NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

NHRA Midwest Nationals Sunday Preview

Qualifying was a rambunctious affair at the NHRA Midwest Nationals, and it set the tone for an appropriately intense Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway. What happens in St. Louis will likely have great impact on the final outcome of the season, and all eyes are on the facility that sits in the shadow of the St. Louis Gateway Arch.
01 Oct 2023
Kelly Wade
Race coverage
World Wide Technology Raceway

Qualifying was a rambunctious affair at the NHRA Midwest Nationals, the third of six the 2023 NHRA Countdown to the Championship, and it set the tone for an appropriately intense Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway. What happens in St. Louis will likely have great impact on the final outcome of the season, and all eyes are on the facility that sits in the shadow of the St. Louis Gateway Arch. 

Brittany Force, the reigning Top Fuel world champion, entered the final qualifying session in an alarmingly dangerous position. Precariously perched 16th in the qualifying order, the driver of the Monster Energy dragster was actually bumped out by Buddy Hull who ran shortly before her. His hopes of racing on Sunday were dashed, however, as Force powered to a 3.79 at 330 to earn a spot and, effectively, push Hull out. Force, who has yet to win in St. Louis, will race two-time winner Tony Schumacher, and she's aiming for points to boost her up from sixth in the championship chase.

Terry Totten was also left on the outside, while newcomer, 19-year-old Cody Krohn claimed the No. 15 position in his Top Fuel debut. He'll have to race Mike Salinas and his very quick Valley Services rail, in the first round. Salinas, currently ranked No. 7 in the Top Fuel points, reached a milestone last weekend in Charlotte as he became the first driver to reach 300 mph at the 1/8th-mile marker. 

No. 1 qualifier Doug Kalitta, the incoming points leader and a four-time winner in St. Louis, will race Lex Joon, whose motto of "Never Quit" has propelled the former FIA Top Fuel champion in NHRA competition; he gained his first NHRA win light in the first round at Bristol in 2019 next to Leah Pruett, and he's surely looking for another. 

Pruett, qualified No. 8 and looking to move up from No. 4 in the points, will race No. 9 qualifier Shawn Langdon, who won this race in 2016 in Top Fuel and 2019 in Funny Car. Langdon is ninth in the standings. Justin Ashley, who won the regular season, enters raceday No. 3 in the points, and as the No. 4 qualifier, he will race T.J. Zizzo in round one.  Four-time St. Louis winner Steve Torrence is sitting No. 2 in the points, 71 marks out of first, and will race Josh Hart, who is currently 12th and hoping to crack the top 10. Torrence qualified in the No. 5 position. 

Clay Millican, aiming to rise into the top 10 with a strong raceday performance, will go toe-to-toe with Austin Prock, who is currently No. 8 in the standings. A five-time winner at World Wide Technology Raceway, Antron Brown and his Matco Tools dragster will line up next to Kyle Wurtzel. Brown and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Smith are tied for second in terms of overall St. Louis wins (Pro Stock's Erica Enders has six). Brown is currently situated fifth in the points. 

No. 1 qualifier Bob Tasca III and his Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford Mustang are sitting No. 2 in the Funny Car standings, and after another incredible performance in qualifying, he's well-heeled for his first-round match with Jack Wyatt. Robert Hight, the incoming points leader in his AAA Cornwell Tools entry, has three previous wins in St. Louis. He's looking for another against Cruz Pedregon, who is battling to break into the top 10 from the No. 11 position driving the pink Snap-On "Socket to Breast Cancer" Funny Car. Three-time St. Louis victor John Force, No. 9 in the points, is racing Terry Haddock first round, and on the other side of that bracket is 2021 NHRA Midwest Nationals winner Matt Hagan, who is in the battle for the championship from the No. 3 position. He'll race Alexis DeJoria, who is No. 7 in the standings. 

Chad Green, No. 5 in the Funny Car points, is still seeking that career-first win, and he'd surely love for it to come this weekend in the Countdown. He'll have to get past Alex Laughlin, No. 10 in the points, who claimed the 2016 trophy in St. Louis driving a Pro Stock car. 

Whomever wins that match will race either reigning champion Ron Capps and his NAPA Toyota or SCAG's Tim Wilkderson. Capps and Hagan are tied for third place at present, and with four previous wins in St. Louis, Capps has a good reputation. Wilkerson is No. 6 in the standings and would like to win this one for longtime sponsor Dick Levi, who calls this racetrack home. 

Blake Alexander was a pleasantly powerful surprise in qualifying and will start from the No. 3 position in his Jim Head Racing Pronto Funny Car. He'll race Dave Richards in the Versatran entry. J.R. Todd and the DHL Toyota are No. 8 for now in the Funny Car points, and he'll aim to ascend on Sunday, beginning in his first-round match with Bobby Bode. 

The defending world champ, Enders, has put together a remarkable St. Louis scorecard, and she claimed the pole this weekend to build what she hopes will be the foundation for a victory that edges her into the lead as the most winning female driver in NHRA history. Enders, driving the Johnson's Horsepowered Garage Chevrolet, will race Eric Latino in the first round, a driver with depth in the Pro Mod class but who is competing in his fifth race in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock category. 

Enders, who is 2 in the Pro Stock points, is eager to catch and pass Matt Hartford, who is set for a first-round meeting with Chris McGaha. Hartford went back-to-back with wins at the U.S. Nationals and then two weeks later in Reading at the first race of the Countdown and although he has not yet won St. Louis, doing so would allow him to stretch his lead over the competition with his Total Seal/CIP 1 Chevrolet. Enders and Hartford are on opposite sides of the ladder. 

Dallas Glenn, the leader for most of the regular season in his RAD Torque Systems Chevrolet, will be one part of a battle of young guns as Fernando Cuadra Jr. – the U.S. Nationals runner-up – comes to the starting line next to him. Cuadra Jr. is No. 12 in the standings and doing his best to break into the top 10. Greg Anderson, the most winning driver in the history of Pro Stock, claimed his most recent win just last week in Charlotte to move his total to 102. He's starting fourth in St. Louis and focused on rising from No. 4 in the standings in his pursuit of a sixth world championship, and he'll start the day against Jerry Tucker. 

KB Titan Racing teammates Kyle Koretsky and Deric Kramer will race one another in the first round for the second consecutive event. Kramer defeated Koretsky in the first round in Charlotte. Koretsky is currently No. 8 in the standings, and Kramer is No. 7. Although Kramer battled to break into the 16 and earn a spot to race on Sunday, he and his team, led by veteran crew chief Michael Hiner, got everything in line in the last session. Koretsky, though, has been strong behind the wheel and likely won't be leaving anything to chance. 

Aaron Stanfield, No. 6 in the championship standings, is doing double duty this season and is in hot pursuit of the Factory Stock Showdown championship. He is the points leader in the Sportsman category and the most recent winner on the tour with three championship Sundays remaining to finalize the FlexJet Factory Stock Showdown series title. In Pro Stock, he's currently No. 6 in the standings driving his Janac Brothers Chevrolet out of the Elite Motorsports camp, and he'll race KB Titan's Camrie Caruso in round one. 

The JEGS.com Chevrolet Camaro piloted by Troy Coughlin Jr. was efficient in qualifying and picked up a few of the valuable bonus points to aid his quest to rise from the No. 5 position in pursuit of his first championship. He'll race young Mason McGaha in round one, who is another third-generation drag racer with the fire of the sport burning in his belly. Both drivers are capable of making a big move on the starting line. Bo Butner, in his red JHG Chevrolet that matches that of the current champion, and Cristian Cuadra Jr. will race in the first round for the second consecutive event. Their match is compelling as Cuadra is situated tenth in the standings and Butner is No. 11 and itching to get into the top 10. Cuadra got the nod in their last meeting. 

The Pro Stock Motorcycle category is led by Gaige Herrera, as it has been much of the year. Herrera is No. 1 in the points and the No. 1 qualifier at the event, but incoming and six-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith is nipping at his heels in second place. He's No. 2 on the qualifying sheet aboard his DENSO-backed machine, and his story – and that of the entire Matt Smith Racing (MSR) team – is one that tugs at the heartstrings. Wife Angie, who was also in the championship hunt, wrecked in final qualifying at St. Louis and is in hospital, bruised and battered and only just beginning what will be a tough journey of mending. On Sunday morning, Smith told the crowd during pre-race that he sees his wife back on a bike in 2024, but he also stressed that she communicated to the team that she hoped to see a trophy in her hospital room on Sunday night. 

Herrera and his Vance & Hines Mission Suzuki will race MSR rider Joey Gladstone, who was hired by Smith as a blocker for this race as original Countdown blocker, Chip Ellis, in the first round. Herrera, who is racing in his first full season of competition this year, doesn't have a win of his own yet in St. Louis – but the Vance & Hines team has two with Matt Hines, two with Eddie Krawiec, and one with Andrew Hines. Krawiec will be looking to add another for the team as he stars from the No. 3 spot and races Ryan Oheler in round one. Krawiec is currently No. 4 in the points. 

Rookie of the Year contender Chase Van Sant, No. 6 in the championship standings, will have a bye run as Angie Smith will obviously not make the race. On the other side of that bracket is championship contender Hector Arana Jr., No. 3 in the points, who won St. Louis in 2015. He'll race Big St. Charles Suzuki rider Steve Johnson, who won this event in 2004 and is No. 8 in the points. 

Matt Smith and Chris Bostick will go head-to-head in roun one, while the winner of that match will either race Cory Reed – who is aboard Joey Gladstone's motorcycle as Gladstone is racing Angie Smith's pink Buell – or Kelly Klontz, who is holding down 10th place. 

Jianna Evaristo, another MSR rider and the competitor who is No. 7 in the standings, will square off with Marc Ingwersen, who is No. 9 in the points. 


Steve Torrence, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock, Matt Smith, Pro Stock Motorcycle


Antron Brown, 5, TF; Ron Capps, 4, FC; Erica Enders, 6 PS; Matt Smith, 5, PSM


Top Fuel - - 3.631 seconds by Clay Millican, Sept. '17; 338.43 mph by Brittany Force, Oct. '22
Funny Car - 3.830 seconds by Robert Hight, Sept. '17; 338.60 mph by Hight, Sept. '17
Pro Stock -6.492 seconds by Greg Anderson, Sept. '15; 213.47 mph by Line, Sept. '12
Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.709 seconds by Matt Smith, Sept. '22; 203.22 mph by M Smith, Oct. '22


SUNDAY, Oct. 1
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series eliminations begin at 11 a.m.


Sunday, Oct. 1: FOX Sports 1 (FS1), will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 2:00 p.m. ET and three hours of finals coverage at 3:00 p.m. ET

You can also watch the action on NHRA.tv.