NHRA Stars Head for New England Nationals

After a week recovering from its Joliet outing, NHRA’s Mission Foods Drag Racing Series is headed to New England and one of five full concrete dragstrips on the 20-contest 2024 schedule. The 11th annual NHRA New England Nationals will see Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock competing in four rounds of qualifying, Saturday’s Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge and four rounds of Sunday eliminations.

While it’s a light group of dragsters entered this weekend, with 14 cars on the list and no extra expected, the field is strong and, as always, filled with racers who either need to pad their points or hold back the balancer of the field. New England Dragway is a place where all eyes will be on points leader Justin Ashley, who is – once again – showing his prowess in NHRA’s “regular season. The New York native easily won the regular season crown in 2023 and is pushing to do the same this year, but he’ll have to contend with a parade of hungry drivers looking to stop Ashley’s march.

Ashley has the points lead over Kalitta Motorsports’ two Top Fuel drivers, Shawn Langdon (-71) and 2023 Top Fuel champion Doug Kalitta, 111 points back, while two-time victor at this track (2018 and 2019) and four-time consecutive champ Steve Torrence holds fourth place in the points battle, 121 behind Ashley. Joliet winner Antron Brown is fifth rookie Tony Stewart, Tony Schumacher and Brittany Force. That’s a lot of horsepower in the Top Fuel top 10!

Doug Kalitta, who needed 26 seasons to achieve his first NHRA Top Fuel title, is inching towards a record he hopes to achieve this weekend at Epping. Kalitta has won on every track NHRA currently visits except for this one in New Hampshire. After notching his 50th win last year and finally earning his first championship (bet it’s not his last), Kalitta has a single runner-up result at this track, albeit in the 2014 contest a long 10 years ago, but admits it would be “really nice to check that one off the list,” he said. “I’m pretty optimistic we have a good shot to get to the final, get another crack at it and hopefully check that last box.”

Is this the race where Josh Hart breaks through? Anne Proffit photo

The four racers looking to take a bite out of those ahead of them include two Canadians, Dan Mercier, who showed his capabilities in Joliet two weeks ago when he went to the semifinals of that race – making him part of this weekend’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge –  and Smax Smith from Ayr, Ontario. Josh Hart, who won his first-ever NHRA Top Fuel race in Gainesville is still trying to recapture the magic that got him to the sharp end of NHRA fields; a little bit of luck is likely all he needs. Jasmine Salinas is the final entry for this race, the young driver subbing for her father when she’d hoped to  be his teammate this season. Salinas has improved in every outing she’s contested thus far in the young 2024 campaign.

There are 17 entries in Funny Car for the New England Nationals, and the points standings are plenty tight this year. Reigning Funny Car four-time champion, Matt Hagan leads those standings in his Tony Stewart Racing Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, but first-year Funny Car racer Austin Prock is just 14po ints behind him in Robert Hight’s John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS. Prock’s young season has brought him one success after another, starting with his first Funny Car outing in the non-points PRO Superstar Shootout at Bradenton Motorsports Park in February and following that with a points-paying win at the 39th Arizona Nationals, only his third NHRA Funny Car competition.

John Force, attempting to earn an amazing 17 Flopper championships is in third place with his Camaro SS, just 42 behind Hagan and four points behind his new teammate Prock, while J.R. Todd holds fourth place points (-53) with Kalitta Motorsports’ Toyota GR Supra. The first racer to 341mph (also at the Bradenton PRO race), Bob Tasca III is fifth in his Ford Mustang, needing to make up 80 points. The balance of the top 10 in this class are Daniel Wilkerson (Ford Mustang, three-time champ Ron Capps and Alexis DeJoria racing Toyota GR Supras, Paul Lee’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and Chad Green in his Ford Mustang, who lags Hagan by 219 points.

Friday’s cool conditions could allow Bob Tasca III to set the fastest Funny Car speed – Anne Proffit photo

The drivers looking to either move up the points ladder or cause issues for those already in the top 10 include Buddy Hull in Jim Dunn’s Charger, Blake Alexander in Jim Head’s Mustang, Cory Lee in a Ford Mustang, two-time champ Cruz Pedregon with his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Terry Haddock in his Mustang, Dave Richards’ Toyota Camry and Mike Smith, racing a Mustang.

The Pro Stock field went into the blender in Joliet, when Elite Motorsports’ six-time, reigning champion Erica Enders exited in the first round, to chassis builder John DeFlorian, after qualifying P1. That departure and his repeat victory at the Joliet track propelled Dallas Glenn and his KB Titan Racing team to the top of the standings with his boss and teammate, Greg Anderson hovering just four points behind. Enders is third with a lag of 66 points, followed by her teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr., Aaron Stanfield, Cristian Cuadra, Jerry Tucker, Troy Coughlin Jr., David Cuadra and KB Titan’s rookie Brandon Foster in 10th, 303 points behind his teammate Glenn. Foster’s business commitments kept him out of the Joliet round.

KB Titan Racing’s Brandon Foster is competing for Rookie of the Year honors – NHRA photo

What’s strange about this race’s entry list is the absence of two Cuadra brothers, Cristian and David, both secure in the top 10, while Fernando Cuadra Jr. intends to race this weekend. He’s joined by Deric Kramer, Alan Prusiensky’s Dodge, Val Smeland, Kenny Delco, a second Dodge for Brandon Miller, Eric Latino, Chis and Mason McGaha. Camrie Caruso is, again, on the entry list but it’s not known whether she’s been medically cleared to compete. Pro Stock didn’t race in New Hampshire last season.

In addition to the three Mission Foods Drag Racing Series classes, look for the special Drag and Drive exhibition featuring HOT ROD Drag Week competitors in eight-second cars, a first-time event for these racers. Congruity Pro Mod is also racing this weekend, as are Lucas Oil sportsman categories Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Top Sportsman and Top Dragster.

After enduring an exceptionally warm stay near Chicago two weeks ago, the NHRA troops are looking forward to racing under cooler conditions in the northeast sector of the United States. Sunny to mostly sunny conditions are expected for all three days, with temps rising from the low-to- id 70s to a possible high just above 80 degrees on race day. Lap times could fall perceptively on Friday night, when nitro qualifying is scheduled to begin at 8PM ET. Could this be the weekend Rhode Island native Tasca III gets his official over-340 run down the 1,000-foot dragstrip? Conditions could warrant it.

About Anne Proffit 1285 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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