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Moving On Up: A look at more emerging Sportsman stars (part two)

Get to know these names, especially if you happen to be a fan of NHRA Sportsman racing, because many of the drivers featured here are going to carry the sport well into the future. Part two of our two-part series.
17 Mar 2021
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
From the pages of National Dragster

Get to know these names, especially if you happen to be a fan of NHRA Sportsman racing because many of the drivers featured below are going to carry the sport well into the future. The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series is loaded with talented racers, and it’s not easy to identify those about to break through for their first national event wins or championships, but we’ve managed to come up with several emerging talents who appear well on their way to success. We polled a number of industry insiders and Sportsman racing aficionados from each of NHRA’s seven geographic divisions to get their input and generated an extensive and diverse list of drivers in every class from Comp to Super Street. In the second half of our two-part series, meet the final 21 of 42 talents who appear poised for breakthrough seasons in 2021.

Wyatt Miles
Hometown: Flintstone, Ga.
Age: 25
Class: Super Comp
Vehicle: dragster

Wyatt Miles chased the Southeast Division Super Comp title for the first time last season and nearly pulled it off, finishing second to division champ Ray Miller III and ahead of E.T. racing ace Troy Williams Jr. Miles won his home event at Atlanta Dragway and also put together strong finishes at the divisional events in Benson, N.C., and St. Louis. Ironically, Miles was unable to attend any national events last season, so he finished well behind the leaders on the national level, but had he completed a full schedule, it’s very likely he would have battled for a spot in the coveted Top 10.

Cole Cummings
Hometown: Hammond, La.
Age: 27
Class: Super Comp/Super Gas
Vehicle: dragster/Corvette roadster

From grandfather Larry to father Britt and uncle Slate, Cole Cummings has plenty of experience to draw from should he ever need advice. The Cummings family has combined to win 13 national events thus far, and it seems almost a certainty that Cole helps add to that tally before long. So far, the third-generation racer has driven to a runner-up finish in Super Street at the 2018 Chicago race, and he got a pair of NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series wins in Super Gas during the 2019 season. Cummings didn’t run many NHRA events last season, but he could easily regain his momentum this season.

Courtney Russell
Hometown: Ardmore, Ala.
Age: 25
Class: Super Stock
Vehicle: GT/LA Olds Achieva

It’s not hard to find Courtney Russell at most NHRA events; she’s usually at or near the top of the qualifying charts in Super Stock. Another successful graduate of the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League, Russell currently pilots a very quick GT/LA Olds Achieva and has several class wins to her credit. More recently, she’s started to turn on more win lights. Last year, Russell went deep into eliminations at the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events in Orlando, Fla., and Indianapolis. Russell finished as the No. 11 ranked driver in her native Southeast Division last season and clearly seems headed for a spot in the Top 10 and likely her first NHRA final.

Wyatt Wagner
Hometown: Basehor, Kan.
Age: 19
Class: Super Stock
Vehicle: SS/GA ’68 Camaro

The term up-and-coming doesn’t really describe Wyatt Wagner because he’s already won the Division 5 Super Stock championship, a pair of NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional races, and was named the 2018 Division 5 rookie of the year. That being said, there is still much left for Wagner to accomplish, and at just 19 years old, he’s going to have plenty of time to do it. Last year, Wagner finished No. 3 in the division behind Justin Jenkins and Tyler Wudarczyk, and he finished No. 59 nationally, despite attending just two national events.

C.W. Hoefer
Hometown: Calimesa, Calif.
Age: 52
Class: Stock
Vehicle: G/SA ’73 Firebird

A former NHRA Summit Racing Series champion, C.W. Hoefer moved into Stock eliminator in 2019 and has done well for himself despite a very limited schedule. Last year, Hoefer competed in just three Division 7 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events but went to the fourth round or better at all of them. Hoefer’s wife, Sacha, is also an accomplished E.T. racer. Given an opportunity to attend more NHRA national and divisional events, he’s someone who could easily contend for a title.

Holden Laris
Hometown: Raceland, La.
Age: 23
Class: Super Comp
Vehicle: dragster

Holden Laris isn’t exactly an unknown, largely because he’s already got three national event wins to his credit in Super Comp, Super Gas, and Top Dragster. Laris is, however, young and talented and appears poised to contend for race wins and championships for many years to come. Last season, Laris opened the season with a runner-up finish at the Division 4 event in Belle Rose, La., and finished No. 9 in his home division and No. 30 in the nationwide Super Comp standings.

Dalton Deffenbaugh
Hometown: Lebanon, Ind.
Age: 23
Class: Super Gas
Vehicle: Chevy Nova

Dalton Deffenbaugh hasn’t run many NHRA events in the last couple of years, but he has a tremendous upside thanks in large part to a career in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League that produced five track championships and pair of Jr. Dragster Challenge race Wallys. He’s also got a pair of High School National Dragster Challenge wins after moving up to “big cars.” More recently, Deffenbaugh went to a pair of final rounds in Super Street during the 2018 season, scoring a win and a runner-up en route to a second-place finish in the North Central Division.

Justin Cooper
Hometown: Medical Lake, Wash.
Age: 31
Class: Super Comp/Super Street
Vehicle: dragster/’67 Chevelle

Division 6 racer Justin Cooper won the Super Comp title in 2017 and followed a year later with another points championship in Super Street, so he’s no stranger to success on the NHRA level. What Cooper still lacks is a national event win, although to be perfectly fair, he doesn’t get a chance to race in many of them. While distance makes national titles a challenge for racers in the Northwest, it would be no surprise to see Cooper in the hunt nationally should he get off to a hot start.

Allison McKoane
Hometown: Clovis, Calif.
Age: 24
Class: Super Comp
Vehicle: dragster

Racing alongside her father, John, Allison McKoane has made steady progress in the rough and tumble world of Super Comp racing. After reaching her first divisional final in 2015, she won the Division 7 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series race at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in 2017. Continuing the uptick in her career, McKoane raced in her first national event final in Pomona to close out the 2019 season. She returned last year to race in another divisional final and earned a Top 10 finish in the Pacific Division and a very respectable 29th-place finish nationally.

Cole Prejean
Hometown: Hammond, La.
Age: 30
Class: Top Sportsman
Vehicle: Pontiac GTO

If there is one driver on this list who is overdue for a breakout season, it might just be Cole Prejean. Since 2017, Prejean has appeared in the final round of six NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional events and has scored one victory. Last year, Prejean drove his low seven-second GTO to a runner-up finish in Belle Rose, La., and finished the season as the No. 6 ranked driver in the South Central Division. Prejean has now been ranked in the Top 10 in three of the last four years.

Eric Campolito
Hometown: Salem, Ohio
Age: 22
Class: Stock
Vehicle: J/SA Chevy Caprice

World champion Jody Lang isn’t the only driver who has found success behind the wheel of a relatively slow Stock eliminator car. Last year, Eric Campolito drove his 11-second Chevy to his first national event victory at the JEGS NHRA SPORTSnationals in Columbus. Campolito also went to the semifinal round of the Division 3 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event in St. Louis and finished the season as the No. 21 ranked driver in Stock despite competing in the bare minimum of three national events.

Ryan Warter
Hometown: Olalla, Wash.
Age: 36
Class: Comp/Stock
Vehicle: F/SM ’92 Camaro; J/SA ’72 Firebird

It took a while, but Ryan Warter finally broke through for his first national event win when he claimed the Stock title at the 2018 Seattle event. The second-generation racer has also appeared in four other national event finals, all of them at his home event in Seattle. Warter’s résumé also includes the 2019 Division 6 Comp title and eight NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series wins in 20 final rounds. That makes him one of the most accomplished drivers on our list, so the term overdue hardly applies, but it’s not unreasonable to think that his best season is still ahead of him.

Megan Strassweg
Hometown: Louisville, Ky.
Age: 22
Class: Super Comp
Vehicle: dragster

Racing alongside her father, JB, Megan Strassweg is already making inroads toward a successful drag racing career of her own. A runner-up in Super Comp at the 2019 Chicago race, Strassweg returned last season to record a handful of other late-round finishes, including a strong showing at the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals. The end result to her season was a Top 20 finish in the North Central Division standings. A recent college graduate, Strassweg also helps promote events through her current position as a staff writer for Drag Champ.

Madison Payne
Hometown: Upland, Calif.
Age: 19
Class: Super Comp
Vehicle: dragster

When your grandfather, uncle, and parents have combined to win multiple national events and world championships, it’s hard not to think there is a lot of success in Madison Payne’s future. The daughter of Jay and Shelly Payne and granddaughter of Top Alcohol Funny Car legend Brad Anderson, Payne began competing in Super Comp this season, and not surprisingly, she enjoyed some early success with a quarterfinal finish at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona. Toward the end of the 2020 season, Payne had a chance to earn her competition license in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, so there is every reason to believe her future includes something a bit faster than her current 180-mph Super Comp dragster.

Justin Hutto
Hometown: Spring, Texas
Age: 23
Class: Comp/Stock
Vehicle: dragster/’69 Corvette

Following a successful run in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League, Justin Hutto made a smooth transition to “big cars” a few years ago and announced his arrival by winning the 2017 Division 4 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event in Belle Rose, La. Currently, Hutto pulls double duty in Stock and Comp, where he races a 195-mph B/Dragster. A recent college graduate, Hutto has expressed a desire to eventually make a move to Top Fuel, and he’s already taken a big step in that direction by making license runs in Randy Meyer’s injected nitro dragster.

Makenna Brown
Hometown: Boca Raton, Fla.
Age: 20
Class: Super Comp
Vehicle: dragster

The JEGS Mail Order team is expanding at a rapid rate with an influx of third-generation drivers, including Makenna Brown. The granddaughter of JEGS founder Jeg Coughlin Sr. and his wife, Sue, Brown was named Jr. Dragster Rookie of the Year at National Trail Raceway in 2010. A year later, she earned the JEGS E.T. Series Jr. Dragster 2 Track Championship and defended her title the following year. More recently, Brown has split time between NHRA Super Comp and big-money bracket events and has found success in both endeavors.

Devon Dioguardi
Hometown: Victoria, Texas
Age: 27
Class: Stock
Vehicle: H/SA ’74 Trans Am

If you’re looking for tough competition, the Stock eliminator class in Division 4 is a good place to find it, yet Devon Dioguardi managed to hold his own against the best the class has to offer during his rookie season in 2020. A native of Australia, Dioguardi races as a part of the Clegg Services team and finished among the top 30 drivers in the division despite attending just five NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events.

Brittany DeVore
Hometown: Blanchard, Okla.
Age: 26
Class: Super Street
Vehicle: ’99 GMC Sonoma

In the first edition of our Movin’ on Up feature, we highlighted the achievements of Parker DeVore, who finished 2020 as the nation’s No. 2 ranked Stock eliminator driver. Now, the spotlight turns to DeVore’s wife, Brittany, who also enjoyed a solid season behind the wheel of her GMC Sonoma. Brittany, the daughter of Super Gas racer Vernon Rowland, went to the late rounds of the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional events in Belle Rose, La., Dallas, and Great Bend, Kan., en route to a very respectable seventh-place finish in the competitive South Central Division.

Conner Statler
Hometown: Bossier City, La.
Age: 24
Class: Stock
Vehicle: A/SA ’69 Camaro

In 2020, Conner Statler spent a lot of time in the winner’s circle at NHRA events because he’s a part of the Stanfield Racing team that includes Factory Stock champion Aaron Stanfield. Statler spends most of his time building engines at Stanfield Racing, but he also finds time to race his own ’69 Camaro in Stock eliminator and earned a Wally of his own after winning the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event in Tulsa, Okla. Statler put together a few other strong finishes to earn the No. 7 ranking in Division 4. Statler’s duties with the Stanfield team prevented him from racing in national events last season or he likely could have made a run at the Top 10.

Hannah Line
Hometown: Cromwell, Minn.
Age: 21
Class: Stock
Vehicle: D/SA ’69 Camaro

The Line family’s roots run deep in NHRA class racing, and the latest to make an impact is 21-year-old Hannah Line. The daughter of 2003 Brainerd winner Lance Line and niece to Pro Stock world champion Jason Line, Hannah got her start in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League and has since progressed to Stock eliminator with her big-block powered ’69 Camaro. Line didn’t have many opportunities to race in 2020 but did manage a respectable third-round finish at the Division 5 event in Earlville, Iowa. In her rookie season in 2019, Line impressed by reaching the semifinals in her national event debut in Brainerd.

Zach Sackman
Hometown: Channahon, Ill.
Age: 26
Class: Top Dragster
Vehicle: dragster

Zach Sackman scored his first national event win at the 2017 Chicago race, providing a glimpse of his potential in the competitive Top Dragster class. Sackman has also scored three divisional victories in four final rounds since the 2017 season. Last year, Sackman posted a pair of semifinal finishes, including the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals, and finished No. 31 in the nation in the Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers class. Sackman often shares the seat of his blown Hangstefer’s Laboratories Dragster with his brother, Matt, who works as a crewmember on Antron Brown’s Matco Tools Top Fuel team.