Norwalk Promises Great NHRA Action; Racers Vie for Ice Cream Scoop Trophies

NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series had a much-needed weekend off after completing two races in one weekend at Bristol, and is gunning for the 17th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, scheduled June 22-25 on the Summit Motorsports Park drag strip in Norwalk, Ohio.

The ninth of 21 total Camping World competitions for the 2023, the race at Norwalk encompasses four rounds of qualifying, including a night session complete with fireworks Friday night, the Mission Foods #2Fas2Tasty NHRA Challenge for Saturday and elimination on Sunday, the latter featured on free-to-air FOX network.

While all trophies are special in any form of motorsport, drag racers relish the ability to bring home the Norwalk ice cream scoop trophy. It’s unique in the sport and pairs well with the traditional Wally [Parks] NHRA winner’s trophy. Last year Mike Salinas was the Top Fuel victor, while Robert Hight took home the Funny Car trophy, Erica Enders and Angelle Sammy won Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle respectively.

This is a race both competitors and fans look forward to watching and working. It’s no surprise that there are 20 Top Fuel entries for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, 19 of them chasing points leader Justin Ashley of Maynard Ashley Racing (MAR). Ashley swept the past two events, winning at Epping and Bristol, and earning the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge in Epping by, well, default. (That was “de fault” of de weather, of course.)

The third-year pro defended his 2022 victory at Bristol two weeks ago and is looking forward to continuing his winning ways by earning his third win in a row. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year knows this is an important race: “The stands are always packed with fans eager to watch racing. The full fields will make for an excellent show and varying conditions could create unpredictability,” he noted.

Ashley holds a 64-point advantage on four-time consecutive champion, Texan Steve Torrence, who has won at Norwalk in odd-numbered years, taking victory in 2017, 2019 and 2021. John Force Racing’s reigning dragster champ, Brittany Force is tied for third with her teammate Austin Prock, both 122 points back, while Antron Brown holds fifth-place points, tied with Leah Pruett. Salinas is seventh, while Josh Hart holds eighth place. Kalitta Motorsports teammates, Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon round out the top 10 with Tony Schumacher just 10 points behind Langdon in 11th place.

Doug Kalitta's Norwalk Top Fuel wrap
Doug Kalitta’s Norwalk Top Fuel wrap

Kalitta, after reaching his second semifinal of the during the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals two weeks ago, considered his results “good progress,” but the veteran is hoping the addition of Applied Innovations as a partner for this race might give him an assist. Another driver experiencing good momentum is Josh Hart, who raced pal Clay Millican at Chicago, when the Tennessean won his first race in five years, leaving Hart to ponder his fate. “We just need to string four good qualifying runs together and then four good runs on Sunday,” Hart mused.

Beyond the Top Fuel top 10, look for Clay Millican, Canadian Dan Mercer, Chicagoan T.J. Zizzo, Ohioan Mike Bucher, Indiana’s Kyle Wurtzel, Spencer Massey, Terry Totten, Doug Foley and Scott Farley to shake up the standings as best they can, both in Saturday’s qualifying and, all of them hope, Sunday’s eliminations.

With 17 Funny Car entrants on the grounds, only a single driver will be packing up before Sunday’s eliminations. Currently, reigning and three-time titleholder Ron Capps, winner of the most recent event in Bristol is atop the standings with his Toyota GR Supra, leading former teammate and Tony Stewart Racing driver Matt Hagan by 32 points. Hagan’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat hasn’t fared well the past two races, but the Virginian who holds the track ET record (3.865-second, achieved in 2017) is hoping to turn his fates around again this week. Robert Hight, driving John Force Racing’s Chevrolet Camaro SS is 57 points back in third, followed by Chad Green’s Ford Mustang (-72) and Alexis DeJoria’s Toyota GR Supra in fifth (-83).

Alexis DeJoria's consistency has her excited for the balance of the season - NHRA photo
Alexis DeJoria’s consistency has her excited for the balance of the season – NHRA photo

Epping winner Bob Tasca III holds sixth place points with his Ford Mustang, followed by the Mustang of Tim Wilkerson who’s looking to add to his 23 national event wins, 16-time Funny Car champ John Force’s Camaro SS, Cruz Pedregon  in his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and the Toyota Gr Supra of Kalitta Motorsport’s J.R. Todd. From first to tenth, there’s a 267-point gap. Those looking to shake up those standings include Alex Laughlin in Jim Dunn’s Flopper, Paul Lee’s Charger, Dave Richards and Blake Alexander racing Mustangs, Dale Creasy Jr’s Dodge Stratus, Mike McIntire Jr.’s Toyota Camry and Bobby Bode III’s Ford Mustang. Any one of these drivers could take a light that beats the other lane; seeing who can be No. 1 is always a welcome challenge.

Erica Enders left Bristol a happy Pro Stock camper, finally earning her first victory of the 2023 season after having a tough go of it from Gainesville on. In fact, the five-time champion wasn’t even in the top 10 coming into the Bristol round. That changed with her victory and gave her Elite Motorsports team a boost overall. Right now, KB Titan Racing is at the head of the Pro Stock standings, with Dallas Glen leading Deric Kramer by 137 points. Matt Hartford is third, 191 points behind Glenn, while Elite racers, Troy Coughlin Jr and teammate Aaron Stanfield hold fourth and fifth place points, 206 and 210 points behind the leader, respectively.

Dallas Glenn of KB Titan Racing leads the Pro Stock points standings - NHRA photo
Dallas Glenn of KB Titan Racing leads the Pro Stock points standings – NHRA photo

Another five-time champ, Greg Anderson is in sixth place, followed by his KB Titan Racing teammate Camrie Caruso, Elite’s Cristian Cuadra (driving a Ford Mustang, when the balance of the top 10 race Camaro bodies), as Enders and teammate Bo Butner III round out the top 10. Kyle Koretsky, who finished fifth in the 2022 final standings, is having a season to forget; his lack of consistency has relegated him to 11th place, albeit just five points behind Butner. These drivers will have to deal with drivers looking to shake up the Pro Stock standings, including independent racers Chris and Mason McGaha, Elite’s Fernando Cuadra and son Fernando Cuadra Jr. in Mustangs, fellow Elite racer and rookie Jerry Tucker, Alan Prusiensky’s Dodge and Eric Latino in a Camaro.

The situation in Pro Stock Motorcycle, albeit with a 16-motorcycle entry list is similar. Suzuki has won all four races held to date with its Gen3 Hayabusa body. Vance & Hines’ Gaige Herrera took the first three Wally winner’s trophies before fouling out in Bristol against veteran Steve Johnson’s Suzuki Hayabusa. Over the past couple of years, Johnson has been very competitive, particularly since he began using Monster heads for his four-valve engine.

Still, NHRA saw fit to make changes only to riders using the Vance & Hines four-valve heads. Beginning with this race, all riders using Vance & Hines four-valve heads have a new five-pound weight gain. That means the Suzuki Hayabusa bikes of Herrera, teammate Eddie Krawiec, Reed Motorsports’ Joey Gladstone, Chase Van Sant and John Hall of WAR Racing, along with Kelly Clontz are all subject to the penalty. While Matt Smith Motorsports uses both V&H and Monster heads for the six-time champ and for Jianna Evaristo, his choice for this weekend isn’t known at this time.

Hector Arana Jr.'s full-season campaign is paying off with points - NHRA photo
Hector Arana Jr.’s full-season campaign is paying off with points – NHRA photo

By virtue of his three victories, Herrera controls the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings, by a gaping 216 points to teammate Krawiec, with Johnson third (-224). Hector Arana Jr., racing a Buell is fourth while Matt Smith holds down fifth place in the standings, nearly 250 points behind Herrera. Buell rider Angie Smith is sixth, Chase Van Sant holds seventh-place points, followed by Joey Gladstone. Chip Ellis’ fine showings have him in ninth place despite being a part-timer, while Jianna Evaristo holds on to the final cut-off spot, but she’s shadowed by the Buells of Ryan Oehler and Marc Ingwersen. Joining this group in Norwalk are Ron Tornow (EBR), Wesley Wells on a Suzuki and Chris Bostick’s Suzuki.

In addition to the Camping World quartet of classes, NHRA’s FuelTech Pro Mod Series is on the docket for this weekend, spotlighted by a new Road to the Championship that incorporates a playoff-style competition this year. The race in Norwalk marks the final race of the regular season for the Pro Mod class as the sixth of 10 races. Featuring points-and-a-half for this contest, the close of Pro Mod’s “regular” season brings a lot more to the line for this class.

Justin Bond leads the Pro Mod points - NHRA photo
Justin Bond leads the Pro Mod points – NHRA photo

With playoff spots and positioning prominent this weekend – following a doubleheader in Bristol – intensity should be exceptionally high. With the Road to the Championship format, there are additional qualifying points after each round and added points for overall qualifying are available for this race. Right now, Justin Bond has nearly 100 points in hand over reigning titleholder Kristopher Thorne, followed by Jason Lee, JR Gray Jr., Jose Gonzalez, Mike Castellana, Manny Buginga, Kevin Rivenbark, Dmitry Samorukov and Doug Winters rounding out the top ten.

These guys need to watch their backs as five other drivers – Stan Shelton, Mike Thielen, Khalid AlBalooshi, Sidnei Frigo and Jerico Balduf have met the minimum qualifying requirements at all six regular-season races in 2023, giving every driver listed a chance to earn a spot in the Road to the Championship at Norwalk this weekend.

Friday’s weather report for Norwalk is sketchy and, as always subject to change. It’s intended to be the coolest o the three-day meeting but also holds the largest threat of precipitation. Saturday and Sunday are projected to be much warmer but without much of a rain threat. As this race weekend marks the Summer Solstice, “Every year when we come here, this is where we really start to see a little bit warmer temperatures, hotter track conditions,” said Ron Capps. “It’s very demanding for crew chiefs and drivers to come together and figure out a way to get down a hot race track. This race certainly gears you up for the summer run of events.”

This weekend could also mark a major milestone for Toyota, which currently has 199 NHRA national event victories. Two Toyota drivers lead the nitro standings with Justin Ashley first in Top Fuel and Ron Capps leading the Funny Car domain. Ashley scored his fourth win in eight races in Bristol while Capps returned to the site of his first Toyota victory in Bristol and took home a second straight victory.

About Anne Proffit 1219 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.

2 Comments on Norwalk Promises Great NHRA Action; Racers Vie for Ice Cream Scoop Trophies

  1. Some damn good journalism on the NHRA . I enjoyed reading it. Maybe next year at the New England Nationals, I’ll see you and give you a big thumbs up.

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