NHRA’S 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals was hot, both on the track and off. Air and track temperatures increased throughout the race meeting as the Midwest sweltered through the Labor Day weekend.
But truly no one was hotter than the four Camping World Drag Racing winners, crowned on Monday afternoon at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in Brownsburg. For the second consecutive race and the second consecutive year, team owners and drivers Antron Brown and Ron Capps ruled the roost in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively. Both drivers won this race last year and both drivers had victories at Brainerd International Raceway two Sundays ago. Matt Smith, too, was a repeat victor in the biggest race of the 21 contest season, earning the Pro Stock Motorcycle Wally winner’s trophy for the second year in a row on his trusty Buell, joined by Matt Hartford’s Chevrolet Camaro on the winner’s dais as the veteran recorded his second Pro Stock 2023 win.
The festivities began late Friday afternoon as Don “Snake” Prudhomme warmed up Capps’ Toyota GR Supra Funny Car, later declaring he had zero desire to drive what he called a “monster.” Top qualifiers in each class were this foursome: 4x Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence, Bob Tasca III in Funny Car, Hartford and, surprise, Gaige Herrera on Vance & Hines’ Suzuki Hayabusa.
On Saturday the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge took place, crowning both race and season titleholders in the race within a race that has been ongoing throughout the “regular” season, culminating in this prime event. Justin Ashley won in Top Fuel and captured the season trophy, while Capps lost to John Force in the finals of the Mission Challenge but earned the season trophy for his Ron Capps Motorsports team. Elite Motorsports’ Aaron Stanfield won the race and Pro Stock trophy, as did the powerhouse that is Herrera. Hard to remember that his first Pro Stock Motorcycle race was the 68th Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals. He didn’t qualify then.
Sunday brought final qualifying and the Pep Boys Funny Car Callout, with Robert Hight taking his John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS to that win ahead of Matt Hagan in Tony Stewart Racing’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. Capps was last year’s Callout victor en route to his U.S. Nationals victory, but not this time around. Torrence claimed his 36th career No. 1 qualifier, joined by Hight, Hartford and Herrera, with three of the four continuing to shine from Friday through Sunday.
As they often do, things changed on race day, which was the hottest of the four days the Camping World professionals were on the IRP track. In this 15th of 21 total races on the 2023 docket, there was plenty of action, some upsets and three repeat winners when the action began at 10am. Both nitro classes ran with few issues in that first round, but Cristian Cuadra’s Elite Motorsports Ford Mustang Pro Stock car had his rear differential cap knocked off, leaking gear oil on the start line and requiring a lengthy cleaning. That issue made turnarounds much quicker to meet TV guidelines on the FOX network.
The balance of activity went pretty much without a hitch and winners got their spoils and then greeted the crowd of fans on the track to celebrate with them.
Brown, who qualified in the final, of five timed sessions and was 15th in the 16 car field defeated reigning Top Fuel champ Brittany Force in the first round with a 3.749 to her 3.870, took out Clay Millican in the quarterfinals with his 3.791 to Millican’s 3.919, placed Justin Ashley in the also ran column as both drivers hazed their tires on the run to take out No. 1 qualifier Torrence with a 3.799 to Torrence’s 3.870, both of them driving Toyota rails. Brown claimed it was the longest 3.8 seconds he could remember as he celebrated his second straight victory in this most prestigious race. Torrence made the finals by beating Will Smith, Shawn Langdon and Doug Kalitta.
“It’s a big deal just to qualify for this race,” Brown said. “We almost didn’t qualify this weekend and that’s because everybody shows up and shows out. That’s why the bump was a 3.82 in Top Fuel, and people were running that in the heat of the day,” he reminded. With nearly identical reaction times Brown had the power to lead at every increment. “We never stopped believing. This is all about my team. Brian Corradi, Mark Oswald and all of the Matco boys, they worked so, so hard,” remarked the five-time Indy winner whose first victory here came in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Capps, the No. 5 qualifier on Sunday defeated Dale Creasy Jr.’s Dodge with a 3.894 to Creasy’s 4.605, took out former teammate Hagan with a smoking 4.582 to Hagan’s 5.146 and removed top qualifier Hight with his 4.029 to Hight’s 5.580 to reach his final round in a second all Toyota GR Supra bout against J.R. Todd of Kalitta Motorsports. It was a tight 3.986 that prevailed over Todd’s 4.131 in the finals as Capps took the win 50 years after Snake, whose Hot Wheels logos adorned Capps’ race car, won the U.S. Nationals at this track.
With Prudhomme joining Capps’ entire team at the start line for all qualifying and racing laps, it was almost a return to their old days, as this was the driver’s 14th victory in class with Snake by his side. He drove for Prudhomme from 1997 through 2004. “It’s full circle. You can’t dream this big,” Capps said after taking his second straight win in the biggest race of each year. “You can hope and you can put all of this stuff together and do something fun and cool for Indy. When I was first starting out as a team owner, he would call and text to check in on me daily. Fast forward and we had a great season last year, and it’s just been in my head, wanting to do a real, true throwback.” With the cooperation of Toyota and NAPA, Capps not only saluted Prudhomme with graphics on his GR Supra but brought home the win.
Hartford’s KB Titan Chevrolet Camaro was on rails from start to finish of this race. The Arizona driver is having a superb year in Pro Stock, earning his second win of the year, the first time he’s won more than a single race in any season. Hartford beat Mason McGaga with his 6.613 to the latter’s slowing 11.496, took out squad mate Camrie Caruso in the quarters with a 6.643 to her 6.649, rolled past reigning five time champ Erica Enders with a 6.648 to her 6.676 to meet Fernando Cuadra Jr. in the finals, as the Mexican driver raced his Elite Camaro in his first final round. Hartford prevailed with a 6.624 to Cuadra’s 7.099.
“I let the clutch out, pulled second gear and never saw him, put it in fifth gear and I’m still deaf from my crew chief screaming in my ear,” Hartford said after taking the win. “When I got to the other end and realized I’d just won Indy, I just sat in the car for a few moments to take it all in. Our goal was to qualify No. 1 Friday night. If we could do that, we felt it could stick and we would have four really good test runs. What we ran in the final was what we tested in one of the qualifying runs,” he revealed. “The track conditions became basically what that was, so being able to be on the pole and have that test data played a huge role in the final.”
It’s been difficult for anyone in Pro Stock Motorcycle to beat Herrera this year, but that’s exactly what Matt Smith did on Monday. This writer thinks Smith returned to his Buell in order to put an end to the Vance & Hines racer’s superiority, but he’s not saying that. Smith beat the Buell of John Hall, racing for White Alligator Racing in the first round with a 6.888 to Hall’s 7.217, moved past the other WAR entry, the Suzuki of rookie Chase Van Sant with a 6.866 to Van Sant’s 6.894, took out Herrera in the semifinal round with a 6.876 to Herrera’s 6.920 to meet Hector Arana Jr.’s Buell in the finals. Arana was a bit too quick to the light, fouled out and gave away the victory as Smith turned 6.864 at 198.20.
Smith, the reigning six time champion has had a tough year figuring out his newer Suzuki motorcycle and gaining this victory on his Buell, his first of the 2023 season and 37th overall, was a relief. Still he wasn’t terribly surprised by his success at Indy. “I’ve got good power. This is our second year with the Suzuki program and we’ve got great power. The problem is that I can’t figure out how to make the clutch work. I need the parts to test because we’re not getting our 60 foot times where we need them. I think a 1.09 was my best and that’s not good enough. I’ve always said,” he reminded, “you need to be good at the last six races to win a championship so now it’s time to turn it up!”
With the points reset after Indy, Justin Ashley leads Steve Torrence, Antron Brown, Leah Pruett, Brittany Force, Doug Kalitta, Mike Salinas, Austin Prock, Clay Millican and Josh Hart in Top Fuel. Funny Car’s top 10 are Capps, Hagan, Hight, Bob Tasca III’s Ford Mustang, Todd, Alexis DeJoria’s GR Supra, Chad Green and Tim Wilkerson’s Mustangs, John Force’s Camaro SS and Cruz Pedregon’s Charger SRT Hellcat. In Pro Stock, Dallas Glenn leads Hartford, Enders, Troy Coughlin Jr., Deric Kramer, Aaron Stanfield, Greg Anderson, Kyle Koretsky, Camrie Caruso and Cristian Cuadra. Herrera tops the Pro Stock Motorcycle group, with Smith now second, Arana Jr third, followed by Herrera’s teammate Eddie Krawiec, Angie Smith’s Buell, Steve Johnson’s Suzuki, Van Sant’s Suzuki, Marc Ingwersen’s Buell, Jianna Evaristo’s Suzuki and Kelly Clontz’s Suzuki.
The Countdown to the Championship begins a six race dash at Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, PA the weekend of September 14 to 17.