1. BADER’S TRIBUTE TO FORCE - In all of drag racing, there exists no dynamic quite like the one between 16-time Funny Car world champion John Force and the Bader family.

Some of Force’s most cherished moments as a driver involve his interactions with the late Bill Bader and his son, Bill Jr., across various events at Summit Motorsports Park. From the early days of the Night Under Fire to the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Force and the Baders have consistently delivered a spectacle that few motorsport venues can match.

Over the years, race fans have grown accustomed to seeing Force in his firesuit, riding his scooter up and down the return road, while Bader Sr., and now Bader Jr., engage in playful banter and impromptu interviews.

As Force's pit area sits vacant this weekend due to his hospitalization following a harrowing 300-mile-per-hour accident in Virginia last weekend, Bader Jr. reflected on the immense void left by Force’s absence from the lineup.

“First and foremost, John is a personal friend,” Bader said. “I love John Force. I’ve been a guest in John’s home. I worked for John for a period of time. And I know in my heart what John would say to me if I would have gone to visit him. He would have said, ‘Kid, we have to put on a show.’

“Do I miss him? Terribly. Do I pray for him every morning? One hundred percent. But the best way I feel I can honor John is to create memories for these fans and do the very best that we can, because that is what John would want us to do.”

Bader also shared just what it means to see so many tributes pour in for John in the pits and throughout the grandstands. From homemade signs to driver tributes to stories shared, it has been powerful seeing the impact Force has had in the lives of fans and drivers.

“I think sometimes we don’t know how many lives we touch. We don’t always know how much impact we have on others,” Bader said. “There isn’t a fan here that isn’t thinking about John. I guarantee you that nearly all of them have a story. And I think that nearly all of those stories end with a smile. I hope, in some small way, that John understands what a difference he has made in so many people's lives.”

With so much emotion surrounding this weekend’s festivities at Summit Motorsports Park, what would be the perfect ending to pay tribute to the 16-time champ? Bader is not shy in sharing.

John Force racing Funny Car driver “Austin Prock is the top qualifier. That kid has incredible tenacity to be able to do what he is doing and I admire the hell out of him for it,” Bader said. “We all know how we want this storybook to end, I guess we will find out tomorrow.”



2. WET START, FAST ENDING - A soggy start Saturday gave way to some very quick times and exciting racing despite the challenging conditions generated by the sticky, humid air at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the Top Fuel category, where defending world champion Doug Kalitta broke the track speed record en route to his first win in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge and fourth pole position of the year.

Kalitta defeated Antron Brown in the final of the specialty race-within-a-race with a 3.703-second pass at 337.16 mph to Brown’s 3.755 at 328.22 mph, while his Friday night lap of 3.692 seconds was good enough to maintain the top qualifier award. Kalitta added a win over Tony Stewart to advance to the final of the specialty race.

“I have a heck of a ride right now,” Kalitta said. “Alan (Johnson) and this whole Mac Tools team are all working hard, doing their job, and I couldn’t be happier. We set the bar Friday night and, fortunately, it held on there.”

In Funny Car, Austin Prock continued his domination of the class with his seventh top qualifier award of the season in 10 races and his third straight win, and fourth overall, in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge.

Prock ran his quickest pass of the weekend in the final of the specialty race in a win over Bob Tasca III with a 3.853 at 329.10 mph. He simultaneously secured the yellow top qualifier's hat to place him atop the ladder entering eliminations Sunday. Tasca ran a 3.882 at 329.50 mph in the losing effort.

“It is very impressive. This AAA team is a bunch of animals right now,” Prock said. “I told the team, 'You are going to have to run low of the weekend to win,' because Tasca is so tough and we were happy to get another one for Force. It has been a tough weekend for sure, but turning on win lights is helpful.”

Greg Anderson continued Saturday’s top qualifier/Mission #2Fast2Tasty winner streak with a victory over rival Erica Enders. Anderson defeated Enders with a 6.595 at 204.94 mph to Enders’ 6.619 at 205.54 mph. Additionally, Anderson remained atop the Pro Stock qualifying ladder with his 6.592 from Q1, surviving three additional rounds and holding steady for this third No. 1 qualifier of the season.

“Proud weekend for me and we are off to a great start,” Anderson said. “Had a great day yesterday and a great day today. We have a great tuneup for tomorrow and that is what I am looking forward to. That is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for me.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle saw the streak of competitors doubling up broken as Matt Smith retained the top qualifier award from Friday with his stout 6.748, while the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge saw a new winner in the category in Richard Gadson.

In the PSM shootout, Gadson defeated John Hall with a 6.819 at 196.87 to Hall’s 6.857 at 197.86 mph. Still, it was Smith who will pace the field heading into eliminations.



3. KIND OF A BIG DEAL - Matt Hagan is not a tuxedo kind of guy.

In fact, you are much more likely to see the muscular Funny Car driver in jeans and a cowboy hat than you are sporting a tie and dress shoes. But later this year, Hagan will trade in his firesuit for a penguin suit when he walks the red carpet at the 2024 ESPY awards presented by ESPN.

Earlier this week it was announced that the reigning NHRA Funny Car champion is the latest drag racer to be nominated for an ESPY for Best Driver for his standout 2023 NHRA season.

“It is a huge honor to be nominated for an ESPY,” Hagan said. “It is one of those things where I am blown away because you have four championships and 50 some wins and you think, why me? You never really think about being at this level because I never even thought I’d be a professional race car driver. It is just something that kind of happened. It goes to show you what you can do when you surround yourself with good people and a good crew.

“I’ve never been to a red-carpet event like that, and I am looking forward to the experience. I am excited to run down there to L.A. and be around many great athletes and different folks from so many sports around the world.”

While a drag racer has never won the prestigious best driver category at the ESPN-hosted event, Hagan is just excited to have an opportunity to represent the straight-line sport on the world stage.

But this won’t be the first time Hagan has been thrust into the spotlight as a representative for the world’s fastest sport. Entering his third year at Tony Stewart Racing, having Stewart as a team owner -- and now a teammate as a driver himself -- the additional exposure that Stewart brings to each race weekend has been a welcomed spotlight, and he lauds having the opportunity to teach drag racing to a whole new group of fans curious about the sport chosen by the NASCAR Hall of Famer.

“Tony brings a lot to the table,” Hagan said. “Obviously, the sponsorships and just his name recognition, plus all of the stuff we have been able to accomplish over the years, it has been a shot in the arm for us and for NHRA. Honestly, I am kind of shocked (NHRA) doesn’t utilize him more than they do. John Force has been such a good thing for NHRA for so long, and this is kind of like the new blood that came into town. It has been nothing but great things since Tony came aboard. He is just a great guy.”

Of course, being under a microscope all of the time isn’t always a good thing, as noted by an incident that took place following the race in Bristol.

“We were doing a press conference in Bristol and he said some things joking around that we all knew was a joke, but some in the media took it and twisted it for clickbait,” Hagan said. “I was so pissed off to read that kind of stuff. They pitched him against his wife and other things. I was also upset with our media up in the box because no one came to his rescue and said that it was out of context.”

Hagan added, “I guess I’ve never had that many famous friends that I’ve had to deal with stuff like this.”

Being on the road with his team boss for months at a time, Hagan said that many people misunderstand Stewart and his position in the sport. Hagan also said that he has seen a side to the three-time NASCAR champion that most people don’t see, and if people got to know his team boss they would understand what an asset they have at the drag strip.

“I’ve seen him do a lot of good things for a lot of good people,” Hagan said. “We had a guy on our team that had a kid in ICU, and he put him on a jet and sent him home. I’ve had people come up to me and say they couldn’t have children and that Tony paid for them to adopt to start a family. I’ve only known him for three years, but I’ve seen a different side to him. Tony brings so much to the table, but he is also just a genuinely good guy and he is the type of person you want to put yourself around.”




4. BIG NUMBERS AHEAD - Erica Enders has a passion for numbers.

Nothing quite thrills her like a stellar elapsed time, breaking a track record, or adding another solid win to her tally.

It's no wonder Enders is eagerly anticipating surpassing several historic milestones later this year if the racing gods will allow.

Enders is just two wins away from 50 in her illustrious Pro Stock career, and she is just 12 round wins from 500 after 20 years behind the wheel. So what would it mean to surpass those numbers in 2024? The world.

“With the way we are currently running, they seem to keep evading us,” Enders said. “We keep talking about that 50th and I remember when Greg (Anderson) was on the heels of his 100th, and it took him until Indy that season to get it done. That part of it really sucks, but if you step back and take a bird's-eye view of what we have done in a short time at Elite Motorsports, I am really proud of it.”

Enders joined Elite Motorsports in 2013 with just six Pro Stock wins to her name. Now, a little over a decade later, Enders is sitting on 48 career wins in the category with six world championships and plenty of records -- both national and track. All are numbers she never imagined she would touch when she was a struggling competitor just trying to find a place in the sport.

“I remember in 2015 when we won Indy and I tied Shirley Muldowney for second in all-time wins behind Angelle (Sampey) at 18, and that feels like just yesterday,” Enders said. “I remember looking at who was ahead of me and how many she had and I thought, ‘There is no way I will race long enough to get to that number.’ We eventually passed her and now we are on the heels of 50, it is crazy.”

Of course, with those clean, round, historic numbers also come the expectations and constant speculation of when you are going to get it done. When Greg Anderson was sitting on 99 wins, it took him months -- and hundreds of interviews -- to finally break through with the historic mark. Enders hopes that her time being asked when it will come will be much shorter, especially amidst a drought of eight races without a visit to the winner’s circle.

“It is aggravating that we haven’t been able to get it yet, but on the other side of it my guys have been giving me a great race car,” Enders said. “I’ve been known for my starting line prowess and I’ve sucked here lately. I think I’ve lost on a few holeshots these last few races that I don’t take lightly. I could have parked this car in the winner’s circle long before now, but it has been on my shoulders. I take a lot of pride in my driving and my reaction times, which is something I have been working on.

“We have made significant changes to the car just trying to get better, but when you move that marker your competition moves right with you.”

While that 50th win may still be weeks, months or years ahead, Enders is reflective of the success she has enjoyed in the sport and just how much has changed in the Pro Stock landscape during her 20 years behind the wheel.

“The competition is tough and now, instead of racing a bunch of middle-aged men, I’m racing a bunch of kids,” Enders said. “The whole demographic has changed really, and I think it is cool and good for our sport.

“We just keep pushing forward. I feel like I say it all of the time, but people are the most important part of the puzzle and I have an amazing group here. This will be where I finish my career.”

5. NORWALK MAGIC - There is just something special about Summit Motorsports Park for Blake Alexander.

While most drivers have their favorite tracks, or facilities that they just seem to perform better at each year, for Alexander, the track in northern Ohio has simply been magic.

Alexander has three career wins in the professional categories of the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series since joining the sport back in 2017 -- two in Top Fuel and one in Funny Car -- but two of those wins came right here in Norwalk, Ohio. In fact, Alexander won his first career Top Fuel race back here back in 2018, and then did the same with his first Funny Car win last year to become just the 18th NHRA driver to win a race in both nitro categories.

Some may call it coincidence. Others may call it fate. But whatever you call it, Alexander just refers to it as hard work by him and his team.

“Maybe there is just something in the water,” Alexander joked. “We’ve always won a lot of close drag races here and we would like to keep doing that. I enjoyed last year a lot because I have always done things my own way. I feel like I have that autonomy to do that here at Jim Head Racing and we just kind of had everything come together last year for a nice moment. And we have carried that momentum forward every race since.”

Alexander enters this weekend’s event 10th in the Funny Car standings and is qualified in the top half of the field for the sixth time this season as he looks for more magic in Ohio.

“It is unique to have done what we have done here,” Alexander said. “I have a lot of friends in town now that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. But it says a lot about our team. I work really hard to make all of this happen and all of the guys on the race team work really hard. We just do the work and see what happens.”


6. ALL IN THE FAMILY - Earlier this week, 12-time NHRA Top Fuel winner Leah Pruett announced that she and three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart are expecting their first child. The due date is in November.

Pruett stepped away from drag racing entering this season so that she and Stewart, her husband, could start a family. In a social media post, the 53-year-old Stewart revealed that the new family member will be a boy.

Stewart is competing this weekend in the Top Fuel category behind the wheel of his TSR Direct Connection dragster. This weekend also marks a year since Pruett’s most recent win in the series, a victory in the 2023 Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.



7. BIG GAINS - Sometimes, it is hard to believe just how much sports, competitors and machines evolve over time.

In a sport measured by fractions of a second, a few numbers to the right of the decimal may not seem like much, but in drag racing it can be the difference between success and utter failure.

Take, for example, Top Fuel competitor Spencer Massey.

When Massey won the race at Summit Motorsports Park in this same class back in 2012, the pole position that weekend was a 3.829 seconds recorded by Steve Torrence. In the final, Massey ran a 3.916 to defeat Torrence and claim one of his 18 career nitro victories.

Fast forward 12 years later, and Massey’s 3.807 on Friday night -- good enough to decimate the competition in 2012 -- didn’t even get Massey into the field.

“It is pretty awesome how quick and how fast these cars can run,” Massey said. “Back in my day 12 years ago, running high 3.70s we would be kings and setting records. Now, we are just happy to run that just to get in the show.”

While it has been a few years since Massey last recorded a victory in NHRA competition, he is determined to one day taste victory again in the sport’s most prestigious category.

Driving the McLeod dragster this weekend for Krista Baldwin, who purchased this team from longtime competitor Pat Dakin earlier this year, Massey wants to again see success in the sport, not just for himself, but for those who have given him a chance through the years.

“We are trying to get this car back running like it always has in the past and Krista and this team do an amazing job at it,” Massey said. “I love driving for this team. Pat was an amazing team owner and now Krista just gets it. Her grandfather and I have always gotten along and we have all shared parts and cars through the years. It has all just worked out, and if I can help be a part of getting this team success, that is what I am here to do.”

Baldwin, who grew up admiring Massey on the racetrack, tapped Massey to drive the car this weekend to help get the team some extra track time.

So, as Massey gets ready to compete with yet another race team after a few years hitching rides, how much difference is there bouncing from team to team?

“Every team has a little different situation in how they like to do their procedures and burnouts and staging, but driving the car it is like getting on a bike and riding,” Massey said. “Some cars react differently and that is where it is a little bit of a learning curve. This car has a fresh front half from when I drove it last year, and there are a couple other little things different, but as a driver I just need to do my job, get the car, and have fun.”

Unfortunately, Massey was one of the three Top Fuel competitors not to make the field.

“It is what it is,” Massey said. “We are not in the show, but this team is still giving 110%. This team wants it more than anything. This team wants win lights and they want trophies. I want to help make that happen for them.”



8. RIGHT AT HOME - There are so many great pairings that are part of our everyday lexicon.

Peanut butter and jelly. Bonnie and Clyde. Bacon and eggs. Greg Anderson and Summit Racing Equipment.

The five-time Pro Stock world champion has long been synonymous with the red, white and blue sponsor based in northern Ohio, winning the vast majority of his 105 career wins and his titles flying the Summit colors. While Anderson has more recently been sporting a new look with HendrickCars.com adorning the side of his Chevrolet Camaro, the iconic duo have again teamed up this weekend with a special mostly white scheme honoring the longstanding relationship between the NHRA legend and the parts supplier.

“It just feels right,” Anderson said. “I’ve been having a great weekend and I feel great about having them onboard. Everybody loves the wrap and it is just a feel-good weekend for me.”

In addition to national success with the longtime sponsor, Anderson has had plenty of success right here at the track sporting that same sponsor's name with three wins at Summit Motorsports Park, tied for the most in the Pro Stock category.

“Does this bring back memories? You’re darn right,” Anderson said. “Everything about it is just right for me. It is right for racing. And it is right for our race team. I have tons of history here, tons of great weekends here, and I love trying to show off in front of the Summit gang. It is a great group. They support us greatly and I just can’t thank them enough for all they have done.”

Anderson will enter Sunday seeking a class record fourth victory at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals from atop the ladder. Anderson did have some troubles this weekend on Friday that prevented him from making one of his passes, but he hopes those woes are behind him entering race day.

“That was a $5 part that failed on me,” Anderson said. “I guess the good news is that it wasn’t Sunday that it happened. I got it out of the way when it wasn’t important, nobody went around me, and no skin was torn off on that one. We think we have figured it out and hopefully we will be good the rest of the weekend.”

8B - HAVING A CLUTCH SEASON - Funny Car racer Paul Lee continued what has been one of his best career seasons, landing in the top five qualifiers for the fifth time in nine races this season that he's competed in. To put the season he's having this year with rookie tuner Jonnie Lindberg, he's just one round win away at this point in the season of tying the entire 2023 season. He only qualified once in the top five. 


9. NEXT CAR UP - Ron Capps is still haunted by the image of John Force being pulled from his Funny Car one week ago.

Part of the next duo to go down the track following the fiery accident for the 16-time champion, Capps saw that something had happened from the cockpit of his NAPA Funny Car, but because of the mass of people in front of his car, he couldn’t tell what or who was involved.

“I was the next car up,” Capps said. “With everybody in front of the car and behind, we were in the other lane, and I thought it was Terry Haddock that had had the accident. I thought it was in our lane. I didn’t realize it was Force that had come across the middle lane. I had several crew chiefs tell me it was a hard hit, still not knowing it was John. Once I found out, I watched the replays and saw that the impact was harder than we have seen somebody hit for a long time in a Funny Car.”

Capps admits that the ensuing pass -- a winning effort over Alexis DeJoria -0 was not an easy one to make, but he tried to put it out of his mind and made the run anyway.

“J.R. Todd and I were sitting in our tow vehicles waiting for them to clean everything up down there and that is a conversation every driver had,” Capps said. “We all stood around talking about it. It was tough being the next car up.”

While Force remains hospitalized, Capps said that it is simply not the same this weekend without the sport’s greatest driver, and the man that helps move the needle for drag racing week in and week out.

“It is just strange being here without him,” Capps said. “He leaves me weekly voicemails and they are hilarious. He comes and sees me every Friday before the first qualifying run. We’ve talked about him getting out of the seat in the future and I knew how much that was going to hurt him to retire. He gets up in the morning thinking about nothing but getting in a Funny Car. It is his whole life. We talked about it the other day and about where the sport is and how much it has been dependent on him all these years. Throughout history we’ve had Snake and Mongoose, we’ve had (Kenny) Bernstein, Bob Glidden, and a lot of guys that have carried the sport through different times. That is who John is for us today.”



9B - DIETSCH CRASHES IN FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN E-1 - During the first round of eliminations in Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals on Saturday at Summit Motorsports Park, Jason Dietsch’s car struck the right wall near the starting line and crossed the centerline, striking the left wall before coming to a stop. Dietsch was alert, exited the car under his own power and was examined onsite by NHRA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Surface.

10. QUOTABLE - After failing to make the field in Top Fuel this weekend, Josh Hart, driver of the R+L Carriers dragster, climbed out of his machine and announced that it was time to make some changes.

“This is extremely hard,” Hart said. “I apologize to R+L Carriers. We are a full-time operation running like a part-time operation. I am extremely disappointed. It is time for some major changes within our camp. If you are not going to be great, why come out?”




1. WHAT A SESSION! - Top Fuel put on one heck of a show Friday night under the lights at Summit Motorsports Park.

After a topsy-turvy first qualifying session that saw some heavy hitters run into trouble, Q2 produced a round worth the price of admission. Reigning world champion Doug Kalitta went from last to first during the wild session, while the top qualifying time from Q1 was only good enough for 14th during the late-night showdown.

When all was said and done, Kalitta escaped Friday night atop the ladder with a head-turning 3.692-second pass at 332.92 mph. And he joked that he had plenty of time to think about that run, being the first pair out in that session.

“I was not really expecting (to be sitting here),” Kalitta said. “3.69 is a solid run for what we had. The conditions were great and obviously the place was in very good condition.”

After the run, Kalitta admitted that he was sweating that second run just a bit with the threat of rain looming over Saturday’s festivities and no guarantees ahead. Now, Kalitta will enter Saturday with a chance to secure his fourth top qualifier of the season.

“I was pedaling it (in the first round), but I pretty much decided not to do that,” Kalitta said. “(In that second session) they went up there to throw down, and it stuck, so it was really an incredible run for us. Alan (Johnson) has been in this position quite a few times where you get on a roll, and you hope you can keep it going. Certainly, we have seen that in the past with him tuning these things.”

With all of the gains, round one top qualifier Dan Mercier slipped from first to 14th with his 3.790.

Antron Brown (3.722) and Tripp Tatum (3.739) rounded out the top three on Friday.

2. 7 OUT OF 10 AIN’T BAD - Austin Prock can make it seven top qualifier awards in 10 tries if his time from Friday night holds on Saturday.

The driver of the AAA/Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car paced both sessions on Friday and stood atop the pile when all was said and done by two-thousandths of a second over J.R. Todd. Prock laid down a 3.863-second elapsed time at 327.51 mph under the lights on Friday, good enough to edge Todd’s 3.865.

“My dad (Jimmy), Thomas, and Nate have been doing a great job analyzing the racetrack and making the right decisions,” Prock said. “It has been really fun to drive. How this car is running has really shortened my learning curve because I’ve gotten so many attempts up here. We’ve made a lot of runs already, and we are not quite halfway through the season.”

If his time holds, it will be the 10th time he has paced a pro field in his career.

More than anything, Prock was just glad to get his mind off what was an emotional week for him and his team. Following team boss John Force’s accident last weekend, Prock is alone representing John Force Racing this weekend and was glad to return to racing.

“It was a great day today,” Prock said. “We were low in both sessions, and it got our minds off of the world for a little bit. We got to go to work and try to make John Force Racing proud.”

3. HOW ABOUT THAT - Nobody was more surprised by Greg Anderson’s qualifying result on Friday than Greg Anderson.

After pacing the Pro Stock field in Q1 with a 6.592, Anderson fully expected that time to be challenged in the next session. And, shockingly, it wasn’t.

Despite running into his own troubles in the second session and failing to make a pass, Anderson left Friday No. 1 and will ride that momentum into day two.

“Q1 was great. Q2, we should have stayed in the pits,” Anderson said. “We broke a $5 part, and we weren’t able to improve. But we will fix it and move on. I was shocked no one drove around us in that last pair. We dodged a lot of bullets, but I am not sure how many I can dodge.”

Erica Enders came closest to unseating Anderson with a 6.601.


5. RED, WHITE, AND COOL - Before his first qualifying pass on Friday, fan-favorite driver Clay Millican unveiled a special red, white, and blue Summit Racing Equipment paint scheme aboard his Rick Ware Racing-backed Top Fuel machine.

A longtime supporter of Summit, Millican’s usual Parts Plus colors moved to a secondary position to fly the colors of the sponsor and namesake of the Norwalk-based racetrack.

“The rewards program is awesome because the more you buy cool parts, the more you make and can spend at Summit - and I buy a lot of parts from Summit,” Millican said with a laugh. “I love how the car looks. Summit always does an amazing job right here at Summit Motorsports Park.”

Prior to unveiling the special Summit Racing Equipment Rewards Program livery, Millican took a moment to reflect on a tough week in motorsports, which included the passing of longtime CompetitionPlus.com photographer Roger Richards, longtime racers Lizzy Musi and Ron Hope, and the injured John Force.

“John Force, we are thinking about you,” Millican said. “Roger Richard’s family, we love you. Pat Musi’s family, we love you. Ron Hope’s family, we love you. Man, what a tough week in motorsports.”

6. GAME ON - Matt Smith is not shy about his theories surrounding the parity, or lack thereof, within the Pro Stock Motorcycle category at the moment.

In a class where victories are typically measured in thousandths of a second, Smith says the gap is growing, and the reason why is obvious.

“Our class is a parity class. From one brand to the next brand, that is NHRA’s job to keep the parity in our class,” Smith said. “And everybody knows that one brand has had a huge advantage for the last year and a half.”

And it is no secret which team he is referencing.

Gaige Herrera broke the NHRA record last weekend at Virginia Motorsports Park with his 10th consecutive victory aboard his RevZilla/Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki following a dominating, championship-winning season in 2023. This year, Herrera is five-for-five in the win column, and it looks like another motorcycle championship may well be within grasp of the young rider.

While Herrera has certainly enjoyed the ride, others within the class have grown frustrated with the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots and the perceived gamesmanship during the weekend.

“We are not talking about a couple hundredths here; we are talking about tenths, and that you can’t make up on the tree,” Smith said. “Gaige is a great rider; he doesn’t leave a lot of room for anything, but it is NHRA’s job to close the gap, and hopefully, they will eventually. We closed the gap up some on our own, but we are doing all that we can do. Today, I was on top of the sheet all the way across, made a perfect pass, and that is about all we have.”

Smith’s gains were obvious on Friday, as the rider of the Denso Buell rode to the provisional top spot with a 6.748-second pass at 201.31 mph - a new track record.

“It was a nice start for our team,” Smith said. “We went 74, and we are about 400 feet better than we were at Richmond, so that was a great run for us. Jianna is fourth, so this MSR team is looking good, and we are going to keep digging as hard as we can.”



7. REWRITING THE RECORD BOOKS - Riders can talk. Teams can complain. But at the end of the day, Gaige Herrera is still rewriting the NHRA history books.

Herrera made NHRA history by setting two new all-time win-streak records aboard his RevZilla/Vance & Hines Suzuki last weekend. In winning his fifth-straight race in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class this season last weekend in Virginia, the defending category champion also set new all-time NHRA records for consecutive round wins (39) and consecutive race wins (10).

While some may talk about parity and fair play, Herrera continues to enjoy a unique moment in drag racing history as he shatters longstanding NHRA records.

“I definitely never dreamed of any of this, honestly,” Herrera said. “The accomplishments that we’ve achieved in a season-and-a-half now is just insane. Me and Andrew (Hines) bonded very well and we just have a deadly package. As a kid, and even now, it is hard to believe what we have accomplished.”

While success has seemingly come easy for the young rider, motivation has been another story. With so many consecutive round and race wins, it may seem like focus would be challenging to maintain, but Herrera has used his love of the sport to keep pushing himself even harder, knowing that this could all come crashing down as quickly as it started.

“I just keep looking at the fact that I love doing this,” Herrera said. “Even though I am on top now, it is still a challenge. That is the one thing about drag racing: it is always a challenge. It is a very humbling sport. You can be at the top, and you can be at the bottom in a couple of seconds. All in all, I’m having fun and trying to soak it all in - and there has been a lot to soak in.”


8. HAPPY BIRTHDAY JON O - Talk about a memorable birthday celebration.

Moments, after thousands of fans at Summit Motorsports Park joined in unison to sing happy birthday to Kalitta Motorsports crew chief Jon Oberhofer, his driver J.R. Todd, blasted to the top of the Funny Charts and stayed there until Austin Prock bumped him out of the spot by two-thousandths of a second in the final pairing.

The memorable birthday lap also helped Todd move from 14th to a comfortable spot in the top half of the field.




9a. SCOOPING UP A CHAMPIONSHIP - The 18th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals presents a unique opportunity – and a unique prize – for the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series drivers. The Bader family-led facility in Norwalk, Ohio, has produced unique results since it was added to the NHRA schedule in 2007 and doesn’t always play into the hands of the season norm, giving drivers plenty of hope to kickstart a summer run as they approach the Countdown in September.

The nitro classes have been particularly interesting at Summit Motorsports Park. In 16 races held at the track, only five times has a Top Fuel competitor won the Norwalk race and gone on to win the championship that same year, while only once has that happened in Funny Car. And it has been even more rare as of late. Only Steve Torrence (2021, 2019), Del Worsham (2011), Larry Dixon (2010) and Tony Schumacher (2007) in Top Fuel, and Ron Capps (2016) in Funny Car have won the coveted ice cream scoop trophy and hoisted the NHRA title at the end of the year.

In the Pro Stock classes, it has been a little more prevalent. Erica Enders (2022, 2014), Tanner Gray (2018), Bo Butner (2017), Jason Line (2016) and Greg Anderson (2010) in Pro Stock, and Matt Smith (2021, 2013) Andrew Hines (2019, 2014) and Eddie Krawiec (2011) in Pro Stock Motorcycle have all done the Norwalk/championship double.

9b. SCOOPING UP A WIN - Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Jianna Evaristo defended her ice cream eating championship on Friday during the 5th Annual #NorwalkNats Ice Cream Eating Contest.

At a track known for its ice cream - famously serving full pound scoops of the delicious treat for just $1 - Summit Motorsports Park has made the most of the unique tradition with coveted ice cream scoop trophies and, of course, bragging rights in eating the sweet treat.

After winning the fourth iteration of the ice cream eating showdown in 2023, Evarista defended her title against Matt Smith, Clay Millican, Buddy Hull and David Cuadra on Friday.

“This is all for the fans,” Evaristo said. “I look forward to defending my championship again next year.”

10. SETTING THE STAGE - After nine of 20 races this season, two teams have stood head and shoulders above the field in the nitro categories – Kalitta Motorsports and John Force Racing.

In Top Fuel, defending class champion Doug Kalitta paces the field for team Kalitta with three wins (Las Vegas, Epping, Virginia) and a healthy lead over teammate Shawn Langdon. His 19 round wins also leads the field, one better than Langdon who won two of the season’s first three races in Gainesville and Arizona.

Behind the Kalitta Motorsports duo sits Justin Ashley a little over 100 markers out of first place with two wins of his own. Steve Torrence, who is surprisingly winless in 2024, sits fourth, while Antron Brown - a one-time race winner - rounds out the top five.

In Funny Car, John Force Racing’s Austin Prock leads the class with three wins and a healthy points lead over team boss John Force entering the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. Prock has wins at Arizona, Bristol and Virginia. If he wins this weekend, it will be three wins in a row for the driver of the AAA/Cornwell Tools machine.

Matt Hagan - a two-time race winner this season at Charlotte and Chicago - is third for Tony Stewart Racing, while J.R. Todd and Bob Tasca round out the top five.

Pro Stock has seen a three-way race for the championship lead, with KB Titan Racing producing yet another team duo to top an NHRA class, this time in the form of Dallas Glenn and Greg Anderson. Glenn has two wins this season coming at Pomona and Chicago, while Anderson has wins at Arizona and Charlotte.

Their closest competitor - defending class champion Erica Enders - is third with a single win coming at the season-opening Gatornationals. Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Aaron Stanfield complete the top five.

Lastly, Gaige Herrera has picked up where he left off in 2023 with a dominating five wins in five races to jump out to a comfortable points lead over Richard Gadson. Matt Smith, John Hall and Chase Van Sant round out the top five coming into this weekend’s northern-Ohio showdown.