Kalitta, Tasca III, Coughlin Jr. Earn 4-Wide Laurels in Las Vegas

First-time 2024 winners Bob Tasca III, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Doug Kalitta celebrate in Las Vegas Winner's Circle - NHRA photo
First-time 2024 winners Bob Tasca III, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Doug Kalitta celebrate in Las Vegas 4-Wide Winner’s Circle – NHRA photo

For its fourth event on a 20-race calendar, NHRA’s Mission Foods Drag Racing Series held the first of two consecutive 4-Wide events this past weekend on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway north of Sin City. While 4-wide races mean there aren’t as many opportunities to see cars on the track, when this system works, it sure works well.

And that’s what happened this weekend, as Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock racers battled for honors in Sunday’s 24th annual 4-Wide NHRA Nationals event, adjacent to Nellis Air Force Base. Prior to eliminations, there were four qualifying sessions and the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, open to semifinalists from last weekend’s race at Firebird Motorsports Park outside Phoenix, AZ. The proximity of these two events made easy commutes for the truck drivers, accustomed to traveling for many more hours than needed on this occasion.

Once Sunday’s quads were completed, reigning Top Fuel champion Doug Kalitta, always-competitive Ford Mustang Funny Car pilot Bob Tasca III and Jeg Coughlin Jr., who returned to Pro Stock racing for another full-season run this year after three years racing Lucas Oil Sportsman classes, took his Chevrolet Camaro to join the two nitro stars in the familiar Winner’s Circle.

On Saturday, it was 2023 4-Wide victor Antron Brown who took the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge in Top Fuel, defeating Tony Stewart, Shawn Langdon and Doug Kalitta. Phoenix Funny Car victor Austin Prock earned the Flopper honors in his John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS against Paul Lee’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Blake Alexander and Daniel Wilkerson’s Ford Mustangs. Jeg Coughlin Jr. earned the Pro Stock nod with his Elite Motorsports Camaro, against Troy Coughlin Jr., Aaron Stanfield and Dallas Glenn, all dricing Camaro racecars.

Qualifying itself presented  preview of Sunday’s eliminations, as the race’s three victors were No. 1 qualifiers on Friday; only Kalitta remained in that catbird seat after the third and fourth qualifying sessions, joined by Prock and Jerry Tucker, a sophomore competitor in the Elite Motorsports squadron. His qualifying result marked Austin Prock’s third No. 1 in this young season, as he races in support of Robert Hight, absent for medical reasons.

Doug Kalitta earned his first Wally winner’s trophy of the 2024 campaign – NHRA photo

Kalitta, a first-time 2023 Top Fuel champion after trying for 26 years to earn his title, had a magical weekend sweep with his No. 1 qualifier, win in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge and, finally, the race win for his 54th victory in class. In the dragster final quad, Kalitta, owner of the low ET in each of the three elimination rounds he contested, used a 3.715-second final round blast – lowest time of his weekend – to defeat Justin Ashley, Steve Torrence and rookie Tony Stewart.

Giving Kalitta Motorsports three Top Fuel victories in four races (teammate Shawn Langdon has won twice), “That was a helluva run [in the final],” Doug Kalitta exclaimed, “and I was really happy to see that win light come on. Those other three teams are all hungry and all running pretty strong. That was about as exciting as it gets – it was a super-close race for all four cars. The fans got their money’s worth today, and we came out with the win.” Ashley was second, just .0032 seconds behind Kalitta, with Torrence third and tied for ET with Ashley (and a smidge faster – but his reaction time didn’t match up with Ashley’s), while Stewart, with the second-best reaction time, was fourth, about six feet in arrears.

The standings have Justin Ashley leading, with Shawn Langdon just 23 points back for Kalitta Motorsports, Steve Torrence third (-51), Kalitta fourth and lagging by 61 points, with Billy Torrence in fifth place, 102 points behind Ashley. Tony Stewart, Tony Schumacher, Brittany Force, Antron Brown and Josh Hart comprise the balance of the top 10 in Top Fuel.

In NHRA’s pair of nitro classes, smaller teams are having the better of larger squads, but these days, it’s unusual to find more than two cars aligned to the same team. So when Bob Tasca III emerged as the Funny Car victor in a single-car squad, it wasn’t really that unusual, although it might have been a few years ago. After all, his primary competitors in the final quad all come from one- and two-car teams in Funny Car.

Tasca, of course, races a Ford Mustang and has no true technical affiliation. He came from fourth in qualifying to extract three holeshot wins – it was the first triple holeshot win in Funny Car history – to slip past his final round opposition: runner-up and No. 1 qualifier Austin Prock in John Force Racing’s Chevrolet Camaro SS, three-time champ Ron Capps with his Toyota GR Supra and  reigning, four-time Funny Car titleholder Matt Hagan’s Tony Stewart Racing Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. All three of his competitors were quicker than Tasca but none of them had the quick RT of .034-sec in that finale, which was needed to claim a .0096-sec victory.

Bob Tasca III used three holeshot wins to earn his first title of 2024 – NHRA photo

Tasca, who suffered first-round departures in two of the previous three races, has a decades long relationship with Ford as his chosen manufacturer. “[Ford],” he said, “is the only reason we’re here. At the end of the day, we compete to win. I owe everything to the Ford Motor Company. It’s the ultimate honor – privilege – to be able to represent Ford. To be the last man standing with the trophy… it’s why we do it,” Tasca stated. “I knew I hit it good. I didn’t know how good it was but it was a great light, great car, great setup, and it’s exactly what we needed to do this weekend.”

Austin Prock has assumed the lead in Funny Car, while J.R. Todd is second (-48) in Kalitta Motorsports’ Toyota GR Supra, Tasca is third (-90), Hagan claims fourth, lagging by 106 points while 16-time champ John Force, the Phoenix victor, holds fifth-place points and is 113 points behind his teammate Prock. Ron Capps and Alexis DeJoria are sixth and seventh with their Toyota GR Supras, followed by Chad Green’s Mustang, Paul Lee’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and Daniel Wilkerson in tenth with his Mustang, 218 points behind Prock.

Five-time Pro Stock champion Coughlin, who was the No. 1 qualifier last weekend in Phoenix and found himself in a final quad with two of his Elite Motorsports teammates – six-time champ Erica Enders and No. 1 qualifier Jerry Tucker – raced against that duo and KB Titan Racing’s Brandon Foster, from the third lane. It was his masterful .031 light that ignited Coughlin’s final round result and aided him to his 66th Pro Stock victory. Tucker, second off the line with a .034 light, was the runner-up with Enders in third and hapless Foster, who fouled on the tree, not much of a factor.

Jeg Coughlin Jr. is firmly back in the Pro Stock wars – NHRA photo

“This was epic,” Coughlin Jr. exclaimed in the Winner’s Circle. “Our car was ready right out of the trailer Friday. We had three really good quads during race day and fortunately, I had a really good car. I felt in a groove all seven runs, from qualifying on to today,” he revealed. “I was letting the clutch out well, was driving well, navigating down the track. I can attest – after being away for three years – there’s nothing finer than seeing, in a four-wide, a blinking win light.” This was Coughlin’s first four-wide victory.

With her final round appearance (and his absence), Erica Enders now holds an 18-point advantage on KB Titan’s Dallas Glenn, with Glenn’s teammate Greg Anderson fourth (-38), Jeg Coughlin Jr. fourth with a 65-point disadvantage and Brandon Foster in fifth, 163 points behind Enders. Jerry Tucker, Cristian Cuadra (Elite Ford Mustang), Aaron Stanfield, David Cuadra and Troy Coughlin Jr. complete the top 10 in the door slammer class; Troy Coughlin Jr. is 211 points behind his teammate Enders.

NHRA is taking a short breather this upcoming weekend and returns to action April 26-28 with the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals on the zMAX Dragway dragstrip in Charlotte, North Carolina.

By Anne Proffit

About Anne Proffit 1269 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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