The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series has completed six of 21 races on its 2023 calendar and continues this weekend with the 10th annual NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire. The seventh race on the schedule features three rounds of qualifying for Top Fuel and Funny Car, together with the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge on Saturday for both classes. Both Pro Stock categories have the weekend off but will return for Norwalk at the end of the month.
Despite not having won a race thus far in the season, Steve Torrence continues to lead the Top Fuel standings, with a 17-point advantage over reigning champion Brittany Force of John Force Racing. Her teammate, Austin Prock is just 27 points back in third place, while Justin Ashley, who joined the JCM family of racers at Joliet in May, is fourth, 31 points behind in his Maynard Ashley Racing (MAR) dragster. Leah Pruett of Tony Stewart Racing continues a consistent season, just three points behind Ashley, while Antron Brown (-92), Joliet runner-up Josh Hart (-95), Mike Salinas (-97), Shawn Langdon and Doug Kalitta complete the top 10 in points.
All of them will be on-site for this race, but it’s a minimal field in Epping, only 13 cars on the dragster entry list. In spite of his Joliet victory, his first in five years, Clay Millican is in 11th place, while eight-time champion and JCM Racing stalwart Tony Schumacher is 12th in the points standings. Dan Mercier, from Quebec province north of the U.S. border is the lone part-timer entered in this race. After reaching the final round in Joliet, Josh Hart is definitely on the upswing, but he’s got a lot of work to catch up to the class’ front-runners.
Kalitta Motorsports’ Langdon and Kalitta are trying to find consistency in their tune-ups; perhaps Langdon’s use of Bounty Hunter livery at this race will help? Doug Kalitta is still in a 49-race-win holding pattern hoping to make his way to the 50-win column. While the veteran started the season with some good results, it’s been an up-and-down process for Kalitta, who qualified third in the most recent race and recorded a round win outside Chicago. “We all know what we need to do and we know how to do it,” Kalitta said. “We had a good test session before Chicago and made some progress in that race. Our job now is to build on that progress.”
The situation in Funny Car is a wee bit healthier, but not much. It’s a long haul to Epping from wherever one’s shop is located, so to have 15 cars on the entry list is a good thing. Of course all the regulars will be accounted for, including the most recent winner, Tim Wilkerson. The fan favorite’s victory outside Chicago was pretty much a “home” win, as the track is near his Springfield, IL home and workshops. Matt Hagan, driver of Tony Stewart Racing’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat continues to lead the standings despite an early departure two weeks ago, but he’s got reigning titleholder Ron Capps and his self-owned Toyota GR Supra nipping at his heels in second, 13 points behind.
Capps has had consistency in the first six events of the year that have seen him go to a trio of finals and earn a single No. 1 qualifier, all of which give him added points. Everyone’s nemesis, the Jimmy Prock-tuned Robert Hight, driver of the John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS is in third place, while Alexis DeJoria and her Toyota GR Supra had their first forgettable weekend of the year at Joliet; she’s hoping to regain her mettle this weekend in Epping as she holds fourth place in the standings, 62 behind the leader. Wilkerson and his Ford Mustang leapfrogged to fifth place with his victory at Joliet and has 87 points to make up, while his technical partner, also driving a Mustang, Chad Green is sixth (-91).
This Epping race is a “home” event for Rhode Island’s Bob Tasca III, hoping to take a home win in his Mustang, but he needs to make up 117 points to Hagan. The most successful Funny Car racer of all time, 16-time champion John Force is eighth in the standings with his Camaro SS followed by Cruz Pedregon’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and J.R. Todd’s Kalitta Motorsports Toyota GR Supra. Todd went to the semifinals last year; he’s hoping to find some consistency and get his season back on track.
Everyone on the top 10 list is entered for this race, together with Alex Laughlin in Jim Dunn’s Flopper, Terry Haddock’s Mustang, Mike Smith in a Mustang, Blake Alexander in Jim Head’s Ford and Jim Campbell, returning to Funny Car action in a Chevy.
In addition to the nitro classes, Pro Mod is racing this weekend, together with Lucas Oil racers in Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Top Sportsman, Mountain Motor Pro Stock and Top Dragster. There will be specialty events like the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, nostalgia runs and cacklefests, and a Top Fuel Motorcycle exhibition featuring Vantine vs Fenwick.
NHRA has to hope this race actually occurs, as weather reports show nothing but showers for both Saturday and Sunday with temps in the mid-50s! Only Friday will see warmer weather (89 forecast) but the scattered thunderstorms, some heavy and/or torrential, might be on the docket. It could make for a very long weekend in the Northeast corner of the United States! The showers are not expected to abate until Thursday of next week.