There’s a good bit of money being spent in pursuit of championships in NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series. We know about the mega teams in Top Fuel and Funny Car, the nitro kings and queens of the race track who will do whatever it takes to be atop the points tally when the season closes in November at its hereditary, Pomona fairgrounds home.
Don Schumacher, John Force, Connie Kalitta are crunching numbers to find the best way to attack the current, three-time Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence – and his father Billy. These three team owners are at each other’s throats in Funny Car, too, along with Alexis DeJoria, Bob Tasca III – who might be single-car squads but have strengths in their technical alliances.
This weekend marks the second race of NHRA’s seven-contest Countdown to the Championship, and features all four pro classes on the grounds: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Initially, Pro Stock wasn’t scheduled to race in the DeWalt Carolina NHRA Nationals at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, a hotbed of NASCAR teams; they’ll forego the later Bristol round.
One reason everybody’s chasing the Torrence family in Top Fuel is that they answer to themselves – and team owner Mama Kay – rather than a corporate sponsor. The Capco Contractors team members who sit behind the wheel aren’t fans of the Countdown, as they told AutoWeek, which makes them outliers. And leaders. If you recall, Steve Torrence was the regular season leader in 2017 but lost his first title to a red-hot Brittany Force in the Countdown’s finale in Pomona. And it could happen again.
At this point, the three-time, reigning Top Fuel champion has only a 12-point margin on B. Force of John Force Racing, who currently owns the No. 1 qualifying spot in seven of the last races and will be going for her eighth, both under the lights on Friday night and during Saturday’s dual qualifying sessions. Those little points add up, and Force has been a monster in time trials.
Billy Torrence is in third place, having jumped up the ladder with his win last weekend in Reading. He’s 42 points behind his son. Justin Ashley, a single-car entry is in fourth place with a bullet, vaulted from seventh to fourth in the standings after last weekend’s race. He raced to a semifinal finish in his first NHRA Top Fuel race here in 2019, before he became a candidate for Rookie of the Year, an accomplishment Ashley took in 2020. Leah Pruett is fifth for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), followed by her teammate Antron Brown, Shawn Langdon from Kalitta Motorsports, Mike Salinas, Clay Millican and Doug Kalitta, who is 147 points behind S. Torrence.
There are 17 Top Fuel entries for the DeWalt Carolina NHRA Nationals, with all the top-10 drivers on the grounds and joined by Alex Laughlin, Josh Hart, Joe Morrison, Arthur Allen, Pat Dakin, Buddy Hull and Doug Foley. The latter just announced that Aaron Brooks would be joining him as crew chief, which is tantamount to saying: “I’m going to be faster, quicker and not use up as many parts.” Brooks’ capabilities at the computer and trackside can’t be minimized.
The champ is returning to action in Funny Car this week, as three-time, reigning titleholder Matt Hagan has been medically cleared to race and will be piloting his DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. Hagan missed the U.S. Nationals and last weekend’s race in Reading, but since his substitute, teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. scored the Wally and winner’s points last weekend, it hasn’t hurt the Virginia cattle farmer nearly as much as it might have. He’s five points behind the legendary, 16-time champion John Force, who took his Chevrolet Camaro SS to the finals in Reading and assumed the Flopper points lead.
Hagan’s teammate, Ron Capps holds third-place points, 15 behind Force, while J.R. Todd’s Toyota Camry from Kalitta Motorsports is in fourth place, 39 points back. Force’s teammate and JFR company president, Robert Hight is fifth right now, followed by early points leader Bob Tasca III (Ford Mustang), Cruz Pedregon’s Charger, Alexis DeJoria (Camry), U.S. Nationals winner Tim Wilkerson’s Mustang and Blake Alexander in Jim Head’s Mustang, who is 140 points behind the legend.
The Flopper contingent are a bit low on entries with 15, making qualifying even more of an important feature for the weekend’s activities. Joining those already in the Countdown are Terry Haddock and Dave Richards in Mustangs, Mike McIntire Jr.’s Camry, Jim Campbell in Jim Dunn’s Charger and Tony Jurado in a Mustang.
After tying The Professor, Warren Johnson, for Pro Stock victories in Reading, Greg Anderson is in the catbird seat, holding 41 points on reigning, fellow four-time champion Erica Enders. Looking for his 98th class victory and acknowledgement as overall DoorSlammer titleholder win champ, Anderson will have to contend with another 20 Pro Stock entries in addition to his own Camaro.
It’s a healthy field made up of all the championship contenders (who all drive Chevrolet Camaro race cars): Enders, Aaron Stanfield, Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky, Troy Coughlin Jr., Matt Hartford, Chris McGaha, son Mason McGaha and Deric Kramer. Kramer lags Anderson by a healthy 162 points as he occupies tenth place.
Of those outside the top 10 at the moment, look at Rob Tucker, Richie Stevens (returning after Larry Morgan took his place the past two events), Alan Prusiensky’s Dodge Dart, John Gaydosh Jr., Kenny Delco, Vincent Nobile, Martin Robertson, Baron Stroupe and the three Mustang entries for the Quadra family: Fernando, Fernando Jr. and Cristian. Delco and Nobile, in particular, could become “spoilers” in the Pro Stock pits; both have the ability to ruin a championship contender’s day.
With 20 Pro Stock Motorcycle contestants on the zMax grounds this weekend – the class’ second trip to this track in 2021 as they contested the 4-Wide race in springtime – the championship could get muddled even more than it already has. While Matt Smith and his EBR entered the playoffs as points leader, he was out of action after the Reading semifinals, losing to U.S. Nationals victor Eddie Krawiec’s Vance & Hines Buell.
In the Reading finals, Krawiec succumbed to Steve Johnson, who’s been in this class nearly from its inception and runs his team out of a small trailer. That left Johnson and his four-valve Suzuki leading the standings by 12 points over Smith, with Krawiec 36 points behind. Krawiec’s teammate Angelle Sampey, who’s dealing with Hurricane Ida damage at her Louisiana home, is fourth on her V&H four-valve Suzuki and 59 points back. She’s followed by Smith’s teammates Scotty Pollacheck and Angie Smith, Brainerd victor Karen Stoffer (two-valve Suzuki), Ryan Oehler’s Buell, tied four-valve Suzuki Hayabusa teammates Joey Gladstone and Cory Reed, with Andrew Hines in 11th, 138 points behind but still eligible for the championship on his V&H Buell.
This group will have to contend with former champ Jerry Savoie, who’s riding a four-valve Suzuki, David Barron’s Buell, Chris Bostick’s four-valve Suzuki, Charles Poskey on a Buell, Michael Phillips’ and Jimmy Underdahl’s two-valve Suzukis, Ron Tornow’s Victory, Kelly Clontz’s four-valve Suzuki and Jianna Salinas, riding a two-valve Suzuki. Quite a few of these mentioned riders are capable of going rounds and taking out those riders who have championships on their minds.
In addition to the four Camping World classes, Pro Mod is in action this weekend, together with nine Lucas Oil Sportsman categories. The 19 Pro Mod entries include Mike Salinas, who’s doing double duty in addition to racing his Top Fuel rail. Jose Gonzalez continues to lead the class, with Stevie “Fast” Jackson, Brandon Snider, Justin Bond and Jeffrey Barker the top five contenders. Gonzalez has a 66-point advantage over reigning, two-time champ Jackson in this class, which ends its season in Las Vegas.
Weather, as always, is important this weekend, and it looks like no more than a 24% chance of showers for all three days, with temperatures expected to top out in the mid-to-high 80s Friday through Sunday.