CLERMONT, Ind — The race against the clock was checked at the gates as Monday’s final eliminations were a race against an opponent. For 3 days, each NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series driver hopped into their 11,000 horsepowered dragster with one task in hand – beat the stopwatch.
The mindset changes on Monday. This is the Super Bowl of Drag Racing. Not only are you racing for a Wally in the year’s biggest race, you’re doing so on a racing stage all to yourself with a chance at immortality.
Oddly enough, most of the day went chalk. The final round for all 4 divisions were No. 1 vs. No. 6 in Top Fuel, No. 1 vs. No. 2 in Funny Car and Pro Stocks No. 9 vs. No. 2 in Pro Stock Bikes.
In the end, the winners each had great stories.
Matt Smith scored his 35th career NHRA victory in Pro Stock Motorcycles, three of which coming this season. This was his 2nd US Nationals victory with the other coming back in 2006.
In Pro Stocks, Greg Anderson topped the century mark in career wins at 100 in his triumph over Dallas Glenn. He now has 7 US Nationals wins to his credit.
For Funny Car, Ron Capps scored his 71st career win but 1st in 26 US Nationals tries.
Then in Top Fuel, it was Antron Brown marching from the 6th qualifier to his 4th US Nationals crown (2 each in Pro Stock Bikes and Top Fuel).
Here’s how they did it.
Antron Brown won his first US Nationals as a driver-owner. That’s what makes this victory in the Big Go sweeter than his first three. While the 2011 win was emotional in becoming one of the rare drivers to win Indy in Pro Stock Motorcycles as well as Top Fuel, but this one 11 years later solidifies his efforts to not only start his own Top Fuel team, but to win the year’s biggest race while doing so.
Brown beat top qualifier Brittany Force in the final round to score his 70th career NHRA win. This was his 2nd victory in the last 3 races at that.
His march to the finals was a difficult one. He beat Tripp Tatum, Steve Torrence, Justin Ashley and Force on his march to a 4th career Big Go win.
Torrence has won the last 4 Top Fuel titles. He won the Callout on Saturday. He won the last race of the season in Brainerd. Ashley set the quickest time on Friday, set a track record on Saturday and had arguably the 2nd fastest car here this weekend.
Brown beat him.
Then Force broke Ashley’s record on Sunday and had the most consistent car from Saturday on. Brown beat her too.
Force beat upset minded Doug Kalitta in the first semifinal matchup allowing her (3.676 ET to 6.518 ET) to advance to her 2nd straight final round appearance here and 6th of the season. In the second matchup Brown continued his magical run by beating Justin Ashley (3.698 ET to 3.714 ET) to march to his 2nd final round appearance this season. This was the 3rd time in the last 4 races Ashley lost in the semifinals.
The last 2 US Nationals Top Fuel winners failed to see the semifinals. 2020 winner Shawn Langdon was defeated in the first round by 2nd seeded Justin Ashley. 4-time defending series champion Steve Torrence was then upended by the No. 6 qualifier Brown in Round 2 with Torrence having issues at the start.
In terms of the rest of the action, Round 1 nearly went chalk. Top seeded Brittany Force easily defeated Dan Mercier in their opening round matchup. Josh Hart did the same against Doug Foley setting up a 2nd round matchup between the two.
Mike Salinas knocked off 10-time US Nationals champion Tony Schumacher before the only upset of the round occurred with 2019 US Nationals winner Doug Kalitta advancing past No. 4 qualifier Clay Millican in a margin decided by just 4 feet.
On the bottom half of the bracket, Justin Ashley won over Shawn Langdon, Steve Torrence over Austin Prock, Billy Torrence over Leah Pruett and Antron Brown over Tripp Tatum in a margin by 15 feet.
For Round 2, Force narrowly beat Hart by just 11 feet (.0235-seconds) at the top end to advance to her 9th semifinal in 16 races this season including 4 in the last 5 overall. This was the 5th straight second round loss for Hart with 2 of the 5 being at the hands of Force (Seattle, Indianapolis).
Kalitta’s magical round continued as he never trailed in defeating Salinas marking just his 2nd semifinal pairing of the entire season. This was also the 3rd time in the last 4 races that Salinas failed to see the final four.
Brown knocked off Torrence to move onto his 2nd semifinal in the last 3 races. It’s a shocking defeat for Torrence though who won the last race in Brainerd and also took home the win in Saturday’s Callout. However, Brown is 1 of only 3 drivers that Torrence has a losing record again as he’s only 21-35 against him now. He’s not made the semis in 5 of the last 7 races now too.
Just prior to that, Ashley beat Torrence’s dad Billy Torrence to advance to his 5th semi in the last 7 races himself.
Ron Capps never has to answer the question again. He’s a US Nationals champion. Capps started Friday dejected and ends the long grueling weekend smiling. From a crash to a Wally, Capps scored his first US Nationals victory in 26 tries.
It was a weekend he’ll never forget.
He steadily improved each day and took as much momentum as he could into Monday’s finals. Capps was the No. 1 qualifier on Sunday with a blazing pass. Then a little bit later on in the day, he scored the Callout win and took $80k as a result.
Still, as a No. 1 qualifier, he’s seen this script before. He made the final round here last year but was beat by Tim Wilkerson making him 0-for-25 in this great event. While he won a race here in 2020, it wasn’t the US Nationals. The Shootout on Sunday, wasn’t the US Nationals.
Now he has a Wally on Labor Day in Indianapolis.
Capps held off points leader Robert Hight to net his 71st career NHRA victory.
It went all chalk in the Funny Car category all the way to the finals setting up that Capps vs. Hight matchup. It was Capps’ 5th final round appearance in 2022 and 2nd straight here in the US Nationals. He beat fan favorite John Force in the semifinal.
Hight marched past his difficult road in beating John Smith, Matt Hagan and Bob Tasca III en route to his 9th final round in the 16 races run this season. Hight beat Tasca III again in his semi and did so in a heavyweight battle.
See, Hight was the top driver all year but Tasca III was coming along strong. He had 5 final round appearances in the last 6 races entering the weekend including 3 wins in the last 4. Hight said “bring it on” about Tasca III on Friday night.
He even picked him in the first round of Sunday’s Callout. He beat him too. In the rematch, Hight peddled it (5.751 ET) to the top end to Tasca’s 7.473 ET.
Capps beat Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round moving to 32-2 in Round 1 as a No. 1 qualifier. JR Todd beat Cruz Pedregon moving to 13-4 against him. Blake Alexander beat Chad Green while John Force topped Paul Lee on the top half of the bracket.
On the bottom half, Bob Tasca III remains undefeated against Jim Campbell (8-0), Robert Hight easily beat John Smith, defending US Nationals winner Tim Wilkerson beat Bobby Bode III with Matt Hagan over the red lighted Alexis DeJoria.
For Round 2, Capps topped Todd for just his 2nd semifinal appearance in the last 6 races. Todd bows out in the second round for the 4th time in the last 6 races. Force beat Alexander rather easily for his 6th semifinal in the last 8 races.
Tasca III knocked off Wilkerson with Hight over Hagan to set up a massive final four of Capps vs. Force and Tasca III vs. Hight.
Erica Enders marched to the semifinals but lost at the hand of Dallas Glenn. Even though she had a better ET and better speed, Glenn had a slightly better reaction time (.005 compared to .021) in order to advance to his 2nd final round appearance of the year and 7th of his career. Enders meanwhile failed to make the final round here for the first time since 2018.
In the second semifinal matchup, Greg Anderson beat upset minded Fernando Cuadra Jr. to advance to his 170th final round appearance, 3 of which coming this season.
It set up a lopsided final round between the legend in Anderson and the newbie in Glenn. Anderson took Glenn to school in scoring his 100th career win on Monday. Only John Force’s 155 wins is more.
In Round 1, Anderson beat Fernando Cuadra, Troy Coughlin Jr. beat Deric Kramer, 12th seeded Fernando Cuadra Jr. beat No. 5 Bo Butner III, No. 4 Matt Hartford beat Chris McGaha on the top half of the bracket. On the bottom portion, No. 11 Camrie Caruso upset No. 6 Aaron Stanfield and faced off in Round 2 against Erica Enders to beat Mason McGaha. Kyle Koretsky and Dallas Glenn each also won as well.
For the second round, Glenn beat Koretsky and Enders over Caruso on the bottom half with Cuadra Jr. over Hartford and Anderson over Coughlin Jr. on the top half to get to the semis.
This was Glenn’s first semifinal since Bristol (7 races ago) but Enders’ 9th in the last 10 races. Anderson has been to 4 straight but Cuadra Jr. is making his first semi since Epping (8 races ago).
Pro Stock Motorcycle
This was the division with the most upsets. A 16 beat a 1 (Ron Tornow over Angelle Sampey) and a 14 (Jianna Evaristo) over the No. 3 (Eddie Krawiec). However, Karen Stoffer and Jerry Savoie ended those upset minded driver early by each advancing to the semifinals.
Matt Smith beat Hector Arana Jr. while his wife lost to Steve Johnson to make up the other 2 drivers in Pro Stock Bikes Final Four.
In the semis, Matt Smith beat Jerry Savoie in the first matchup to move onto his 69th career final round appearance. Karen Stoffer also beat Steve Johnson to march to her 30th final round.
Stoffer was longest qualified driver to get this far as the No. 9 qualifier. The rest of the ladders saw mostly chalk.
However, it was the No. 2 qualifier in Smith topping Stoffer for his 2nd career US Nationals win.