Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Top Fuel’s Justin Ashley all started the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series with impressive victories in intense eliminations, powering to wins on an amazing Sunday at the 62nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona—the first of 22 races during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
In a thrilling final round matchup (featured photo above) featuring Ashley, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year, and Austin Prock, the 2019 Rookie of the Year, Ashley came out on top with a run of 3.694-seconds at 314.53 mph in his Phillips Connect dragster to slip past Prock’s 3.713 at 333.00.
It gave Ashley his third career victory and first in Pomona in his second consecutive NHRA Winternationals final round.He knocked off Jim Maroney, Antron Brown, and four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence to reach the final round.
The second round saw Ashley face his technical alliance partner Brown in a battle between two team owners, Toyota teammates and friends. Throughout Ashley’s young career Brown has been a consistent sounding board and now that the pair have begun officially working together, they are becoming an even stronger force.
When the Christmas Tree flashed, Ashley and Brown left at the same time posting .053 reaction times. Racing down the track Ashley and his Mike Green and Tommy DeLago Phillips Connect Top Fuel dragster began to pull away and got to the finish line first with a winning time of 3.692 seconds at 333.33 mph. The win also evened Ashley’s career record against the three-time champion at 3-3.
Ashley’s winning time was the quickest run of the session and gave him lane choice in the semifinals over four-time world champion Steve Torrence. Ashley was 1-4 against Torrence in semifinal races over his career but his performance numbers throughout the weekend gave the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year confidence going into the race.
Ashley got the jump on the starting line and never trailed. He hit the finish line in 3.702 seconds at 329.42 mph against Torrence’s 3.731 second run at 326.00 mph. It was a close race between the two Toyota Top Fuel dragsters.
“We knew coming into the day the Top Fuel field was going to be tough,” Ashley said. “You saw today races separated by such little margins. We really had no layups at all and you’re never really going to have any layups. To be able to beat guys like Antron Brown, Steve Torrence, the four-time champ, and Austin Prock, who’s doing a great job, it really solidified what we came out here and wanted to do.
“We spent the off-season trying to work on power, pick up and get to where we wanted to and I feel like today you could really see that. We wanted to focus on our sixty-foot times and our early numbers. Our numbers in Phoenix (testing) were really good and it was up to us to make sure it translated to Pomona and the rest of the year. We are off to a good start.
Those runs from testing were integral to our success today and this dragster was really like a bracket car all day. From a driver’s perspective when you have good early numbers and make runs like we did today that gives me as a driver a lot of confidence.”
“The better the car is running, of course you feel more pressure to perform as the driver. For me I always put pressure on myself to perform for my team. Our Davis Motorsports team and (crew chief) Mike Green do such an outstanding job. It is up to me to be the best driver I can be.”
Prock, making his return to full-time race this year, made a strong opening statement, too, advancing to the final round with wins against Clay Millican, Tony Schumacher, who is also returning to full-time racing in 2022, and John Force Racing teammate and No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force. While Force would have a solid 3.700 at 328.06, Prock would lay down his best run of the weekend at 3.687-seconds and 331.36 mph.
“Great start to the year. This Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team got put together about 3-4 weeks ago and I thought we did an excellent job this weekend. No mistakes and tuners were learning every run and improving the car,” Prock said.
“I’m really happy with how this year has started. It’s going to be a long, fun year and I’m really looking forward to it. It was cool to go against Brittany in the semis. From a team standpoint when you race each other in the semis it’s exciting because you know one of your cars is going to the final round. It was a great race. It was totally heads up, and a lot of fun. I’m glad I came out on the good side of it this time.
Obviously, we wanted to get the win tonight, especially with my dad (Hight tuner Jimmy Prock) winning. It would have been awfully cool to have a family double up. I’m just happy to be back. This is my dream to drive this race car, and to be back and doing what I love again, it’s a lot of fun.”
Seeming to pick up right where they left off, Brittany Force and the Monster Energy team entered race day from No. 1 for the 33rd time in her career. The 2017 world champion had a stellar 3.699-second pass at 325.14 mph to defeat Ron August Jr. and his 3.909 at 319.07. The victory matched Force with rival Josh Hart in the second round. She would go 3.762 seconds at 322.27 mph bettering Hart’s 3.728 at 329.91 mph and setting Force up to face teammate Austin Prock in the semifinals.
“This Monster Energy / Flav-R-Pac team is off to a great start. We ran good during qualifying, got the number one qualifier, and made a semifinal round appearance,” Force said. “We have a great team around us with David Grubnic, Mac Savage and all our guys with two new additions. We’re working well together and I’m very proud of what we accomplished today. We have a really strong group and I feel positive going into this season. Great start and I’m excited to see what we can do in Phoenix next week.
“Coming into Pomona, I knew Austin and I were going to line up. His first season out we paired up first round of the opening race in Pomona, so I knew it was going to happen. I would have preferred for it to be in the finals but it’s just awesome to have him and his team out here. He’s pumped to be out here and it’s cool to have him in the lane next to me. If anyone’s going to beat me, I want it to be him.”
If Tony Schumacher had to grade his overall performance at his first race back after a three-year hiatus, he’d assign himself a B, but says his Maynard Family Racing team is worthy of an A grade.
In his first NHRA Winternationals outing since 2018, Schumacher qualified twelfth on the elimination ladder to set up a round-one meeting between two Top Fuel titans at the season-opening event. Lining up opposite fellow nitro veteran Doug Kalitta, Schumacher was laser-focused on kicking off the 2022 season with a round win, and delivering a winning time slip to team sponsors, Joe and Cathi Maynard. He posted a 3.726 E.T. to outpace Kalitta’s solid 3.730-second effort and advance to round two. Against Austin Prock in the quarterfinals, Schumacher encountered troubles right out of the gate, allowing his opponent the decisive round win, but Schumacher is adamant that his team’s early exit is not indicative of things to come.
“The team is really coming together, the tune-up is coming together; I’m pleased overall” said Schumacher, who, save for a seven-race stint in 2020, has sat idle since the conclusion of the 2018 season. “I didn’t drive up to my abilities in that second round and I think I’ve still got a lot of regrouping to do, but in the end, the car, the team, myself, we’re going to be a really good, really strong team this year.
“You really couldn’t write a better script having to run Doug Kalitta and his new Alan Johnson-led team at the first race of the year, and my first race back. I drove well on that run, but I just didn’t pull my weight on that second run. We didn’t need to make a super ‘throw-down run’ in E2. Prock ran a 78. We just had to get it down with a 72 or 73 like we were trying to do, but it just didn’t happen; I squeezed the throttle a little bit. I need more time in the seat, and that’ll happen with us running a full program this season. I spent a long time away. I used to make 200 runs a year, and I need to get a couple of runs under my belt to get back to that spot. But, overall, I’m super proud of my guys.
“(Crew chiefs) Todd (Okuhara) and Marc (Denner) are extremely excited about what they’re seeing on their timing maps and in their tune-ups. That first-round-time was the quickest run that we’ve made together. I’ve been out of the game for three years so to go out and make that run, and do it with the weight of the world sitting on you, was just too cool. You only get one ‘first time’ as a team running a Kalitta car. First round of Pomona, first round of the year, and we got it done. I’m happy that I’m back, I’m having a good time. Now I just need to convert the good times to round wins.”
The Winternationals also marked Antron Brown’s inaugural event as an NHRA team owner, and he and his AB Motorsports team are pleased with the weekend’s results.
Brown qualified his Matco Tools/Lucas Oil/Toyota Top Fuel dragster tenth out of a competitive 17-car field to draw former teammate Leah Pruett as his first opponent of the year. Brown and Pruett were the first pair of racers to hit the track on Sunday morning and delivered an exciting side-by-side race in the opening session. The three-time Top Fuel world champ snagged the holeshot advantage and took his 11,000-horsepower machine on its quickest pass of the weekend (3.724 seconds) to defeat Pruett’s 3.748-second effort and advance to round two.
In the quarterfinals, Brown faced friend and technical-alliance partner, Justin Ashley. Regarded as two of the best leavers in the sport, Brown and Ashley ripped off identical reaction times, but Ashley quickly started pulling ahead, clocking low E.T. of the session for the win, and ending Brown’s day after round two.
“We’re very happy that we came out and performed well this weekend at Pomona,” said Brown, a 68-time national event winner. “We were looking to qualify a little bit better than No. 10, but we’ll work on that next weekend. Pomona is in the books. We had a tough second-round match-up with Justin Ashley and Mike Green and that group, and they dropped low E.T. on us. Our hats off to them. Now it’s time for us to go back and great ready for Phoenix and our first time back at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in two years.
“We got after it on race day today. I’m really proud of this entire Matco Tools/Lucas Oil/Toyota team. Brian Corradi, Mark Oswald, Brad Mason, and all the boys on this team. These guys have all worked so hard to get all of these trailers, race cars, parts and pieces together for the start of the season. It’s been non-stop at the AB Motorsports shop since January 3rd. We tested well and made strides, and we’re growing and learning, and I love the path that we’re on. We have a really competitive hot rod and we’re only going to get better. I’m excited and this team is really looking forward to Phoenix. We want to come out strong and have a good showing. We want to qualify well and get ourselves in that Pep Boys Call Out Challenge at Gainesville. Phoenix is the last race to earn points for that and we want to have fun, like always, and throw down. We’ll have a big outing of Matco Tools guests and we want to put on a good show for them.”
TOP FUEL RESULTS:
ROUND ONE — Antron Brown, 3.724, 327.66 def. Leah Pruett, 3.748, 328.86; Austin Prock, 3.725, 333.08 def. Clay Millican, 4.350, 170.08; Brittany Force, 3.699, 325.14 def. Ron August, 3.909, 319.07; Justin Ashley, 3.699, 330.39 def. Jim Maroney, 4.056, 234.09; Mike Salinas, 3.718, 325.45 def. Buddy Hull, 3.966, 269.24; Tony Schumacher, 3.726, 324.28 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.730, 327.11; Steve Torrence, 3.724, 328.06 def. Doug Foley, 6.629, 100.66; Josh Hart, 3.740, 327.82 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.920, 300.20;
QUARTERFINALS — Prock, 3.780, 329.10 def. Schumacher, 8.516, 74.03; Force, 3.726, 322.27 def. Hart, 3.728, 329.91; Ashley, 3.692, 333.33 def. Brown, 3.742, 326.00; Torrence, 3.718, 326.08 def. Salinas, 10.541, 76.35;
SEMIFINALS — Prock, 3.687, 331.36 def. Force, 3.700, 328.06; Ashley, 3.702, 329.42 def. Torrence, 3.731, 326.00;
FINAL — Ashley, 3.694, 314.53 def. Prock, 3.713, 333.00.
Top Fuel points
- Justin Ashley, 124; 2. Austin Prock, 96; 3. Brittany Force, 82; 4. Steve Torrence, 74; 5. Mike Salinas, 61; 6. Antron Brown, 53; 7. (tie) Josh Hart, 52; Tony Schumacher, 52; 9. Doug Kalitta, 34; 10. (tie) Shawn Langdon, 33, Leah Pruett, 33.
In a tremendous side-by-side matchup of longtime stars, Hight slipped past Ron Capps in the Funny Car final round, going 3.861 at 329.58 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS to beat Capps’ 3.882 at 333.82. That was after Hight’s car lurched when the body came down prior to stageing, punting his crewman in the process.
“It’s pretty tough,” Hight said about having to gain composure after his car body clipped the injector while being closed. “I saw Trevor (Huff) off to the side and he didn’t look like he was hurt. Trevor is all right. You’ve got a job to do so I just followed Jimmy (Prock) and he said to come on in and stage. You have to gather your thoughts. He put the body down and hooked the injector. Never had that happen. When the win light came on, the first thing I asked – I didn’t even care if we won – was whether he was okay.”
The win gave Hight his fifth win at the Winternationals and 54th in his career, setting the tone for a strong 2022 season after finishing a disappointing eighth in the class last season.
Hight advanced to the finals with round wins against Jason Rupert, Tony Jurado and Matt Hagan, going 3.861 in both the semifinals and finals as the three-time world champ put a spectacular opening stamp on the 2022 campaign.
“There are a lot of really great Funny Cars that are doing the same thing and we just happened to get the win today. It’s going to be a battle,” Hight said. “Look at our qualifying run last night. Capps and I were separated by .004 of a second for No. 1 and No. 2. So you know going in the final it’s going to be a battle and it’s going to be a great run and it was .002 at the stripe. It doesn’t get any closer than that. That’s unbelievable Funny Car racing. If someone would’ve told me you’d see Funny Car racing like that, I’d tell them they’re crazy.
“You have to do your job and everybody on the Auto Club team did their job this weekend. We definitely have more consistency than we had last year. I’m excited about that and with (crew chiefs) Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham, they’ll just build on that and I can only see it getting better.”
Capps, the reigning world champ and No. 1 qualifier, knocked off John Force, J.R. Todd and Cruz Pedregon to advance to the final round for the 132nd time in his standout career.
“To start our 2022 season as a new team, and with everything going on as a team owner, and knowing the competition is going to be so tough this year, and then to have a No. 1 qualifier, run top speed of the meet, and almost win the race was just a fantastic way to start,” said the Carlsbad, Calif. resident as he reflected on a race day stacked with a world champion-competitor in each round of eliminations.
The newly-formed Ron Capps Motorsports team faced Funny Car heavy-hitter John Force as their first round opponent. Force had struggled throughout qualifying, but Capps, the second-winningest Funny Car driver in the history of the sport—second only to Force—knows better than to take him lightly. In what was billed as NHRA’s ‘marquee matchup,’ Capps was first to stand on the gas and he used his holeshot start coupled with a 3.920-second E.T. to defeat Force, whose weekend struggles continued into race day.
In round two, Capps faced fellow world champion J.R. Todd and, once again, the NAPA pilot was first off of the line and clocked the second-quickest E.T. of the session (3.890) to earn lane choice over Cruz Pedregon in the semis, as Todd was forced to shut his machine off early after dropping cylinders mid-run.
In the semifinals, Capps continued his trend of leaving first and posted his sixth consecutive three-second pass for the win over Pedregon, setting up a final round showdown with Hight. The two-time world champ went four-for-four in holeshot starts by ripping off a .055-second reaction time versus eventual winner Hight.
“What a weekend,” exclaimed Capps. “I mean, obviously, you want to come out swinging right out of the gate, and you’ve got to set these small goals that we talk about. First, you’ve got to qualify well and put yourself in a position where you have lane choice, and we did that.
“Obviously, we would have liked to win but you couldn’t script it much better. I’m very blessed to have a lot of good people around me and the best part of this weekend in Pomona was the fact that we had all these wonderful NAPA people come out to the race and support us. When they heard that we were going to be owning the team moving forward, the outpouring of support was incredible. These NAPA store owners are people from your own community, your own neighborhood. They work hard and have their own business and know what it takes to build a business. So, it was really fun to be able to chat with them. I can’t tell you how much it means to have all that support.
It’s going to be a tough season but I feel much better knowing that as a team owner, I’m able to get in the car, hit the gas, and put everything else aside for those few minutes while I’m in the car. Big things to come for this NAPA team.”
FUNNY CAR RESULTS:
ROUND ONE — Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Supra, 3.917, 327.35 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 4.093, 297.02; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.071, 260.31 def. Chad Green, Ford Mustang, 4.124, 282.13; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.890, 328.86 def. Jason Rupert, Mustang, Foul – Outer Boundary; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.920, 329.75 def. John Force, Camaro, 10.412, 76.53; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.954, 323.43 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 6.011, 120.36; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.268, 215.10 def. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.038, 154.74; Tony Jurado, Mustang, 5.416, 136.33 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.972, 188.96; J.R. Todd, Supra, 3.957, 325.22 def. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 4.039, 290.94;
QUARTERFINALS — Pedregon, 3.962, 323.66 def. DeJoria, 3.981, 323.50; Hight, 3.893, 331.20 def. Jurado, 8.647, 84.98; Capps, 3.890, 324.05 def. Todd, 4.234, 220.58; Hagan, 3.885, 328.94 def. Tasca III, 3.984, 325.77;
SEMIFINALS — Capps, 3.881, 331.28 def. Pedregon, 3.918, 309.77; Hight, 3.861, 332.10 def. Hagan, 4.026, 317.64;
FINAL — Hight, 3.861, 329.58 def. Capps, 3.882, 333.82.
Funny Car points
- Robert Hight, 122; 2. Ron Capps, 105; 3. Matt Hagan, 79; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 75; 5. Alexis DeJoria, 54; 6. J.R. Todd, 53; 7. Tony Jurado, 52; 8. Bob Tasca III, 51; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 34; 10. (tie) Jeff Arend, 32, Bobby Bode, 32, Jim Campbell, 32.
In the 900th race in Pro Stock history, Enders earned her 34th career win, going 6.559 at 210.31 in the final round in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to knock off teammate Aaron Stanfield. It marked another historic victory for the four-time world champ, who earned a special trophy along with the Wally in honor of the 900th win.
Enders knocked off Cristian Cuadra, reigning NHRA Rookie of the Year Dallas Glenn, and longtime rival Greg Anderson—the defending world champ—to reach the final round with a trio of strong reaction times. Enders rolled to the win in the championship round, also claiming her first Winternationals victory on a memorable day in Pomona.
“Race day was awesome. It was really challenging, not a walk-through by any means, (and) some interesting stuff happened out there today,” Enders said. “(But) we were able to park the Melling Performance hot rod in the winner’s circle and we’ve never won here at the Winternationals. To be able to secure that 900th Pro Stock victory with that special shift trophy is pretty awesome.
“We’ve accomplished way more than I ever thought in Pro Stock. We’ve stuck it out and showed a lot of tenacity. This win is very significant. You treat every raceday the same, but this win at the 900th Pro Stock race means a lot to me. We were able to get the 150th for the women and this is pretty cool. For Pro Stock, for all the hard work KB (Racing) and Elite (Motorsports) have put in to making this class what it is today – with 20-plus competitors – we couldn’t be more proud.
“I came in here with the mindset that there’s no more nice Erica. Not to be said in a negative connotation, but I’m quite frankly sick of getting my butt stomped.
“We opted not to go to Phoenix (to test) because with all the Fuel cars there we would probably only make three runs per day. With seven cars and 45 crew guys, we kind of wanted to make our own cluster at Bakersfield. We were able to do really well. We knew when we got our butts whipped here last year at the World Finals that we had to go to work, and the guys did just that.”
Stanfield, the defending event winner, advanced to his seventh career final round thanks to round wins against teammate Troy Coughlin Jr., Rodger Brogdon and Fernando Cuadra Jr.
PRO STOCK CAR RESULTS:
ROUND ONE — Dallas Glenn, Chevy Camaro, 6.577, 208.52 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.565, 209.33; Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.627, 208.23 def. Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.988, 148.59; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.576, 209.30 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.576, 207.98; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.579, 209.65 def. John Cerbone, Camaro, 6.716, 181.57; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.531, 208.81 def. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.602, 209.56; Fernando Cuadra Jr., Ford Mustang, 6.607, 208.23 def. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, Broke; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.558, 210.05 def. Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, 6.581, 209.92; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.536, 209.49 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.569, 209.69;
QUARTERFINALS — Cuadra Jr., 6.626, 207.27 def. Butner, 12.430, 71.21; Enders, 6.565, 209.72 def. Glenn, 6.570, 207.66; Stanfield, 6.561, 209.07 def. Brogdon, 6.590, 208.23; Anderson, 6.561, 207.27 def. Kramer, 6.595, 208.97;
SEMIFINALS — Enders, 6.569, 209.43 def. Anderson, 6.797, 171.14; Stanfield, 6.567, 208.71 def. Cuadra Jr., 6.631, 207.78;
FINAL — Enders, 6.559, 210.31 def. Stanfield, 13.250, 67.26.
Pro Stock Car points
- Erica Enders, 125; 2. Aaron Stanfield, 103; 3. Greg Anderson, 79; 4. Fernando Cuadra Jr., 71; 5. (tie) Bo Butner, 54; Deric Kramer, 54; 7. Dallas Glenn, 53; 8. Rodger Brogdon, 52; 9. Kyle Koretsky, 37; 10. Camrie Caruso, 33.
Top Alcohol Dragster — Mike Coughlin, 5.237, 275.90 def. Joey Severance, 6.863, 133.18.
Top Alcohol Funny Car — Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 5.482, 266.27 def. Nick Januik, Camaro, 5.628, 260.56.
Competition Eliminator — Cody Lane, Chevy Cavalier, 8.417, 152.11 def. Doug Lambeck, Pontiac Sunfire, 8.358, 146.61.
Super Stock — Ken Etter, Dodge Shadow, 10.178, 129.02 def. Jimmy DeFrank, Chevy Cobalt, 8.936, 154.02.
Stock Eliminator — Leo Glasbrenner, Chevy Camaro, 9.470, 141.94 def. Jeff Lane, Camaro, 9.263, 145.00.
Super Comp — James Glenn, Dragster, 8.907, 172.28 def. Wade Archer, Dragster, 8.939, 170.75.
Super Gas — Ed Olpin, Chevy Camaro, 9.924, 167.99 def. Pete Bothe, Porsche, 9.893, 147.25.
Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers — Moe Trujillo, Dragster, 7.066, 188.41 def. Phil Dion, Dragster, Foul – Red Light.
Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers — Don Meziere, Chevy Cobalt, 6.776, 193.21 def. Jeff Gillette, Pontiac GTO, 6.932, 198.50.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to action Feb. 25-27 with the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix.
story, photos and video courtesy of NHRA and team reports