NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Flawless: The Eight Most Impressive Victories of 2022 (Part 4, Top Fuel)

We have reached the fourth and final installment of this series documenting what were (in our estimation) the eight most flawless Top Fuel victories of the 2022 Camping World NHRA Drag Racing season.
16 Jan 2023
Brian Lohnes, NHRA on FOX announcer
Justin Ashley

We have reached the fourth and final installment of this series documenting what were (in our estimation) the eight (okay, nine because Funny Car was impossible to choose two) most flawless victories of the 2022 Camping World NHRA Drag Racing season. The stories have sure stirred up a lot of debate and launched many conversations, which after all is the fun part of all this, right?

You’re probably expecting to see Brittany Force’s name here, but you won’t. Their championship season was amazing and showed the true grit and character of the Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac Top Fuel team. The rub in this situation is that we’re looking at the micro picture and not the macro one, so the standard is different than if we were judging an entire season. As we said in the first installment, in 20 years the win count and championship will stand for themselves, but this is about more than that.

Disclaimer given, let’s look at two Top Fuel masterpieces from the season that was.

Runner Up: Austin Prock – Auto Club NHRA Finals – Pomona, California

For a large portion of the season Austin Prock and the Montana Brands/Rocky Mountain Twist operation were the epitome of frustration. The team would qualify in the mid-to-upper portion of the field and find themselves facing down the wrong cars in the first round. It got bad enough that Prock went full Bruce Lee on his car after another tough round one loss before the Countdown began.

Entering said Countdown as far out of the lead as nearly anyone in history, all appeared to be lost and then something happened between Indy and Reading spurring an amazing run of six races that elevated this team quickly in the points.

But this isn’t about the Reading race. The team’s crowning achievement came at Pomona for the final race of the season. It would be their third final of the Countdown. Brimming with confidence and knowing that there was nothing to lose, they were aggressive and as you’ll see, found a way to go even harder than that.

After qualifying No. 1 in Dallas and second in Las Vegas, the car landed fifth in Pomona with a 3.689. A more conservative approach landed the team a 3.711 against Shawn Langdon advancing them to the second round. Quarterfinal opponent Leah Pruett did not have an answer for a 3.704 run that began with a stellar .054 light, which brought the team to the biggest challenge they’d statistically face all day.

Brittany Force, already crowned the champion, was in the other lane. Force had already run 3.70 and 3.68 so the team clearly needed to do something. They sure did, laying down a brutal, no holds barred, 3.642, what could easily be considered the run of their season. It was as if all the frustrations of the early part of the season were being taken out on the racetrack and whoever was in the other lane.

Antron Brown was Prock’s opponent in the final and while Brown had not run better than a 3.70, Prock’s team refused to dial the car back an inch and they finished their season with a 3.641 elapsed time, a .053 reaction time, and their second Wally in six races. They wound up third in the Top Fuel points with this position, an incredible achievement seeing where they started the Countdown.

This is a flawless win in our book because of that colossal leap in performance the car made and the guts that it took to make it between the second and third round. To take a 3.70 car and make it a 3.64 car in one fell swoop is not just rare, it’s like seeing Elvis driving Marilyn Monroe, and Bigfoot down Sunset Boulevard in a 1959 Cadillac. They’ll wear the number three on the wing this year with pride and know that they’re capable of straightening that crooked number in 2023.

By the numbers:

Austin Prock season eliminations ET average: 4.225
Austin Prock Sunday Pomona ET Average:       3.764

Austin Prock season reaction time average:                   .056
Austin Prock Sunday Pomona reaction time average:  .058

Winner: Justin Ashley - NHRA Fall Texas Nationals, Ennis

Ashley made this one hard on us. He had a couple of performances that would qualify as pretty flippin’ flawless starting with the season opening victory at the Winternationals where he beat Austin Prock in the final. As good as that effort was for the Phillips Connect Top Fuel team, it was the job they did on the competition in Dallas that stands as the masterwork of crew chiefs Mike Green and Tommy DeLago. When we examine what Ashley did behind the wheel and what the other guys did behind the wrenches, clutch timers, and data screens, it’s the most otherworldly win anyone put together during the whole season.

Ironically, it didn’t start out all that great. For a team that averaged a qualifying position of 4.8 during the season, they came into Sunday 10th in the order. Qualifying position was so important over the 2022 season in Top Fuel that many people thought that the championship contending team may be in trouble.

Those people may have never heard the word ambush before because that’s what this team did to the rest of the field. Gone was their pokey 3.76 dragster and what arrived on Sunday morning was a 3.699 elapsed time coupled with a .044 reaction time. We’re not sure if Doug Kalitta and crew know to this day what the heck hit them when that happened.

Feel-good upset first round winner Kebin Kinsley didn’t feel so hot after being dealt a .037 light and an even more toasty 3.677 by Ashley in the quarterfinals. Shawn Langdon was .040 on the tree and 3.72 on the clocks in the semi’s against Ashley and he was the second man on the scene at the finish line thanks to a .020 light and a 3.686 by the former Rookie of the Year.

The last man who had a chance to put an end to this slaughterous day for Ashley was Austin Prock and after watching what had been happening to everyone else, they tuned the car up a little harder than physics would allow, smoking the tires and watching Ashley complete this absolute symphony of nitro powered perfection with a .031 light and a 3.688 ET.

Let’s just have one more look at it in a raw form.

By the numbers:
        Reaction Time           ET

1.        .044                    3.699

2.        .038                    3.677

3.        .020                    3.686

4.        .031                    3.688

If there has ever been a more flawless looking box score from a Top Fuel drag race, we’d sure love to look at it. The definition of unbeatable and the definition of the perfect weekend for a complete drag racing team effort. Las Vegas and Pomona were not kind to these guys, but they sure let us all know they were more than for-real in Ennis.

That’s all. We’ve reached the end. While it may seem backward to continue looking into the 2022 season, the reality is that this is how we build a lot of our stats and interesting tid-bits for the upcoming year. I have to give a sincere thank you to Pete Richards with FOX, our eponymous NHRA Nitro Research Department. The depth and dedication of his work allows us to create stories like this. We’re all excited for 2023 and getting ready for it takes up our days and nights, happily.

Numbers can tell us a lot about a drag racing team but heart and soul tell us more. The intersection of those things is what we’ll be concentrating on showing you during our 2023 NHRAonFOX coverage. The hard figures and the most compelling stories about bloody knuckles, clutch performances, and the people who make it all happen. Thanks for reading.