Multitude of Opportunities on Tap at 39th NHRA Arizona Nationals

This weekend’s 39th Arizona NHRA Nationals on the Firebird Motorsports Park dragstrip southeast of Phoenix, AZ offers racers opportunities to succeed they don’t normally get in a single race meeting. After the 64th Lucas Oil Winternationals were hit by Saturday and Sunday’s massive rain squalls, thunderstorms and even hail, NHRA made the wise decision to hold final rounds – all that was left in play – during this weekend’s race, giving finalists the opportunity to double up by winning both the second and third events in a 20-race 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series calendar.

Justin Ashley has three opportunities to win this weekend in Arizona – Anne Proffit photo

As at Pomona, three professional classes are in play at Firebird: Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock. Saturday afternoon’s third and final qualifying session will see the conclusion of the rained out race from In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip: in Top Fuel, it’s 2023 Arizona Nationals and 2023 Winternationals winner Justin Ashley against eight-time dragster champ Tony Schumacher. That’s marquee matchup No. 1. For Funny Car, how about 16-time champ and the winner of 155 national events, John Force, meeting reigning and four-time champ Matt Hagan. This is a Chevrolet vs Dodge matchup as well as a mind-blowing battle of the big boys. Yes, Pro Stock has six-time champ Erica Enders of Elite Motorsports in the Winternationals finals, against former Rookie of the Year Dallas Glenn, from KB Titan Racing.

In the midst of all that excitement on Saturday afternoon, taking place as the final and third qualifying run for all combatants, Mission Foods has its #2Fast2Tasty Challenge as a race within a race, pitting semifinalists from Pomona to try and change those results from two weekends past. The Challenge begins on Friday with the first round and culminates Saturday in the second qualifying round. In Top Fuel, Schumacher again needs to get past Billy Torrence, while Ashley hopes to beat Brittany Force to make the Challenge finals on Saturday afternoon.

Tony Schuacher is ready to win – Anne Proffit photo

In Funny Car, John Force and his Chevrolet Camaro SS take on the Toyota GR Supra of Ron Capps, who is marking his 30th year of professional NHRA competition this weekend; Capps, a three-time Funny Car champion, started his career in Roger Primm’s dragster at this venue in 1995 and has a single victory in that class, to go with his 75 Flopper titles over the years, including three at Firebird. Hagan, racing with Tony Stewart Racing (TSR Nitro) in his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, has to get past Kalitta Motorsports’ J.R. Todd, the Gainesville victor who pilots a Toyota GR Supra racecar.

The Lucas Oil Winternartionals semifinalists in Pro Stock were, in one case familiar foes: Greg Anderson versus Erica Enders. She prevailed in Pomona; can she do it again this week? Dallas Glenn, who had a tough 2023 season, is hoping to repeat his third round Pomona victory against Mason McGaha. All four Pro Stock racers have Chevrolet Camaro bodies and engines at their deployment.

Now let’s talk Phoenix and the possibility of winning three times over Saturday and Sunday’s activities. It could happen! Of course last year’s Phoenix winners might have something to say about that. Ashley definitely has the chance to win three times, but last year’s Funny Car winner, Robert Hight of John Force Racing (JFR) is on the sidelines (so far) this season with medical issues so he can’t repeat, but substitute Austin Prock would be overjoyed to earn his first NHRA Funny Car Wally in Hight’s stead and keep the bragging rights at JFR. Camrie Caruso, driving with KB Titan Racing power, earned her first Pro Stock victory at this race last year; will her second win come at this same event?

Last year it was announced that this venue outside Phoenix would be closing; there’s been a reprieve and a name change, from Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park to Firebird motorsports Park, the latter returning a long-time traditional nomenclature to this time-worn track. The teams and fans involved in NHRA straight-line racing have been relieved to see the track remaining on the schedule and to have its name restored. No doubt there will be a multitude of traffic jams as fans return to cheer on their favorites.

There are 16 Top Fuel racers on the entry list, including all of the top 10 entries (remember, this list is after a single race and doesn’t reflect the Winternationals): Shawn Langdon of Kalitte Motorsports, Torrence Racing’s Billy Torrence, SCAG Racing’s Justin Ashley, Steve Torrence of Torrence Racing, Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, Brittany Force, reigning champ Doug Kalitta, Josh Hart and Clay Millican. Joining them are rookie candidate Tony Stewart (TSR Nitro), Terry Totten, Shawn Reed, Krista Baldwin, Travis Shumake and Jasmine Salinas, the latter continuing to substitute for father Mike.

Ron Capps started his pro career in Top Fuel at the 1995 Phoenix race. He’s now a three-time Funny Car champ and team owner – Anne Proffit photo

After the season-starting 55th Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals, the Funny Car top 10 standings saw J.R. Todd atop the heap with his Kalitta Motorsports Toyota Gr Supra, followed by Matt Hagan’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat from TSR Nitro, Ron Capps’ Toyota GR Supra, Austin Prock in Robert Hight’s Chevrolet Camaro SS, John Force’s Camaro SS, Bob Tasca III’s Ford Mustang, Chad Green’s Mustang, Paul Lee in his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Terry Haddock’s Mustang and Cruz Pedregon’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

There are 18 Funny Car entries shown for this race, with the top 10 joined by Buddy Hull in Jim Dunn’s Dodge Charger, Dave Richards’ Toyota Camry, Blake Alexander in Jim Head’s Mustang, Daniel Wilkerson’s Mustang, Jim Campbell in a 2008 Chevy, Jeff Diehl’s Toyota Camry, Alexis DeJoria’s Toyota GR Supra and, finally, Bobby Bode III’s Mustang. There’s quite a few drivers and cars on this latter list that are capable of changing the standings in a powerful manner.

Will this be Greg Anderson’s break-through race? Anne Proffit photo

Ready for 20 Pro Stock cars in Phoenix? That’s the number of listed entries, and includes the entire top 10 list, left over from the Gatornationals in mid-March. After winning her first-ever Gatornationals, Elite Motorsports’ Erica Enders sits on the sharp end of this grid, followed by Dallas Glenn, Greg Anderson (both of KB Titan Racing), Elite’s Cristian and David Cuadra, rookie Brandon Foster and Matt Hartford of KB Titan, Elite’s Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Aaron Stanfield, with Mason McGaha finishing up the top 10.

That group is joined by Elite’s Troy Coughlin Jr., reigning Phoenix winner Camrie Caruso of KB Titan, Deri Kramer, rookie Sienna Wildgust, veteran Kenny Delco, Eric Latino of KB Titan, Elite’s Jerry Tucker, Joey Grose, Fernando Cuadra Jr. and Chris McGaha. Fernando Cuadra, who is recovering from injuries to his hand, is hoping to return for the next race at Las Vegas, he said.

In addition to the three Mission Foods’ Pro classes, Congruity NHRA Pro Mod will be in session for its second – of 10- races of the season, along with Lucas Oil Sportsman classes of Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Top Sportsman and Top Dragster. While the Phoenix area has seen quite a bit of rainfall recently, the only moisture in the extended forecast currently looks to possible Friday night showers. Otherwise, temps should be in the high 60s to low 70s, with breezy conditions through the weekend and very cool evening conditions. In other words, the forecasts call for great racing weather.

About Anne Proffit 1271 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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