It's my brother, two other best friends, Eddie and Chris, and my wife, Amber, and Jerry Haas is our truck driver. You know that Jerry Haas who builds the race cars, he's also my truck driver, so he's part of our team. We didn't show up at the media center (Friday night). Why? Because we're not used to this type of thing. We're used to, Ok, you get done with qualifying, you just leave. We were hoping to continue to do well, so that we learn that we should be in the media center on Friday night.”
Hartford also was happy with the two solid runs he made on Saturday.
“We got four bonus points (Friday) night. We got four bonus points in Q2. We only got two bonus points that time. Unfortunately, the car deadheaded, which means it didn't go into fifth gear,” Hartford said. “So, when it went to go into fifth gear, it just ratcheted back and forth before it finally went in. Probably worth a hundredth, a hundredth and a half. If it just goes into fifth gear cleanly, I think we have four bonus points for that session as well. I think we made three incredible runs for the conditions.
“(Sunday), the weather shows it's going to be a little bit overall worse than today. I think if you can go out there and run 60 or 61 (Sunday), you're going to have some really good runs. So honestly, I believe (Sunday night), unless something changes overnight, I see that 56 holding going into Monday.”
After a stout run on Friday night, it will allow Hartford to do some tinkering Monday.
“We don't test. So those two runs today, were testing,” Hartford said. (Sunday), the two runs are testing. We're doing stuff that my wife continues to say, ‘Stop testing all the time.’ But that's what we have to do, because we don't have the budget to go rent a track and run three days in the middle of the week. All of us have jobs. We don't have the funding to rent a motor for a test session. So, at the end of the day, when we're fortunate to make the run like we did Friday night, now we have four more runs, because we're looking at the weather, like everybody, knowing it's going to be hard for anybody to get up. Whoever's No. 1 Friday night should stay No. 1. That gives us four test sessions that we normally wouldn't get. We don't want to throw them away, we don't want to make bad decisions, but we want to do things that we normally wouldn't do.”
On Sunday, Hartford is excited to see what his car will do.
“It's really good for us, because we're trying four different setups in the car,” he said. “Two today, two different setups (Sunday), so four different setups. We'll be able to take what we learn out of those four sessions going into Monday, because the conditions are going to be similar. So, whatever we learned (Saturday) and whatever we learn (Sunday), we're going to put that all together and mix it up in the cauldron and decide what is the best way to go up there for Monday.”
Hartford is thrilled to be in the midst of his career-best season – he came to Indy second in the points – but he also happy his longtime crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia is along for the ride.
“I think that he's loving life right now. He's worked his entire career, been in Pro Stock since basically '90, '91,” Hartford said. “He's never had a season like this, regardless of who he's been with, and he's been with everybody. I mean, he's worked for people that's had unlimited funds and he's worked with some of the best drivers, and he's had the lowest of the lows within Pro Stock. This, I would have to say, has got to be his best season that he's ever had. And I think, like myself and the rest of our team, we believe we have the best chance to win a championship that any of us have ever had.”
With great results, comes even more pressure, which Hartford is finding out.
“Have you seen how poorly I've driven the last two races? Yes, the pressure is there,” Hartford said. “Because now that... When you don't have the car to beat, you know you have to go up there and be perfect in the driver's seat and then hope that it puts you mid-pack or you win some rounds. Now, we have the team to beat, and the only way to get beat is for us to basically, make a mistake or lose. So that puts a lot of pressure on me that if I make a mistake, instead of moving on to the next round. The pressure is there every single round, and I just have to do a better job of clearing my head and not worry about what the points are. I just have to go up there and focus on, make a clean run, hit your shift points, leave on time, and the win lights should turn on.”
RICHARD FREEMAN LIKES WHERE HIS ELITE MOTORSPORTS TEAM IS WITH SEVEN RACES LEFT - Richard Freeman, the owner of the powerhouse Elite Motorsports team, likes where his team in Indy and for the remainder of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.
“I think we're in a really good spot,” Freeman said. “I mean, the competition out here is unbelievable. It's fierce, but we've spent most part of the year trying to get our package kind of perfected and it looks like it's coming together at the right time. We kind of faltered a little bit in Brainerd, but at the end of the day, I think we're good.”
Freeman said when Elite Motorsports wins, it is a team effort. All the seperate within the organization help each other.
“Full-blown team effort. I mean, we don't have walls up between our teams,” Freeman said. “It's a full-blown team effort and it's kind of neat to watch, kind of neat to see. It's a lot to take care of, but man, with the partners that we have, JHG, Melling, the Cuadra family, just everyone involved is just unbelievable. And when you have support like that, it's easy to go out and do what you need to do.”
The Elite Motorsports team is led by Erica Enders, the five-time and reigning Pro Stock world champion. Enders has 45 national event wins, once more and she tie Angelle Sampey for most career national event wins by a woman in NHRA history.
“I think Erica's arguably probably the best driver to date in a Pro Stock car,” Freeman said. “I think she fought her way to the top and a little bit different than what young people (do) today, they expect everything right now. It took her a long time to get there, and the stars aligned when she come with us, and we do it with the same people, we've done it with the same people since 2014. The majority of those core people are still here, and we hope it lasts many years to come.”
Most NHRA teams are based in Brownsburg, Ind., or in North Carolina, but Freeman’s operation is in Wynnewood, Okla., which is fine by him.
“That's my home and it's situated kind of in the center of the country and it works out well for us to travel,” Freeman said. “And back in the day when things were difficult to acquire or whatever, that was probably a different story. But today it doesn't matter. Everything's readily available, so we like it there. We don't have a lot of people in and out of our shop and it makes it nice.”
Freeman a moment to discuss his journey to become a powerhouse NHRA Pro Stock owner – something he never saw happening.
“I mean, of course you always had those dreams,” Freeman said. “I stood at the back of the ropes of Warren Johnson's trailer and watched my father and you just try to learn. The sport has changed so much and when we hired Erica, it really solidified who we were, not just me driving, and took more of a business approach. Sometimes it's surreal, but we get to do it as a family and every one of these people here are my family.”
Freeman would no doubt like to see one of his team cars win the U.S. Nationals Monday, but he knows reaching the pinnacle after the six-race Countdown, which begins after Indy is the most important thing.
“I mean, my deal's about just preparing for the Countdown and yes, we would love to win Indy, but for me it's nothing more,” Freeman said.
“I mean, it's a lot of people here and it's more of a community of the people that support us, that come to Indy. And so, we get a lot of stuff done for 2024 for the next year at Indy. So, that's kind of what we use this for. Yeah, we want to win, but it's not anything different for us than any other race.”
There’s no question that Elite Motorsports has developed a rivalry with fellow standout Pro Stock team KB Titan Racing. However, Freeman is able to keep everything in perspective.
“KB has been a powerhouse for a long time and Greg (Anderson) and those guys over there, they're great competitors and we love to race them and so hopefully that lasts for a long time,” Freeman said. “We have mutual respect and there's been times when each of us have had to help the other out with parts, etc. And at the end of the day, we're not curing cancer out here. This is a family-oriented deal, and we want to win, and they want to win, but we're not going to go home and cut our wrists over it.”
CAMRIE CARUSO ENJOYING HER FIRST SEASON WITH KB TITAN RACING - In the 2022 offseason, Pro Stock driver Camrie Caruso joined the stout KB Titan Racing team.
It is a decision she is glad she made. Caruso entered the U.S. Nationals this weekend eight in the points standings. She has a 10-10 elimination-round record highlighted by her win in Phoenix.
“It's been great. Honestly, I've really enjoyed being able to work with the best in Pro Stock,” Caruso said. “Greg is my teammate now. Kyle, Dallas. So, it's been really cool merging our team with theirs and seeing how everybody benefits from it.”
Also, Caruso isn’t lacking confidence on what she can accomplish.
“Honestly, a lot of people don't see it the same way as I do,” she said. “But if we can't do it competitively, I don't want to do it at all. So, we definitely did have these expectations and everything already in our minds because we knew that we aligned ourselves with the right people. And that's the biggest thing in this equation is having the right crew chiefs and crew guys and having people who really know what they're doing and who you can believe in because you have to trust your car or you're not going to do good.”
A year ago, Caruso burst onto the NHRA in Pro Stock, winning NHRA’s Rookie of the Year honor. She finished 12th in the points standings and had a runner-up finish in Houston.
“I learned a lot last year. I've learned how to drive a Pro Stock car, learned how to run a professional team,” Caruso said. “We had a lot to do last year and a lot to learn, but it really set us up good for this year and to come out and do good right away.”
When asked what she likes best about her profession, Caruso didn’t hesitate with an answer.
‘I love driving race cars,” she said. “So honestly, just being in a race car and being competitive is really awesome. And knowing that I don't really have to worry about my car when I go up there. I go up there and I know I have a good car and I know my guys have it under control. So, it's really cool to be able to have confidence in my team and my car.”
Caruso also knows nothing comes easy in the highly competitive Pro Stock class.
“This class is really close, and you have to be on point as well as your car has to be on point and everything has to mesh together for it to be a winning weekend and do good,” Caruso said. “So, it's definitely very important to be on your game every time you get in. I have a simulator at home that has the tree and the shift lights (to practice on). I work on that when I'm home. But just staying in focus and making sure that you're doing what you need to do.”
Although Caruso’s only in year two of her Pro Stock journey she would be thrilled to add a U.S. Nationals victory to her resume Monday.
“That would be awesome. Indy is one of the biggest races of the year,” Caruso said. “It's points and a half, it's right before the Countdown, so it does play a big part and it is important, so we want to win every race we go to, but Indy would be pretty cool.”
Caruso believes her team is on the cusp of turning on more win lights moving forward.
“We're really close with everything. Dallas (Glenn) has been on a really good streak here lately, but honestly, if we can't bring home the Wally at every race, then at least a KB Titan car can,” Caruso said. “So, we're happy for him and we'll see how the Countdown goes.”
SIENNA WILDGUST PREPARING FOR HER PRO STOCK DEBUT IN 2024 - Every year, NHRA classes add new drivers, and the Pro classes are no exception.
In 2024, there will be in a new face in the Pro Stock category will be Sienna Wildgust.
Wildgust, 17, from Ontario, Canada is slated to drive a Chevy Camaro for the powerhouse KB Titan Racing team next season. Sienna’s father Scott drives in the Pro Mod class.
Sienna turns 18 years old in June of 2024 and has cut her teeth bracket racing.
“So, I'm starting to test next month,” Sienna said. “After January will technically be my 18th birth year, so I can compete in March before my birthday, so I can still compete when I'm 17. It just has to be in your 18th birth year. I'm going to test up until March of next year and then hopefully in March will be my debut at the Gators (the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.).”
“Well, I've always thought that Pro Stock was a real race car class. There's a clutch in it and I thought that it was really cool. I was going to drive 632 in PDRA and race in the PDRA like my dad. Then Eric (Latino) had mentioned to my dad that Pro Stock might be a good idea instead of having to learn 632 and then having to go back into Pro Stock with Pro Stock being my ultimate goal. Then, Eric asked for me to join his team and it's been awesome.”
Wildgust knows she has a big learning curve, but she’s ready for the challenge ahead.
“So obviously not as fast or with a clutch, but I think Dallas (Glenn) is mainly going to teach me and be on my door with me,” Wildgust said. “So, I think that the learning curve is going to be difficult, but I'll have Dallas and everybody else, all my teammates, and I think that that'll really help me, and it'll be a bit easier having them teach me and them being there for me. We're hoping a couple times, probably, a month at least. I'm really excited, but I feel like that time in between is going to be really good to test and get as many hits in the car as I can so that in March, hopefully I can put on a show for everybody.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - HARTFORD SAILS TO THE TOP WHILE CUADRA CHANGES APPROACH
MATT HARTFORD GOES TO TOP OF CLASS IN PRO STOCK FRIDAY - Veteran Pro Stock driver Matt Hartford is having a career-best season in 2023.
That trend continued Sept. 1 in Q1 at the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Hartford clocked a 6.569-second elapsed time at 209.23 mph to take the provisional No. 1 spot.
“I’ve struggled at the last few races with my driving, but I’m determined to make up for it at Indy,” said Hartford, who pilots the Total Seal Chevy Camaro. “That was a nice way to start but it will be interesting to see if that holds during by Sunday afternoon. It might, and it might not but it’s a good way to start the weekend. We’ll take it.”
Hartford came to Indy second in the points standings with one win in Norwalk, Ohio and a runner-up effort in Pomona, Calif.
“We come into Indy with the same mindset we have anywhere else,” Hartford said. “Try to qualify the top of the page and try to go four rounds here Monday, not Sunday. But Indy's just another race. Yeah, it's the biggest race of the year. Everybody wants to win Indy. I want to win Indy. I've got a runner up here, but at the end of the day, does it really matter what races you win? I mean, you want to win them all. There's not any race that you go to and say, ‘Well if I don't win that one, that's okay.’ No, you go to every race for the same mindset. You come here to win. And that's our goal is to get prepared for the Countdown. It's going to be a long grueling six races coming up after this race.”
Hartford, who is running power from KB Titan Racing, is happy to have that power at his disposal.
“I mean we've been with KB tight now for many years and what I have to say about them is they definitely are extremely hardworking, intelligent individuals at the shop, but most important is they're as honest as anybody you'll deal with in racing,” Hartford said. “When they roll an engine over and they say this engine is X, you can count on it being exactly what they say. We're never wondering, do we have the power that's in Kyle's car or Greg's car or Dallas's car? We know exactly what we have in comparison and that speaks volumes for just the integrity that that shop has.”
Hartford, who has been running in the Pro Stock class since 2006, has had three No. 1 qualifiers this season in Las Vegas, Charlotte, N.C., and Norwalk, Ohio.
“Honestly, I love the challenge of the behind-the-scenes aspects of Pro Stock way more than the challenges of being in the limelight on the starting line,” Hartford said. “Working on the cars is definitely more, I would say it's more of an adventure for me than driving the cars. I do love driving, but just knowing that we have the same power as what's next door to us and when we go out there and outrun them or run right with them, that says a lot.
“We're a small team. All of us have day jobs during the week and Pro Stock is not our first line of employment. So, for us not to have a shop to where the car goes and gets worked on every day in between races, it says a lot for our team, and it says a lot for just how much work ethic goes into it from everybody on our team and just how capable everybody is on our team.”
To go from a racer hoping to make a Pro Stock field to becoming a championship contender isn’t lost on Hartford.
“I'm really honored to have been racing as long as I have been,” Hartford said. “I've been racing in a lot of categories for many, many years. But to be looked at right now as someone, a team that when we roll to the starting line, we have as good a chance of winning any round or any race as anybody on the grounds and that's very satisfying. Right now, it is one run at a time, one race at a time. But our goal is to win every single round when we go to the starting line, if we do that, the box score will say that we won the championship.”
FERNANDO CUARDRA RUNNING A CAMARO IN INDY - Fernando Cuadra Jr., has not had the year he wanted after 11 races this season.
Cuadra came to the U.S. Nationals this weekend, 14th in the points standings on the strength of four round wins.
Those results led to him switching cars in Indy. He’s stepping out of his Ford Mustang and into a Chevy Camaro.
“This is Jeg (Coughlin’s) car form 2019,” Cuadra said about his Camaro. “We're just trying something different, just to see if the body has something to do with it. We went testing in Tulsa, (Okla.), (Aug. 29), and then we're here. (The test) went pretty well. The racetrack was really hot, but it still went down pretty well.”
Cuadra said he made nine laps in the Camaro during the test session.
“Yeah, it was just checking that the car went down,” Cuadra said. “The first and the third (qualifying sessions) should be the best here.”
Cuadra said the Ford he was driving may have been having aerodynamics issues.
“I've always been (in a Ford). It's just that the class got so much more competitive right now that it's harder,” Cuadra said.
Cuadra Jr. said his team has ordered a brand-new RJ car that is going to get delivered next year, in April, and he's waiting to commit to driving either a Ford or Camaro.
“Depending on this weekend (we will see if) we're going to change the body or not,” Cuadra said. “We have Christian (Cuadra, his brother’s) car that is a Mustang and it's running very well. So...”
Fernando Cuadra Jr. has now competed in 58 NHRA Pro Stock races and he made his debut in the class in 2019.
“It's pretty fun. All the family here, it's amazing,” Cuadra Jr. said. “That's what we love. And getting to spend time with all your brothers, your dad, your mom, it's pretty nice.”
Cuadra Jr. lives in Leon Guanajuato, Mexico and does plenty of traveling to compete in NHRA.
“Yes, a lot of them,” Cuadra Jr. said about his frequent flyer miles. “The organization (NHRA), that's everything (about competing in the sanctioning body). Everything is rule mandated, and you have to go by the rules. So that's what I like. This is a very well-run organization.”
Representing Mexico is something Cuadra Jr. takes pride in.
“It's pretty nice. Everybody is supporting us in Mexico, telling us, ‘Keep going.’ Because we're the only ones doing it,” Fernando Jr. said. “And Christian was the first Mexican-born No. 1 qualifier (in Phoenix in March of 2023). So, it's pretty nice when you go back, and you do good. Everybody is very happy. If you don't do good, they are still very happy. So, it's nice.
“I do enjoy it (competing in Indy). I especially like that it's five qualifying (runs), and you race on Monday. It's really exciting. And of course, it's the U.S. Nationals, so everybody wants to win this race.”
Fernando Cuadra Sr. is thrilled that his sons. Fernando Jr., Cristian and David are all competing in the NHRA ranks.
“Well first of all, that's not that simple, to have your own sons, all three, in the same sport, that you love the most,” Fernando Sr. said. “And then the discipline and that they're very well organized. They do the mechanics and working on the cars like changing gears and clutches and adjustments and stuff. They love it and enjoy it, not only driving. We had the debate, remember the movie that they have Ford Vs. Ferrari? Well, this is going to be Ford vs. Camaro. That's the only one way to do it. Get the car, put it at the truck, run it with the same people, same engine, same thing, like the Mustangs. And we are going to do back-to-back. So, we'll see the point.”
Fernando Sr. is driving a Ford in Indy – the family-owned Ford that he will be driving for the first time.
“With my experience, his experience, and the driving scenario,” Fernando Sr. said. “We will compare. We are going to see what the reality is. Everybody thinks, they say the wind tunnels. I said listen, ‘Bring it in, put it at the racetrack. Same event, five rounds. If we don't have the answers, we're stupid.’”
Cristian made his Pro Stock debut in 2019 and this season he comes to Indy 10th in the season points standings and has two semifinal appearances and six round wins.
“It's a very fast learning curve for him and it's because they're dedicated,” Fernando Sr. said. So, today (Friday), they wake up six o'clock. I said, ‘Guys, we have qualifying around at 6 p.m.’ He said, ‘Well, we want to be prepared.’”
David, who has raced part-time in Pro Stock, is competing in Top Sportsman in Indy in a Dodge Charger.
“It's a Pro Mod car,” Fernando Sr. said. “Yeah, it is very fast. He's learning to see if he wants to try one of these one of these days in Pro Mod. The next step to be there is Top Sportsman.”
Fernando Sr. said his sons aren’t just drag racers.
“When they studied their own careers in college, they also studied to be airplane pilots in the United States. All three of them have pilot licenses. I promised them to buy the airplane, the Cessna 206 single engine. So, they have their own airplane to fly.
“I don't push them. Everybody thinks as father, I’m saying come on, let's do it. No, no, no, no, zero. It's like the Pro Stocks. David said, ‘Let me try Pro Stock. Look, can I run my Top Sportsman for this event? Because he has a very good chance to do something very heavy. He's very good driver and the car is stupid fast. So why not?”
Fernando Sr. said David will return to the Pro Stock ranks at some point before the season ends.
“We are thinking Dallas, for sure,” Fernando Sr. said about David running Pro Stock again. “There's going to be Dallas and Vegas. We don't know yet on the other ones. Probably Charlotte (N.C.), but we don't know. And it all depends on the results this weekend. There's going to be a lot of defining situations this weekend.”
TJ COUGHLIN ENJOYING PRO STOCK RIDE: After a breakout season in 2022, TJ Coughlin is continuing his momentum in 2023.
Coughlin, an accomplished Sportsman racer, finished fourth in the points and won races in Seattle and Topeka.
This season, he answered two more wins in Gainesville, Fla., and Denver in his Jegs.com/White Castle Chevy Camaro, and arrived in Indy fourth in the points for the Elite Motorsports team. Coughlin has a 15-9 elimination-round record.
“I was riding high in April, shot down in May,” Coughlin said. “That's just part of it, but that's the exciting part. The setbacks are buildups for comebacks and the men in yellow and black, they work so hard to keep this thing on the ground and running. I think that's my motivation for how hard everybody on this car works, Mark (Ingersoll), and the boys in the lounge. Just how the effort they put in into making these cars work so well and get better. There's seven days in a week to get better and all of us on this car use every single one of those days. So, it's very contagious to want to get better. Every run. You're constantly working at it and it's just extremely exciting. So, there's definitely no extreme low points being out here, especially in the Elite Motorsports camp. It's always positive. We're always looking forward. The Jegs.com/White Castle machine's always positive, got a smile on our face and we're ready to go to the next race.”
Coughlin Jr. acknowledged his 2022 success was a key jolt for him.
“I think just the fact that you can withstand that test of time,” Coughlin said. “I mean, this is a really tough class. You're pretty much racing a bunch of gladiators and drag cars. I mean, you have to be absolutely precise and, on your game, every single lap. Whether it's a test session or Q one, Q two, three or four. And that's exciting to me. I love that. And to win just one of these races is an extreme honor and it's almost unbelievable.”
Coughlin has won Indy and in Super Comp (2010) and Super Gas (2014) and he would love to add Pro Stock champ on his resume.
“It's a Monday-to-Monday Fest in the Sportsman category,” Coughlin said. “So, it's a marathon. But like anything in drag racing, it's a mental juggernaut. You got to know when to turn it on. You got to know when to turn it off, and you got to go for it. It's intense, it's passionate and you got to get after it.”
Growing up in the storied Coughlin family, TJ didn’t see any other career path for himself.
“There's really no memory in my mind of wanting to do anything else really,” TJ said. “I watched my dad do it, his dad did it, my uncles did it. There are really no other thoughts I had. I didn't really want to be a football star, a basketball star, a golfer or anything like that. I wanted to compete in a race car, and I wanted to learn how to get better and look at the resources I have. Between my Uncle Jeg, Uncle Mike, my dad, my Uncle John, my grandfather Jeg Sr. Gosh, I am definitely the luckiest kid in the pits. I've said that one million times, it's been a journey. It's been a lot of fun and I can't wait to keep going.”
Despite being a lifelong drag racer Coughlin doesn’t take his need for speed to the streets.
“I've never been ticketed,” Coughlin said. “I'm really not a Hot Rodder on the streets. There are a few country roads where I live in Ostrander, Ohio, which is pretty remote. I might've gotten on a few cars there, but never been cited. I've always kind of gotten all my speed demons out on a drag strip, and that's what the NHRA is known for and is awesome for. We're lucky we get to do what we do and love it.”
Winning a world championship is in Coughlin’s mind, but it doesn’t consume him.
“Well, a national championship always is the goal that's in sight, but I think over here we kind of break it down and it just making really good qualifying runs and really just kind of look at what's in front of you,” Coughlin said. “Here's the runs we got to make today, and we got to try and get in the top five and get a good look for Monday in this case. So, taking one lap at a time and get in a good position.”
Coughlin was quick to credit to his wife, Brenna, for keeping him grounded and being there for their daughter Aubrey, 2.
“Well, originally (Brenna) was from Cincinnati and she moved to Columbus when she was in the fifth grade,” TJ said. “I met her 2015, 2016. She was at a practice tree fundraiser event, and we just hit it off. She didn't know what drag racing was. Believe me, it was a nice break. But she's grown to really love it and I'm really lucky. She likes it and he likes bringing Aubrey with us. They go to a few (races). She's a nurse at the local hospital in Delaware, Ohio. She works really hard at home, and we've got Aubrey in a great daycare. So, we're always busy. There's always something going on. I give Brenna the most credit in the world. She's hair on fire, busy. Works extremely hard and is an extremely amazing mother to keep Aubrey as sound as she is, with all this chaos going on and a drag racer and a parts salesman for a dad, I can only imagine, good god. There’s never a dull moment.”
GREG ANDERSON TAKES TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: The 2022 U.S. Nationals was a race Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson will never forget.
It was last September at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park that Anderson beat his teammate Dallas Glenn, who had a redlight start, captured his coveted 100th career Pro Stock NHRA national event victory at his favorite race the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
“That was a special one. And at the very most special place, there's no other place like Indy,” Anderson said. “It's always been my favorite. It's the one that means the most to me. It's the one that's the most fun to win. And yeah, that deal last year was, I couldn't ask for anymore. It was perfect, absolutely perfect. What a way to get my hundredth win, so yeah, dream place for me.”
Anderson’s victory total is 101, but he has to find the winner’s circle in 2023. He hopes that changes in Indy.
“It's been a good track to me over the years,” Anderson said. “I've been fortunate here. I've been able to win a few times, and it's just a feel-good track for me. I love coming here. I love what the race is all about. I love the fact that it's bigger, it's longer, it's tougher, it's harder. It's just all the above, and it's a great race service, and it just fits my program. I love racing here.”
Anderson has seven wins in Indy – 2001, 2003-2006, 2011 and 2022. Only Bob Glidden has won more Pro Stock races at the U.S. Nationals – nine – with the last coming in 1988.
Anderson admitted keeping up with his talented team at KB Titan Racing is a challenge. The KB Titan Racing stable includes Anderson, Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky, Deric Kramer, Matt Hartford, and Camrie Caruso.
“Well, it's certainly been tough on me, but I'm also still proud of it. I'm certainly happy for them, and I'm proud that I picked some good people to surround myself with,” Anderson said. “And the negative of it is they use me up most every weekend, but it's still good. It's great for the future of the sport. It's great for the future of KB Titan Racing, and I couldn't be prouder of the job they're all doing. They've all taken to it like ducks to water. They're excelling, and they're going to be champions. No doubt about it, they're going to be champions down the road.”
Anderson realizes in the tightly contested Pro Stock class reaction times are paramount.
“That's certainly the biggest thing for me, and that's what's dividing everybody right now,” Anderson said. “The power is so even with all the top, really 15, 16 cars that it comes down to who does the best job driving. I've certainly got experience, but I'm not going to lie, that reaction is not what it used to be. So, I can still do it. I just can't seem to do it every day, every single run. So, the young guns have no problem with that. It's automatic for them, so I have to have a good day to beat them. And I still got some of them days left, so I'm not ready to give it up yet, and I still think I can get it done. So hopefully this weekend shows that the old dudes can still win.”
Anderson also is proud of how well the KB Titan Racing merger has worked in 2023.
“It's been great. It's been wonderful. I've got some bright people that work for me that we added to the roster and a lot of great equipment,” Anderson said. “It's a bigger team, but it's a better team, no question about it. And we've got depth from top to bottom. We've got all kinds of people that can pick up and do things when the other guy can't get it done, so it's great. It is the best group of people I've had around me all my career, and it's showing the fruits. The team has been good. The team's been winning races and been good all year. And I expect it's going to continue to get better, so I'm pretty darn happy about the whole deal.”
When Anderson made his NHRA Pro Stock debut in 1998, he could have never imagined being the all-time victory leader in the class.
“No, I certainly didn't,” Andersons said. “I didn't set out to be the winningest guy in Pro Stock. I set out to probably just hope I could qualify for a Pro Stock race. And then after that, hopefully I could win a race. And it's gone so far, but that's what can happen if you surround yourself with the right people, and that's what I'm the proudest of. I've been able to surround myself with great people, built a great race team, and we've got a lot of race wins. They're not Greg Anderson's race wins, they're KB Racing's race wins. And it's the team that I've assembled that's got all those wins, so it's been fantastic. It has way exceeded any goals that I had or any dreams that I had, but at the same time, as you said, records are made to be broken. And whatever records I've got now, those will be broken someday, I have no doubt about that. And hopefully I'm around to see it.”
With the six-race Countdown to the Championship beginning after Indy, Anderson knows that is the time to shine.
“I am not going to lie, I probably experimented a little bit too much this year in the preseason or the regular season, whatever you want to call it,” Anderson said. “But I'm ready now to show what we've learned over the year and what this team has become, and I'm ready to give it a roll. And I think I've got as good a shot as anybody. Yes, of the 10 or 12 cars that qualify for the playoffs, any one of them is going to be able to win this year, no matter where you're seated. I just got to get hot at the right time. I haven't got hot yet, but I'm close. I'm knocking on the door, the performance is back there, and just got to get my head right and I think I can contend for another championship. It's going to be exciting, and hopefully we're peaking at the right time of year.”
DAVE CONNOLLY DISCUSSES INDY, DRIVING: Dave Connolly is one of the powerhouse crew chiefs at KB Titan Racing.
He comes to Indy with plenty of successful intel to use as he is ready to put his knowledge to use.Connolly has won as a driver and helped guide Greg Anderson to the winner’s circle in 2022 and Tanner Gray in 2018.
“Honestly, it's not much different than any other race, but there's just more prestige to it,” Connolly said. “And it was huge obviously last year. It was big with getting Greg his hundredth win here. But yeah, it's just, as far as the crew chief position, we get a couple more runs here. We get five qualifiers. So, looking at the weather going into the weekend, we know that (Friday) going to be the best run. And then we're going to go into a little bit of a test mode and try to work some things out Saturday, Sunday and try to put ourselves in the best position we can for Monday.”
In the upcoming Countdown to the Championship, Connolly explained how important simple math is to winning a world championship.
“If you win races, if you win rounds, you're going to win races and if you win races, you're going to win a championship,” Connolly said. “So, no one round is going to be more important. You got to approach every round. It's so competitive and there's so many good cars out there. So many good drivers that you just got to stay aggressive each and every round and go up there with the mindset to make the best run you can because a first-round loss in the Countdown will really hinder your championship chances. So, we are going to try to avoid the early exits and again, do the best we can every round because with the quality of cars, there's no easy ones.
“We've been working all year to try to get even power across all the cars and get them as close as possible and let the drivers do their job on (Monday). So just try to get as many good quality bullets in the chamber as we can and fire away on race day.”
Connolly, who has driven all types of cars in his career including Pro Stock and Top Fuel, still dabbles behind the wheel.
“There's about five or six big dollar bracket races that I hit up every year,” Connolly said. “For me, honestly, I'm pretty much done until November, December down in Florida. There's a bunch of 50-granders coming up down there. My racing has gone to the wayside a little bit with the Pro Stock schedule and having two kids now, (two boys, Bryson and Baylor).”
Connolly did confirm he is going to run a Pro Stock car in the inaugural PRO Superstar Shootout, Feb. 8-10, 2024, at Bradenton (Fla.) Motorsports Park. The event is designed to be a high-stakes, big-money race featuring the stars of Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock.
The PRO Superstar Shootout will present a total purse of $1.3 million, with $250,000 going to the Top Fuel and Funny Car winners and $125,000 going to the Pro Stock winner. The event will be live-streamed on FloRacing.
“I haven't drove (a Pro Stock car), I think since, I don't know, 2017 or '18, whenever Brainerd was, when I ran one of the Gray cars and that was just literally three or four runs,” Connolly said. But yeah, I haven't drove in quite some time. But it'll be fun. It was something Matt Hartford and Greg Anderson put together. KB Titan teamed up with Hartford with his new car. Yeah, we're going to go out there and try to make some noise.
“It's not too far away, actually. So yeah, I'm excited. Obviously, I enjoy being a part of it and getting to work on these cars, but driving is still a lot of fun. I definitely miss it. So, if they're going to leave the keys in it in February, I'm going to crank it up and see what we can do.”
LESTER MCGAHA HOPEFUL HIS TEAM WILL TURN CORNER IN INDY: The father-son Pro Stock duo of Chris McGaha and Mason McGaha has had its share of success. Chris has won eight NHRA national events, and Mason has two runner-up finishes and 10 semifinal performances.
This season, however, things have not gone well for the team based out of Odessa, Texas. Mason is 13th in the points standings and won just three rounds and Chris is 15th in the points, with only one round win this season.
Lester McGaha, Chris’ father, and Mason’s grandfather is optimistic his team will get things on track – beginning this weekend in Indy for the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals Sept. 1-4.
“Well, we spent three days up in Martin, Michigan (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) running, and I think we fixed the blue car (Mason’s car),” McGaha said. “Yeah, but we're still struggling with the silver car (Chris’ car). We found some issues with the blue one that we got fixed, but we're still working on the silver car. We had a pretty good test with (Mason’s car). Shoot, between the two cars, it was probably nine runs apiece.
“I think (Mason’s car) will run pretty good now. This one over here (Chris’ car), it will still work. We're still working on. We think we know what some of the problems are with it. We just didn't have the stuff to fix it. So, we're still working on it.
“Sometimes you work yourself behind the eight-ball and we worked behind it, and we haven’t ever found our way back around it again. We'll just see how (Mason’s) car runs. If his runs good, we've got some ideas with (Chris’).
“We try different things. It doesn't matter if we got three or if we've got five (qualifying runs). It's tough out here, no doubt about it. You got nine cars on one team and six or seven on the other and they all got the same tune-up, they all got the same crew chiefs and they're all good. There's no doubt about it. So, we just got to work harder. That's all there is to it.”
Lester has a simple answer to why he keeps on racing with his family.
“Well, I'm not a golfer, I'm not a fisherman, I'm not a hunter, and this is about the only thing I like doing, and as long as they'll keep coming with me, I'll keep coming,” he said.