With sellout crowds, picture-perfect weather, and an awe-inspiring setting to open the Countdown to the Championship, the playoffs are off and running in 2022 and race fans got to witness a little bit of everything this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway. Here’s five things we learned at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals:
YOU CAN WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP FROM THE NO. 12 SPOT
Distraught with a fifth straight first-round loss after an early exit in Indy, Austin Prock noted he was getting a “charity spot” in the Countdown to the Championship by starting the postseason in 12th place.
But he also talked about hurting some feelings over the final six races, and Prock did just that in Reading, vaulting an incredible six positions with his victory over (new points leader) Justin Ashley in the final round.
He’s now just 74 points out of first, and the Countdown to the Championship has assuredly given him new life. But the team also came together during a test session last week before heading to Maple Grove Raceway, and Prock said he felt something special brewing leading into the weekend. Prock certainly did his part in a thrilling pedalfest against Antron Brown in the semifinals, and the car performed admirably the rest of the weekend, giving the class its ninth winner in an incredible 2022 Top Fuel season and another bonafide championship contender.
HIGHT ON THE VERGE OF SHUTTING THE DOOR ON THE FUNNY CAR CLASS
There seems to be no stopping Robert Hight in Funny Car, who rolled to his seventh win of the season in Reading. While it would be incredibly difficult, Hight seems intent on trying to clinch his fourth world championship before Pomona. It certainly doesn’t seem out of the question after Hight and his team were nearly robotic during eliminations on Sunday, taking an 81-point lead into Charlotte.
He sent a major message with the win and may have to reevaluate his original goal this season, which was to reach 60 career races.
Hight did that with flying colors on Sunday and remains blown away he’s already reached seven victories in a loaded class, but he’s been far and away the most consistent car throughout the season.
With a slew of talented drivers, Hight noted it may take nine or even 10 wins to claim a championship this year, but that doesn’t seem out of the question at the moment.
ENDERS REMAINS ON A MISSION
Erica Enders started her season with an emphatic statement and a win in Pomona at the 900th race in Pro Stock history. Thanks to Sunday’s dominant performance and victory, the points leader also started the playoffs with an emphatic statement.
After missing out on her fifth world title last year, Enders has been more determined than ever to get it done in 2022. She’s mentioned “mean Erica” from time to time, but it’s that take-no-prisoners approach that has been truly awesome this year.
In her post-race interview, Enders noted the importance of sending a message to open the Countdown to the Championship, and hers came across loud and clear. She made the best run of the round in six of her seven passes — several by a substantial margin — and was her usual strong self on the starting line.
It added up to her first career win at Maple Grove Raceway — another important matter on Sunday — and a dominant start to the playoffs in what’s been an incredible year for the four-time world champ.
INDY WAS AN ABERRATION FOR GLADSTONE
After he won back-to-back races in Sonoma and Topeka, Joey Gladstone immediately caught the attention of anyone with an interest in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class as a legit championship threat.
Those expectations may have been tempered when Gladstone struggled in Indy, but that turned out to be just a minor speed bump as the Reed Motorsports rider quickly bounced back with his third win in Reading. Gladstone defeated both Matt and Angie Smith in Reading and heads to Charlotte with a 29-point lead in the standings. That’s not a huge number, but it may be difficult to dislodge him from the top spot because he appears to be almost immune to pressure.
His jump back into the lead marks the sixth different time the points lead has changed this season — and the fifth time in the last seven races — which also shows this fight for the championship is far from over.
A REVITALIZED MAPLE GROVE RACEWAY IS A WONDERFUL THING
Considering what the Koretsky family has done in just five months, transforming almost every area and aspect of fan-favorite Maple Grove Raceway, it’s incredibly exciting to see what could be in store for the facility in the years to come.
As it was this year, the place looked spectacular and much improved in every way imaginable. The track has always had a magical aura with its setting and old-school feel, and the Koretsky family should be praised for their efforts to keep that alive while also making some major transformations.
It led to huge, sellout crowds over the weekend and an electric atmosphere that had to be appreciated. Maple Grove Raceway is alive and well and appears to be that way for a long, long time, and the Koretsky family deserves a huge kudos for putting the classic facility back on that path.