The intensity of the NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was set to an all-time high. There was so much to take in, our heads were spinning – but here are five things we learned at the second-to-last race of an extraordinary season.
CAUTION: WATCH FOR SPOILERS
Josh Hart started the season with a big win in the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout and a strong showing early, but the Countdown to the Championship has left Hart and his team wanting more, so much more. It's difficult to believe after watching him compete the last couple of years, but coming into Las Vegas, he hadn't won a round since reaching the semifinals in Sonoma. That put the odds in favor of incoming points leader Leah Pruett winning their first-round meeting, but Hart was having none of it. He and his team, led by crew chief Ron Douglas, went back to a few things they'd had success with before, and when it came down to it, Hart's reaction time generated a shocking holeshot win and a bit of momentum. He went on to defeat Doug Kalitta, who was No. 2 in the points, on a holeshot before bowing out to eventual event winner Mike Salinas. Hart's wide-awake tackles bumped him up to No. 11 in the standings and just 26 points out of the Top 10.
THEY NEVER REST
The incredibly quick and selfless actions of the first responders to a medical emergency at the front of the staging lanes on Friday morning at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway made all the difference. Without hesitation, (from left, above) Dale Shubert, NHRA staging lane operator; Colette Walker, LVMS paramedic; Penny Wedge-Gernes, LVMS paramedic; Penoa Maluia, CSC Security; and Jim Glenn, 2022 Super Comp world champion, jumped into action. For their tremendous and relentless efforts, they were – quite rightfully – presented with the Never Rest Performer Award. From all of us to all of you, thank you.
MIKE CASTELLANA AND FRANK "ACE" MANZO CAN AND WILL GET IT DONE
Pro Mod veteran Mike Castellana has won championships in other arenas, but a Fuel Tech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series title had never come to fruition – until this past weekend in Las Vegas. Nevada Nationals No. 1 qualifier Castellana locked down his first NHRA world title and went on to win the event in a weekend that played out even better than they'd imagined. Tuner Frank Manzo, the third-most winning driver in any category with 105 national event wins and a 17-time Top Alcohol Funny Car national champion, has enjoyed a second coming as a crew chief and first joined forces with Castellana in 2017, and they'd had a great car but hadn't won a race this year entering the last event in the Pro Mod series. No. 3 in the championship points behind defending champ Kris Thorne and heavy-hitter Justin Bond, the chips fell, and Castellana and Manzo came out on top.
HOPE REIGNS SUPREME HEADING INTO THE NHRA FINALS
The highs and lows of the Countdown to the Championship are intense, and for three-time Funny Car world champion Robert Hight, a first-round loss in Dallas was potentially devastating. In Las Vegas, though, he and his Jimmy Prock-led Cornwell Tools team ran the table and won the event to put themselves back in the game. With the win, Hight is now 17 points away from points leader Matt Hagan with Bob Tasca III between. Tasca, too, had an important day in Vegas as he took out points leader Matt Hagan in round one and raced all the way to the final round to race Hight. In Top Fuel, Justin Ashley – who won the regular season with a strong and steady performance – rebounded from a tough start to the Countdown that had him in fourth place entering Vegas. On race day, he used a strong car and his own strong skill behind the wheel to reach is first final since winning Topeka. He's fifth in the standings entering the Finals, but he's 82 marks back from first – and with points-and-a-half in Pomona, he's given himself a chance.
YOU GOTTA BE GOOD TO MAKE IT THIS FAR
Division 1 racer Billy Boyko traveled a very long way to compete in the NHRA Summit Racing Series national championship battle, and it paid off big for the Bathe, Pa., resident as he claimed the Super Pro championship. Boyko was killer on the Tree in testament to the skills required to qualify for such an event: his .007 reaction time complemented a double-breakout victory in the first round, he was .00 again in the second round to claim a ticket to the final, and he was a perfect .000 as he launched off the starting line in his RaceTech dragster to get the jump on Tony Virgilio. Congratulations to each of the newly crowned Summit Racing Series national champs!