Three Sets of Winners at 39th NHRA Arizona Nationals

Austin Prock, Shawn Langdon, Greg Anderson won the 39th Arizona NHRA Nationals - NHRA photo
Austin Prock, Shawn Langdon, Greg Anderson won the 39th Arizona NHRA Nationals – NHRA photo

There’s no doubt that fans of NHRA’s Mission Foods Drag Racing Series are elated to have Firebird Motorsports Park back on the schedule for 2024 and, hopefully, for decades to come. The track was intended to be sold and the dragstrip was going to be torn down, according to tribal executives who had made that decision in 2023 to hold the final race at the facility. A reprieve came in time to plan and execute this past weekend’s 39th annual Arizona NHRA Nationals – and fans responded by selling out all tickets for the event on both Saturday and Sunday.

They were rewarded by viewing stellar racing, seeing the finals of the rained-out 64th Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, viewing the second Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge of 2024 as well as qualifying and eliminations for their hometown race, reborn as the third contest in a 20-race campaign. The track was packed with fans and the weather cooperated both weekend days. And the results gave hope to fans of some of the greatest racers to compete in straight-line competition.

The rained out final rounds of the Winternationals were conducted during the third and last qualifying session late Saturday afternoon. Justin Ashley earned his third consecutive Winternationals victory in Top Fuel for SCAG Racing, defeating eight-time champ Tony Schumacher with a hole shot. Ashley’s win followed Dallas Glenn’s victory in Pro Stock, after that driver took his second straight Winternationals victory on a Phoenix track where he’s never run terribly well – until Saturday. The cherry on top was John Force’s victory – after nearly two years’ famine – in Funny Car, giving the 16-time champ his 156th Wally winner’s trophy as his Chevrolet Camaro SS slipped past reigning four-time champ Matt Hagan’s Tony Stewart Racing Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

John Force cherished his 156th NHRA Funny Car victory – Gary Nastase photo

Force, who has been vocal about his time on track and when to stay – or when to go – was elated but still wary of committing himself for many more years of competition. “I’m really excited to have pulled this off,” he said. “I mean, I’m too old to even race these kids,” he mused, citing his own teammates, Austin Prock and Robert High5, as well as Hagan. “It’s exciting. I give it all I have and push the limits wherever I can.” Force, who will be 75 on May 4th, is “doing some serious thinking where I’m going; but my mood’s changing right now!” Winning will do that.

Even before the Winternationals finals were completed, the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge took over, starting during the Friday afternoon qualifying and finishing on Saturday afternoon. With all semifinalists from  the rained out Wintewrnationals, J.R. Todd and his Kalitta Motorsports Toyota GR Supra held off John Force in the Funny Car final round of the Challenge after eliminating Hagan, while Force took out Ron Capps, running a new Toyota GR Supra at this event. Tony Schumacher took his first Mission Challenge win over Brittany Force after defeating Billy Torrence, while she flew by Justin Ashley to get to that final round. Erica Enders took the Mission Challenge victory in Pro Stock over Mason McGaha, both driving Chevrolet amaro Pro Stock cars.

On Sunday, everything changed – as it so often does in NHRA drag racing. While Steve Torrence was the No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel, joined by Funny Car newcomer Austin Prock’s Chevrolet Camaro SS from John Force Racing and Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s Pro Stock Elite Motorsports Camaro was No. 1 in Pro Stock, by the time the Winner’s Circle activities began, only one of these three were taking part in the celebrations. On Sunday, Prock earned his first NHRA Funny Car victory subbing for Robert Hight, with dad Jimmy Prock and brother Thomas Prock doing the tuning duties. Hight won the last two Arizona Nationals, so the team had a handle on the right setup for this track.

Austin Prock is the 19th driver to execute wins in both Top Fuel and Fuhjny Car – Gary Nastase photo

As the 19th driver to win in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, “To get my first Funny Car win and enter a league of its own with the Don Prudhomme’s, the Shawn Langdon’s the J.R. Todd’s, the Kenny Bernstein’s, all those people that are legends and future Hall of Famers, it’s pretty cool to be a part of that small group,” he said. “To do it with my family makes it even more special.” Prock has four wins in Top Fuel for John Force Racing between 2019 and 2023; it took him all of 16 races to win his first Wally trophy in a dragster.

Shawn Langdon picked up his second victory of this year, having helped Kalitta Motorsports to its first ever double-up at Gainesville when both Langdon and Todd were victorious in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively. As the No. 5 qualifier, Langdon defeated Josh Hart, three-time champ Antron Brown and four-time champ Steve Torrence to meet Winternartionals winner Justin Ashley in the finals.

Shawn Langdon’s rearly season form is the result of teamwork at Kalitta Motorsports – NHRA photo

“You know,” he said, “it really was a picture-perfect day. This whole Kalitta Air team, from Connie (team owner Connie Kalitta), Chad Head (Kalitta Motorsports general manager), to Brian Husen (crew chief)( coming over this year… Brian’s done such a fantastic job making some crew changes, and the crew has been absolutely flawless. They’ve given me a picture-perfect car all year long. There were a lot of variables out there today; the track was tricky on that transfer spot onto the asphalt. The guys gave me a flawless car and Brian did an excellent job.”

In Pro Stock, KB Titan Racing team patriarch Greg Anderson a five-time champion, defeated teammate Dallas Glenn in the final round to deprive the younger driver of two victories in two days. In earning his 104th career national event win and third victory at this track, Anderson swept past Eric Latino, Troy Coughlin Jr. and No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. to reach the championship round. In racing Glenn, known for his ability on the Christmas tree, Anderson posted an impressive.022 reaction time to earn the victory against Glenn.

 

Greg Anderson now has 104 Wally winner’s trophies in Pro Stock – Anne Proffit photo

“This feels great and, honestly, it feels as good as the first win],” a relieved Anderson said. “It’s just so hard to win in this class anymore, and to have the day I had, the weekend I had, I actually did a good job behind the wheel. I’m really thrilled with the, but that’s what it takes to win in this class anymore. You have to have the whole total package; you have to have the best car, you have to have the best crew and you have to drive it well.”

There won’t be much time for these victors to savor their wins, as the NHRA community moves from Phoenix to Las Vegas for the first four-wide challenge of the season on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, scheduled for this coming weekend.

About Anne Proffit 1269 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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