This weekend’s 34th annual Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals at Seattle Raceways is the second race in a three week-long Western Swing for the Camping World Drag Racing Series. Past versions had this event as the culmination of a tough trio, but NHRA, wanting to shake up the schedule a bit, placed the Washington state race second after Denver and made Sonoma the close of its 2023 Western Swing.
Three of the four Camping World Drag Racing Series professional classes will be on hand for the 11th of 21 races this year. Expect to see both Top Fuel and Funny Car nitro categories, together with Pro Stock Motorcycle, which means Clay Millican, Matt Hagan and Gaige Herrera can attempt to earn the three-race Western Swing sweep this year. Pro Stock cars are on hiatus until the Kansas round after Sonoma.
Just as the final Bandimere race had a few special guests, like Kenny Bernstein warming up Antron Brown’s dragster, as well as a Saturday tribute to the late Cathi Maynard, this trip to the Pacific Northwest features a visit from another racing legend, as Don “The Snake” Prudhomme is set to serve as Grand Marshal for the Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals. He’ll appear at special events during the race meeting, including a Saturday autograph session. He’ll also lead the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk on Sunday prior to eliminations and will get called out by NHRA announcers in the pre-race festivities.
There are three rounds of qualifying for this event, with a single Friday opportunity starting at 4PM PT, and two on Saturday, starting at 1:45PM and 4:15PM. In the midst of these session, all three classes will take part in the latest Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle. In addition to those three professional classes, the weekend features Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Competition Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Top Sportsman, Top Dragster and Jr. Dragster classes.
The Western Swing usually encompasses short fields and this second of three consecutive races is no different. There are 13 dragsters entered for Top Fuel, including everyone in the Top 10. Despite his 11th place qualifying and first round exit, Justin Ashley retains a 54-point advantage over Steve Torrence, who is one of a very few racers to have won at every current Camping World venue at least once; the Texan last won here in 2012.
Ashley is hoping the season’s peaks and valleys even out in Seattle; while he enjoys taking Mission’s money on Saturday and earning “baby points” for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs that begin after the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend, he’s hoping to celebrate Maynard Family Racing’s first anniversary by earning a winner’s blue hat on Sunday. Tony Schumacher initiated the family’s entry last year with his 86th NHRA Top Fuel victory, his fifth at this track.
With her increasing consistency and speed under the care of crew chief Neal Strausbaugh, Leah Pruett now holds third-place Top Fuel points for Tony Stewart Racing, followed by reigning champ and track record holder Brittany Force of John Force Racing. She was runner-up to Schumacher last year at her sponsor’s race. Force’s teammate Austin Prock retains fifth place points, followed by Antron Brown, Mike Salinas, Josh hart, Bandimere runner-up Doug Kalitta and Bandimere race winner Clay Millican, who pushed Shawn Langdon back to 11th place and kept Tony Schumacher in 12th.
The standings could change wildly in the dragster class this weekend, with byes due to the short field. Ron Smith, a local racer is the sole interloper in these proceedings. The four racers in the Mission Challenge are Clay Millican, Shawn Langdon, Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence.
Funny Car, too has a 13-car, puny entry list, but everyone on the Top 10 list has made the trek over the Rocky Mountains to compete this weekend. Thanks to his Denver victory in his sponsor’s home race, Matt Hagan and his Tony Stewart Racing Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat enhanced their lead over reigning champ Ron Capps and his self-entered Toyota GR Supra. Capps is a four-time victor at this track and a five-time runner-up.
Hagan now has 45 points on his fellow three-time champ, followed by Denver runner-up Alexis DeJoria’s GR Supra, Robert Hight in John Force Racing’s Chevrolet Camaro SS, Chad Green, Bob Tasca III and Tim Wilkerson in their Ford Mustang floppers, 16-time champ John Force’s Camaro, J.R. Todd’s Kalitta Motorsports Toyota GR Supra and Cruz Pedregon in 10th place, racing his self-entered Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, 344 points behind Hagan.
John Force has the most wins at this track – nine – but none yet in the Mission Challenge. He won’t be in that race-within-a-race in Seattle, but Hagan, Capps, DeJoria and Todd sure will. An important note: all of the Kalitta cars (Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel, J.R. Todd in Funny Car) raced to – at least – the semifinals in Denver. In addition to our Top 10, look for Alex Laughlin in Jim Dunn’s Funny Car, Blake Alexander, looking for a second win this year in Jim Head’s Mustang, Chad Green’s Mustang and Jeff Diehl, the surfing drag racer from Salinas, CA in his Toyota Camry.
Toyota, which won in Norwalk – twice – is sitting on 199 victories in both nitro classes, Top Fuel and Funny Car, and have many opportunities to take No. 200 amidst the Seattle trees. In Funny Car they can count on reigning champ Ron Capps, Alexis DeJoria and J.R. Todd; the Top Fuel contingent includes Antron Brown, Justin Ashley, Steve Torrence, Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon.
While he hasn’t won a national event race so far this year, six-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith did take his Suzuki Hayabusa to the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge winner’s circle on Saturday at Denver, and then watched as wife Angie raced her Buell against Vance & Hines’ Suzuki Hayabusa rider Gaige Herrera in the final round, where she fouled.
Herrera’s victory last weekend left him with a 219-point advantage over the Buell of Hector Arana Jr., while Steve Johnson’s first round exit left him third, followed by Angie Smith, Vance & Hines’ Eddie Krawiec, Matt Smith i sixth, Chase Van Sant’s WAR Suzuki in seventh, Jianna Evaristo’s Matt Smith Racing Suzuki in eighth, the Buells of Marc Ingswersen and Ryan Oehler, the latter a gaping 443 points behind Herrera. Those lining up for the Mission Challenge are Angie Smith, Hector Arana Jr., Gaige Herrera and rookie Chase Van Sant.
Pro Stock Motorcycle has 14 entries this weekend for its first trip to the Pacific Northwest; in addition to those in the Top 10, look for Kelly Clontz’ Suzuki, Chris Bostick’s Suzuki and Lance Bonham’s Buell in the staging lanes. The class also has a major “ringer” coming to compete this weekend: Karen Stoffer will wield the Suzuki ridden late last season by Gaige Herrera, prepped by Gary Stoffer and Greg Underdahl.
It looks like the NHRA will be gifted with good weather over the upcoming weekend in the greater Seattle area, as temps are expected to be in the low 80s with cloud cover on Friday and Saturday but clear and sunny skies expected on Sunday. Ron Capps summed up Seattle: “We’ll have the altitude change, back down to sea level, and this is a track where we often see some of the best air, with all of the trees surrounding… “ Qualifying will be shown on FS1 with eliminations scheduled for the FOX broadcast network on Sunday fro 4-7PM ET.