Justin Ashley and Erica Enders extended their respective points leads with wins in Top Fuel and Pro Stock, Funny Car winner Ron Capps pulled up to points leader Robert Hight’s bumper with another win, and Hector Arana Jr. looked like a season regular in winning Pro Stock Motorcycle to bring the Texas NHRA FallNationals to a roaring conclusion.
Final eliminations began more than two hours late after a morning rainshower but the fans who stuck it out and watched final rounds under the lights at Texas Motorplex won’t soon forget this race.
Ashley boosted his points lead to 82 points with just two events left in the season, defeating tire-smoking Austin Prock in the final round for his third win of the season, his fifth in Top Fuel, and seventh overall.
"It really was a great weekend; any time you go out there and turn on for when lights on Sunday, it's great," said Ashley, "but where this race is positioned within the season makes it that much more significant. There's only two more races after this, and past history has shown that if you win Dallas, you really put yourself in a position to really go for that championship. So it was a critical win.
"Our team did a great job all weekend long. And it was like a bracket car, and for a Top Fuel car to run that fast and run that consistently. just speaks volumes of our entire team. I think that when you look at the Top Fuel class, it's so competitive with drivers and teams that are really all making each other better, and I think that's shown throughout the season."
Ashley, who led the points after a season-opening win in Pomona and sank to fourth throughout the season before regaining the lead with a victory at the playoff-opening Countdown event in Reading, came into the event after a stunning first-round loss the previous weekend in St. Louis but rebounded nicely with his Mike Green-tuned Phillips Connect dragster.
Ashley bested Doug Kalitta, Kebin Kinsley, and Shawn Langdon to reach the final, the 11th of his career.
Prock, who opened the Countdown playoffs in Reading with a big win after a lackluster summer, showed signs of new life, placing the Joe Balram- and Rahn Tobler-wrenched Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist dragster in the No. 1 qualifying spot for the first time in his young career. After a pair of 3.73s to dispatch Alex Laughlin and Leah Pruett, Prock grabbed final-round lane choice with a 3.681 to edge Antron Brown’s right-there 3.689 and reach his fifth career final.
Capps and Matt Hagan both took advantage of points leader Robert Hight’s tire-smoking semifinal exit to gain ground on the Auto Club team, but it was Capps who made the biggest move, defeating Hagan in the final. 3.91 to 3.92, to pull to within 10 points of Hight’s lead with career win No. 73 and his fifth of the season.
"We talked about trying to gain those little [qualifying bonus] points coming in and we failed a little bit of that," said Capps. "We gained a few points here and there., but we lost overall a little bit to Robert and didn't accomplish that goal.
"You don't want to have to rely on somebody else to do your dirty work and hope that somebody takes out whoever you're battling for a world championship, so we want to take care of business. We didn't in St. Louis in the final [against Hight] and that was my fault, so I wanted retribution and we got it in the semifinals."
Capps, the defending event champ, reached his third straight final round of the Countdown with a trio of high-3.8-second passes from the Dean Antonelli- and John Medlen-tuned NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, besting Jeff Diehl, John Force, and Hight to reach the final, the 139th of his career.
Hagan, winless in the nine races since he last tasted victory in New England, wheeled the Dickie Venables-tuned Dodge Power Brokers charger to his 78th career final round from the No. 1 spot, defeating Terry Haddock, Tim Wilkerson, and Bob Tasca III with runs of 3.87, 3.88. and 3.89. The win over Tasca was especially impressive as he ran 338.02 mph, the 10th fastest run in class history and the fastest in three years, since Capps ran 339.28 in Reading in 2019.
Enders won for the third time in four Countdown races — her only miss being a semifinal finish in Charlotte — to extend her points lead to a whopping 166 with two races remaining in the season.
The win, her ninth of the season, tying her career-high from the 2015 season, and 42nd of her career in the class, came over longtime rival Greg Anderson, 6.537 to 6.547. The win also completed a Lone Star State sweep for the native Texan, who won in Houston earlier this season.
Enders, who dominated qualifying with the best run of each session in her Melling/Elite Performance Camaro, was the quickest in all four runs Sunday, motoring easily past Fernando Cuadra Jr., Matt Hartford, Troy Coughlin Jr. in the preliminary rounds with runs of 6.53, 6.54, and 6.59 to reach her 72nd career Pro Stock final.
"Coming in on Friday, we had high hopes for the weekend," Enders admitted. "Winning two of the Countdown races of the three entering Dallas. We just wanted to come here and have a successful weekend. No mistakes, no parts failures, and, it was awesome.
"Coming out on Friday night going low, collecting that $7,500 bonus, and then going on to win the race today was just the icing on the cake. It was our goal to semi out; if we could at least go to the semi's the last three races, nobody can catch us and we'll be able to secure a fifth title. So once we got to the semi's it was icing on the cake. We were able to get around my teammate T.J. Coughlin in the semifinals and then beat our archrival Greg Anderson in the final. So it was just a really great day for our entire operation."
Defending event champ Anderson reached his 171st career final round with victories over a trio of second-generation Pro Stock racers in Mason McGaha, Cristian Cuadra, and Aaron Stanfield and did so with a steady trio of 6.56-second passes that varied by just .003-second. Anderson’s strong raceday performance in the HendrickCars.com Camaro carried him from fifth to third in the standings.
Competing in just his fifth race this year, Arana Jr. — the first rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle to surpass 200 mph — looked like a full-season regular en route to his 16th career win, topping it with a final-round win over Jerry Savoie, 6.82 to 6.89. Arana’s last win came in Las Vegas in 2019. The win avenged Arana’s loss to Smith in last year’s final here.
"We're not out here racing full time so I don't get too many opportunities to race for a Wally so to be able to go round wins is always awesome because it's more seat time on the bike because I don't know when the next race is gonna be," he said,
"We actually made it here to finals last year and to be able to come back and seal the deal is it's just awesome and it wasn't easy. I definitely had a tough day ahead of me,"
Aboard his Team Arana Buell, Arana scored wins over Chip Ellis and centerline-crossing Angie Smith with runs of 6.91 and 6.92, then powered to a semifinal 6.88 to upset points leader Matt Smith, who, like his wife a round earlier, had handling issues and had to roll out of the throttle.
Former world champ Savoie reached the FallNationals Pro Stock Motorcycle final for the seventh time in the last eight years. Savoie, who scored wins in 2015, 2019, and 2020 and three straight runner-ups in 2016-18, rode his White Alligator Suzuki from the No. 9 qualifying past Marc Ingwersen, Ryan Oehler, and Steve Johnson with a 6.86 and a pair of 6.87s to reach his 33rd career final round. Savoie’s round-two win over Oehler came after low qualifier Angelle Sampey crossed the centerline against Oehler in round one.