For more than a half-century, Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis has been the site of some of NHRA’s most memorable and historic moments, and this year’s edition of “The Big Go” was no different. As has become a Monday tradition at NHRA.com, we present our five best takeaways from the Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals.
Tim Wilkerson still has what it takes to succeed in Funny Car
You want to talk about popular wins? It doesn’t get any better than Tim Wilkerson’s victory in Funny Car. Shut out of the winner’s circle for more than five seasons, Wilkerson remains the sport’s working class hero, a blue-collar guy who has poured his heart and soul into the sport.
Respected equally for his talents as a driver and tuner, Wilkerson scored his second U.S. Nationals victory when he drove his Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang to a final round win against Ron Capps on Sunday afternoon. Forced to race in the right lane that had given fits to crew chiefs for most of the day, Wilkerson made his best run of eliminations in the final with a 3.91 that Capps and his NAPA team could not match.
A win at Indy is enough to make anyone’s year, but for Wilkerson it could be the start of something even better. He’s solidly in the Top 10 at the conclusion of the regular season and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see him make a run at the Camping World NHRA Funny Car championship before all is said and done.
Erica Enders has taken over the reins as Pro Stock’s best driver
Admittedly, she’s been ranked among the class all-time greats for a few years now, but with the retirement of Jeg Coughlin Jr., it would be difficult for anyone to make the argument that Enders isn’t the best driver in the class right now. These sort of lists are always subjective, but Enders body of work speaks for itself with four world championships and 32 national event wins, including three at Indy.
Racing in her third-straight Indy final, Enders did what she does best with a holeshot win against up-and-coming Kyle Koretsky. The .024 reaction time wasn’t fantastic, but it was enough to get the job done. In her post-race interview, Enders spoke at length about the finesse and precise driving technique that is mandatory for success in every aspect of Pro Stock racing from burnout to staging to shifting.
Enders also acknowledges that her Elite Camaro has not been the best car in the class this season, but she’s somehow found a way to get the job done with three wins. It’s also worth noting that she is undefeated in her last nine final rounds dating back to her heartbreaking loss to Alex Laughlin in the 2019 Indy final. Enders will also start the Countdown from the No. 2 spot, which means she’s in a prime position to contend for a fifth championship, a feat that only Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson, Greg Anderson, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. have achieved in Pro Stock.
When it comes to wheelmen, J.R. Todd is the real deal
J.R. Todd didn’t win the U.S. Nationals Funny Car title, but man-o-man, did he make a statement. Todd was involved in one of the craziest races of the day in round one when he smoked the tires early against Jim Campbell. What appeared to be an upset in the making soon turned into an entertaining battle when Campbell’s car shut off. Trailing by a country mile, Todd used a world-class pedal job to get back in the race and win with a 6.40 at 292-mph.
As impressive as he was in round one, it turns out that was just the warm-up act for Todd, but pulled off an even more magical feat in his round two race against Cruz Pedregon, even though he didn’t light the win light. After the burnout, Todd had trouble backing up due to what appeared to be a clutch malfunction. The DHL team was able to push the car back behind the starting line but as the rules state, a car must stage under its own power. Left with few options, Todd blipped the throttle twice (something not normally done in a nitro Funny Car) and somehow managed to light both stage lights without deep staging or rolling through the beams. The unorthodox move startled Pedregon, who managed to get the win only after Todd smoked the tires.
Todd’s driving impressed his peers, including Funny Car finalist Ron Capps who called the move “legendary” and “some next-level s***.” In s post-race tweet.
Sportsman star Edmond Richardson hasn't lost a step
here was a time in the 1990s when Edmond Richardson and his younger brother, Scotty, dominated NHRA Sportsman racing to combine to win nine world championships and nearly 100 nationals events. Beginning with his first victory in 1990, Edmond was particularly impressive with 48 victories in Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, and Super Street.
Lately, Richardson has been mostly absent from NHRA events although he’s still heavily invested in the sport with his sons, Austin, Blake, and Ryan. Last week, Richardson showed up at the Division 3 event in Bowling Green, Ky., and won his 50th Lucas Oil Series event with his new Super Gas Corvette.
Throughout his career, Richardson has had a reputation for lengthy win streaks so it should not have come as a surprise to see him roll into Indy and win for the second week in a row. That's 14-straight win lights over a seven-day period capped off with a final round win against Tim Gillespie. Ironically, Richardson had never previously won a national event in Super Gas but he’s now on the short list of drivers who have won in five different eliminators.
The U.S. Nationals still has magic that no other event can match
We already knew this, but it’s worth repeating; Indy is a very special place and its appeal is rarely lost on those who are fortunate enough to win NHRA’s marquee event. For most of the winners crowned on Sunday, the emotion of the moment was obvious as they were handed a coveted U.S. Nationals Wally trophy. Tears flowed freely and others were practically speechless as they attempted to grasp the gravity of the moment.
The thrill of winning at Indy extended to the Super Stock and Stock drivers who were fortunate enough to prevail during Wednesday’s class eliminations and the individual and team winners crowned during Friday’s JEGS Allstars competition.
This year’s U.S. Nationals was different from others on many levels. For the second straight year, traditional Monday eliminations were missed, but it’s already been announced that they’ll be back next year. Saturday’s rain also means that pro racers had to make do with a single qualifying run. That’s also an Indy first and hopefully a last.
On Sunday, we were all given a reminder of just how good the U.S. Nationals can be with a packed house of enthusiastic fans enjoying a tremendous day of racing under sunny skies. After almost seven decades, it’s obvious that there is still magic in the air at Indy.