With over 850 racers, 16 classes, and six days of competition the storylines at the 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals are endless, but we’ve managed to pick five highlights from this year’s epic event.
WHEN LOOKING FORWARD, SOMETIMES IT’S BEST TO LOOK BACK
The fact that Ron Capps won his second-straight U.S. Nationals Funny Car title should not surprise anyone, but his decision to run a special edition Don “the Snake” Prudhomme tribute body on his NAPA Toyota added an entirely new element of romanticism and nostalgia to an already historic happening.
Capps’ Toyota body was painted as a tribute to the 1973 Hot Wheels entry that carried Prudhomme to a final round win over fellow Hall of Famer Ed “the Ace” McCulloch. It was a huge hit with the fans from the time it was unveiled and it became an even bigger hit when Capps beat J.R. Todd to win his second Indy title. Prudhomme, one of NHRA’s most beloved figures, played a prominent role in the win, standing watch on the starting line every time Capps staged. NASCAR has a longstanding tradition of throwback paint schemes for its Darlington, S.C. event, which is also run on Labor Day weekend. Hopefully, others follow Capps’ lead in the future.
SOMEHOW, SOMEWAY, MATT SMITH CAN ALWAYS FIND A WAY TO WIN
One thing that Pro Stock Motorcycle fans should have learned long ago was to never count out Matt Smith. The six-time champion came into Indy winless on the season, but anyone who pays attention should have realized it was just a matter of time. Smith didn’t have the best bike in Indy, not by a longshot, but he did what he does best which is figure out a way to win.
Smith admitted that the performance of his Denso Suzuki was far behind that of rival Gaige Herrera, but he also knew that if Herrera had a hiccup, he was perfectly positioned to take advantage of it. That happened when Herrera’s bike broke a spark plug in the semifinals. Smith took advantage of it and went on to beat Hector Arana Jr. in the final round to win his third Indy title and lock up the second seed in the Countdown to the Championship.
THE PRO STOCK COUNTDOWN WILL BE WILD
So, who is going to win the 2023 Camping World NHRA Pro Stock title? Your guess is as good as ours as there is no clear-cut favorite even though Matt Hartford made a strong case for the Total Seal team with his Indy victory. So far this season, there have been six different Pro Stock winners and 12 drivers have appeared in at least one final round, including four wide events.
Heading into the first Countdown event in Reading, there are 15 drivers eligible for the NHRA playoffs and they are separated by a total of just 150 points after the re-set.
At this point, Hartford does appear to have a slight edge over the field but Dallas Glenn had the most successful regular season and five time and reigning champ Erica Enders has successfully overcome a slow start. Is there also room for an upset? Of course there is, as Fernando Cuadra Jr. proved with his final round finish in Indy.
INDY LOVES A GREAT COMEBACK STORY
Antron Brown was a mere .02-second and one run away from being a spectator on Monday as he waited until the fifth and final qualifying session to put his Matco Tools dragster into the quick Top Fuel field. Even at that, the three-time world champion was just the 15th quickest driver in the field and had a difficult round one draw against world champ Brittany Force. None of that seemed to faze Brown, who didn’t just win Indy, but could argue that he had the best car on race day.
Brown certainly didn’t seem like an underdog as he dropped a 3.749 in round one to sneak past Force and also defeated Clay Millican, and championship leader Justin Ashley. In the final, Brown finished off the win with a 3.77 against his old friend and rival, Steve Torrence.
Brown has struggled at times this season, but he’s now won back-to-back races in Brainerd and Indy, and he’s been to five final rounds as he looks for an opportunity to win his fourth NHRA Top Fuel title. For a guy that was ranked No. 7 as recently as Seattle, that would be quite a comeback.
THE BIG GO IS STILL THE BIG GO, AND THERE’S NOTHING ELSE LIKE IT
Talk is cheap and when it comes to any discussion regarding the world’s best drag race, the answer is, and has always been the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals.
Nothing else can match the history, the tradition, the size, scope, and raw emotion that goes along with Indy and Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, host of the Nationals since 1961, is considered hallowed ground by any true race fan. Want to see a grown man (or woman) cry? Just hand them a U.S. Nationals Wally trophy. It works almost every time.
This year’s event had everything a race fan could ask for including dramatic qualifying and action packed final rounds held on Monday, an Indy tradition that has happily returned.
Not just another event, the 2023 edition of Indy included a wide variety of special events such as the Pep Boys Allstar Callout for Funny Cars, the final Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge of the season, the RoofTech Comp Clash, the Dodge Hemi Challenge, and the official debut of Factory X presented by Holley. Of course, there was also action in FuelTech Pro Mod presented by Type A Motorsports, FlexJet Factory Stock, and each of the Lucas Oil series sportsman categories as well as the popular class eliminations for racers in Stock and Super Stock.
Just another race? Indy never has been and never will be.