NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Tasca's season continues to build with memorable New England Nationals win

Winning the New England Nationals was the one thing Rhode Island-native Bob Tasca III just couldn't seem to make happen — until an unusual Saturday at Bristol Dragway, where the Funny Car driver finally earned his home-race trophy at a facility he calls home-away-from-home.
20 Jun 2023
Kelly Wade
Bob Tasca III and his PPG Ford Mustang

Bob Tasca III has achieved much in his tenure as a nitro Funny Car driver, but winning the New England Nationals was the one thing the Rhode Island native just couldn't seem to make happen. On an unusual Saturday at Bristol Dragway, Tasca and his PPG-branded Motorcraft/Quicklane Ford team finally earned that home-race trophy — and they did it at Tasca's home-away-from-home.

In words now echoed many times over, Tasca exclaimed after hoisting the trophy, "I would have gone to Alaska to get this."

He didn't have to, though — Tasca just needed Mother Nature to step in. After a blisteringly hot Friday at the originally scheduled New England Nationals, temperatures at New England Dragway swung rapidly in the opposite direction, and the sudden arrival of sweater weather was accompanied by persistent rain, drizzle, and dew. Despite two days of effort and hope, final eliminations were a complete wash-out. For the first time in NHRA history, the entirety of eliminations was moved to be completed at the next event. 

Bristol Dragway's Thunder Valley Nationals were slated to kick off on Friday, and New England Nationals eliminations were penciled into qualifying, with round one to be held during Q2 on Friday, round two in Q3 on Saturday, round three a short time later and on its own, and the final round of eliminations during the final qualifying session. 

Teams skedaddled south and set up for the historic double-header, which was also set to include the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge. The winner of the New England Nationals trophy would claim the Mission title, along with the purse and even-more-coveted bonus points that would come into play when the Countdown to the Championship begins this fall. 

No one was particularly pleased with Mother Nature's dictation of the schedule, but Tasca wasn't terribly perturbed — he and Bristol Dragway go way back. 

"This place is like a second home for me," said Tasca, who was No. 1 qualifier in Bristol in 2011 and 2012, runner-up there in 2018, and won the Thunder Valley Nationals in 2019 over John Force. "The first year I came here, I walk into the tower, turned around, and there's a picture of my grandfather [Bob Tasca Sr. ]'s  car in the tower. It's so cool to know he raced here, and I think about him almost every time I get in the car. This is a special place in my family's history."

Tasca and reigning Funny Car champion Ron Capps squared off in the first round of New England Nationals eliminations, which took place under the lights on Friday evening at Bristol Dragway. With a well-tuned racecar and a driver just as dialed in, Tasca recorded a .039-second reaction time to Capps' respectable .069 and held on for the holeshot win, 3.97 to 3.96. The second round of eliminations took place Saturday on a hot racing surface, and when Tasca lost traction and had to pedal in his victory over Robert Hight, the engine went off like a grenade. 

"That's where you see how prepared a team is," said Tasca, who came back with an unpainted version of what had previously been the strikingly colorful PPG-branded Ford. "They turned that car around without breaking a sweat." 

Tasca was able to get around Chad Green in the semifinals, whose performance this season has included six trips to the semis, his first low qualifier award, and a Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge win. Green could have devastated his opponent with his speedy .019 reaction, but Tasca's Ford powered by for a 4.06 to 4.25 win. In the final, just as it was in 2009, Tasca and Force lined up side-by-side. Force was first to launch, but Tasca's total package was simply better. He powered past for a 4.03 to 4.08 win, his first of the season and 13th in a nitro Funny Car.

"I gotta be honest," said Tasca. "I know John's deal. He's taught me more than maybe he should have, but there is nobody I have more admiration and respect for. To win the New England Nationals trophy and have John Force alongside me in the final — it'll be a long time before I forget that one."

The win was also the first for Tasca and his new team that was put together ahead of the 2023 season. Following the meaningful New England Nationals victory, Tasca lauded crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Aaron Brooks, who infused  Tasca Racing with a wealth of knowledge and experience after his former team departed, nearly in full, at the conclusion of 2022. 

The decision to bring on Okuhara and Brooks as tandem crew chiefs was not difficult for Tasca. Brooks got his start working with drag racing legend Don Prudhomme, and he's served as crew chief for both Top Fuel and Funny Car teams since 2009. Okuhara, who is celebrating his 30th season in Professional drag racing, was a fixture within the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) camp from 2005 until 2022. He was first appointed crew chief on the Funny Car driven by Jack Beckman in 2006, won the championship with him in 2012, and was the director of racing at DSR from 2013 until 2022, while continuing to tune for such teams as Leah Pruett and Tony Schumacher.

"I'm so impressed with Todd Okuhara and Aaron Brooks and this team," said Tasca, who has been low qualifier twice and top five or better in six of the first eight events. "Todd was my first phone call; we go back many years, and I always wanted to race with him. And Aaron, I just love Aaron's style. He's an aggressive guy. But see, the one thing you can't predict is the chemistry of crew chiefs. I love listening to these two back in the trailer, the spirited dialogue back and forth — you see the results."

With his first win of the season in the books and an officially proven team behind him, Tasca is eager to take on the rest of the regular season in preparation for the Countdown to the Championship. The elapsed times that the team saw in the first five events fell right in line with what Tasca says they'll need in the fall, when the Countdown begins. Their performance on a hot racetrack in Bristol let them know that they could tackle what the summer months have to offer, as well. 

"Top five going into the Countdown is a good goal to have, but going in first is even better," said Tasca, who was No. 4 in the Funny Car standings after the New England Nationals win and fell to No. 6 after an early exit at the Bristol event. "We're going to do the best we can to stay at the top of the ladder, but I'm just excited about how this car performed in the first few races. I think we're going to be a force when the championship comes. I just feel like this whole season was building for us."