Last Dance for NHRA in Houston

Justin Ashley
Justin Ashley
Justin Ashley

This weekend marks the finale for yet another NHRA racetrack as Houston Raceway Park hosts the Camping World Drag Racing Series for a 35th and last running of the NHRA SpringNationals. Houston’s demise comes a year after the series lost its Atlanta, GA home and a year before its Phoenix, AZ venue is shuttered.

With a full slate of Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle in the professional ranks, the Camping World competitors will be joined by Lucas Oil stalwarts in Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car, Comp Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Top Sportsman and Top Dragster racers.

It’s been a couple of weeks since NHRA has been in action and the Camping World Series full-timers are looking at a much different Top Fuel lineup – and recent results – than they’ve been accustomed to in quite a while. Like more than four years!

For starters, there have been a quartet of races thus far in the 22-race Camping World 2022 campaign, and not one has been taken by Steve Torrence, the four-time and reigning dragster champion. There hasn’t even been a repeat winner, as Justin Ashley (Pomona), Mike Salinas (Phoenix), Tripp Tatum III at the Gatornationals and Brittany Force’s win in the Las Vegas Four-Wide Nationals locked the Texan out of the winner’s circle.

Houston is one of two “home” races for the Kilgore, TX resident, but he’s not the only Top Fuel Texan on the entry list. Tony Schumacher, the eight-time champion is gunning to win on his home turf, too, and is a three-time winner at this race. Schumacher last won here as a part-timer in 2020 and defeated Steve Torrence in that race. In his 12 appearances at Houston Raceway Park, Torrence has a single victory, 2021, in four final rounds – and four No. 1 qualifiers.

“I’m never going to forget the 2020 Houston event when I raced Steve Torrence in the final, because I think the margin of victory was like six ten-thousandths of a second. There’s a handful of races,” Schumacher said, “where you put the trophy on the shelf and you look back at it later, and think that particular race was outstanding. You look forward to rising up and getting those wins because they’re especially tough to come by.”

As for Torrence, “It’s always special to win the last one of anything. We were fortunate enough to win the last Traxxas Shootout (U.S. Nationals 2017), the last race at Englishtown (also 2017) and the last race at Chicago (2019 Route 66 Nationals), but to win Sunday in the last race at Houston would take it to another level.”

That duo will have to contend with 16 other Top Fuel racers, including three of four victors this year (Tripp Tatum III isn’t on the entry list) who want to win the last Houston race. For one, sophomore and two-time 2021 winner Josh Hart is looking to turn around his season after upgrading his equipment over the winter, yet having poor luck in the first four races. “Everyone knew the Top Fuel class would be tough this year; this weekend in Houston would be a great chance for us to make a positive move,” Hart said.

Third-year dragster pilot, Justin Ashley, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year won the last Texas race – at Dallas-adjacent Texas Motorplex – and hopes to make it two in a row in the Lone Star State. Like everyone else, he’s aching to get back in the car after two weekends without competition. He, Brittany Force and Mike Salinas, all winners in 2022, are gunning for a second blue winner’s hat, while Billy Torrence, Antron Brown, Shawn Langdon, Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican, Alex Laughlin (also a Texan), Buddy Hull, Austin Prock, Texan Mitch King, Cameron Ferre, Leah Pruett and Doug Foley are ready to challenge.

Ron Capps

Only 15 Funny Car entries are in the Baytown, TX pits this weekend, but one of them, Ron Capps, is still basking in his Las Vegas Four-Wide victory as he prepares to earn a fifth Houston victory (he’s a three-time runner-up). In the 34th edition of the SpringNationals, Capps was runner-up to Robert Hight. Capps has been going to Baytown a long time as a competitor (first in 1995 in Top Fuel) and before then as a crewman. “Conditions are always so good, and if the weather is right, that track will hold anything a crew chief will throw at it,” the 2021 NHRA Funny Car champ said.

Of course he’ll have to contend with Hight and his Chevrolet Camaro SS, the defending winner in Houston and who won the first two contests of this 22-race season for Funny Car. Hight’s father-in-law, 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, has the most wins at this track, seven, with the last one coming in 2002, also his 100th victory in the class. There’s nothing more Force wants than to pick up his 155th overall flopper victory and eighth at Houston in his Chevy Camaro SS.

This trio has a good group wanting to take them down, including Gainesville winner and three-time champ Matt Hagan (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat), Bob Tasca III’s Ford Mustang, Cruz Pedregon’s Hellcat, the Toyota Supra GRs of Alexis DeJoria and J.R. Todd, the 2018 champ, Tim Wilkerson’s Mustang, Jim Campbell in a Dodge, Paul Lee’s newly re-wrapped Charger, Terry Haddock, Blake Alexander, Chad Green and Bobby Bode III, all driving Ford Mustangs,

It’s a large, 20-car lineup for Pro Stock this weekend, another class that has a single two-time winner in Erica Enders, who won the first and fourth contests of the season as she works toward her fifth title in this tough Pro Stock class. At this point, she’s three points behind teammate Aaron Stanfield in this Camaro-heavy class; only Cristian Cuadra, ninth in the top 10 is driving something other than the popular Chevrolet product (he and his father and brother all drive Elite-prepared Mustangs).

Last year’s champ, Greg Anderson (currently tied for sixth in points), his teammates Dallas Glenn (Gainesville winner currently third in points) and Kyle Koretsky will be looking to get their KB Racing Camaro’s into the winer’s circle, as is Troy Coughlin Jr., who’s tied with Anderson for sixth in an Elite Camaro. Mason McGaha is fifth and on this weekend’s entry list along with dad Chris (15th in points), Bo Butner (8th) and Deric Kramer in 10th. Just behind these 11 drivers is rookie and third-generation racer Camrie Caruso, who feels she’s “making progress as a driver. The support I am getting from my family and team has been so important,” she said. She’s qualified for all four events and secured round wins in Arizona and Gainesville.

Matt Hartford, Shane Tucker, Rodger Brogdon, Alan Prusiensky (Dodge), Kenny Delco, Fernando Cuadra and Fernando Cuadra Jr, along with Mike Callahan (Dodge) are on the entry list. With such a stout group competing at Houston this weekend, just making the field will be a feat! It’ll be hard to bet against local, hometown hero Enders at this weekend’s track finale; she’s looking for her third victory and has momentum on her side after leaving Las Vegas in a blue, winner’s hat.

Karen Stoffer

The past month has been boring for Pro Stock Motorcycle, who are competing in only their second contest of the season. While the class broke records in Gainesville last month, with Karen Stoffer being the first rider in history to reach the 6.60-second mark on her Suzuki, at least Stoffer has a pair of wins at this facility. to help momentum. Still, she’s got a strong group of contenders to deal with. Stoffer leads the standings, followed by Angie Smith (Buell), Joey Gladstone and Jerry Savoie (Suzuki), Lance Bonham (Buell – but not on the entry list), Marc Ingwersen’s Buell, Steve Johnson and Eddie Krawiec’s Suzukis, David Barron on a Buell and Chris Bostick’s Suzuki.

Angie Smith
Angie Smith

The entry list is comprised of 16 motorcycles, so everyone on this list should be in the water box come Sunday. Among the riders not in the top 10 currently, but looking to make their way forward include Ryan Oehler (Buell), Michael Ray Jr (Buell), LE Tonglet, making his return to the class on a Suzuki, Jim Underdahl and Kelly Clontz on Su

Camrie Caruso
Camrie Caruso

zuki motorcycles. When Matt Smith, now a five-time champion, failed to get out of the first round in Florida on his new Suzuki, he marched down the points standings to 10th, but will likely be stronger in Houston where, as we’ve already noted, fast times are common.

NHRA reverts to three qualifying sessions for this weekend’s 35th annual SpringNationals, the last professional race to be held at Houston Raceway Park. The first session on Friday night starts at twilight, with Pro Stock Motorcycle starting at 6PM, followed by Pro Stock and the two nitro classes, Funny Car and Top Fuel scheduled to begin at 7PM CDT. On Saturday, Pro Stock qualifying starts at 1PM with nitro lining up at 2PM, then doing it all over again beginning at 4:15PM. The weather should cooperate with the racers, giving them a high just edging past 80 on Friday and Saturday but a touch warmer on race day Sunday. Friday night qualifying could produce some big numbers with this kind of fair weather so Houston is looking to go out with plenty of wide-eye action.

About Anne Proffit 1222 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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