The famed and coveted Summit Motorsports Park ice cream scoop trophy was hoisted joyously by Blake Alexander on Sunday at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. It's been a long time coming for Alexander, who earned the first win of his professional career at this very track in 2018 driving a Top Fuel dragster. Leah Pruett garnered her second win for Tony Stewart Racing, while Matt Hartford and Hector Arana Jr. each scooped up their first wins of the season.
Alexander, representing Pronto Auto Service and Ohio-based Parts Authority in Norwalk, had a tremendously rewarding day at Summit Motorsports Park that culminated in victory over freshly re-christened points leader Matt Hagan and his Dodge Direct Connection Funny Car. In the final, Alexander clocked an incredible .028-second reaction time to Hagan's .067 and wheeled his way smoothly to a 3.93-second pass at 321 mph that snuffed out Hagan's 3.99, 327 effort.
"I woke up today and I saw my wife and my son, and I knew I was in the right place and I was supposed to be here – I just didn't know what was going to happen today," said Alexander, who claimed his first of the season and third of his career. "Everything went well, and I'm very blessed to work with the people I work with and have the sponsors I have. I put in a lot of work to get here, but you have to drive the car well and do everything else well once you show up. I could feel it today. The crew was doing their job methodically, and I said to them before the semis, we look like a professional race team. At certain points this year, I hate to say it, but we just haven't."
The day began with a 3.99 pass for Alexander, his best of the weekend to that point, after the win light was already flashing in his lane. Opponent Tim Wilkerson had turned on the win light by -.015. Alexis DeJoria was seeing red in the second round when she left the starting line -.003 too soon, and Alexander again advanced without challenge. Fortune had fallen on his side that round, particularly, as his Jim Head Racing Funny Car had a bit of trouble on the racetrack, slowing to a 5.14.
In the semifinals, Alexander again got something of a break as No. 1 qualifier Bob Tasca III rattled the tires fiercely leaving the starting line. He may not have needed the luck, however; the Pronto/Parts Authority Mustang was dialed right in with Alexander's best pass of the weekend, a 3.92.
"I haven't won one of these in five years, and I get up every morning at like 4:30 before my family, and I work on making sure I have enough money to do this," said Alexander, whose previous three wins all came in a Top Fuel dragster. "I try hard because the people I compete against have made it so that you have to be better. If you don't want to get better, you're going to get beat out here. I tried to get better, I needed to get better once I started racing Funny Car.
"And I'm stubborn, I'm going to keep showing up. People can beat me, but I'm not giving up. I said it when I won here five years ago: I'm on a scenic journey, and I'm just trying to enjoy it. The journey got a little bit rough the last five years, but that doesn't matter, I'm going to try to build my character up because of it, hold my head high, and be a good man."
Hagan's route to the final included victory over a tire-smoking Dale Creasy Jr. and a triumphant win over Robert Hight and the AAA/Cornwell Tools Chevrolet. In the semifinals, the driver of the Dodge Direct Connection Funny Car set up the opportunity for a double-up win for Tony Stewart Racing as he left the starting line ahead of J.R. Todd by .010 and closed the deal with a 3.959 to 3.954. The .005 margin of victory was one of the closest of the day, and it put the points lead back in Hagan's hands.
Pruett, the No. 1 qualifier, earned her 11th Top Fuel trophy and 17th overall victory of her career with her first title of the season for Tony Stewart Racing. Pruett knocked off points leader Justin Ashley in the final round on Sunday with a 3.76, 326 in her Dodge Direct Connection dragster as Ashley's Phillips Connect dragster produced a whisp of tire smoke downtrack. He recorded a 4.49, 198. The win sent Pruett up to No. 3 in the Top Fuel standings and snapped Ashley's streak of 11 consecutive round wins.
On the way to the final, Pruett had to get past Kyle Wurtzel, defending event winner Mike Salinas, and Austin Prock.
"You always love coming into raceday from the No. 1 position, but we were coming off of a final qualifying day that wasn't going super-well for us," said Pruett. "But we dug deep and put together what we thought was going to be a good program. The day started off stressful, we had some system malfunctions in the first round, but thankfully we got past that and got to race Salinas in the second round. This team had yet to beat Salinas, team-to-team, and for us to get that win was huge. Austin Prock brings out the best in me – every time I've run him the last few years, I've gotten my best reaction times.
"Going into the final round, all of the systems we thought we had fixed, well different ones came up. Things we'd never seen before, and we only had 30 minutes. So it was, roll the dice, blow on them, and shoot. [Crew chief] Neal Strasbaugh said, this round, you're going to have a racecar that's going to win."
Ashley advanced to his fifth final round, and third in a row, by defeating Clay Millican, Steve Torrence, and reigning world champion Brittany Force. It was the 16th career final for the points leader Ashley.
Hartford claimed the third Pro Stock No. 1 of his career, all of which came during the current season, although he's been racing in the category, often competitively, since 2006. Claiming his first No. 1 appeared to have started an avalanche of success, and with the win in Norwalk he moved up to No. 2 in the Pro Stock points.
"It goes back to all those people back at the trailer and all the people who support us, from the engine program to the chassis builder," said Hartford. "We just have such a great group. They've always said that if you surround yourself with people who work harder than you, who are smarter than you, more motivated than you, and you can be successful. That's what I've tried to do."
In the final round, Hartford was a cool and confident .005 at the tree to defeat points leader Dallas Glenn for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals trophy. Glenn shook the tires, and Hartford went on to win with a 6.62, 207 in his Rottler/Total Seal Chevrolet Camaro. After back-to-back first round losses at the most recent two events, his start from the No. 1 spot was fuel for the fire, and he performed well on raceday with victories over Fernando Cuadra, Deric Kramer, and Aaron Stanfield before advancing to the 13th final of his career and claiming his sixth career win.
"We've had a great car all year long, and the races we haven't won, it's been driver error," said Hartford. "In the final at Pomona, I had Dallas covered, I just couldn't learn how to drive. We gave up that race, and it's been a thorn in my side. I was thinking about it when I pre-staged today. It's so rewarding being up here just knowing that when I was a little kid going to Englishtown in 1982, you look at those Pro Stock guys like, wow. If I could just be around a Pro Stock car. Then, maybe I can work on what. Then, what if I could drive one; what if I could qualify; what if I could win one race – then I could quit and be happy. But then I did win one, and that guy needed a friend. It's become an addiction, that's for sure."
Glenn retained the points lead and advanced to this fifth final of the year and 13th of his young career. He reeled in victories over Bo Butner, defending event champion and reigning world champion Erica Enders, and Troy Coughlin Jr. to claim his ticket to the final.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle victory for Arana came on the heels of a final-round loss in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, where a small error cost him the title that went to Angie Smith. In the final round of the main event, Arana faced Bristol winner Steve Johnson, and the second-generation rider took his GETTRX Buell to a 6.82, 199 to top his opponent's 6.94.
"We made one little mistake in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, and we were able to learn from our mistake and come out today with a really fast, consistent bike," said Arana. "That gives you all the confidence in the world as a rider, knowing you have a good bike beneath you and that when you let the clutch out, it's going to do what it's supposed to do and go right down the track. This GETTRX Buell, she was on a line, straight down the track every time. That gave me the confidence I need to get the win today.
"We definitely have momentum; we've had a fast bike, and we've been qualifying really well and running well. We had a good bike in Bristol, we just had a couple little gremlins we needed to get through, but I'd rather have those earlier in the season than later. We're working through all those little details, but this shows that our team does know how to win. We build off the momentum, and it fuels us to keep driving harder and going out there and turning on more win lights."
The consistent GETTRX Buell was 6.82, 6.80, and 6.82 on Sunday to beat Wesley Wells, Angie Smith, and reigning world champion Matt Smith en route to the final, where his victory over Johnson boosted him to No. 2 in the Pro Stock Motorcycle points.
Johnson raced to his second consecutive final and 32nd of his career with victories over Chase Van Sant, Eddie Krawiec, and Jianna Evaristo. Gaige Herrera remains at the top of the class standings.