The Texas NHRA FallNationals, race four of six in the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, pulled into famed Texas Motorplex with a tankful of hopes and excitement and pulled out four days with tanks emptied and exhausted a lot more questions than answers. But here’s five things we know.
IT AIN’T OVER TIL IT’S OVER (IN POMONA)
With points and a half on the line at the season-ending In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals, it’s almost always a given that several of the Camping World Drag Racing Series world championships won’t be decided until then, but with the way leads have been pinballing this season, you can almost count on it for three classes.
In Top Fuel, after a mediocre regular season, Doug Kalitta raced out to the points lead with wins at the first two events of the Countdown playoffs, but now has lost in the second round at the last two races. Leah Pruett closed in on him with a runner-up in St. Louis. She entered the FallNationals second in points, got dropped to third by Steve Torrence’s stellar qualifying effort, then beat Torrence on a holeshot in the final as both took advantage of Kalitta’s early exit. All three are within a round of points of one another.
In Funny Car, Bob Tasca III started the playoffs in fourth but then notched a win (Charlotte) and a pair of semifinals to take the lead and qualified No. 1 at the FallNationals, but got derailed early in eliminations, and ceded the lead to Matt Hagan, who started the playoffs second but fell as far as fourth before his win in St. Louis, then took over the lead after Tasca went out in round two, and Robert Hight and Ron Capps both fell in the opening stanza.
Dallas Glenn started the playoffs as the top seed in Pro Stock but lost in round one in both Reading and St. Louis to drop to fourth, Six-time world champ Erica Enders started the playoffs in third but notched three straight semifinal finishes to take the points lead in St. Louis despite longtime rival Greg Anderson winning two races and moving from seventh at Countdown’s start to second after St. Louis. After Enders and Glenn raced in the final in Dallas and she took her historic 47th win, her lead over Anderson is just 85 points.
Pro Stock Motorcycle will likely be decided in Las Vegas as Gaige Herrera has a huge lead of 156 points over teammate Eddie Krawiec after a dominating season that has netted him nine wins, including at the Motoplex. Even if he doesn’t run the table again in Vegas, he’s gonna be the champ.
TEXAS MOTORPLEX CAN STILL DELIVER
Thirty-seven years after it was built as the first supertrack and home to all of the broken records, the venerable raceplant, the first all-concrete dragstrip in the world, showed that it still has teeth, hosting the quickest Pro Stock field, the second-quickest Top Fuel field, the four quickest Pro Stock Motorcycle runs, 28 3.6-second Top Fuel passes, and innumerable career bests.
It’s often been said that this is a put-up-or-shut-up track, where if you ever said your car would run a certain number, this is the place where you should be able to do it.
Incredibly the track still uses the same foundation that was poured in 1986 as its base, and, other than a light top grinding a dozen years ago, it’s still the amazing dragstrip it always is. The event doesn’t always get the killer weather we had this year, but when it does, hold on.
THE GOAT STILL HAS SOME KICK
Some days, he appears well past his 1990s heydays and, a decade removed from his last championship, some people might doubt John Force. Heck, even John Force doubts John Force sometimes.
But this weekend, the greatest drag racer in NHRA history showed that he’s still a formidable foe. After never being higher than fifth in points since the season opener, he got back into the top five with a Tour de Force, including a career-best 3.823 pass in qualifying and his 266th final-round appearance. He didn’t win the race, but everyone knows he’s there and now again seems capable of running with anyone.
THE WORLD LOVES A STORYBOOK FINISH
After winning last year’s Top Alcohol Funny Car championship, the second of his career, Doug Gordon declared that 2023 would be his last behind the wheel of the Beta Motorcycles Camaro, and that he would turn the driving duties over to daughter Maddi in 2024. After battling fellow multitime rival Sean Bellemeur all season, trading wins like baseball cards, Gordon clinched his third title at the FallNationals after Bellemeur’s surprising early loss, then went on to win the race.
Then, in what might be one of her final years in Top Alcohol Dragster as she eyes a future in Top Fuel, Julie Nataas won the JEGS Allstars for the third straight year, then won her first world championship and then, like Gordon, went on to win the eliminator title. It’s the fourth championship in five years for Randy Meyer Racing, which also fielded world championships for sisters Megan and Rachel Meyer.
ANGELLE CAN DO IT ON FOUR WHEELS, TOO
Some people were surprised when three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Angelle Sampey announced that she was coming off the sidelines to race in Top Alcohol Dragster after a Hall-of-Fame career on two wheels.
She aligned herself with longtime friend Antron Brown’s driver development program and the Michalek brothers, with backing from Mission Foods, and made an impressive debut at the Texas NHRA FallNationals.
She became the 51st woman to qualify in Top Alcohol Dragster with a 5.35 at 271 mph then outran Mike Coughlin, 5.25 to 5.29, in round one then stunned everyone by upsetting heavily favored Tony Stewart in round two. Her day ended in the semifinals when she had to lift against Kirk Wolf.
Seasoning will no doubt help her reaction times and seat time will help with car handling, and we get the feeling that she’s not done winning yet.