Brainerd International Raceway’s 41st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals saw at least one familiar face in the Camping World Drag Racing Series Winner’s Circle, Ron Capps and his Toyota GR Supra Funny Car, earning his seventh victory at this facility and his 75th overall in professional NHRA drag racing (74 in Funny Car; one in Top Fuel). The Californian was joined on the podium by good friend and fellow Toyota racer Antron Brown, who nabbed his sixth Brainerd win in Top Fuel on Sunday and by Dallas Glenn, who is pretty much the class of the field in Pro Stock’s primarily Chevrolet Camaro class.
Both Brown and Capps had memorable weekends in Minnesota, as Brown won – for the first time in four appearances – the Mission #2Tasty2Fast Challenge in the Top Fuel class as well as taking Sunday’s win over Leah Pruett, who celebrated her 200th NHRA pro race this weekend. With his 3.715 at 326.08 to the Tony Stewart Racing driver’s 3.757/331.12 lap, Brown moved to third in the championship standings as the series heads to Indianapolis for the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals, a race that ends the regular season and pays out points-and-a-half.
It was a trying weekend for Top Fuel, as competitors were unable to run on Friday night at Brainerd. The track has no lighting alongside the lanes and a long clean-up after Funny Car racer Blake Alexander soiled the left lane in the second session of time trials meant a lengthy cleanup. Competitors tried to contact NHRA about conditions but were not successful and sat out the session rather than trying to run in the dark. Smart move.
The Top Fuel issue on Friday night left Capps, Doug Kalitta (still looking for win No. 50) and Greg Anderson atop the timing sheets. Two of those three would remain No. 1 qualifiers, but Justin Ashley came through on Saturday to steal the top spot in the dragster class. Also on that hot Saturday, the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge was held. Those titles were taken by Brown, birthday boy Robert Hight in his John Force Racing Chevy Camaro SS and by reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports Camaro.
Race day brought considerably cooler conditions, as expected, allowing speeds to increase and times to tumble.
To earn his second victory of the weekend, three-time Top Fuel champion Brown prevailed over Shawn Langdon’s Kalitta Motorsports rail in a tight race, beat fellow Toyota runner Steve Torrence on a hole shot, put Mike Salinas’ dragster back in the truck and then ran down Pruett, despite being slower on speed than his opponent. “Every lap we made, we were very competitive.” Knowing the conditions were going to be far better on race day, “We started with a good lap, we were the quickest and fastest of the first session and that set the tone for the day. You have to race smart and they (crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald) stayed in that zone; the consistency paid off. That’s what it takes to win races and championships. I’ve always loved racing at this track,” he said as he chalked up win No. 6 on Brainerd’s drag strip.
A trip to the semifinals left Ashley 101 points ahead of four-time consecutive champion Steve Torrence, with Brown third and 226 points back, followed by Brittany Force (gone in the quarter finals), Pruett, Austin Prock (zapped in the first round), Mike Salinas, Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican and Josh Hart, Kalitta and Hart out after the first round, with Millican gone in the quarter finals. Only the top five drivers are locked into the Countdown to the Championship six-race playoffs that begin in Reading following the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend.
Capps was no less excited following his victory over Hight in the finals. Earning his 38th No.1, 75th NHRA national event series victory, seventh Brainerd win and, with Matt Hagan’s departure in the first round with his Tony Stewart Racing Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Capps and his Ron Capps Motorsports Toyota GR Supra team regained the top points slot. It’s easy to see why Capps loves this race, as he spends Saturday nights as the Mayor of Brainerd in The Zoo, talking with fans. He planned to do the same after all the photos were shot following his Sunday victory.
A broken wheelie bar in the first qualifying session prevented Capps from running, but they made up for that on Friday night and the team’s quick time held through Saturday’s heat. He started Sunday’s eliminations second place in points and had a single pass in the first round when Jim Campbell shut off after his burnout. In the second round, Capps took out a tire-smoking Tim Wilkerson’s Ford Mustang and in the semifinals, Capps shut down Kansas victor Bob Tasca III and his tire-smoking Mustang, regaining the points lead. In his second straight Brainerd final round, Capps had the better reaction time to Hight and charged to a 3.887-second run at 332.75 mph, ahead of Hight’s 3.900. Crew chief Dean Antonelli always gets stronger when he needs to beat Jimmy Prock and Hight.
“First of all, 75 wins is crazy,” Capps said. “There’s something about this place; my career started here with John Mitchell and a conversation we had in the staging lanes. We make a point of going out and celebrating in The Zoo a little bit with everyone out there, and we did that again last night.” Granted Capps has only a 21-point lead over Hagan, but he has 138 on Hight, 177 on Tasca III and 211 on Chad Green’s Mustang in fifth place. Together with the drivers just named, Alexis DeJoria, Tim Wilkerson, J.R. Todd and John Force have all qualified for the Countdown to the championship, with only the 10th spot undecided.
After winning Rookie of the Year two years ago, Dallas Glenn had a mild 2022 season that saw him finish seventh in the final standings, racing with what is now called KB Titan Racing. Earning his fourth winner’s trophy of the 2023 NHRA season and his eighth Pro Stock class victory, Glenn scored the 375th Pro Stock win for Chevrolet and the 256th for the Chevrolet Camaro race car. To get to the finals Glenn defeated rookie Jerry Tucker of Elite Motorsports, five-time champ and Elite racer Erica Enders in the quarterfinals, dispensed with Elite’s Aaron Stanfield and beat his KB Titan teammate Kyle Koretsky in the finals.
“I just need to keep this momentum going,” Glenn said after the final round. “I’ve been really lucky this season; I feel like I’ve been just good enough.. it was really ugly in the final it was shaking pretty good but we got through it,” in referencing his teammate’s smoky final round when Glenn clocked 6.566 to win. The victory leaves Glenn with a gaping 284 points on teammate Matt Hartford, with fellow KB Titan racer Deric Kramer third, Elite’s Troy Coughlin Jr. fourth, Enders fifth and Anderson sixth, all locked into the Countdown. Behind these six are Stanfield, 2022 Rookie of the Year and KB Titan squadmate Camrie Caruso, Koretsky and Cristian Cuadra, who drives a Mustang for Elite.
In the first of four playoff races for the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Series at Brainerd, Jason Lee earned his first career victory, beating Jason Scruggs in the final and moving into the points lead. This was the seventh of ten races in the Pro Mod season and a lucky final round for Lee, whose competitor broke before the run began, handing the victory to Lee and his Chevrolet Camaro. Qualifying 10th, Lee picked off J.R. Gray, Dmitry Samorukov and Stan Shelton to reach the final round. “I feel like we should have won three times this year but had nothing but bad luck,” he said. Advancing the final round for the second straight race, “I’ll take lucky over good any day of the week, and now I’ve got to figure out how to make this thing go faster!”
Lee takes the lead in class over former leader Justin Bond, reigning titleholder Kris Thorne, Mike Castellana, Jose Gonzalez, Stan Shelton, Dmitry Samorukov, Sidnei Frigo, J.R. Gray and Manny Bugginga. There’s a tight 105 points between first and tenth so these final three contests, beginning in two weeks in Indy are critical.
Between the race at Brainerd and the Labor Day weekend in Brownsburg, IN outside Indianapolis, there will be plenty of testing at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park as teams prepare for the biggest race of the year. Not only will there be standard trips down the 1000-foot and 1,320-foot dragstrip, but the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge continues, along with a Funny Car Callout race within the race.