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With three races in the can for the Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock combatants in NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series - Pro Stock Motorcycle began at the third contest, the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. - the scenery is decidedly different from the past few years.
For starters, Steve Torrence hasn’t won a race yet this year. The four-consecutive-time Top Fuel titleholder hasn’t had a streak like this in quite a while, as NHRA welcomed three different victors in the first three events: Justin Ashley in Pomona, Mike Salinas at Phoenix and Gainesville winner Tripp Tatum III, who earned his first Wally winner’s trophy in the class, just as local racer Josh Hart did in 2021. While the Gators’ winner does affiliate with Torrence Racing he still must get down the track on his own, making his achievement - from the No. 1 qualifying position after only one pass - an exceptional achievement. Tatum beat Doug Foley in the finals.
Torrence does have the upper hand where it pertains to four-wide racing, and NHRA is headed this weekend to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for its first, of two, four-wide competitions this year. Torrence has secured two of the last three four-wide victories at the track and six of the last seven, including four straight at zMAX Dragway outside Charlotte, N.C., the first track to host a Camping World national event in 2010.
Still, the winning machine that is Steve Torrence has competition, and plenty of it. While Tatum is not on the entry list this weekend, and neither are Steve’s father Billy and Doug Foley, he’ll have to contend with points leader Salinas, Brittany Force, Ashley (whose sponsorship agreement with Phillips Connect has been extended), Antron Brown, Shawn Langdon and Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican, Josh Hart, Tony Schumacher, Austin Prock, Rob Passey, Cameron Ferre, James Maroney and Leah Pruett. There’s 15 dragsters on the entry list for Las Vegas’s Four Wide Nationals, and while there’s been a lag of a couple of weeks for prep work, it’s a shame the field isn’t full. Salinas, Ashley, Torrence, Force and Millican lead the top 10 in this class - for the moment.
The lack of competition sure doesn’t hold for Funny Car, which anticipates 18 cars on the grounds this weekend. While not an unfamiliar activity, this group is hounding points leader Robert Hight of John Force Racing, who started the year with a pair of victories in Pomona and at Phoenix in his Chevrolet Camaro SS. Hight got snookered on the tree, in the second round of eliminations by Chad Green’s Mustang at the Gators and, while he continues to lead the point standings, at least he looked a bit more human in Gainesville. Still, the three-time champion is hounded by Tony Stewart Racing’s Matt Hagan, the Gatornationals winner over Blake Alexander - in Jim Head’s Ford Mustang.
This week’s entry list includes many of the usual suspects: reigning Funny Car champ Ron Capps’ Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Bob Tasca III’s Ford Mustang, Cruz Pedregon’s Hellcat, 16-time champ John Force’s Camaro SS, Alexis DeJoria in her new Toyota GR Supra, Hight, Tim Wilkerson’s Mustang, Jim Campbell’s Dodge, Hagan, Terry Haddock’s Mustang, Alexander, Kalitta Motorsports’ J.R. Todd, racing his GR Supra with the intent of taking a third title in the spring Vegas race, Green, Steven Densham’s Mustang, Jeff Diehl’s Camry, Jason Rupert in a Mustang, Bobby Bode III’s Mustang and Tony Jurado’s Mustang.
While Hagan is looking for back-to-back victories in this young season, he’s had success in the spring race, having earned three wins before the track was reconfigured to four-wise status. Hagan was the runner-up to Tasca, who won this four-wide race in 2021. Hagan will, once again, have to get around his former teammate Ron Capps, Mr Consistency, who had a difficult single qualifying session in Florida but still managed a semifinal result, beating Tasca and John Force before falling to Blake Alexander. The latter driver showed us all how much we missed Jim Head Racing after the tragic death of crewman Dylan Cromwell just before the October Las Vegas race. He’s definitely the reason for this team’s resurgence.
Erica Enders won last year’s Four-Wide Las Vegas competition in Pro Stock and is looking for her second victory of the year, having earned her first blue winner’s hat in the season starter at Pomona. The entry list shows 18 Pro Stock cars in the pits near Nellis Air Force Base north of the city, and it’s a robust group that will attempt to make Sunday’s eliminations. Enders is currently in second place behind teammate Aaron Stanfield in Pro Stock’s top 10 as the class shows a growing youth movement. Second-generation door slammer Kyle Koretsky is third, 2021 Rookie of the Year Dallas Glenn fourth, while Mason McGaha owns fifth place after three races. Reigning champ Greg Anderson is sixth, followed by Rodger Brogdon, Troy Coughlin Jr., Deric Kramer and rookie Camrie Caruso in tenth.
Pay some attention to the tenth-place Camaro driver. Caruso is making her first four-wide start in a rookie year in which she’s managed to make the field in each of three starts - in the top half of the field each time. The 24-year-old driver from Denver, N.C. has managed her few professional appearances extremely well, picking up sponsorship as she’s gone along. In addition to the top-10 cited above, Caruso will have to battle Chris McGaha, Matt Hartford, Bo Butner III, Steve Graham, John Cerbone and the three Ford Mustang Pro Stock cars of Fernando Cuadra, sons Fernando Jr. and Cristian Cuadra, the latter three prepped by Elite Motorsports.
Since Pro Stock Motorcycle is not on the docket for this race, NHRA is allowing four, rather than the current three qualifying attempts. This will give fans a lot more on-track action than they would get had the sanction stuck with three qualifying rounds. On both Friday and Saturday, qualifying takes place at 1PM and 3:30PM with the first round of four-wide eliminations beginning at noon on Sunday and televised same day by Fox Sports1. It’s going to be a hot one, with temps in the mid-80s and sunshine all three days, a nice change from the bog-like conditions in Florida two weeks ago.
After this race, NHRA goes to Houston for the final time, followed by the second four-wide at zMAX Dragway and returns to Virginia mid-May after two years off the schedule.
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Unfortunately for drag race fans, the 61st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, originally scheduled for April 9-11 will be postponed.
NHRA and track officials are working with state and federal health officials to find recommendations to host events in California. A new date for the event is to be determined.
“We are confident we will find a new date for the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals,” said Kasey Coler, NHRA Vice President of Track Management & Operations. “We are working closely with California health officials to come to an agreement as to the best dates for the event.”
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season kicked off with a successful race at the AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville. The season will continue racing action at the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 16-18. NHRA officials are confident the season will consist of 22 national events.
Although racing is paused at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the track is currently serving as a COVID-19 vaccination site, allowing locals to drive through the facility and receive their vaccination.
For more information about the 2021 NHRA season, visit NHRA.com.