Parity? Sandbagging? Ice Cream Ballast? NHRA at Norwalk

Gaige Herrera and his Vance & Hines Suzuki again laid a stronger hand on the raceday table than what they showed in qualifying, perhaps taking better advantage of Sunday’s improved weather than their opponents at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio. Or, suggested Matt Smith in a candid conversation on Saturday, ditching the sandbags when it mattered.

It didn’t really matter in the first round, where Herrera opened the day with a track-record 6.698 blast at 200.95 mph against a redlighting Ron “RAT” Tornow. He finished it off with a 6.704 at 200.77 against Smith, who took out a centerline timing block on the top end. Both riders engaged in a bulb-flickering staging duel that seemed to be initiated by Matt, with Gaige scoring an .026 to .040 win at the tree.

Video of the PSM final:

Herrera qualified third behind Matt and his wife Angie. “We’ve been No. 1 two other times before this, but we have to get it done on Sunday. We have not done that this year like we need to,” Smith said on Saturday evening. “Hopefully we can do that tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be a totally different day from what it looks like. It’s going to be cooler and a lot drier. We’re just trying to get an MSR bike in the final and see if we can win this thing tomorrow.”

Here’s Matt’s complete press conference:


Pro Stock Motorcycle final qualifying — 1. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.748, 201.31 vs. 14. Wesley Wells, Suzuki, 7.516, 177.11; 2. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.798, 200.26 vs. 13. Eiji Kawakami, Suzuki, 7.148, 187.21; 3. Gaige Herrera, Suzuki, 6.799, 198.90 vs. 12. Ron Tornow, Victory, 6.928, 195.76; 4. Jianna Evaristo, Buell, 6.802, 201.13 vs. 11. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.901, 196.02; 5. Richard Gadson, Suzuki, 6.803, 199.52 vs. 10. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.884, 196.04; 6. Chase Van Sant, Suzuki, 6.809, 198.82 vs. 9. Marc Ingwersen, EBR, 6.878, 196.10; 7. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.812, 200.08 vs. 8. John Hall, Beull, 6.817, 198.99.

There were two MSR bikes in the semis, with Matt defeating a very-close-to-the-right-lane-wall Richard Gadson and John Hall falling to Herrera. Interestingly, Matt’s bike veered in the opposite direction as Gadson in the right lane.

“Matt’s got a fast motorcycle, he just missed it a little today,” Herrera said. “I have an awesome team behind me, and they deserve more of the credit than I do. I get the spotlight, but all in all, it’s them. It shows their hard work.”

Gaige also beat WAR / Trick-Tools rider Chase Van Sant in round two following another strong performance by Chase and his team.

Chase Van Sant

Gaige extended his NHRA record with an 11th straight Pro Stock Motorcycle win. The dominant points leader and defending world champion remained undefeated since last September and for all of 2024, winning his sixth straight race this year and first at Summit Motorsports Park.

“It’s just been a lot accomplished in a short time and it’s really hard to take it all in, but I’m enjoying it. It’s unbelievable but it makes me feel like all my hard work is paying off.

“I’ve always wanted to be here since I was a little kid. I actually grew up one city over from John Force. You grow up watching John, hearing about him, to have my name in that same area—it’s still John Force, you can never compare yourself to anyone like that—but to have my name mentioned in the history books like that, it’s incredible. I never would have dreamed anything of it as a kid and I still don’t believe it.”

Here’s Herrera’s full post-race press conference. Sorry I wasn’t there to contribute:


Gaige’s teammate Richard Gadson enjoyed a milestone moment, picking up his first NHRA win in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge after going 6.819 at 196.87 on his Vance & Hines Suzuki against John Hall, who beat Herrera in the opening round. Gadson took down Hector Arana Jr. earlier in the day, getting past Hall’s 6.857 in the finals.

“That round right there, that was big for me, to avenge my teammate. That was big. Before I walked out of the trailer, Gaige said to me, ‘Go do what I couldn’t do.’ That was a little booster,” Gadson said.

Terry Vance and Richard Gadson in the Norwalk media center

“I’m having a blast and I just want to thank Mission Foods and NHRA for having this. It gets the juices flowing before Sunday. I love it. It gets you into race mode and you start to find your spot, you start to learn how your bike is reacting and how you’re reacting. Typically, you might not be worried about that stuff in qualifying, but it gets you amped up and into race mode. I love the format.”

Here’s Richard’s complete press conference:


MISSION #2FAST2TASTY NHRA PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE CHALLENGE:

ROUND ONE — Richard Gadson, Suzuki, 9.633, 158.73 def. Hector Arana Jr, 10.148, no speed; John Hall, 6.826, 198.20 def. Gaige Herrera, Suzuki, 6.820, 198.58;

FINAL — R. Gadson, 6.819, 196.87 def. J. Hall, 6.857, 197.86.

Jianna Evaristo started qualifying on a high note when she made the second fastest pass of the first qualifying session, 6.802 seconds at 200.62 mph on her MSR Buell, earning a couple of valuable bonus points along the way. On Friday evening, Evaristo laid down the fastest speed of her career, going 201.13 mph and was number four qualifier at the end of the four sessions.

Jianna faced Chris Bostick in the first round of eliminations. Bostick shut off early and Jianna reached another new personal best with a 6.754. In the quarterfinals, Gadson got the starting line advantage against Jianna and held on to advance to the semifinals.

Jianna Evaristo

Evaristo also won the Ice Cream Eating Contest, unique to Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, for the second consecutive year, defending her title with enthusiasm and her own personal strategy. “There’s something about winning that ice cream contest that just set us on a positive path for the weekend,” said Jianna. “This track is so cool and the fans are just unbelievable. I’m glad to have set some new personal records in front of such a great fanbase.”

Here’s video of Jianna wolfing down some ice cream:

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE results:

ROUND ONE — John Hall, 6.829, 197.77 def. Hector Arana Jr, 7.332, 192.25; Angie Smith, Buell, 6.786, 196.50 def. Eiji Kawakami, Suzuki, 7.565, 151.85; Chase Van Sant, Suzuki, 6.814, 196.79 def. Marc Ingwersen, 6.901, 194.13; Jianna Evaristo, Buell, 6.754, 200.53 def. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 14.183, 38.77; Richard Gadson, Suzuki, 7.029, 161.59 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 10.048, 81.26; Gaige Herrera, Suzuki, 6.698, 200.95 def. Ron Tornow, Foul – Red Light; Matt Smith, Buell, 6.779, 200.00 def. Wesley Wells, Suzuki, 7.435, 179.97;

QUARTERFINALS — Hall, 6.798, 198.99 def. A. Smith, 6.872, 198.90; Gadson, 6.862, 198.20 def. Evaristo, 6.871, 200.26; M. Smith, 6.817, 199.32 was unopposed; Herrera, 6.760, 199.64 def. Van Sant, 6.812, 197.68;

SEMIFINALS — M. Smith, 6.798, 198.82 def. Gadson, 7.608, 124.27; Herrera, 6.720, 200.80 def. Hall, Foul – Red Light;

FINAL — Herrera, 6.704, 200.77 def. M. Smith, Foul – Centerline.

Pro Stock Motorcycle points:

Gaige Herrera, 738; 2. Matt Smith, 467; 3. Richard Gadson, 442; 4. John Hall, 406; 5. Angie Smith, 350; 6. Chase Van Sant, 348; 7. Hector Arana Jr, 301; 8. Jianna Evaristo, 299; 9. LE Tonglet, 233; 10. Steve Johnson, 218.

Top Fuel

Antron Brown

Three-time Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown denied Doug Kalitta, the reigning world champ, his second straight win, going 3.736-seconds at 330.55 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Matco Tools/Toyota dragster to get past Kalitta’s 3.747 at 334.65 in a fantastic side-by-side duel. It is Brown’s second win this season and the 60th Top Fuel win in his career. He reached the final round after defeating Dan Mercier, Clay Millican and Justin Ashley. Brown then led wire-to-wire against the No. 1 qualifier, moving to fourth in points with the victory.

“This is the best one right now, but your best one is always your next one,” Brown said. “We’re going to celebrate like rock stars tonight because this class is unbelievably tough. You can be on the outside looking in really quick. Coming here, we really felt we had a package that compete and run with anybody.

Doug Kalitta

“The fans here live, eat and breath drag racing and you could tell the way the fans showed out. To be part of that and go rounds, come out the victor – my hat is off to my team. I’m in awe of how we got this done. It’s truly a blessing to be part of this team and get this win and John Force, this win is for you.”

Kalitta reached his fourth straight final of the year and the 117th in his career with round wins against Kyle Wurtzel, Billy Torrence and Steve Torrence. His points lead now stands at 134 over Justin Ashley.

Top Fuel rookie Jasmine Salinas and tuner Rob Flynn are gelling in her first season of Top Fuel competition. Salinas achieved a new personal best speed in the final qualifying session on Saturday when she made it down the track in 3.762 seconds at 332.02 mph.

Entering eliminations from the No. 12 qualifier position, Jasmine faced Tony Stewart in the first round. In a stunning upset, Jasmine defeated Stewart with a pass of 3.750 at 329.34 to advance to the second round for the second time.

Jasmine Salinas

In the quarterfinals, Jasmine faced four-time Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence. She got the starting line advantage but moments spun the tires and Torrence got the win. “It was really good for all of us to get another round win under our belts,” said Jasmine. “We are gaining consistency and right now, everything is an opportunity for learning and improvement. Unfortunately, we had a parts failure when I hit the gas in E2, causing our day to come to an end. Overall, it was a motivating weekend. We will just keep building off of these milestones and hopefully more round wins are in our future.”

TOP FUEL results:

ROUND ONE — Tripp Tatum, 3.751, 309.91 def. T.J. Zizzo, 3.725, 332.18; Clay Millican, 3.742, 333.25 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.802, 303.37; Antron Brown, 3.739, 316.97 def. Dan Mercier, 3.816, 315.34; Doug Kalitta, 3.804, 319.75 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 3.787, 321.65; Justin Ashley, 3.764, 329.50 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.783, 320.74; Steve Torrence, 3.749, 329.99 def. Shawn Reed, 3.746, 323.81; Jasmine Salinas, 3.750, 329.34 def. Tony Stewart, 3.769, 324.75; Billy Torrence, 3.717, 331.28 def. Doug Foley, 3.746, 322.50;

QUARTERFINALS — Ashley, 4.524, 295.21 def. Tatum, 8.435, 82.20; S. Torrence, 4.822, 203.65 def. Salinas, 15.633, 59.35; Brown, 3.757, 329.50 def. Millican, 3.814, 325.22; Kalitta, 3.740, 332.51 def. B. Torrence, 3.774, 325.69;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.780, 326.48 def. Ashley, 7.778, 77.66; Kalitta, 3.771, 332.02 def. S. Torrence, 3.946, 285.29;

FINAL — Brown, 3.736, 330.55 def. Kalitta, 3.747, 334.65.

Top Fuel points:

Doug Kalitta, 857; 2. Justin Ashley, 723; 3. Shawn Langdon, 721; 4. Antron Brown, 663; 5. Steve Torrence, 651; 6. Tony Schumacher, 548; 7. Billy Torrence, 529; 8. Clay Millican, 528; 9. Tony Stewart, 492; 10. Brittany Force, 425.

Funny Car

Bob Tasca

Bob Tasca III made the most of his second straight trip to the final round in his 1ord Performance Dark Horse Mustang, taking down Ron Capps with a run of 3.908 at 330.47. It gives Tasca his second win this season and the 17th in his career and the veteran also obliterated the track speed record, going 336.82.

That came in the first round of eliminations against Dave Richards and Tasca then proceeded to knock off Paul Lee and No. 1 qualifier and points leader Austin Prock. That semifinal must-see matchup didn’t disappoint, as Tasca won on a holeshot, going 3.929 at 334.73 to hold off Prock’s 3.927 thanks to a .046 reaction time. Tasca then cruised to the victory in the final round, winning for the second time in Norwalk and also moving to second in points.

“Hats off to Todd Okuhara and Aaron Brooks. Leaving Bristol, we were pretty disappointed,” Tasca said. “They’re about as aggressive of guys as I’ve ever seen, and I’m an aggressive guy. But we have to go down the racetrack. I think we’re like 14 out of 15 runs since Bristol going down the racetrack, and that’s what it takes to win. They just did an incredible job this weekend. Friday, Saturday were some of the most challenging conditions that we’ve ever seen and the car runs .88, .89, like a bracket car. This is a really special group.

“This morning when I woke up and I heard the positive news about John Force, it was like a weight was lifted off our shoulders. This place is special to John and I dedicate this win to John Force. He will be back and he’s the toughest guy I know.”

Capps broke a season-long slump, advancing to his first final of the year and the 148th in his career after taking down Daniel Wilkerson, J.R. Todd and reigning world champion Matt Hagan. Prock’s points lead is now 178 points over Tasca.

“This was definitely one of those weekends I knew was coming soon,” said Capps, who’s now in his third year as a driver and team owner of Ron Capps Motorsports. “I’ve been pretty vocal about the big changes we’ve had to make to our race car. I’m so proud of Guido and our NAPA AutoCare team, just to have the race day like we had today. It was an important weekend not only to help us in the Mission Foods points standings, but to get the confidence back too. The car was consistent all day. Guido felt really happy that there’s a lot more left in it. I’m pretty excited about heading to the West Coast, where we’ve had a lot of success at the races that are coming up.”

FUNNY CAR results:

ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.857, 336.82 def. Dave Richards, Toyota Camry, 4.067, 316.08; Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.950, 320.13 def. Buddy Hull, Dodge Charger, 4.075, 314.90; Austin Prock, Chevy Camaro, 4.431, 201.82 def. Joe Morrison, Charger, Foul – Red Light; J.R. Todd, Toyota GR Supra, 3.933, 325.37 def. Chris King, Charger, 4.269, 233.48; Paul Lee, Charger, 5.290, 198.93 def. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 19.206, 41.67; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.914, 325.06 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.999, 327.03; Ron Capps, GR Supra, 3.897, 331.53 def. Daniel Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.941, 329.99; Chad Green, Mustang, 3.930, 330.23 def. Alexis DeJoria, GR Supra, 6.324, 111.58;

QUARTERFINALS — Tasca III, 3.922, 332.92 def. Lee, 4.024, 326.40; Hagan, 3.900, 327.82 def. Alexander, 3.951, 321.88; Capps, 3.944, 330.88 def. Todd, 4.596, 180.43; Prock, 3.922, 330.39 def. Green, 4.830, 163.35;

SEMIFINALS — Tasca III, 3.929, 334.73 def. Prock, 3.927, 328.06; Capps, 3.910, 330.80 def. Hagan, 7.730, 120.25;

FINAL — Tasca III, 3.908, 330.47 def. Capps, 6.966, 104.78.

Funny Car points:

Austin Prock, 914; 2. Bob Tasca III, 736; 3. Matt Hagan, 733; 4. John Force, 693; 5. J.R. Todd, 686; 6. Ron Capps, 561; 7. Daniel Wilkerson, 507; 8. Alexis DeJoria, 460; 9. Chad Green, 445; 10. Blake Alexander, 430.

Pro Stock Car

Aaron Stanfield

Pro Stock Car’s Aaron Stanfield stayed hot, winning his second straight race by taking down points leader Dallas Glenn in the final round with a run of 6.539 at 208.91 in his Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports car. It was the quickest run of the weekend in the category and also marks the 10th career victory for the young standout, who also won last weekend in Richmond.

Stanfield advanced to the championship round by defeating Chris McGaha, Deric Kramer and Cristian Cuadra. Glenn ran into tire shake almost immediately, and Stanfield cruised to the victory, moving up to fourth in points in the process.

“This place is awesome and it’s been on my bucket list to get it done,” Stanfield said. “My hot rod was flying this weekend and I’m glad I’m the one that’s behind the wheel. It feels great to get back-to-back wins and get this ice cream scoop here.

“Racing Dallas, we both come from the same background. He’s a tough competitor and it feels good to turn the win light on. We’re both hardworking people, and we’ve really grinded to get in the position we are. It’s cool to get to race against him and he’s bad to the bone, so I know I’ve got to be on my best to beat him. It’s just a cool moment.”

Glenn reached the finals for the fifth time this season and the 22nd time in his career, picking up round wins against Jeg Coughlin Jr., Fernando Cuadra Jr. and Mason McGaha. He also extended his points lead to 89 over Greg Anderson, who fell in the first round. Reigning world champ Erica Enders also lost in the opening round.

PRO STOCK CAR results:

ROUND ONE — Mason McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.880, 206.16 def. Jerry Tucker, Camaro, 9.011, 116.27; Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.587, 208.42 def. Eric Latino, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.561, 208.97 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 7.161, 151.95; Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.569, 207.88 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.624, 206.51; Fernando Cuadra Jr., Camaro, 6.598, 207.59 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.556, 207.78; Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.637, 207.50 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 21.203, 36.96; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.571, 208.46 def. David Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.586, 206.57; Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, 6.564, 207.05 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.559, 209.56;

QUARTERFINALS — M. McGaha, 6.635, 206.67 def. Morgan, 6.637, 207.18; Glenn, 6.582, 207.78 def. Cuadra Jr., 14.439, 58.91; C. Cuadra, 6.585, 208.17 def. Coughlin Jr., 6.608, 209.75; Stanfield, 6.563, 207.94 def. Kramer, 6.582, 208.33; SEMIFINALS — Glenn, 6.610, 208.10 def. M. McGaha, 6.624, 208.01; Stanfield, 6.563, 209.10 def. C. Cuadra, 6.584, 208.49;

FINAL — Stanfield, 6.539, 208.91 def. Glenn, 16.851, 69.89.

Pro Stock Car points:

Dallas Glenn, 887; 2. Greg Anderson, 798; 3. Erica Enders, 767; 4. Aaron Stanfield, 714; 5. Jeg Coughlin, 631; 6. Troy Coughlin Jr., 544; 7. Jerry Tucker, 497; 8. Cristian Cuadra, 457; 9. Deric Kramer, 393; 10. David Cuadra, 338.

Other results:

Top Alcohol Dragster — Jeff Veale, 5.351, 277.03 def. Julie Nataas, 18.056, 45.87.

Top Alcohol Funny Car — Sean Bellemeur, Chevy Camaro, 5.430, 268.17 def. Madison Gordon, Camaro, 15.112, 77.72.

Competition Eliminator — Royce Freeman, Chevy Camaro, 6.952, 195.99 def. Robert Bailey, Dragster, 6.677, 192.77.

Super Stock — Jeff Dona, PontiacFirebird, 9.787, 134.23 def. Monty Bogan, Chevy Camaro, 9.089, 141.50.

Stock Eliminator — Ken Whitcher, ChevyCamaro, 11.250, 114.95 def. Brenda Grubbs, Camaro, 9.989, 131.19.

Super Comp — Phil Smida, Dragster, 8.896, 179.78 def. Jamie Elrod, Dragster, 8.892, 178.83.

Super Gas — Bob Prose, Rambler Wagon, 9.818, 151.37 def. Michael Handras, Chevy Cavalier, Foul – Red Light.

Top Dragster — Al Peavler, Dragster, 6.121, 225.41 def. Chris Sullivan, Dragster, 6.574, 195.48.

Top Sportsman — James Hinkle, Pontiac Grand Am, 7.463, 181.03 def. Zach Sackman, Chevelle, 6.514, 211.33.

Factory X — Lenny Lottig, Chevy Camaro, 7.091, 190.89 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 7.152, 193.13.

Factory Stock Showdown — Stephen Bell, Chevy Camaro, 7.811, 174.98 def. Mark Pawuk, Dodge Challenger, 13.974, 60.67.

Junior Dragster Shootout — Madeline Rodgers, American, 8.078, 78.96 def. James Graves, Bos, Foul – Red Light.

Scott Rods — Scott Leber, Corvette, 5.600, 124.12 def. Rich Miller, Anglia, 5.582, 124.72.

The NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series returns to action July 19-21 with the NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Seattle.

story by Tim Hailey, NHRA, and team reports; videos by NHRA; photos by Hailey

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