NHRA’s Big Go is On!

The 67th annual Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals are already underway at Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis. While the Camping World Drag Racing Series professional racers don’t take to the legendary track until Friday night, Lucas Oil Sportsman contestants have already begun competition and will continue through the close of this gathering on Sunday, September 5th.

A race within this race is the Dodge HEMI Challenge, celebrating its 20th anniversary as a specialty race at this year’s Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals. This special event celebrates the heritage of Mopar and Dodge as the longest-running continuous specialty race in NHRA history, Dodge said. It features heads-up, wheel-standing, side-by-side competition between vintage HEMI-powered 1968 Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda “package cars” that have dominated NHRA Super Stock for over five decades.

For the second consecutive year, the JEGS Allstars are racing at the U.S. Nationals, the 37th time this Sportsman contest has been held. There are 80 qualified racers for this part of the event, one that features a total purse of more than $150,000. Racers qualify by earning points in their home divisions in the following categories: Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Competition, Super Stock, Stock Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Top Dragster and Top Sportsman.

With all pro classes – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Pro Mod and Top Fuel Harley – utilizing a three-day schedule of competition with three qualifying sessions, rather than the usual and customary five sessions fans have seen for years at the U.S. Nationals, there’s plenty of time to enjoy the Lucas Oil Sportsman quals that began on Wednesday.

Dodge HEMI Challenge and JEGS Allstars, too, begin on Friday, together with Midwest and Southeast Nostalgia Pro Stock Association exhibitions. Please note that eliminations for Camping World categories begin at 10AM EDT on Sunday.

The field for Top Fuel is large this weekend – as it should be –  with 19 cars on the entry list. Eight racers have punched their tickets for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs that begin at Reading once this massive race is complete. There are only two spots available and those will likely be taken by the drivers currently holding spots nine and ten: Billy Torrence and Doug Kalitta, respectively. It’s already showtime for Steve Torrence, Brittany Force, Antron Brown, Mike Salinas, Leah Pruett, Shawn Langdon, Clay Millican and Justin Ashley, all of whom are in the big Countdown show.

Still, it’s hard to believe that two drivers who were in the thick of the championship hunt in 2020 are still on the outside looking in. Granted, Billy Torrence hasn’t competed in every race held so far this year, but the miserable season Doug Kalitta is experiencing, after being first runner-up to Steve Torrence in 2020, is confounding at best. One of the most versatile drivers on the grounds, Kalitta Motorsports’ team leader earned his first U.S. Nationals victory in 2019 and has raced to two final rounds this year, but consistency hasn’t been his calling card in 2021.

Part-timers to take note of in Top Fuel include rookies Krista Baldwin in her grandfather Chris “The Greek” Karamesines’ rig, Pro Stock and Pro Mod graduate Alex Laughlin, Gainesville winner Josh Hart, Tripp Tatum III, Joe Morrison Lex Joon, Buddy Hull, Kyle Wurtzel and Greg Carrillo.

The points and entries are similar in Funny Car, where a single slot is available in the Countdown coming into this final, regular season race. There are 19 cars entered this weekend, so three Flopper racers will be forced out  Reigning titleholder Matt Hagan and his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, from Don Schumacher Racing, regained the points lead after Brainerd but the 15 ducats he has in hand certainly aren’t safe from second-placed Bob Tasca III’s Ford Mustang and J.R. Todd’s Toyota Camry from Kalitta Motorsports, the duo tied for second. John Force (Chevrolet Camaro SS) is only 16 points behind Hagan, while the Virginia cattle farmer’s teammate Ron Capps, the 2016 champ, holds fifth-place points, 25 behind Hagan.

 

That quintet are joined by Robert Hight’s Camaro, Alexis DeJoria in her Toyota Camry, Cruz Pedregon’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and Tim Wilkerson’s Mustang, as drivers who have qualified for the Countdown. Only 234 points separate first from ninth, indicative of the great competition in Funny Car this year. Blake Alexander, in Jim Head’s Mustang holds 10th place points and is nearly 100 ahead of 11th placed Jim Campbell, driving Jim Dunn’s Dodge Charger.

Paul Lee (Charger), Terry Haddock (Mustang), Dave Richards (Mustang), Dale Creasy Jr. (Dodge Stratus), Chad Green (Mustang), who is also racing in E3 Pro Mod, Justin Schriefer (Charger), Bobby Bode III (Mustang) and Tony Jurado in a Mustang will be attempting to change the current order of Countdown-qualified drivers by making their ways through those three qualifying sessions and eliminations. Any one of these racers could ruin another competitor’s day.

Pro Stock, too, has 19 entries for this 67th edition of the U.S. Nationals and only three Countdown-qualified racers: Greg Anderson, Aaron Stanfield and reigning titleholder Erica Enders. That means there could be – and likely will be – lots of movement within the top 10 during this all-important race meeting. Drivers on the entry list and currently in the top 10 include: Dallas Glenn, Matt Hartford, Kyle Koretsky, Troy Coughlin Jr., Mason McGaha, Deric Kramer and Chris McGaha. It’s highly likely all seven of these Camaro drivers (all the top teams have Camaro race cars) will remain within the top 10 and take their places on the Countdown stage by the time Sunday evening rolls around, but the order they take could change with their fortunes.

Part-timers who would love to force some of those changes include Rob Tucker, Richie Stevens Jr., Rodger Brogdon, Bob Benza, Bruno Massel Jr., and the three Cuadra family members: Fernando, Fernando Jr. and Cristian Cuadra. Kenny Delco and Val Smeland are on the entry list but too far behind to contemplate entry into the 10-member Countdown field this year. Of the above-mentioned drivers, Massel Jr. and the Cuadra clan compete with Mustangs; there are no Dodge entries on the grounds this time around.

Pro Stock Motorcycle boasts 22 entries for this Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals race and it’s a truly talented crowd. The motorcycles are evenly split between Buell/EBR bikes and Suzuki entries, with a single Victory on the grounds for Ron Tornow. There are 10 Buell/EBR motorcycles and 11 Suzuki bikes, some two-valve and the balance using the 2021-approved four-valve engine.

Since this class has been inactive for the past two race meetings, only reigning and four-time titleholder Matt Smith (Buell) is locked into the Countdown. He’s got a 262-point advantage on second-place Steve Johnson (4-valve Suzuki), followed by Smith’s teammate Scotty Pollacheck (Buell). Vance & Hines’ Suzuki rider Angelle Sampey, who has escaped her hurricane-ravaged Louisiana home is fourth and Ryan Oehler is fifth with his Buell, 372 points behind the leader.

Sixth through tenth places belong to the Buell of Angie Smith, Karen Stoffer’s two-valve Suzuki, Eddie Krawiec’s V&H Buell, Joey Gladstone on his four-valve Suzuki Hayabusa and six-time champ Andrew Hines’ Buell. Those chasing Countdown spots include Cory Reed on a four-valve Suzuki Hayabusa and Jerry Savoie’s WAR four-valve Suzuki. Do they have a chance? Sure they do, but considering who they’re chasing, it’s not great odds for this duo.

Ignoring championship implications, this Pro Stock Motorcycle entry list is definitely a healthy one. Quite a few riders who have been absent for the meat of the summer’s competition are returning to action, including Tornow, Hector Arana Jr. (Buell), David Barron’s Buell Chris Bostick’s four-valve Suzuki, Charles Posey on a Buell, Marc Ingwersen’s Buell, Michael Phillips on a Suzuki, Jimmy Underdahl’s two-valve Suzuki, Kelly Clontz’s four-valve Suzuki and 2019 Pomona Finals winner Jianna Salinas on her two-valve Suzuki.

The E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Series has 18 entries for this race, and all but one of them is chasing points leader Jose Gonzalez, who has taken hold of the standings. Since Pro Mod doesn’t have a playoff series, every point counts until the season finale at Las Vegas. Brandon Snider is second, Justin Bond third, while two-time reigning champion Stevie “Fast” Jackson is in fourth and former Top Fuel pilot Khalid alBalooshi holds fifth-place points. It would be fair to say these five are deep in the battle for their title. Most of the top racers have Camaro cars, but there’s a Corvette, two Chevelles and a single Camry on the entry list.

Forecasts are calling for warm, high 70s weather with moderate sunshine on Friday and Sunday, but showers are on the table for Saturday, when qualifying wraps for the pro contingent and some sportsman categories are slated to complete their race weekends. Indiana in late summer is a toss-up, weather-wise so let’s just hope an earlier forecast, which called for morning showers on Saturday, holds up. The Big Go needs to the superstar it is without Mother Nature getting in the way!

 

About Anne Proffit 1266 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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