Brown, Capps, Stanfield, Jackson are Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals Winners

Brown, Capps, Stanfield celebrate their victories
Brown, Capps, Stanfield celebrate their victories

This year’s 14th annual Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals were the second of six rounds in the Camping World Drag Racing Series’ Countdown to the Championship playoffs, but if you blinked, you might have thought it was the final round of the regular season, for at least two of three champions.

Racing on a clear day, with moderate temperatures at zMAX Dragway outside Charlotte, N.C. that saw lap times falling lower and lower with each round of eliminations, Top Fuel laurels went to Antron Brown over points leader Justin Ashley in a straight-up fight, while reigning Funny Car champion Ron Capps earned his fourth win of the season, out-running Alexis DeJoria in a pedalfest. Aaron Stanfield prevailed over Matt Hartford to earn the Pro Stock Wally winner’s trophy.

None of the No. 1 qualifiers were winners but Ashley, at least, after turning his career best run to close out qualifying on Saturday at 3.668-seconds at 335.65 mph in his Davis Motorsports 11,000-horsepower dragster, made the finals against Brown, who earned his first NHRA playoff victory in six years! 

Antron Brown is firing on all eight cylinders

AB Motorsports’ Brown, the 2022 U.S. Nationals winner qualified seventh and worked his way through the field, first dispatching Reading victor Austin Prock with his 3.691-sec (331.20mph) pass for a margin of victory of .0753-sec. The three-time Top Fuel champ then beat No. 2 qualifier Brittany Force, arguably one of the fastest dragster drivers of her time, as she went up in smoke while he suffered a few jacked cylinders but rallied for the win at 3.733/287.23. 

In the semifinals Brown took out Clay Millican with a 3.687-sec run at 325.14 to Millican’s stout 3.699/331.20, to set up the final round against the always-quick Ashley. For their finals,  winner Brown took advantage of his .035-sec reaction time (Ashley left at .055) and beat points leader Ashley to the lights at 3.672/335.73, compared to the younger driver’s 3.671/333.99. That’s a .0195-sec margin of victory.

“When you look at the Top Fuel class,” Brown said, “the first round is a final round. It’s incredible competition and my hat is off to my team,” which Brown introduced at the first race this season. AB Motorsports is, he said, “just incredible. We’ve never lost faith and this group just kept digging. It takes everybody. We’ve got nothing but strong links.” Brown advanced from fourth to second in points, trailing Ashley by 43 points.

On Saturday, the legendary John Force secured his 165th No. 1 Funny Car qualifier, using Friday night’s run of 3.854 at 330.47 in his Chevrolet Camaro SS, his second-consecutive No. 1 at this track, having earned both the No. 1 this spring and winning the Four-Wide contest at zMAX Dragway. Force handily beat Chad Green in the second round but was beaten by No. 4 qualifier and eventual winner Capps in the semifinals, leaving the GOAT in fourth place at the close of competition.

Capps, who announced the formation of Ron Capps Motorsports during last December’s PRI Show in Indianapolis and changed car manufacturers two contests into the 22-race season, beat a tire-shaking Blake Alexander’s Ford Mustang with his Toyota GR Supra in the first round, using a 3.889/326.79 pass of the 1,000-foot drag strip.

In the second round, Capps had a steady 3.885/335.07 run in the Supra against Bob Tasca III, who was quick and fast all weekend in his Mustang – until this round. Tasca was up in smoke and had to give it all up, allowing the Californian another opportunity for the win. In that same round Alexis DeJoria’s GR Supra put the hammer down on points leader Robert Hight’s Camaro, 

For the semifinal round, not only did Capps win against Force, with a straight-up battle at 3.899/328.22 against Force’s 3.915/331.53, but his final round opponent, DeJoria, who qualified ninth, dispensed with Matt Hagan’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, the No. 2 qualifier. Earning his 72nd national event win, Capps’ Toyota GR Supra beat the similar Toyota race car of DeJoria, when she both failed to leave well and lost power before her competitor did. They both coasted through the lights, with Capps turning 3.967/267.32 for the Wally and a .0597 margin of victory.

Ron Capps and Ron Capps Motorsports earned their fourth win of 2022

Advancing from third to second in points, Capps “Can’t say enough about the people around me,” he said after earning victories in three of the last four Flopper races, including the U.S. Nationals for the first time in 25 tries. “There’s nothing better than throwing down in the first round and it was on from there. It’s fun to be in our pit area right now. It’s just a good vibe and I wanted a place like this. We’re very blessed to do this and this team,” led by Dean “Guido” Antonelli and John Medlen, “they just raise the bar for me.”

In Pro Stock it was Erica Enders’ Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro that whipped the field in qualifying, improving on her Friday run with an exceptional 6.510 at 212.46 to make qualifying an Enders trifecta – she led each round. Come race day, however, she came back to earth after first beating veteran Larry Morgan’s Camaro at 6.550/210.28 to Morgan’s 6.635/208.23. In the second round she dispatched Elite teammate Cristian Cuadra’s Ford Mustang at 6.545/210.31 despite a slower RT. She found her Waterloo in the semifinals, falling to eventual runner-up Hartford  after having to give up on her run.

Stanfield is back in the Pro Stock championship hunt

For eventual winner and No. 6 qualifier Aaron Stanfield, also an Elite team member who’s had a tough time since making the Denver final round in Pro Stock (losing to Matt Hartford), there was a tight first round match-up against Deric Kramer, with near-identical RTs (.025 for Kramer; .029 for Stanfield) and a picture-perfect run to the quarter-mile lights at 6.566/209.82 for a .01015 margin to Kramer’s 6.580/209.01.

In the quarterfinals Stanfield met reigning Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson and used his superior .027 departure to run 6.572/210.05 to Anderson’s 6.562/209.04 (.0106 MOV). Facing Troy Coughlin Jr. in the semifinal round, the two Elite team members battled down the track, with Stanfield’s better RT easily gaining him a .0401 margin of victory at 6.571/209.46 to the Ohioan’s 6.578/209.17. Stanfield’s final round win over Denver winner Hartford likely eased the pain of losing to the Arizonan at Bandimere, earned him a seventh career Pro Stock Wally and his third victory of the season.

With this win, Stanfield is back in the Championship hunt. His first Countdown victory saw him jumping from fifth to second place behind Enders, who’s got a 64-point lead with four races to run. After earning his seventh final-round appearance in 2022 Stanfield admitted, “I’ve been struggling as a driver and we pulled it together today. The pressure was definitely on [in the finals], but I just want to keep driving and keep winning. I’m super thankful for this opportunity I have, and this was a great event at a great facility. We wanted to come in and kind of turn things around this weekend, and this was probably the most consistent driving job I’ve done all year long.”

Two-time Pro Mod world champion Stevie “Fast” Jackson drove his Chevy Camaro around Justin Bond’s similar car in the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Series presented by D-Wagon on Sunday for his first victory since early in the 2021 season. In the eighth of 10 rounds, Jackson earned his 12th career victory and first since the 2021 four-wide race at zMAX Dragway, with his quickest run of the weekend. From No. 5, he defeated Khalid AlBalooshi, Indy winner Lyle Barnett and reigning champ Jose Gonzalez to reach – and win – the championship round.

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series – including Pro Stock Motorcycle – and NHRA FuelTech Pro Mod Drag Racing Series have little time to digest this second of three consecutive weekend races before encamping at World Wide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis for the NHRA Midwest Nationals next weekend, September 30-October 2. 

By Anne Proffit

About Anne Proffit 987 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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