The Topeka heat meant this Menards NHRA Nationals Presented By PetArmor wasn't the record-breaking event it’s been in the past, but the racing was some of the best we've seen all year. The level of competition sets the stage for an incredible 2022 Countdown to the Championship run.
During Saturday’s qualifying, the air temperatures were likened to the surface of the sun, and man and machine coped with the heat in preparation for race day. Today's competitive matchups were dictated by Friday's qualifying efforts, and the morning session was a little bit faster than Friday.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
All weekend racers talked about heat, and while the air was hot, the traction from the track never seemed to yield. In the final round of Pro Stock Motorcycle, the track was 140 degrees with an air temperature of 93 degrees and a density altitude of 4,420 feet. Joey Gladstone had the best motorcycle in Kansas all weekend, a bike that was good enough to carry him to his second consecutive win, and second career win.
Eddie Krawiec hasn't won an NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle event since the 2021 U.S. Nationals, and the only room Gladstone left for Krawiec to win would require a holeshot advantage. Gladstone’s .009 reaction time meant that Krawiec (with a decent .022 reaction time) would have to wait until another day to claim a victory of his own. Both bikes have the same Vance & Hines-built Suzuki power but Gladstone’s launch advantage meant Krawiec had no options to catch up.
Gladstone has established himself as an event winner and a championship contender. He went back-to-back in the last two Pro Stock Motorcycle races at events with drastically different conditions and qualified number one, ran low e.t. of every round, and stormed into the winner’s circle in Topeka.
"This is what dreams are made of. I'm so proud of my team, they are so awesome. You guys gave me a perfect bike all weekend. I'm glad I got it done for you guys."—Joey Gladstone
Troy Coughlin Jr. came into the final as a recent first-time winner matching up against Greg Anderson who was looking for his 100th win. In any other sport, that type of lopsided success ratio would all but guarantee Coughlin would fall to the more experienced Anderson, but not in NHRA Pro Stock racing. While Coughlin’s name isn’t ready to be added to any record books (yet) he has a velocity and a focus that's taken him from number-one qualifier in Sonoma to event winner in Seattle and now repeat winner here in Topeka —and could take him considerably further.
Anderson's car looked good this weekend, but it wasn't as solid as Coughlin's. After qualifying number two, his first-round matchup against Chris McGaha came with a reaction time that was twice as good as the competition's and e.t. advantage that added up to a .2114 margin of victory. In the second round against Fernando Cuadra Jr. Coughlin again had a better reaction time and a quicker car. Round three was his biggest challenge, a rematch of the Seattle final round against Erica Enders. Enders beat Coughlin off the line, but her car wasn't quick enough to hold onto the lead.
That set up a classic Jegs vs. Summit Pro Stock car showdown in the final (and a repeat of Seattle's semi-final round), where Coughlin seized the advantage over Anderson at the tree and kept the lead through the entire race thanks to a quicker e.t.
20 years ago Coughlin's father won here in Topeka too. “It’s extremely meaningful, said Coughlin Jr., "any time you win at the same track as your father, it's a big deal. Jeg had me on the cellphone and told me we had won!"
Anderson continues to play the long game and is looking to improve his position in the Countdown while also securing his milestone 100th win. He qualified number one with Coughlin right behind him.
"With a team like Elite Motorsports, it's hard to know what's next. These guys are awesome. They work together so passionately. There's nothing like it, you gotta come check it out."—Troy Coughlin Jr.
Bob Tasca III finally has the season he's been striving for since he returned to Funny Car competition with Ford Motor Company. He was the number one qualifier on Friday night, handled Jack Wyatt with ease in first round. Struggled with clutch assembly issues that almost prevented him from making the competition single in round two, and ran well enough to beat Matt Hagan (or Robert Hight had he run him) in round three. Coming into the final round, lane choice became a point of gamesmanship, and John Force chose to swap spots with Bob Tasca III as they moved into the water box.
Tasca admitted, "I think this is one of the most challenging races I’ve ever competed in." The heat and the pressure from great performing competitors became clear when everyone was perfecting their tunes and reaction times. "You’ve seen the consistency this car exhibits, the car moves early so the guys can go easier on it through the middle."
In the four times that Tasca and Force have met have met in final rounds, Tasca is undefeated. Yet he says, "There’s no one out here I have more respect for."
"I think Brainerd is going to be a pivotal race, get ready to take the big bat out. “—Bob Tasca III
He's back! Antron Brown, the owner-operator who has now become an owner-winner. It's not that there was ever any doubt that he could actually do it or that the pressure is somehow magically off, it's that this win confirms that success is possible for this team—even under the most difficult conditions.
Brown's challenge to find success as a team owner also gives a glimpse of what it really takes to build a Top Fuel team in an era of such close competition. It;s been the school of hard knocks, getting the team on the same page. Brown said it himself, "We never imagined we were going to struggle like we have. You have so many people telling you you’ll never be able to do this, telling you you don’t have enough of this or you can’t do that."
"People don't realize," said Brown, "since last year, we’ve changed 70 percent of the car. The clutch program, the blower, the body, and the injector are all new. We didn’t want to do what we’d done, we wanted to be better."
And now that AB Motorsports has won its first Wally Brown said, "It doesn’t feel real because it’s a dream." So when did things start to click for Brown and the AB Motorsports team?. Brown said, "I knew we turned the table in Sonoma."
We don't know that we saw that pivot because even though Brown put together a solid run in the first round, he was up against Shawn Langdon, who was having a great race weekend of his own.
In Seattle, Brown's qualifying times improved, and he started from the fifth position. Again we didn’t see what he was capable of because former teammate Leah Pruett put him out in round one with a quicker reaction time and better e.t.. Pruett, just like Langdon the week before, was have a good race of her own and made it to the semi-finals.
Topeka is where it all came together. Yes, Brown slipped back to qualifying number 11, but he made everyone forget about that on Sunday when the ladder pit him against Top Fuel rockstar Brittany Force. Brown was able to cut a better light and run a quicker time than Force and advance to round two and run against another Top Fuel hotshot, Josh Hart. Hart beat Brown's reaction time but had no way of keeping up with the Matco Tool dragster.
In the semi-final round, Brown squared off against quasi-teammate Justin Ashley in a race where they both had difficulty holding the cars together. but Brown’s car lasted just long enough to keep them ahead of Ashley.
In the final, Brown squared off against his great friend Steve Torrence who showed signs of unleashing whatever they've been working on here in Topeka. However, it was Brown’s day to hoist the Wally, and on a slightly quicker reaction time (.062 to.064 ) Brown got ahead of Torrence and stayed ahead to take the win.
"I saw the [team's] chemistry change coming into the Western Swing. You could see the expressions on their faces [were different] even when we were struggling... We are right where we want to be and are looking to be back in the game."—Antron Brown