Salinas, Hight, Enders, and Sampey outlast the rain in Norwalk
The Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals had a little bit of everything including a lengthy rain delay before the final rounds that gave competitors a bit of extra time to gather their thoughts and refine their plan of attack. In the end, the plan worked to perfection for Mike Salinas, Robert Hight, Erica Enders, and Angelle Sampey, who earned coveted Wally trophies, not to mention the desirable ice cream scoops that traditionally accompany a Norwalk victory.
Salinas has been the hottest driver in Top Fuel this and he proved it with his fourth win of the season and seventh overall. With new crew chief Rob Flynn at the helm, the Scrappers/Valley Services dragster has been both quick and consistent, allowing Salinas to remain a perfect 4-0 in finals in 2022.
Salinas’ latest win came at the expense of Josh Hart, who enjoyed his best outing of the season. Hart gave it his best shot with a 3.783 in the final, but Salinas was long gone with a stunning 3.706 run at 333.58 mph. With the victory, he’s passed Brittany Force as the championship leader in Top Fuel.
“I know how hard it was to get here,” said an emotional Salinas. “We earned the right to be here. We belong here. We have a great team and I’m learning how to drive again. My guys are going crazy right now because it’s their best year ever and some of them have been out here a long time. Life could be different but I just appreciate being able to be out here.
“Basically, Rob Flynn brought a calm to the team,” Salinas said. “Here, everybody has a voice. They see things that he can’t see all the time and they share things and we ask each other what can we do to improve. That’s unprecedented. It makes everyone feel like they are the crew chief. Today was a crazy day. I was happy to get through the first round. I just need to deal with them one at a time.”
Hart, who shocked the sport with a win in his debut last year in Gainesville, drove his R+L Carriers dragster to wins against quality opponents including Spencer Massey, Austin Prock, and championship leader Brittany Force. Tuner Ron Douglas dialed up a pair of 3.75-second runs on race day.
There have been 10 Funny Car races this season and Hight and his Auto Club team have appeared in the final round of six of them. Hight, a winner in Pomona, Phoenix, and Richmond, added Norwalk to his scorecard when he topped Bob Tasca in the final round. Hight’s crew chief, Jimmy Prock, thrives on adversity, and the pre-final rain delay presented the perfect opportunity to adapt to changing track conditions.
Their strategy worked to perfection in the final as Hight left first, .036 to .046, and then motored to a close 3.944 to 3.962 victory. The win was the 57th in Hight’s career, and his fourth this season as he continues to keep the pressure on Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, and the rest of the talent-laden Funny Car field.
Hight, the No. 3 qualifier, ran in the threes on every elimination run in his wins against Jim Campbell, Alexis DeJoria, and J.R. Todd. Hight’s win over Todd was particularly impressive as it was the result of a 3.890, one of the quickest passes of the weekend.
“This is big. I’ve never won here,” said Hight. “I’ve come here and raced in the Night under Fire, which is a really cool event. I look forward to it because it’s so much fun to be in front of all those fans. I’ve won it a few times but never won the national. Now, I get to cross this one off. I mean who would have thought I’d have three wins and not be the points leader coming in here. That shows how tough the class is.
“The conditions came to us,” Hight said. “We didn’t really have a 130-degree tune-up but once it got cooler, you’re not going to beat [tuners] Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham. This is my favorite time of the year. We’re about to head out for the Western Swing. Last year in Bandimere, we were horrible. We’ve got to redeem ourselves.”
All season, long, Tasca has insisted that his Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford is on par with the top cars in the class including leaders Hagan, Robert Hight, and Capps, and he proved it in Norwalk with a solid outing that resulted in his 22nd career final round.
Tasca had his fair share of tough battles en route to the final including wins against Mike McIntire Jr., Hagan, and Bristol winner Capps. He ran between 3.92 and 3.97 on every run.
When Enders broke an engine last week in the Bristol final, he cost her a shot at a fourth-straight win. Now, she’s likely to have started a new winning streak after beating teammate Aaron Stanfield, who was also her opponent in Bristol. Enders won for the fifth time in eight races and ran her record to an insane 23-3 on the season with a convincing 6.627 to 6.658 win over Stanfield. Enders boosted her odds for the win with a solid .018 reaction time.
From qualifying to final eliminations, Enders’ Melling/Elite Camaro was easily the class of the field in Pro Stock and she delivered a solid driving performance to earn her 38th career victory.
“I think we thoroughly pissed off the rest of the class this weekend,” said Enders. “I think this was definitely one of our [most dominating performances]. In Pomona, I qualified on pole and won the race as well. After last week, we had a new bullet that was supposed to be a backup and it turned out to be pretty flawless. We mowed the scoreboard over on Friday night and finished the job today.
“A lot of people are sick of us winning but you have to see the whole picture to know where I came from. I’ve been racing in Pro Stock for 18 years. I had a couple with of wins with [Victor] Cagnazzi but now, I have a group that believes in me. I don’t have people undercutting you to try and take your seat in the car. This morning I said if I have a mistake-free day I can end up in the winner’s circle and my worst light today was a .027.”
Stanfield has clearly established himself as the No. 2 driver in the class by reaching his fifth final of the season. The two-time Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown champ extended his win streak to seven rounds by beating Troy Coughlin Jr., Mason McGaha, and Kyle Koretsky, who fouled away an almost certain victory after Stanfield shook the tires in the semifinals.
Enders wasn’t the only one who felt as though she let a sure victory slip away last week. The same could be said for Angelle Sampey, who fouled in the final against Jerry Savoie. For Sampey, redemption also came quickly as she rode to career win No. 46 following a solid 6.861 to 6.928 win against Joey Gladstone.
Sampey, who has admittedly had her ups and downs this season, was solid throughout qualifying and eliminations in Norwalk. Enders qualified No. 2 and then rode to wins against Ron Tornow, Matt Smith, and Bristol champ Savoie before powering past Gladstone.
“You don’t know the internal battle that I was going through since last week,” Sampey said. “This was huge after the final in Bristol. I threw it away. I gave it to Jerry. It slipped through fingers and on Monday I prepared for this race.
“By Friday, I dug deep within myself. Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have had to do what I did mentally, but I’ve found that the biggest competitor these days is myself.
“To get 46 wins; that was the only goal I hadn’t achieved in my career. There weas a time when I wanted to be the winningest rider in the class but Andrew Hines has put that goal pretty much out of reach. Dave was the GOAT. To pass him after 25 years of trying is pretty special.”
For the last few seasons, the best word to describe Joey Gladstone is “overdue”. Loaded with talent and a reputation for being able to ride almost any sort of high performance motorcycle, Gladstone nearly delivered when he rode his Reed Motorsports Suzuki to his third career final round.