NHRA Countdown standings are all shook up after St Louis

Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Erica Enders and Matt Smith celebrate their victories - NHRA photo
Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Erica Enders and Matt Smith celebrate their victories. Photos: NHRA media
Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Erica Enders and Matt Smith celebrate their victories. Photos: NHRA media

NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship for its Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors, just became a bit more jumbled in all classes.

The standings are rumpled with changes and the three-race sprint from Reading to Charlotte to St. Louis is now in the past, allowing competitors a week to recover before the Stampede of Speed’s NHRA Fall Nationals on Texas Motorplex’s drag strip in two weeks.

The winners at Wide World Technology Raceway’s drag strip might have looked familiar: Steve Torrence took his second win of the year in Top Fuel and moved from fifth to second in the standings, Robert Hight gave John Force Racing its 300th team victory as the company president hurtles towards title No. 4 in Funny Car, Erica Enders’ Pro Stock rampage continues as she widens her points lead with an eighth win on the year and fourth straight in St Louis, while Matt Smith and his trusty Buell assassinate the Pro Stock Motorcycle field after a week off for the two-wheel crowd.

Torrence was the No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel with eventual runner-up Josh Hart second. All of the qualified racers had their eyes on No. 5 qualifier Brittany Force, who annihilated the national speed record in her first-round match-up with teammate – and Reading winner – Austin Prock, securing her legend with a speed of 338.43 mph (3.665 sec). Force was out after the second round, though, which she lost to Doug Kalitta. There were some surprises in that initial round of eliminations, as points leader Justin Ashley fell to Mike Salinas, the Scrappers patriarch who fell in the second round to Hart. Antron Brown was out after Round 1, as well, ceding to Clay Millican in a pedalfest.

Steve Torrence's "Drive for Five" victory took him from fifth to second place in the Top Fuel standings. Photo: Mark Rebilas
Steve Torrence’s “Drive for Five” victory took him from fifth to second place in the Top Fuel standings. Photo: Mark Rebilas

“There’s still work to do (in order to win the championship),” Torrence said after donning his winner’s blue hat and leading an animated foursome in the Winners Circle, “but we’ve got ourselves back in the hunt and we’ll have some momentum going home to Dallas. Every round was a big round for us.” Winning his 53rd Top Fuel race in his sixth year earning at least one Countdown race, Torrence has the longest active streak in the series.

Both Doug Kalitta and Tony Schumacher looked as they did in their vintage days, with runs to the semifinals and quarterfinals, respectively. Schumacher’s P6 qualifier looked like a corner turn, especially after his stout defeat of Leah Pruett in the first round, but he couldn’t get past Shawn Langdon, losing traction at the tree. Even Ashley, who fell in the first round – for the first time since Norwalk in late June – to Salinas, didn’t lose the points lead, but saw his advantage shrink and his pursuers change from Brown, Force, Salinas and Torrence to Torrence (-14), Force (-30), Salinas (-35) and Brown, whose first-round exit cost him mightily. The three-time champ is now 43 points behind Ashley. 

Hight, who now has seven victories on the season and a 46-point advantage, up from 27, to Sunday’s runner-up Ron Capps, the reigning titleholder, was on rails this weekend after last Sunday’s early departure. Both the Chevrolet Camaro SS of Hight and Capps’ Toyota GR Supra were on fire in Madison, IL, just across the river from St. Louis. Hight had the No. 1 qualifier but Capps had the No. 3 spot, with legend John Force between them. They lasted longer than the 16-time champ, who made it to the semifinals before Capps showed him the door.

With a light field at WWTR, Hight had a bye run in the first round, while Capps defeated Daniel Wilkerson’s Ford Mustang. In the quarterfinals, it was Hight who dispensed with Daniel’s dad, Tim Wilkerson, also racing a Mustang, while Capps defeated fellow team owner/driver and two-time champ Cruz Pedregon’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. In the penultimate round, Capps beat John Force’s Camaro SS while Hight defeated fellow three-time champ Matt Hagan and his Tony Stewart Racing Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. The final round between the two top Funny Car racers in 2022 was a classic, with Hight’s better reaction time taking out Capps’ better ET and speed by a margin of victory of .0151. 

Robert Hight’s team celebrates their 7th 2022 win – John Force Racing photo

When the NHRA Midwest Nationals began, Robert Hight had a 27-point advantage on Ron Capps. When it was over, he had 46 points in hand, heading into a much-needed weekend off. Matt Hagan’s now 103 points behind Hight and his Chevrolet Camaro SS. John Force is still in fourth place but needs to make up 114 points, while Bob Tasca III and his Ford Mustang’s quarterfinals result keeps him in fifth place, 170 points back. It would be easy to say this is a two-man battle, but that doesn’t take into account how far the points pendulum can swing at any given track on any given day. Alexis DeJoria and J.R. Todd (Toyota GR Supra), Tim Wilkerson, Pedregon and Jim Dunn Racing’s Jim Campbell comprise the current top 10.

Enders celebrates her record sixth Pro Stock win at WWTR – NHRA photo

The way Erica Enders is racing these days, there should be a bit of fear in the hearts of Pro Stock competitors. Sure, she didn’t get the No. 1 qualifier’s yellow hat, but the winner of six races at WWTR (the most of any NHRA racer), and four consecutive, knows what Sunday means – and it’s a heck of a lot more important and relevant than Friday or Saturday qualifying sessions. Enders qualified fourth for last weekend’s race outside St Louis; like most in the Pro Stock class, she’s racing a Chevrolet Camaro, with the few exceptions of most of the Cuadra family and Alan Prusiensky’s Dodge Dart.

Kyle Koretsky earned the No. 1 qualifier’s blue hat and ran unopposed in the first round. He beat Deric Kramer in the quarterfinals and lasted until the semifinals where Enders bested him by a scant .008 seconds in an Elite vs KB battle. A similar match-up awaited Enders vs last year’s Rookie of the Year, Dallas Glenn in the finals, but the younger driver, Glenn fouled and gifted Enders with the win. Enders has been racing at this track since she was all of 15 years old: “This track has definitely been great to us,” she said. “I’m hopeful to keep the drive for five [world championships] alive. This has been a tremendous year for our team; I’m so proud to have them.” Enders beat Chris McGaha, teammate Troy Coughlin Jr. and Koretsky to reach this final round.

With last week’s winner, Aaron Stanfield having a less than wonderful weekend, he’s given up more than 50 points to his teammate with a quarterfinals loss to Glenn and now trails Enders by 120 points, while Koretsky needs to make up 153 points and keep ahead of Coughlin Jr. in fourth, who is only four points behind him. Reigning titleholder Greg Anderson of KB Racing is fifth, 160 points behind Enders as the Pro Stock class enjoys a weekend off.

Matt Smith and his Buell motorcycle are looking like they’re ready to be champs again

Pro Stock Motorcycle isn’t racing all six contests; the two-wheel crowd sat out Charlotte this year, which means a truly tight race from first through – at least – eighth places. Reigning titleholder Matt Smith, who watched Joey Gladstone race to the blue winner’s hat in Reading, now has a scant 21 points on the Suzuki challenger. Matt’s wife Angie Smith on her Buell, who admitted to a personal riding error (caught her glove on the handle bars) is 90 points behind after a quarterfinal loss to Gladstone, while fourth-place Suzuki rider Eddie Krawiec (-106) made it as far as the semifinals before losing to Jerry Savoie’s Suzuki.

Jerry Savoie’s Suzuki is running extremely well.

Savoie, the 2016 class champion, has been riding well and it shows with this week’s runner-up result and his sixth place lag of 108 points, while Steve Johnson keeps having all kinds of ridiculous issues that have seen him fall to fifth place and 108 points behind Matt Smith. At this point, with three races left to run, Pro Stock Motorcycle is one tight class and, if you look through the field, it’s safe to say that first through seventh place, Angelle Sampey taking that spot with 116 points to make up, are the primary riders to keep one’s eyes set on. Marc Ingwersen, Karen Stoffer and Ryan Oehler all had tough weekends and need others to simply fall apart to have any chance of upward movement in the standings.

NHRA’s fourth Countdown race, The NHRA FallNationals is part of the 10-day Stampede of Speed at Texas Motorplex, and takes place the third weekend of October (13-16). The race meeting includes all four Camping World classes as well as the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown. A full complement of Lucas Oil Sportsman classes are also on the schedule for this race.

About Anne Proffit 1264 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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