Getting Gone: A Look at who held sway on the starting line in Top Fuel in 2022
Now that the dust has settled and the final tabulations have been made, it’s time to start digging through the piles of numbers that the NHRA Nitro Research Department accumulates during the season and analyze what they tell us. Since the 2022 Top Fuel season was beyond electrifying just about every Sunday, let’s start these offseason numerical breakdowns there.
First, before we go too much farther, let’s include a nod to the fact that numbers like reaction time are directly impacted by how a driver stages his or her car. Many professional drivers wince at things like reaction time average in competition as they may not be ideally positioned on every run to show off their “true” reaction time. Stage really shallow in the first round? Chances are you’ll be off the pace by a little. Stage deeper in the final? You’ll look shag-nasty coming off the line. It seems to us that things like this kind of wash each other out, but that’s just our non-Top Fuel driving opinion.
Let’s start this foray with the number that drag racing has obsessed over for some 40 years now. Reaction time. In the modern world of Top Fuel racing, the acumen of the best drivers is far and away beyond anything that has existed in decades past. It just is. Looking back at old films from races 30 and 40 years ago shows us that drivers who could be little more than sub .100 on the Tree regularly were doing something special. Today? Hopefully, you booked an early flight if that’s your program on Sunday. Here’s why.
Justin Ashley appeared in the second most rounds of Top Fuel competition throughout 2022 with 57 Sunday shots at the Tree. The result? He averaged a .055 light. That is bonkers. He did not record a reaction time of more than .100 the entire season and 25 of his 57 lights were less than .050. In a bizarre twist, he did not earn a single holeshot win, but he did suffer two holeshot losses on the season. That’s crazy, right?
Meanwhile, Austin Prock’s late-season dash for points saw him streak to 44 total round appearances on the year. He averaged a .056 light, had no reaction times over 100, and recorded 13 lights of .050 or better. He snagged two holeshot wins and suffered no holeshot losses.
These guys are the only two that averaged a reaction time in the .050 range. Antron Brown was next on the list with a .061 average over the course of 44 Sunday competition rounds. He had two holeshot wins for the season and zero holeshot losses.
Masters of the Irish Goodbye
We all have the friend who manages to seemingly disappear from any social setting without saying a word to anyone, right? Well, we have a drag racing stat for that. It carries the overly creative moniker “Leaving First.” We agonized over that one. Anyway, this one brings with it some fun stuff.
For instance, Tony Schumacher was 12 of 12 out of the Countdown to the Championship drivers when it comes to getting off the starting line ahead of his opponent, leaving first 13 times in 37 competition rounds, or 35.14% of the time. His average reaction time was .077, also placing him on the upper end of that scale but not at the end. The plot twist here? Schumacher had more holeshot wins than anyone else in Top Fuel with four over the course of 2022. Adding to the head scratching here is that he suffered not a single holeshot loss. The numbers don’t lie, but sometimes, it seems like they are trying to.
In news that will not shock a single reader here, Justin Ashley was the leader in “leaving first.” Over his 57 rounds he left first 41 times, which means nearly 72% of the time he was out of the gate first. Austin Prock got away first 66% of the time and Shawn Langdon 65% of the time, with Clay Millican rounding out the top four leaving first at a 58% rate.
What about the champ?
For Brittany Force, the season was one to remember. Her drive in Las Vegas leading into a championship-clinching Sunday in Pomona was spectacular, and in many ways, it was the finest performance of her career. The whole season paints an interesting picture.
Brittany was ninth of 12 Countdown drivers for leaving first, doing it 42% of the time over the course of her league-leading 59 rounds of Sunday competition (25 of 59 runs). Her average reaction time was .078, placing her in the last third of the top 12. She recorded four lights over .100, six lights under .050, suffered four holeshot losses, and earned herself two holeshot wins. She had no red-lights over the course of 2022.
So, Force must have had the quickest average Sunday elapsed time, right? Wrong. Her team placed seventh in that stat. What they did lead was qualifying average (2.59 was her average position). These numbers reveal the true magic of their season and the key to it all. Qualify well, get a favorable early matchup, and make hay while the sun shines.
That’s a look into the stat book for Top Fuel on the starting line. What do you think? Should we keep mining for more across the Camping World landscape?