NHRA’s Salinas, Hight, Enders, Herrera Win in Las Vegas

Gaige Herrera, Erica Enders, Mike Salinas and Robert Hight hoist their Las Vegas trophies - NHRA photo
Gaige Herrera, Erica Enders, Mike Salinas and Robert Hight hoist their Las Vegas trophies – NHRA photo

There were no clinchers in this weekend’s NHRA Nevada Nationals but there were winners, both on and off The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Let the record show that No. 1 qualifiers Mike Salinas and Robert Hight won their respective Top Fuel and Funny Car trophies, while Erica Enders came closer to her sixth Pro Stock championship by earning Sunday’s win light and Gaige Herrera continued his utter domination of Pro Stock Motorcycle, taking his 10th win of the season after claiming his 13th No. 1 qualifier on Saturday afternoon.

NHRA’s tech department managed to get in the middle of qualifying over four attempts in the Camping World Drag Racing Series quartet of categories. On Friday, half of Elite Motorsports’ Pro Stock qualifying times were thrown out when NHRA’s tech department decreed they’d bypassed the Leahy fuel timer safety device, which had gone off in Gainesville and scuttled the start of Enders’ season debut. On Friday Enders, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Aaron Stanfield and rookie Jerry Tucker had their runs thrown out for bypassing the device. Team owner Richard Freeman wasn’t concerned: “My program’s always been one that’s been scrutinized,” he said.

On Saturday the Funny Car standings were changed after the day was done. Initially, the No. 1 went to Bob Tasca III and his Ford Mustang, after setting the track record of 3.842 seconds (336.74mph), but the width of his headers, not their angle, was decreed as being too wide and his No. 1 time was discarded. Tasca, as expected, wasn’t terribly pleased. Two others had their times disallowed: J.R. Todd in Kalitta Motorsports’ Toyota GR Supra and Jeff Diehl’s Camry both felt the wrath of the tech department yet retained their 10th and 16th ladder positions, respectively.

Mike Salinas, who has amazed his competitors with his speed throughout the season, even as he’s seemed distracted as he’s managed his Top Fuel team, daughter Jianna’s Pro Stock Motorcycle campaign and daughter Jasmine’s Top Alcohol Dragster season and her licensing for Top Fuel. This weekend he concentrated on Mike Salinas first and foremost, with the result of a No. 1 qualifying of 3.680 seconds at 331.77 mph. It was his fourth No. 1 of the year and 15th of his career.

Mike Salinas showed up the balance of the Top Fuel field at the Nevada NHRA Nationals – NHRA photo

Salinas’ Sunday was just as fine as his preceding two days as he finished off the weekend with his fourth sub-3.7-sec lap of 3.673 seconds to drive past Justin Ashley’s faltering 5.796-second attempt. Salinas earned his second victory of the year and ninth of his career, staying in the title hunt just 76 points off four-time champ Steve Torrence’s lead. “We came into this race and I told my guys, ‘we need to win this race and the next one to even matter,’” Salinas recalled. “We were badass today, we were the best car out here but we think there’s more. If we can continue to do what we’re doing here, it’ll be a great weekend in Pomona.”

With his win, Salinas improved to fourth place and is 76 behind Torrence, while Doug Kalitta gives up 15 points to the Texan and Leah Pruett fell to third, needing 34 points to overcome Torrence. Ashley’s final round result has him 82 points back in fifth place, followed by Antron Brown, Brittany Force, Austin Prock, Tony Schumacher and Clay Millican completing the top 10. Josh Hart’s semifinal result helped the driver’s turnaround; he defeated Pruett and Kalitta before falling to Salinas and is in 11th place, 282 behind Torrence and two points ahead of Kalitta Motorsports’ Shawn Langdon.

Robert Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock of John Force Racing did everything they needed this weekend to sneak up on points leader Matt Hagan, driving a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for Tony Stewart Racing. Hight earned top bonus points in every qualifying session, driving his Chevrolet Camaro SS, and earned the new track record of 3.816 seconds at 332.67 in Sunday’s opening round against a fouling Jeff Diehl’s Toyota Camry. He then beat Alexis DeJoria’s Toyota GR Supra and Blake Alexander’s Ford Mustang to reach the Nevada Nationals finals, with every one of his rounds in the 3.80-range. Hight earned his fourth win of the season, his third in the fall event at this track and 85th of his exceptional career as he prevailed against Tasca III.

Robert Hight has his eyes set on a Funny Car championship – Gary Nastase photo

“It’s been a strong weekend,” Hight acknowledged. “I’m not sure if anyone in Funny Car has swept every single point possible in a weekend and that goes out to my team. They gave me a car that was perfect. Our 3.88 was our worst run, then the 3.81… we weren’t trying to do that, it just happened. This win meant a lot. We dug ourselveshole in Dallas and we knew we had to come in here in almost a must-win situation.”

While Hagan continues to lead the standings and went to the semifinals before being closely defeated by Tasca, he’s got a slim 15-point advantage on the Rhode Island racer. Hight is only two points behind Tasca, while a second consecutive first-round result left reigning titleholder Ron Capps’ Toyota GR Supra in fourth place, 139 points back. John Force and his golden Camaro reside in fifth place after also falling in the first round (-242). J.R. Todd and his Toyota GR Supra hold sixth-place points, followed by Chad Green and Tim Wilkerson’s Mustangs, DeJoria, Alex Laughlin in 10th and Cruz Pedregon in 11th, the latter’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat standing 337 points out of first place.

As expected, Erica Enders, who now owns 10 wins at the Sin City dragstrip, recovered from her Friday DQ to be victorious at her favorite circuit. In the finals, she defeated fellow five-time champ Greg Anderson with a run of 6.557 at 208.23, winning for the fourth time this season and 47th time in her Pro Stock career, as she earned the blue winner’s cap for the second straight race weekend. While she didn’t earn the yellow cap for being quickest in qualifying – that honor went to KB Titan Racing’s Kyle Koretsky – Enders did qualify second for Elite Motorsports. She defeated Mason McGaha, teammates Troy Coughlin Jr. and Jeg Coughlin Jr. to reach the final round, stretching her class lead to 114 over Anderson.

After winning in Las Vegas, Erica Enders is closing in on a sixth Pro Stock title – NHRA photo

“Today was stress-level nine million,” Enders said. “It was do or die. We needed to perform perfectly and my guys went out there and did just that. It was a tremendous day, [but] I don’t feel like [the championship] is ours. We have to go out there and continue to earn it,” she stressed. “If you would have told me 12 races ago that we were going to contend for our sixth championship, I would have told you that you were nuts!” She wasn’t even in the top 10 until midway through the “regular” season. Anderson, also trying to get his sixth title, was in the 176th final round of his vaunted career.

Enders, as noted, has 114 points on hand against Anderson, while KB Titan’s Matt Hartford (-155) and Dallas Glenn (179) are next in line. Despite his first-round defeat in Pro Stock, Elite’s Aaron Stanfield holds fifth place points, followed by teammate Troy Coughlin Jr., KB Titan’s Koretsky and Deric Kramer, with Cristian Cuadra ninth for Elite and KB Titan’s Camrie Caruso 10th, albeit 339 points behind Enders. Bo Butner III, Fernando Cuadra Jr., Jerry Tucker, Mason McGaha, Chris McGaha and Fernando Cuadra complete the Countdown-eligible drivers in this class, with only Cristian Cuadra and brother Fernando Cuadra Jr. racing Mustang bodies. All other Countdown-eligible racers use Camaro bodies.

While we can’t give Gaige Herrera his champion’s hat yet – that’s going to wait until Pomona – the second-year Pro Stock Motorcycle racer has earned the title he’s about to achieve. Taking his tenth victory of the season by, once again, defeating his Vance & Hines teammate Eddie Krawiec in the final round after earning his 13th No. 1 in qualifying. Herrera’s track record final round lap of 6.755 at 198.32 on his Suzuki Hayabusa3 once again denied Krawiec his 50th win. Herrera tied Vance & Hines’ Matt Hines with his win on Sunday and gave him a yawing 181-point advantage over Krawiec heading into the final race of the year. He’ll clinch with his first qualifying run in the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals at Pomona.

The magic of Gaige Herrera’s season hasn’t quite set in yet for the Vance & Hines Suzuki Hayabusa3 rider – NHRA photo

The happiest news in the Pro Stock Motorcycle pits was seeing Angie Smith not only back at the track but astride her Buell to keep herself in the Countdown to the Championship top 10. While she took a slow lap down the quarter-mile, “This was just for me,” Angie Smith said. Rookie Chase Van Sant, whose knee injury is keeping him out of competition for the balance of the season, was also on-site, cheering on 2016 Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Jerry Savoie and teammate John Hall at White Alligator Racing.

The also-rans on two wheels behind Herrera and Krawiec are Matt Smith on his Matt Smith Racing Suzuki, Hector Arana Jr.’s Buell, Jianna Evaristo’s and Chase Van Sant’s Suzukis, Marc Ingwersen’s Buell, Angie Smith in eighth place, followed by Steve Johnson, Kelly Clontz and Chris Bostick’s Suzukis, with Ryan Oehler in 12th the final Countdown competitor, albeit 604 points behind Herrera.

After earning his fourth consecutive victory, Herrera advised, “We had a little fun in the final round with a little staging battle on the starting line. Eddie revved his throttle and then I revved mine, but when he revved a second time, I knew he wasn’t moving into the staging lights, so I had to go first. It was a fun round,” Herrera said. “Even though I didn’t wrap up the championship yet, I’d rather win it in Pomona because it’s very close to my hometown in La Mirada. It has not set in yet what we’ve accomplished as a team this season… I’m relaxed going into Pomona and the focus there will be on finishing with both Vance & Hines bikes one and two in the championship – and getting Eddie his 50th win.”

There are added points on the line at In-N-Out Burger Dragstrip at Pomona, as every run will give up 1.5 points, so the title fights in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock could swing a bit, especially in Funny Car. The 58th annual In-N-Out Burger Finals are scheduled for November 9-12.

About Anne Proffit 1264 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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