Pruett, Hagan, Enders, Herrera Win Texas FallNationals

No woman has won more NHRA races than Erica Enders - NHRA photo
Texas FallNationals Winners Circle: Gaige Herrera, Erica Enders, Leah Pruett, Matt Hagan – NHRA photo

Because everything really is bigger in Texas, NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series provided race-goers at Texas Motorplex with eye-opening speeds and furious action over three days of competition in the series’ 38th visit to the Dallas-area Texas Motorplex facility owned by the Meyer family. The NHRA FallNationals culminated a 10-day Stampede of Speed with records set from start to finish.

Leah Pruett, Tony Stewart, Matt Hagan celebrate Tony Stewart Racing’s first double-up in Texas – NHRA photo

In a first for the second-year squad, Tony Stewart Racing earned its first “double-up” on Sunday when Leah Pruett garnered the Wally winner’s trophy in Top Fuel and Matt Hagan performed the same feat in Funny Car. That wasn’t the only big news, as Erica Enders cemented her standing as the most successful woman racer in NHRA – and probably the world – with her 47th Pro Stock victory. During Saturday qualifying, Gaige Herrera, who would go on to earn his 12th No. 1 and win his ninth race this season, set a new Pro Stock Motorcycle elapsed time and speed national record when he posted a 6.627-second lap at 204.16 mph on his Vance & Hines Suzuki Hayabusa3.

It was almost enough to have their competitors gasping for breath through a paper bag!

These weren’t normal conditions in Dallas but racers took full advantage of a fast concrete track. Pruett secured her second win of the 2023 season. It was her 12th career Top Fuel victory and moved her to the points lead in NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship. After initially qualifying 11th after Friday’s two sessions and bumping herself up to seventh the next day, Pruett marched through her side of the eliminations ladder, first removing Kalitta Motorsports’ Shawn Langdon, Doug Kalitta and Clay Millican before facing local racer and four-time champion Steve Torrence in the final round.

Leah Pruett’s rail was on rails this weekend – NHRA photo

Pruett’s four rounds of eliminations marked her most consistent winning runs of the year, as she posted four laps under 3.7 seconds: 3.678, 3.697, 3.681 and 3.684 seconds. In her final round against Torrence, Pruett had the better reaction time to post 3.684 to Torrence’s 3.662, giving her a few-inch margin at the 1,000-foot timing beams. “This win,” she said, “surpasses my very first Top Fuel win. The emotion I have for it and the accomplishment of both Matt and I winning today and what it means for Tony Stewart Racing, this is going to be on my top memory list forever!”

With her season-long consistency, Pruett departs the Lone Star state with a minuscule four-point advantage over Kalitta, with Torrence in third place, lagging by 13 points. Justin Ashley, who led all comers in the regular season that ended in Indianapolis at the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals, is currently fourth, needing to make up 108 points. He’s followed by three-time champion Antron Brown (-110), Mike Salinas, Clay Millican, Brittany Force, Austin Prock and Tony Schumacher, the latter two tied and 219 points in arrears.

With standard points available in two weeks’ time at Las Vegas and points-and-a-half on offer at Pomona the second weekend of November, Top Fuel should go down to the wire!

Matt Hagan has won a class-leading six races in 2023 – NHRA photo

Hagan earned his sixth victory of the 21-race season in Dallas. The three-time champion qualified fifth in his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat after four qualifying rounds and posted victories against Paul Lee’s Charger, Alex Laughlin in Jim Dunn’s Funny Car, the Mustang of Tim Wilkerson and an easy victory over up-in-smoke 16-time class champion John Force’s Chevrolet Camaro. The win gives Hagan 36 points over Bob Tasca III and his Ford Mustang, out after the second round, heading to Las Vegas October 26-28. Robert Hight, driving his John Force Racing Camaro is third (-69) after falling in the first round, with reigning Funny Car champ Ron Capps’ Toyota GR Supra fourth after he, too, fell in round 1 to Laughlin in an ugly competition.

Force moved up to fifth place with his runner-up result (-198), followed by J.R. Todd’s Toyota GR Supra, Chad Green’s Mustang, Wilkerson’s Mustang, Alexis DeJoria’s Supra and Laughlin, who is 267 points back. “Tony said, ‘Let’s double-up today,’ and it’s a great day for Tony Stewart Racing and all of our partners. I love seeing my teammate, Leah, jump into my arms in Victory Lane,” Hagan said. “We needed back-to-back wins at St. Louis and Dallas to go after this championship. Now we have two more left and we re ready for them!”

There was an unfortunate incident in Friday qualifying that saw Dale Creasy Jr. depart his left lane and impact Dave Richards. Both Funny Car drivers emerged without injury but the cleanup took quite a while. This isn’t the first time Creasy has swapped lanes this year… neither driver continued for the next two days of competition.

No woman has won more NHRA races than Erica Enders – NHRA photo

As she acknowledged there have been “more valleys than peaks” leading up to her ascension to the top of the heap in Pro Stock, earning five championships over 20 years of competition and 47 victories, more than any woman in NHRA and possibly in all of motor sport, Erica Enders admitted, “This one means a lot. As a little girl that was eight years old with big dreams to be a professional driver one day – in my Jr. Dragster – then making my way through the Lucas Oil Series, this Wally will sit proudly among a few other special ones,” Enders said with emotion.

Texas native Enders qualified third after four rounds and proceeded to humble Eric Latino, fellow Elite Motorsports driver Cristian Cuadra, teammate Troy Coughlin Jr. before defeating Dallas Glenn, KB Titan Racing’s regular season top runner. The victory solidified her hold on first place in the Pro Stock standings, after teammate Aaron Stanfield defeated second place Greg Anderson in the quarterfinals. He’s needing 85 points to catch Enders and has to watch his back, because Glenn is now -93 points to Enders in third, while Matt Hartford needs to make up 108 points and Stanfield lags by 123.

That this championship battle will be an Elite Motorsports vs KB Titan Racing is a given. as second through fourth places are all KB Titan while Enders and Stanfield’s Elite entries bookend them. Elite’s Troy Coughlin Jr holds sixth, followed by KB Titan’s Deric Kramer (fastest on Friday in Dallas), Kyle Koretsky and Camrie Caruso, with Elite’s Mustang driver Cristian Cuadra in 10th place, albeit 266 points in arrears to his teammate.

Are there any more superlatives available for Gaige Herrera and his Vance & Hines Suzuki team? HIs results are giving the rest of the field nightmares as he marauds through his competition as though they were standing still, which they’re not. This weekend saw V&H-affiliated Kelly Clontz join the 200-mph club with her lap of 6.705/201.99 as she landed in the second qualifying position. Unfortunately Clontz didn’t make it out of the first round, losing on a hole shot to Joey Gladstone, who was riding the injured Angie Smith’s pink Buell for Matt Smith Racing. In another first-round upset, Chris Bostick defeated fellow Suzuki rider Steve Johnson, while rookie Chase Van Sant was unable to ride on either Saturday or Sunday after using his left knee to stop his White Alligator Racing (WAR) from impacting the wall when the bike got out of shape.

Gaige Herrera’s 6.627/204.16 lap was a history-maker – NHRA photo

Herrera’s Sunday saw him defeat a slowing Blaine Hale’s Suzuki, a fouling Bostick, win a straight-up fight against Hector Arana Jr.’s Buell and win a close race against 49-race winner and teammate Eddie Krawiec, 6.644/203.30 to 6.706/202.56. This weekend’s results leave Herrera a gaping 156 points ahead of Krawiec, with six-time champ Matt Smith (out in round 2 to Krawiec) on a Suzuki in third (-174), Arana Jr. fourth (-179) and Van Sant in fifth place, 306 behind Herrera. Angie Smith’s Buell lies sixth, Jianna Evaristo is seventh on her Matt Smith Racing Suzuki, Marc Ingwersen eighth on his Buell, Steve Johnson and Kelly Clontz rounding out the top 10. At this point, everyone but Herrera is racing for second through tenth-place points.

Andrew Hines, Herrera’s Vance & Hines crew chief noted, “It was a weekend for the books. The things we accomplished as a team, including making six runs under the old national record and the four quickest 60-foot times in class history, are a testament to our preparation and dedication,” he said. While Krawiec advanced to his third final round in 2023 and 84th of his career, his teammate Herrera is “living the dream. This bike has been flying all weekend and this whole weekend has been cool. This is a special one right here and one I’ll never forget. My bike has been flying and it’s crazy how fast it is and how easy it has been to ride.”

In Top Alcohol Dragster, Angelle Sampey won her first race on four wheels against No. 1 qualifier and former class champ Mike Coughlin (5.252 to 5.299) and her second against an out-of-the-groove Tony Stewart, but fell in the semifinals to Kirk Wolf when she couldn’t manage the car and clicked off early. Wolf lost to Julie Nataas in the final round as she won for the third time in 2023 and seventh of her Top Alcohol Dragster career.

NHRA takes a one-weekend breather before congregating the final weekend of October on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the NHRA Nevada Nationals, scheduled October 26-29.

About Anne Proffit 1270 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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