There are three exceptional reasons for members of the racing community to get themselves to Indianapolis every year. In May, we celebrate Memorial Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. In the waning days of summer, it’s time for the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park., traditionally held on Labor Day weekend, including Monday. Come December, we return for the Performance Racing Industry show.
The second of these momentous occasions occurs this week as the straight line crew gathers in Brownsburg, IN to celebrate drag racing with the Big Go. This is the largest and most memorable drag racing meeting of each year and draws entries from all over the United States and, from time to time, around the world. It’s said the 2023 entry list exceeds 900 cars and motorcycles. And there will be sufficient space for all of them to park, prep and run.
The prestige of winning in Indy, whether in May or September, is unparalleled. This weekend marks the 69th running of the U.S. Nationals, even as it also means the close of NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series “regular season” before the six races of the Countdown to the Championship begin. For the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle contingent, points are the name of the game, and for this particular weekend’s race, 1.5 points are on offer for each of these four progressional categories.
Of course there is more than the four professional categories racing on this historic drag strip. The weekend’s racing includes Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series classes, along with the second playoff round of FuelTech Pro Mod Drag Racing Series competition and Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown races. Add to that the specialty on track competition in the Pep Boys Funny Car All Star Callout, Mission’s #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, Dodge’s annual HEMI Challenge and the Rooftec NHRA Competition Eliminator Cash Clash.
Away from the track, there are a couple of open houses in Brownsburg that fans can enjoy before arriving at the track, including visiting Cruz Pedregon Racing’s workshop open house on Thursday evening that features many beautifully restored cars and, of course, a driver autograph session. On Friday, DSR Performance’s Block Party benefits Riley Children’s Foundation, as it has for years. At the latter gathering, 100 percent of proceeds generated from the silent auction, food trucks, vendor displays benefit Riley Children’s Foundation, as they have since 2006. DSR Performance is offering tours of its machine shop and driver autograph session, which should whet the racing appetite of all fans.
Once competition begins on Friday late afternoon for the Camping World entries (there are five qualifying runs on Friday Saturday and Sunday), nitro racers will have a hard time topping last year’s U.S. Nationals results, when new team owners Antron Brown and Ron Capps earned the wins in their respective categories, Top Fuel and Funny Car. Capps went on to earn his third class championship and second consecutive by three points in Pomona; Brown was runner-up at the close of the season, just 62 points behind two-time champ Brittany Force. Capps also won the Pep Boys Funny Car All Star Callout the same weekend, thus sweeping the event. He did the same thing in Brainerd less than two- weeks ago, earning the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge and the race win.
Five time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson secured his 100th class victory in Indy last year, which was a monumental achievement for the longtime racer. Now a six time Pro Stock Motorcycle titleholder, Matt Smith won this race in 2022 on his Buell but has reverted to Suzuki for the entire season. The hiring of Gaige Herrera by Vance & Hines has crimped everyone’s ranking in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but the vast number of entries for this race could make a difference in the standings once those extra points are tallied.
There are 19 Top Fuel cars on the entry list led, of course, by every driver and team in the upper echelons of the points battle. Only five drivers are currently locked into the Countdown to the Championship standings: Justin Ashley, Steve Torrence, Antron Brown, Brittany Force and Leah Pruett, whose final round finish at Brainerd has her lagging by 262 points. Those hoping to both be in the playoffs and move up the top 10 food chain are Force’s teammate Austin Prock, Mike Salinas, Doug Kalitta, who won this race in 2019 and has been sitting on 49 wins since 2020 in St. Louis, double race winner Clay Millican and Josh Hart in 10th place, 418 points behind Ashley.
Pruett has momentum on her side after her most recent runner up performance in Minnesota. She is having one of the more consistent seasons of her career and her contentment is showing. As for Kalitta, as he looks for that 50th victory, he is sharing a story about his uncle and team owner Connie Kalitta, whose mother was waiting for her son to finally win the U.S. Nationals. Apparently, she had a bottle of champagne ready for the occasion but drank it after waiting, waiting, waiting, year after year, for the legend’s 1994 victory in Indianapolis.
With 19 dragsters on the immense grounds of Indianapolis Raceway Park, three competitors won’t be competing on Monday, when eliminations start at 10AM ET. Those not currently in the top-10 but hoping to make their way in and/or secure that Wally winner’s trophy are Kalitta Motorsports’ Shawn Langdon, who has won here three times, twice in a dragster and most recently in the pandemic era 2020 race; part time racer Dan Mercer is returning from his Canadian home, and Will Smith is again racing in Larry Dixon’s dragster. T.J. Zizzo, the Chicago area racer is on the grounds, as are Buddy Hull, Tony Schumacher, Spencer Massey and Doug Foley. It’s a tight and strong field.
Only one Funny Car slot is still available in the top-10 as the field heads to Indy, with reigning, three time champion Ron Capps and his Toyota GR Supra leading perennial foe Matt Hagan’s Tony Stewart Racing Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat by a slim 21 points. Behind these three time champs are John Force Racing’s Robert Hight, also a three time champ in his Chevrolet Camaro SS, Bob Tasca III, Chad Green in Ford Mustangs, consistent finisher Alexis DeJoria’s Toyota GR Supra fielded by DC Motorsports, Tim Wilkerson’s Mustang, J.R. Todd’s Kalitta Motorsports Toyota GR Supra and John Force’s Camaro, the latter’s 2019 Indy win here being one of his more emotional.
Cruz Pedregon and his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat currently hold 10th place points, 446 behind Capps. Again, with 19 cars vying for 16 slots in Monday’s eliminations, there are going to be some rather disappointed racers. Alex Laughlin is back in Jim Dunn’s Flopper, joined by Paul Lee’s Charger, Terry Haddock’s Mustang, Dave Richards in a Mustang, John Smith’s Dodge, Blake Alexander in Jim Head’s Mustang, the always competitive Dale Creasy Jr.’s Stratus, Justin Schreiber’s Charger and Bobby Bode III’s Mustang. Again, not a slouch among them.
Two seasons past, Dallas Glenn won NHRA’s Rookie of the Year honors, driving for what is now named KB Titan Racing. Today, he handily leads the points standings over a tough field, that includes his Chevrolet Camaro teammates Matt Hartford and Deric Kramer. Elite Motorsports’ Troy Coughlin Jr is fourth in the standings with his teammate Erica Enders next in line. She’s followed by KB Titan’s Greg Anderson in sixth place and those are the sole drivers locked into the Countdown entering this race. It’s kind of strange to see two five time champions lying fifth and sixth, but such is the competitiveness of this class.
Aaron Stanfield is seventh for Elite, followed by KB Titan’s Camrie Caruso, last year’s Rookie standout, her teammate Kyle Koretsky and Elite’s Cristian Cuadra, driving a Mustang. There are 18 Pro Stock cars on the entry list, including Bo Butner III, Alan Prusiensky’s Dodge Dart, Eric Latino, Chris and Mason McGaha, rookie contender Jerry Tucker, Fernando Cuadra and Fernando Cuadra Jr. in their Mustangs. With Dallas Glenn leading Cristian Cuadra by 526 points and the balance of the field not far behind, there should be plenty of movement in this door slammer class over the weekend, especially with the number of points available to grab.
This year’s Pro Stock Motorcycle championship could tighten up once the points are reset after Indy, but it still looks like it’s Gaige Herrera’s sandbox and everyone else is just playing in it. Still, the Vance & Hines standout has, on occasion, shown he can be beat and has twice failed to win a race this season. That being said, he’s still the class of this field and, with Andrew Hines, owner of six class championships doing the tuning of his Suzuki Hayabusa3, Herrera has been a beast.
With five spots in the top-10 up for grabs and only five riders locked in, the 19 entries for this class should make Herrera just a pinch nervous. Maybe. He has 359 points in hand over Hector Arana Jr. and his Buell, with Herrera’s teammate Eddie Krawiec just two points behind the second generation Pro Stock Motorcycle rider. Matt and Angie Smith have both qualified for the Countdown, Matt on his Suzuki and Angie with her Buell. Behind them are perennial championship contender Steve Johnson and rookie contender Chase Van Sant, both riding Suzuki motorcycles, Marc Ingewersen’s Buell, Jianna Evaristo’s and Kelly Clontz’s Suzuki motorcycles.
Joining them for the biggest of big races are Ryan Oehler’s Buell, Bud Yoder II on a Buell, Odolph Daniels’ Suzuki, Wesley Wells on an older Suzuki, Ron Tornow’s EBR and John Hall on a Suzuki. This race marks the return of Joey Gladstone and team owner Cory Reed, both racing Suzuki motorcycles. Reed hasn’t raced competitively for a couple of years as he’s recovered from massive leg injuries sustained in the fall race at Charlotte in 2021. Reed had been helping to prep Gladstone’s motorcycle but now feels sufficiently healed to get back on his bike and race. It will be wonderful to see him working the gears rather than the dials.
The FuelTech Pro Mod series has its second of four playoff races in Indy as it sprints to the close of its ten races. At this time the top-10 are separated by a meager 105 points! Jason Lee has the lead in a Camaro, followed by Justin Bond. Kristopher Thorne, Mike Castellana and Jose Gonzalez all joining the Camaro contingent, Stan Shelton’s Ford, Dmitry Samorukov’s Camaro, Sidnei Frigo in his Camaro, JR Gray Jr. and Manny Bugginga in 10th place, both racing Camaro bodies. This weekend marks the return of two time champ Stevie “Fast” Jackson and “Tricky” Rickie Smith in a loaded, 23 car field.
Other classes to watch include Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car, Competition Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, Top Sportsman, Top Dragster, Factory Stock Showdown, HEMI Challenge and the new Factory X class.
The weather is expected to cooperate this week, with no real rain forecast. It is Indy, and subject to change. However, temps in the 90s on Sunday and Monday’s race day could change the complexion of this race. There are those that excel in the heat and those that wilt. The Blue Moon will be at its largest when full on Wednesday night, so we’ll have to see if the weather, or maybe just the heat of competition, reigns over this year’s 69th Big Go.