Ashley, Tasca III, Enders Earn Final Topeka NHRA victories

Enders, Tasca III, Ashley celebrate their late-night Topeka NHRA wins - NHRA photo
Enders, Tasca III, Ashley celebrate their late-night Topeka NHRA wins – NHRA photo

It took a long day to finally close the door on Heartland Motorsports Park, where the NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series was making its 34th and final appearance at the Topeka, Kansas facility that’s dealing with excessive taxation, according to its management. It wasn’t a massive oil down that caused the final day of eliminations for the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor to seem endless; rather, it was a pack of storm cells in the middle of the country that chose to hang out where NHRA intended to race.

NHRA’s Safety Safari would have none of that, and while the 11AM CT start to final eliminations was pushed back to 1:30PM, all four rounds of eliminations were held and winners were crowned in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, as well as a multitude of Lucas Oil Sportsman classes. Justin Ashley picked up his sixth Top Fuel Wally, Bob Tasca III, driving a Ford Mustang collected his first Funny Car win of the season and Erica Enders beat fellow five-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson in the nighttime final rounds for her second win of the year.

Teams and drivers had an easier time on Saturday, when qualifying went pretty much as scheduled and NHRA crowned its latest Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge winners. Four-time consecutive Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence won the bonus race for the third straight time, handing Justin Ashley his first final round defeat after besting Antron Brown. The Funny Car bonus race went to Tony Stewart Racing’s Matt Hagan, driving his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to victories over J.R. Todd’s Kalitta Motorsports Toyota GR Supra in the semifinal round and Chad Green’s Ford Mustang in the finals. Judd Glenn took his KB Titan Racing Chevrolet Camaro to its first win in the Mission bonus race, knocking out both teammate Camrie Caruso and five-time champ Enders.

Top Saturday qualifiers for the Topeka event were Torrence in Top Fuel, Robert Hight’s John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS and Dallas Glenn’s KB Titan Racing Camaro. Hight’s No. 1 was his 80th top qualifying achievement, with a lap on Friday night at 3.948 seconds at 321.19 mph. In earning his 80th No. 1 Hight quipped, “It just shows I’ve been doing it a long time!”

Torrence, winner of the same day’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, earned his first No. 1 of the season in the 13th of 21 total races for the year. Torrence’s Friday run of 3.764-sec at 326.24mph gave the Texan his 35th career top spot. When the conditions on Saturday became cloudy and cool, “Consistency wins races and championships and that, along with being quick is what we pride ourselves in. We’re going to do the best we can to keep this up,” Torrence said.

Glenn’s two strong Saturday runs gave him his second No. 1 of the season, beating teammate Greg Anderson to the top spot. “As a driver, you cannot make any mistakes,” Glenn emphasized. “If you miss one shift, you can fall back four or five spots… it’s just that easy.” Ever the prognosticator, Glenn noted on Saturday night that the field could expect “a lot of different weather rolling in for tomorrow, so that’s going to throw an extra variable into the mix.”

As often occurs, none of the No. 1 qualifiers traded their yellow hats for blue winner’s chapeaux. Rather, it was Ashley, Tasca III and Enders who were the cream of the crop after the longest day of this race meeting ended in darkness.

Justin Ashley now has six Top Fuel wins on the season – NHRA photo

The win for Ashley was extra special, as team ambassador Jim Epler was the first Funny Car driver to make a 300mph run in the class, doing so in October 1993 at Heartland Motorsports Park. Ashley’s father Mike earned the Flopper winner’s trophy in Topeka during the 2007 race and, as Ashley noted, “This is the first race that he and I have won professionally at the same venue.” Ashley beat Josh Hart, Leah Pruett and Antron Brown to reach the final, where he squeaked past reigning champ Brittany Force, making her first final round of the 2023 campaign, in one of the tightest rounds of competition: 3.702/323.58 to 3.707/323.58.

“It was tough to stay focused today,” Ashley acknowledged. “We really didn’t know what today was going to bring but every driver and team were under the same circumstances. We didn’t know if we were going to get a race in, let alone four rounds today, was probably the biggest challenge of all.” With this victory, Ashley increased his lead over Torrence to 83 points, with Force in third, semifinalist Antron Brown fourth and Pruett fifth. Austin Prock, Doug Kalitta, Mike Salinas, Josh Hart and Clay Millican round out the top 10.

Tasca III was the sole repeat winner in the three Camping World classes, after earning the victory in 2022. In taking down the Mustang of Blake Alexander, putting Alexis DeJoria’s Toyota GR Supra back in the trailer and defeating Hight in the semifinals, the Rhode Island native had to contend with Hagan, one of the fiercest competitors on the planet, but he was both quicker and faster than the Virginian with his lap of 3.885/332.26 to Hagan’s 3.965/329.16. Hagan and Tasca III had identical semifinal runs to set up their final round battle.

Bob Tasca III’s Ford Mustang was tops of the field in Kansas -NHRA photo

“It was a hard-fought day and I give all the credit to the guys,” led by Hawaiian crew chief Todd Okuhara and Aaron Brooks. “Every time we warmed up the car, there was something wrong and they just fought through it. It’s a different attitude than any I’ve been around. We’re one of the quicker qualifying cars year-to-date, hot tracks, cold tracks, anything in between we can go up there and run low E.T.,” Tasca stated. “It was a big-time run, a statement run for this team. Going into Brainerd and Indy, we’re in the top five. If you have that leaving Indy, you have a really good chance to win the championship,” he warned.

While reigning five-time Pro Stock champ Erica Enders’ early season was more of a nightmare, she and her Elite Motorsports squad have been running better and better as the year progresses. Taking her second win of the season after the long rain delay, she credited the entirety of Elite Motorsports for her victory as the sole member of the nine-car team to journey to the finals. Facing her early- and mid-season difficulties, “This is twenty years strong,” Enders revealed. “My mom, my dad and my sister are always in my corner, making me mentally tough. They believe in me when I don’t believe in myself.” Speaking of her team, “When the rest of Elite Motorsports was eliminated today, they were all over helping on my car. Everybody rallied.”

In running to her 45th career Pro Stock national event title, Enders ran better with every single pass. She finished the weekend with a run of 6.617/206.13 to Greg Anderson’s 6.636/198.41. To get to that point, she beat Chris McGaha, teammate Greg Stanfield on a hole shot, did the same with Dallas Glenn to meet her nemesis for the 10th time, Anderson, making his 173rd final round appearance, in the last Pro Stock contest at this track. “Today was just a great day,” Enders said. “Coming in, we felt like we struggled,” to be No. 4 qualifier. “We knew we had our work cut out for us today, and it was pretty cool that I had to battle everybody from a different team this time, except for Aaron.”

Erica Enders is peaking in Pro Stock when it matters – Anne Proffit photo

Glenn continues to lead the point standings over KB Titan partner Matt Hartford, with Elite’s Troy Coughlin Jr. third, KB’s Deric Kramer fourth and Enders up to fifth. Anderson is sixth, Aaron Stanfield seventh, while KB’s Camrie Caruso is eighth, Elite’s Cristian Cuadra ninth and Kyle Koretsky of KB Titan Racing holds tenth-place points. There’s a huge gap of 456 points from first to tenth in this class.

There’s no rest for the Camping World Drag Racing Series as all three classes return to action next weekend, August 17-20 with the 41st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway in Brainerd, Minnesota.

About Anne Proffit 1245 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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