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Sunday News and Notes from the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals

News, notes, quotes, photos, and videos from final eliminations at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd Int’l Raceway. Updated throughout the day.
21 Aug 2022
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
Race coverage
Bob Tasca III

Let’s start the day with a bit of trivia shall we? The Lucas Oil Nationals joined the NHRA tour in 1982 and the first pro champions were Shirley Muldowney (Top Fuel), Frank Hawley (Funny Car), and Lee Shepherd (Pro Stock). Ironically, all three went on to win championships that season. The qualifiers for the first event include Mark Oswald and Connie Kalitta, who are still active as crew chief and team owner, respectively and both are in Brainerd this weekend. Current Pro Mod crew chief Frank Manzo also won the inaugural event in Top Alcohol Funny Car, just one of his 105 career victories.

The Lucas Oil Nationals has been contested every year with the exception of 2020 and it has always been placed on the schedule in August, ahead of the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. The all-time leader in wins is John Force with 11, followed by Manzo with 7, while Ron Capps, Joe Amato, and sportsman standout Gary Stinnett each have 6 wins at BIR.

Oh, and the track is also famous for its campground, affectionately known at the Brainerd Zoo. The massive 200-acre campground is annually host to some of NHRA’s most animated and enthusiastic fans, and it’s a tradition that many NHRA pro drivers join in the after-hours fun on Friday and Saturday evening.


The first car down the track during Sunday’s final eliminations was Josh Hart’s R+L Carriers dragster and he gave an indication of things to come with a solid 3.710 and a career-best 334.73 mph top speed. Hart, looking to clinch his spot in the Countdown, breezed into the second round since his opponent, Scott Farley, smoked the tires just off the starting line. Hart has advanced past round one at every event since Bristol. Farley made just one qualifying run and did not have a representative elapsed time.


It took a couple of days, but Antron Brown and his Matco Tools team finally found their way into the 3.6s with a strong 3.688 run and they needed it as opponent Clay Millican was in the hunt with a 3.721. Brown hadn’t run in the 3.6s since the 2019 season,  so it was a welcome relief to the team, particularly co-crew chief Brian Corradi.

“We we’ve been trying to do that all weekend,” said Corradi. “It’s a reminder to always stay humble because this is a tough sport. As soon as you think you’ve caught the tiger, you get bit.”


One of the most anticipated matches of the first round featured Mike Salinas and Steve Torrence, two drivers that are battling for the top spot in Top Fuel. What should have been a great side-by-side race turned into a one-side affair after Salinas’ Pep Boys dragster smoked the tires at mid-track. Torrence got the win, but he wasn’t exactly dominant with a 3.755 at just 313.37 mph. That being said, a win is a win and the Capco team is happy to get round wins whenever and however they can.

“We got 100-percent lucky on that one,” noted car chief Bobby Lagana. “We weren’t supposed to win, but we did.”


The seemingly endless stream of fireworks from the Brainerd Zoo campground have nothing on the fireworks that took place between Doug Kalitta and Tony Schumacher in their round one battle. Schumacher, fresh off his first win of the season, picked up another victory in the Maynard family dragster but the run weas expensive for both teams. Kalitta destroyed an engine at half track in a ball of fire while Schumacher’s Okuma-themed dragster threw the connecting rods out at the finish line, causing an oildown. Schumacher and Kalitta have had many memorable battles over the years and this was just another chapter in their longtime rivalry.

“Can you get up for a race like this? How can you not get up for it,” said Schumacher. “It hiked the front end, spun tires, and I pedaled it. It definitely blew itself up. We hung the rods out. I’m sorry we’re breaking stuff, but we’ve got to get this car to run quicker. Brittany [Force] is out there running 3.64 and we don’t have a tune-up for that. We’ve got work to do.”


There are no gimme’s in drag racing and Bob Tasca III was remined of that when he took on Dale Creasy Jr. in the opening round of eliminations. Tasca’s Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford ran the numbers that many expected with a 3.891 at over 330 mph but down track, he wasn’t exactly putting daylight between himself and Creasy, who solved an early clutch issue to run a career-best 3.967 at 327.43. The run even surprised Tasca’s crew chief, Mike Neff, who has been around long enough to know not to take any opponent lightly.

“It’s neat to see those guys over there get so excited,” said Neff, pointing to Creasy’s crew “For us, we just need to keep on going. This is a new day and we need to take this round by round and see if we can keep going.”


Another member of the “we got away with one” club is Ron Capps, who advanced over rival John Force, but didn’t exactly light up the scoreboards with a 3.931. Force grabbed an early lead with his customary deep-stage, made his best run of the weekend, but it was just a 4.022, so he finished well behind Capps. For the record, Capps and Force have now raced seven times this year and Capps now holds a 4-3 advantage.

“We absolutely got away with one there,” said Capps co-crew chief Dean “Guido” Antonelli. “I really thought we’d run 3.89 or so. We need to take a look at it and see what we can fix for the next round because that’s not going to get it done today.”


Bobby Bode went to the final in Houston earlier this year and nearly beat Matt Hagan so it’s probably not fair to call his round one win over Cruz Pedregon an upset, but the 20-year old college student continued his impressive intro into the nitro Funny Car class with a strong 3.931 to defeat Pedregon’s 3.947. For the Bode family, Brainerd Int’l Raceway holds a special place in their hearts since Bob Bode won his lone national event there in 2010.

“This was just like a normally morning for me,” said the younger Bode. “We have a lot of friends and family here and this is the place where dad won in 2010. A 3.93 is exactly what we wanted.

“We knew we had it in the car,” said Bode Jr. “[Pedregon] is so tough, so it’s a big deal for us to get by them. I love Brainerd. This is the greatest race of the year.”


Tony Schumacher must be living right. After winning the opening round with an off-pace 3.940, Tony Schumacher made it to the semifinals with a 4.22 after Josh Hart smoked the tires. But wait, there’s more. Schumacher nearly missed the run after his team discovered an electrical issue in the pit area. With just minutes left on the clock, and the designated first pair, the Maynard/Okuma team made a mad dash through the pit area and arrived just in time to make the run. Schumacher won just five rounds in the first 12 events of the season, but now has seven in the last three races including his 86th career win in Seattle.


Much has been made of Brittany Force’s greatly improved reaction times this season, but her performance in round two demonstrated the markings of someone who has become a complete Top Fuel driver. Force and opponent Billy Torrence both smoked the tires not far off the starting line and both quickly went into “pedal mode” in an effort to get the car to recover. Force squeezed the throttle at the right time and kept her Monster Energy dragster pointed straight downtrack to take a 4.39 to 4.58 victory and move to the semifinals for the eighth time in 15 events this season. Ironically, Force will have lane choice in the semifinals since opponent Steve Torrence also won a pedal-fest against Antron Brown, albeit with a slower 4.94 elapsed time.



All six cars ahead of them smoked the tires, but traction didn’t seem to be an issue for Justin Ashley or Shawn Langdon in their quarterfinal round. Langdon ran a 3.80, which was the second-best run of the round, but that wasn’t nearly enough to stay with Ashley, who wheeled the Phillips Connect dragster to a very impressive 3.726  to secure the win, and lane choice against Tony Schumacher in the semi’s.

“We saw guys having a hard time getting off the starting line but I think we were prepared for that before we got up here,” said crew chief Mike Green.

Ashley noted that felt confident after watching assistant crew chief Tommy DeLago make adjustments to the fuel and clutch timers before the car was fired.


The round two battle between Robert Hight and J.R. Todd could easily have featured a pair of 3.8-second runs but that wasn’t the case as they both smoked the tires early and the end result was a side-by-side pedal-fest that ended with both the Auto Club Camaro and the DHL Toyota on fire in the shut-down area. Hight won the battle, 4.356 to 4.451 as Todd’s car quit and caught fire just before the finish line. Todd managed to slide the car to a stop and the fire was quickly extinguished. Seconds later, the NHRA Safety Safari went to work extinguishing a small fire in the engine diaper of Hight’s car. Hight will now take on Bob Tasca III in a battle between the two hottest drivers in the Funny Car class this summer.

“It spun the tires and I pedaled it and stuck with it,” said Todd. “I knew Robert was having problems over there. When you pedal it, it sometimes puts holes out and the next thing you know you’re on fire. I feel bad for my guys. It’s probably gonna be a late night. I’ll take the blame for that.”

Hight’s recollection of the race happens to be remarkably similar to Todd’s

“Whoever gets to finish line first wins so you’ve got to stay with it,” said Hight. “Once I gathered mine up I didn’t think I’d catch him but I starting inching up. I stayed with it and kept my foot down. I don’t like doing that because you know you’re going to blow it up and it did. That’s not something we usually do with our Auto Club team. We take pride in running a clean operation but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”


Given the amount of tire smoke in round two, it was no surprise the session ended with another pedal-fest as Alexis DeJoria got her Bandero Tequila Toyota to the finish line ahead of low qualifier Matt Hagan's Dodge, albeit with a 5.71 elapsed time. The win was good timing for DeJoria who recently had a conversation with crew chief Del Worsham about saving a tire-smoking run. DeJoria is now int the semifinals for the fourth time this season and she can reach her first final by beating fellow Toyota team driver and reigning world champ Ron Capps in the final four.


The semifinal round is set in the FuelTech Pro Mod Series and Rickie Smith will take on his rival Stevie “Fast” Jackson for spot in the final. The winner will face Doug Winters, who earned a bye run in his supercharged Chevelle after J.R. Gray fouled in the second round by a maddening three-thousandths of a second. Winters had struggled earlier but made a respectable 5.915 run. Smith beat Mike Castellana on a tiny holeshot, 5.798 to 5.781 while Jackson topped Jose Gonzales with a 5.758. With incoming leader Kris Thorne on the sidelines, the round is crucial for both Smith and Jackson, who have a long history as rivals.

“Stick around, we’re gonna give you a show,” said Jackson. “I tripped a bit yesterday [in the D-Wagon Pro Mod Shootout] but that was a good win. Jose is as good as they come. Now, we get to take on Rickie. It’s going to be a show.”


After tire smoke decided most of the match-ups in the second round of Top Fuel and Funny Car, there was more of the same in the semifinals. The round began with a highly-anticipated match between world champs Steve Torrence and Brittany Force. Neither dragster made it to the Christmas Tree under power as both smoked the tires immediately. Torrence managed to get his Capco dragster pointed in the right direction and won with a 5.400 after Force’s Monster dragster got sideway and came close to the centerline.

Tony Schumacher also ran his career record to 4-0 against Justin Ashley in another race defined by tire smoke. Ashley’s car lit the tires almost immediately while Schumacher made it further downtrack but turned on the win light with a 4.33. Schumacer’s Okuma dragster also shed a body panel before the finish line but by that point the race had long-since been decided. Schumacher ran his record to 8-1 since his team was purchased by Joe and Cathi Maynard prior to the Seattle event.


The first pair of the Funny Car semifinals was decided early when Alexis DeJoria red-lighted but it might not have mattered as Ron Capps bucked the tire-smoke trend and put down a solid 3.955 in his NAPA Toyota. Capps reached the final for the fourth time this season and the first time since Bristol and will face Bob Tasca III.

Tasca is headed to the final for the fifth time in six events, and has a good chance to pull off a third win after stopping Robert Hight in the semifinals. Tasca earned lane choice for his 26th career final with an impressive 3.926. After the Houston event in April, Tasca was buried in ninth place in the Camping World standings but he’s now in fourth place, having passed John Force this weekend.  


Rickie Smith def. Doug Winters

J.R. Carr def. John DeFlorian


Shawn Cowie def. Matt Cummings

Shane Westerfield def. Bob McCosh

Brett Speer def. Bruno Massel

Mike Mans def. Wyatt Wagner

Tracy Fairchild def. Ron Feist

Tony Leonard def. Craig Anderson

Trevor Larson def. Kevin Dyck

TOP DRAGSTER presented by Vortech Superchargers
Dylan Hough def. Anthony Bertozzi

TOP SPORTSMAN presented by Vortech Superchargers
Brian Antony def. Michael Chitty

Robbie Lowe def. Louie Wirbel