Everything’s Bigger at NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex

NHRA’s visits to Texas Motorplex have grown over the years. This season marks the 39th race for Camping World Drag Racing Series and Lucas Oil Sportsman Series racers at the facility south of Dallas. The Billy Meyer and Chrissy Meyer Johnson-owned dragstrip now has a 10-day Stampede of Speed that engages area residents and prompts fans to arrive early and stay late.

This year’s 3rd annual Stampede is no different. It began the weekend prior to the Fall Nationals with a cattle drive though nearby downtown Waxahachie on Friday, October 6, followed by a music festival at the track on Saturday and Sunday. The inaugural Texas Invitational match race was won by Camping World Funny Car racer Terry Haddock, over Top Fuel’s Mitch King. The Sunday night finale gave Haddock the Texas Invitational championship belt. On Monday there was a celebrity media race and fan track warmup, followed Tuesday by a Stampede of Speed Shootout.

Terry Haddock and his Ford Mustang Funny Car won the Invitational

Testing ensued on Wednesday, together with the Champions Dinner saluting last year’s winners, while Thursday was dedicated to a Fan Fest in Waxahachie. NHRA has scheduled a pair of Camping World qualifying sessions for Friday, complemented by two on Saturday and final eliminations starting at the crack of noon Sunday. Mixed in with these activities are Lucas Oil qualifying and eliminations, together with the JEG’s Allstar eliminations, which begin on Friday.

This weekend’s race traditionally brings out a wide range of racers from all across the country and starting with Top Fuel, it’s an over-subscribed grouping of 19 dragsters competing for the yellow No. 1 qualifier’s cap and a blue cap, medal and Wally trophy signifying the race win. In addition to 12 Countdown to the Championship playoff contenders, led by Doug Kalitta, Leah Pruett, Steve Torrence, Justin Ashley, Antron Brown, Mike Salinas, Brittany Force, Clay Millican, Tony Schumacher, Austin Prock, Shawn Langdon and Josh Hart, there are seven racers just aching to cause trouble for this dozen drivers.

Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta is showing off Kalitta Motorsports' Mobil 1 partnership - Kalitta Motorsports photo
Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta is showing off Kalitta Motorsports’ Mobil 1 partnership – Kalitta Motorsports photo

It’s becoming a custom to have “blockers” to protect standings in this sport; Torrence Racing’s Billy Torrence, who won this race in 2019 and then lost in the finals to son Steve a year later is making his season debut in this fourth race of these playoffs. He’s joined by Buddy Hull, who was part of last weekend’s Texas Invitational, local racers Spencer Massey and Mitch King, Krista Baldwin, Doug Foley and Gilmer, Texas’ Jacob McNeal. Can any one of these part-timers and/or regulars upset the points standings by Sunday night?

J.R. Todd’s pink livery for Breast Cancer Awareness month – Kalitta Motorsports photo

Funny Car has 18 entries for the Fall Nationals, with all 11 Countdown-eligible racers on the grounds. With 261 points separating Bob Tasca III and his Ford Mustang in first from two-time champion Cruz Pedregon’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat in 11th place, the standings are apt to get shuffled by the time four qualifying sessions and four rounds of eliminations are settled. The balance of playoff-eligible racers are Robert Hight’s John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS, Matt Hagan in Tony Stewart Racing’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, reigning 2022 Texas race and championship winner Ron Capps’ Toyota GR Supra, Chad Green’s Ford Mustang, J.R. Todd in Kalitta Motorsports’ Toyota GR Supra, Tim Wilkerson’s Mustang, Alexis DeJoria’s DC Motorsports Toyota GR Supra, John Force’s Camaro SS and Alex Laughlin in Jim Dunn Racing’s Funny Car. The latter team will be racing with a heavy heart after the death of friend and sponsor Rob DiPinto.

Who can cause havoc to this group? Start with Blake Alexander in Jim Head’s Mustang, an always-competitive driver and car, Jack Wyatt’s Charger, Paul Lee’s Charger, Haddock’s Mustang, Dave Richards’ Mustang, Dale Creasy’s Dodge Stratus and surfer Jeff Diehl’s Toyota Camry. Any one of these drivers is capable of producing a good lap on any given day and Haddock, already a winner at this track in 2023, could continue to shine over the coming weekend.

“I this [the championship] is going to come down to a few teams rolling into Pomona that are going to have a shot at it,” said Ron Capps, reigning champion and two-time consecutive winner in Dallas. For his eponymous team, “It would be nice to gain some more common out of Dallas, but I really see it just continuing to tighten up because there are so many good cars that can make a run the last three races.”

Camrie Caruso goes pink for October – courtesy KB Titan Racing

Pro Stock has an enormous – for NHRA these days – entry list of 23 cars. Most of them are Chevrolet Camaros controlled by the two largest teams: KB Titan Racing and Elite Motorsports. There’s a smattering of Ford Mustangs for the Cuadra family, racing with Elite preparation, together with the lone Dodge Dart of Alan Prusiensky. While it would seem to make the class a bit boring, machinations between the Big Two have made this year’s door slammer class one to watch. When NHRA allowed all full-time entrants eligibility for the playoffs, Pro Stock’s Countdown crowd swelled to 16 cars. The gap between Erica Enders in first and Fernando Cuadra’s 16th placed Camaro is 361 points, making any quest on his part to move to even the top 10 a pipe dream.

With three races left to run this season, let’s consider first through 11th prime contenders. Despite losing in St. Louis, five-time champ and reigning champ Erica Enders of Elite Motorsports leads the standings with fellow five-timer, KB Titan’s Greg Anderson just 25 points back after earning his 103rd victory near the St Louis Arch. His stablemates Matt Hartford and Dallas Glen are next on this list, followed by Elite’s Aaron Stanfield and Troy Coughlin Jr., Deric Kramer, Kyle Koretsky and Camrie Caruso of KB Titan are seventh through ninth, with Elite’s Bo Butner III and Cristian Cuadra next in line. Cuadra, one of three family members racing a Mustang, is 195 points behind Enders. Caruso is saluting Breast Cancer Awareness month, one of many to do so, with a pink Camaro this weekend.

Greg Anderson is second to Erica Enders in Pro Stock – NHRA photo

Texas Motorplex hosts the return of Val Smeland and Kenny Delco, who used to race this class on a full-time basis, together with Larry Morgan, always a threat when he’s got the car working to his satisfaction. Eric Latino, Chris and Mason McGaha, Elite’s rookie Jerry Tucker, Joey Grose and Steve Graham comprise the balance of this strong field.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle landscape had to be adjusted following the third race in this six-contest Countdown to the Championship. With Angie Smith forced out of the championship hunt due to her qualifying accident on Saturday in St Louis, the standings have gotten a bit more unsettled. While she’s listed on the 18-bike entry list, two broken feet and severe road rash guarantee she won’t be riding this weekend. Hopefully she’ll be back on her Buell by the Gatornationals next March.

There are 12 eligible riders for the playoffs, with Vance & Hines’ Gaige Herrera, an eight-time winner this season a full 99 points ahead of Matt Smith. Their Suzuki battle is guaranteed to continue for the next three races and should go down to the wire at Pomona in mid-November, when NHRA crowns its champions.

Behind this duo are the Buell of Hector Arana Jr., Eddie Krawiec’s V&H Suzuki, rookie Chase Van Sant over-achieving on White Alligator Racing’s (WAR) Suzuki, Smith, her teammate Jianna Evaristo’s Suzuki, veteran Steve Johnson’s Suzuki, Marc Ingwersen’s Buell, Kelly Clontz’ Suzuki, Chris Bostick on a Suzuki and Ryan Oehler’s Buell, which is a stout 408 points behind Herrera.

Jianna Evaristo’s improvement shows the depth of Matt Smith Racing – Anne Proffit photo

Both Reed Motorsports Suzukis are on the entry list this weekend, for Joey Gladstone and Cory Reed; in St Louis, Gladstone rode a “blocker” Buell for Matt Smith Racing. Other entries include Richard Gadson’s Suzuki, both Michael Phillips and Malcolm Phillips Jr racing Suzukis, Michael with Reed Motorsports and Malcolm for Chris Bostick Motorsports, together with John Hall on the second WAR Suzuki. That’s a formidable field and, depending who’s blocking whom, the standings could shuffle in Texas.

There are a lot of NHRA classes taking part in this Stampede of Speed’s Fall Nationals, including Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car, Competition Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Top Sportsman, Top Dragster and Factory Stock Showdown. Top Alcohol Dragster looks to command a ton of attention, with Julie Nataas leading the points standings by 63 over three-time NASCAR Cup Series champ Tony Stewart. Logic would state that first through fifth are the ones to watch in Top Alcohol Dragster, with Matthew Cummings, Shawn Cowie and Jackie Fricke occupying those remaining spots. Fricke is 139 points behind Nataas.

 

Angelle Sampey makes her four-wheel debut this weekend

But still, eyes will be on a newcomer to this class as Angelle Sampey as the three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion makes her first race start on four wheels. She’s been practicing at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, but this will be her first time in competition. “I feel very confident going into this weekend,” she said after testing the Michael Brothers Racing’s A/Fuel Dragster. “What a night and day difference between where I’m at now and those first few licensing runs at Brainerd (MN) back in August.”

Once she’s successful on four wheels with Top Alcohol Dragster, the plan is to help Sampey move to Top Fuel as a teammate to three-time Top Fuel champion Antron Brown, who was her teammate at Don Schumacher Racing when both were competing in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Sampey intends to run these last three Camping World dates, together with a Lucas Oil divisional event at Las Vegas the weekend after NHRA’s Camping World penultimate race. She’ll do the full TAD season in 2024.

As tuners look for consistency on the Texas Motorplex all-concrete track, they can also look forward to clear, warm weather for this NHRA Fall Nationals race. At this time, Friday through Sunday show decreasing daily temperatures from 85 on Friday to 75 by Sunday, with zero chance of rain. One thing we can be sure about over the balance of Texas Motorplex’s Stampede of Speed: there will be plenty of action, both on and off the track.

About Anne Proffit 1224 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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