The first portion of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series was a wild one for Fernando Cuadra Jr., a second-generation Pro Stock racer who competes alongside his father, Fernando Sr., and younger twin brothers Cristian and David in the class of naturally aspirated factory hot rods.
After a six-race stretch that included absolutely zero round wins, the regular season swung dramatically and ended on a high note: Cuadra Jr. raced to the final round for the first time in his career and did so on the biggest stage of all at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
“It was pretty amazing,” said Cuadra Jr., who had previously gone as far as the semifinals on five different occasions – including last season at the U.S. Nationals. “We progressed from last year and the semifinals to the finals this year; maybe next year I’m going to win it. I want to win Indy, there is nothing better.”
The shift in Cuadra Jr.’s productivity coincided with a change of vehicles; the racecar he previously piloted was a Ford Mustang, and after the rough patch this summer, the Elite Motorsports team elected to re-acquire a former Chevrolet Camaro previously piloted by both Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Troy Coughlin Jr.
“Driving a new car, I wasn’t sure how Indy was going to go, but it ended up being amazing. It’s hard because we love Mustangs,” continued the driver who is well-known for his appreciation of the Blue Oval. “We were just having some issues with the Mustang, and the Elite guys know better how to work with RJ Race Cars, so this was our only logical option. Next year, I’m going to have a brand-new Mustang from RJ, so I’ll be back in a Mustang next year.”
With the Corral Boots-branded Camaro performing well, Cuadra Jr. had confidence coming into the first race of the Countdown to the Championship, but the first day of qualifying was disastrous as he was unable to make a clean pass and ended up on the outside of the field with 22 cars vying for position.
“I wanted to cry,” Cuadra Jr. admitted, but only after breaking well into the field with a 6.52-second pass at 211 mph in Saturday’s early session. “I was nervous, going from hero to zero. I was like, really nervous. There wasn’t anything wrong, it was just bad luck that happens sometimes. Thank God, now I’m in and looking to improve.”
While Cuadra Jr. can breathe a sigh of relief for the moment, the pressure is still on as the Countdown is now officially in action. He starts from outside the top 10, but because he attended every event during the regular season and raced the majority of qualifying sessions, he is still eligible to chase the series title. A near miracle would have to happen in order for Cuadra Jr. to claim the title – he’s 128 points outside of first with six races remaining – but he’s not taking these next six races lightly.
“Richard [Freeman, team owner] wants me to be a spoiler, so that’s what I’m looking for,” said Cuadra Jr., who is teammates with reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, Coughlin Jr., and Aaron Stanfield, all of whom have a reasonable shot at the series title. Brother Cristian and Elite-powered Bo Butner are also in the hunt. “Hopefully, I’ll finish in the top eight. That would be really good for me.”