Er’body (except sometimes the NHRA, who didn’t schedule bikes for this stop last year) knows that Gateway is a bike track, and Pro Stock Motorcycle returns to action in St. Louis at this weekend’s NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Joey Gladstone and the Cory Reed Racing team bring plenty of high-octane momentum to Gateway after their victory at Maple Grove. Remember that they sucked in Indy right after winning two straight, so Gateway will be anyone’s guess.
Here’s a video of the team at Indy:
The Maple Grove win put Gladstone back into the points lead on his J&A Service Suzuki Hayabusa, but he knows things can change in a hurry in a class that has featured five changes to the points lead in the past five races.
“It’s going to take goods run and good lights and a lot of consistency for whoever’s going to win it,” Gladstone said. “It’s way too early to say what the trend is going to be now. You saw what Matt (Smith) did in Indy where a couple of people falter, and he blasts right back into the points lead. Anything can happen and I’m just going to go one race at a time. If we can get the championship, that’s killer.”
Smith has four wins at Gateway and just won in Indy, which put him in the points lead after that race until Maple Grove. Steve Johnson and Angelle Sampey have also led the points in this recent stretch, and other contenders include Angie Smith, and White Alligator Racing’s Karen Stoffer and Jerry Savoie.
“To be able to get a little bit of an edge for the next one is good because we’ll need it,” Gladstone said. “Matt hauls butt everywhere he goes, so it’s going to be tough. Everybody in this class is so tough and everyone is a contender.”
With the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by D-Wagon headed to its final two races of the 2022 season, the points battle is heating up in the category, with an epic championship duel set to go down over the next two events.
First up is this weekend’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis as part of the NHRA Midwest Nationals, where Kris Thorne will again try to hold off a pair of marquee challengers. He currently leads multi-time world champ Rickie Smith by just 46 points – or just more than two rounds – heading into the race, while Stevie “Fast” Jackson is also still in contention after his victory last weekend in Charlotte.
Jackson would need a pair of monumental results, but at 125 points back, the two-time world champ still has a fighter’s chance heading into the ninth of 10 events during the 2022 season in the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by D-Wagon.
This weekend’s race in St. Louis is also powered by Jerry Bickel Race Cars, a longtime choice for Pro Mod drivers. That includes Smith, who has one victory this season, J.R. Gray, who is currently seventh in points, and former world champ Khalid AlBalooshi, who is 11th heading into the weekend. A one-stop chassis shop, Jerry Bickel Race Cars continues to be a reliable choice for some of the top drivers in the class.
“We are really excited to sponsor the Pro Mod class in St. Louis as it is our home track. We are definitely committed to NHRA Pro Mod and all Pro Mod classes across the world,” said owner Jerry Bickel. “We work hard to craft a first-class race car using the latest technology and design, for all our racers and are proud to have invested in our capability, facilities, and equipment with one goal in mind – winning! We are known as a “ONE STOP CHASSIS STOP” world leader.”
Smith will try to draw closer to Thorne and continue his late-season charge, one that includes a victory at Brainerd last month. Thorne enjoyed a strong cushion early in the season, winning the first three events. He advanced to the final round at the U.S. Nationals, but Thorne also has a pair of first-round exits in the past three events, opening the door for Smith to take advantage. He’s closed the gap considerably, advancing to five straight final rounds at one point, including the victory in Brainerd. Smith has also raced well at St. Louis over the years and will look for another big weekend as the championship race heats up.
Jackson has a strong track record in St. Louis as well, though it may take winning the final two events – which would give him three straight wins to end the year – to have a chance at a third world title. Jackson, though, seems eager for the challenge, even if the margin for error is small this late in the season.
“If I’m in it, I can win it,” Jackson said after his victory in Charlotte last weekend. “If there’s a mathematical chance, I’m going to keep swinging at it, and hopefully we can get another win and end up in the winner’s circle in St. Louis.”
Other top names slated to compete this weekend in St. Louis include defending world champ Jose Gonzalez, who is currently fourth in points, Indy winner Lyle Barnett, Topeka winner Justin Bond, Doug Winters, and veteran Mike Castellana.
Funny Car’s Tim Wilkerson remains right in the thick of things in the Countdown to the Championship, already advancing to one final round. Now the veteran has a chance to put on a show at his home track in front of plenty of family and friends at World Wide Technology Raceway.
A proverbial thorn in the side of the bigger teams in the loaded Funny Car ranks, Wilkerson continues to perform at a high level in his 11,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang. He’s currently eighth in points and is just 58 points out of fifth heading towards what will be a busy weekend for the fan-favorite driver.
The guest list among family, friends and sponsors is well past several hundred and growing by the day, as Wilkerson will aim for a big weekend at the halfway point in the Countdown to the Championship.
“It’s always gratifying and makes you feel good that so many people want to come to watch you race,” said Wilkerson, who has 22 career victories. “I get to feel like John Force for one weekend. But I know we can run with these guys, and we’ll have our car ready for everyone. We’ve proven we can run with them, so we’re not worried about that. I’m still optimistic and we still have opportunities to move up. We feel good and we’ll have something for them this weekend.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) won last year’s Gateway race. This year’s playoff event will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), with live action from eliminations set to air at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 2. It is the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship and Wilkerson has already turned in solid performances in the playoffs.
He suffered a first-round loss last weekend in Charlotte, but Wilkerson opened the postseason with a final round. His car caught fire in the semifinals, but he praised the work of his team to get the car ready for the finals. If it’s somehow possible, Wilkerson may also be even busier in St. Louis. With Chad Green out with an injury, Wilkerson’s son, Daniel, who is also the crew chief on Green’s car, will step in to drive. It will make for a hectic weekend, but that’s nothing new for the longtime standout.
A frenetic schedule also seems to bring out the best in Wilkerson, who has lofty goals in store for the final four races of 2022, even while competing against a loaded Funny Car field that includes points leader Robert Hight, who has seven wins in 2022, John Force, Charlotte winner Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Alexis DeJoria, who won the runner-up last weekend, Bob Tasca III and J.R. Todd.
“Semifinals or better, that would be a good weekend for us from here on out,” Wilkerson said. “Reading was really good outside of the finals. Of course, you don’t like the carnage, but that’s part of it. It’s all good and truthfully, we have a really good car. It’s serious right now, so we’ll see what we can do.”
Top Fuel’s Doug Kalitta put together one of his best events of the season last weekend in Charlotte, advancing to the semifinals on the strength of several good runs. That gives the veteran a pair of semifinal appearances in the past three races, giving him confidence a milestone victory could come this weekend in St. Louis in his 11,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster.
Kalitta’s last Top Fuel victory came at World Wide Technology Raceway in 2020, while his next win would give him 50 in his impressive career. That would be a major milestone for Kalitta, but any victory in the Countdown to the Championship would be big. He’s currently sixth in points in the loaded class – and just 27 out of fifth – and with 20 entries slated to compete in St. Louis, a victory won’t come easy, especially going against the likes of points leader Justin Ashley, Charlotte winner Antron Brown, who has a strong track record at the facility, Brittany Force, Mike Salinas, and four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence. Kalitta, though, is eager for the weekend as his team gets closer and closer to a victory this season.
“I am ready to get to St. Louis for sure,” Kalitta said. “We had a solid race in Charlotte, and we made some big steps forward. We were provisional No. 1 qualifiers and raced to the semifinals. This is the time of year you need to start getting round wins and our Mac Tools team is starting to get that done. We have been running well in qualifying all season and that definitely gives the Mac Tools team a boost. Last weekend we made a lot of quick runs, and we will be looking to duplicate that this weekend in St. Louis.”
In Pro Stock, Enders picked up her fifth win in St. Louis last season, which ties her for the most in NHRA history. She’s after her fifth world championship and has seven wins in 2022, but teammate Aaron Stanfield closed in with a win in Charlotte. Others to watch include Greg Anderson, Dallas Glenn, Troy Coughlin Jr., and Kyle Koretsky.
The NHRA Midwest Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by D-Wagon. The ET Racing Showcase, high school challenge and Jr. Dragster challenge will all take place during the weekend as well, and fans can also attend Nitro School on Saturday to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. The Gear Jammer’s Car Club will be on display at the event, while fans can also be entertained by the PT Cruiser Wheelstander that will make exhibition runs following nitro qualifying.
story by Tim Hailey and NHRA, photos and video by Hailey