NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

No Lone Star here: Enders, Pruett, Hagan, Herrera shine at Texas FallNationals

Pro Stock winner Erica Enders became the winningest female driver in motorsports history, Tony Stewart Racing scored a nitro double in Top Fuel and Funny Car with Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan, and Gaige Herrera continued to dominate in Pro Stock Motorcycle all at the Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex.
15 Oct 2023
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Dallas winners

Pro Stock winner Erica Enders became the winningest female driver in motorsports history, Tony Stewart Racing scored a nitro double in Top Fuel and Funny Car with Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan, and Gaige Herrera continued to dominate in Pro Stock Motorcycle all at the Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex. All four winners at the event took over the points lead in their respective categories with just  two races remaining in the season.

 Enders had a miserable first half of the season, but championships are won in the final six races of the season, not the first six. Enders ran her record to a very respectable 6-3 during the Countdown to the Championship with a final-round win over Dallas Glenn.

More importantly, Enders achieved another longtime goal with her 47th career NHRA win, passing three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Angelle Sampey, who reached the semifinals in Dallas in her debut in the Top Alcohol Dragster class.

"As a little kid growing up, Angelle was one of my idols, one of my heroes," said Enders. "We had our T-shirts and our autographs and whatnot, and then to come full circle ... I remember like it was yesterday tying Shirley Muldowney at 18 wins when we won the U.S. Nationals in 2015 like it was yesterday, and here we are 47 So it's pretty crazy. And to not just have it be for drag racing to beat motorsports worldwide is totally badass.

"Just an awesome day epic really," she continued. "In qualifying, we felt like we missed it a little bit. Even though we were running at the top of the field, we just weren't hitting on what we wanted to and felt like there was so much more out of that car. But we went out there we went .46 first round, and my guys were excited that everything looked great on the graph. When we got back, we knew that we had a race car, and then it was my turn to dig myself out of a ditch and get my reaction times back to normal. So progressively all day long, I got better."

In May, Enders was mired in 14th place in the standings, but her Elite team persevered and she now heads to the penultimate race in Las Vegas with an 85-point lead over Anderson.

The Texas NHRA FallNationals was a slugfest that featured a slew of 6.4-second runs, a record field, and a back-and-forth brawl between the rival Elite and KB Titan team. Team KB Titan claimed the pole when Greg Anderson drove to the pole with a 6.480.

On Sunday, it was all Enders as she drove to wins against Erica Enders, Cristian Cuadra, and Troy Coughlin Jr., who hurt an engine in a massive amount of smoke that resulted in contact with the guardwall.

Pruett grabbed the points lead in Top Fuel for the first time this season, winning a thrilling final with Steve Torrence with the winner getting the points lead. Pruett got it done on a big holeshot, 3.684 to 3.662. It’s the 12th win of her career, her second this season, and gives her a four-point lead over Doug Kalitta and a 13-point edge on third-place Torrence.

"We've been in such a spot where we're looking at who's ahead of us and how to beat them," she said. "We can't change the dynamic of what we're doing. It does feel good. We've been pretty good in this sleeper spot coming up to them. And I feel like today, the pressure that we had on the last qualifying session, and the pressures that we had today, just strengthened us and for that position of the team to be there."

Her win with Hagan is the first double for Tony Stewart Racing after several close tries, including twice this season where she and Hagan had a win and the other was runner-up.

"This surpasses my very first Top Fuel, the emotions that I had for it, the accomplishment of both Matt and I winning today, and what it means for Tony Stewart Racing, what it means," she said. The position that we're in for the Countdown, is a very mature move by our team, and I feel that excitement is super high. This is something that is going to be on my top memory list forever."

Pruett has been to the semifinals or better in five of the last six races since her runner-up in Brainerd, including a runner-up two weeks ago in St. Louis. Her Neal Strausbaugh-tuned Mobil 1 dragster qualified just seventh despite a stout 3.665 in a very quick field that consisted of mostly 3.6-second qualifiers then defeated Shawn Langon. Points leader Doug Kalitta, and, in a rematch of their St. Louis final, Clay Millican, who launched into a big wheelstand at halftrack. It was 24th career final and fifth this season.

Four-time world champ Torrence, who came into the event third in points, blasted his Capco Contractors dragster to the No. 1 spot in the field with a dizzying 3.636 that moved him to second in points, then mowed his way to the final with wins over Buddy Hull, Antron Brown, and, in a thrilling semifinal match, his father, Billy, whom he beat by just .007-second to reach the final, the 87th of his Top Fuel career.

Hagan’s Funny Car win, capped by a final-round victory over the sport’s all-time leader John Force, is his second in a row, sixth of the season, and 49th of his career and carried him back into the points lead he’d held on three separate occasions in the regular season.

Hagan took over the points lead by 35 points thanks to the early losses of incoming points leader Bob Tasca III (round two) and second-place Robert Hight and fourth-place Ron Capps (both in round one).

"Honestly, today was everything that we could hope for," said Hagan. "Some big heavy hitters went out early, and we were able to capitalize on that this weekend. I don't know that we ran the best out there. We had some issues, with fuel pumps and stuff like that. 

"When you see those guys go out early, man, it's just like, alright. You get up on the wheel a little bit more and you chew on the mouthpiece a little bit more. You've got to dig a little deeper because those opportunities don't come around very often."

Hagan’s Dickie Venables-tuned American Rebel Dodge Charger qualified fifth in the tough field with a 3.848 and ran a trio of 3.8-second passes to reach the final, defeating Paul Lee, Alex Laughlin, and Tim Wilkerson to reach his 87th career final.

Force is trending towards a Force-like ending to a very un-Force like season as the 16-time world champ, who hasn’t been in the top five of points since the season opener but finished the day in fifth, up four spots from No. 9.

The sport’s GOAT ran a career-best 3.823 to qualify his Danny Hood- and Tim Fabrisi-tuned Peak Chevy No. 2, then beat Jeff Diehl, longtime rival Cruz Pedregon, and J.R. Todd to reach his 266th career final. The semifinal win did not come cheaply as Force damaged the body in a huge finish-line blower explosion.

From the earliest days of the 2023 season, it was obvious that not much was going to stop Vance & Hines rider Herrera. The second-year phenom put together what may have been his most impressive performance of the season with a host of 6.6-second runs including a 6.644 in the final to stop teammate Eddie Krawiec, who was seeking his 50th win, but finished well behind with a 6.708.

Herrera’s 2023 brilliance includes nine wins in 13 events, a 42-4 record in elimination rounds, and he now holds a 156-point lead over his teammate Krawiec with two races remaining in the season.

"It's been a great weekend, great couple of days for the whole team, to qualify No. 1, have [engine teammate] Kelly Clontz qualified No. 2 and Ed third. This weekend has been incredible for the whole Vance & Hines team. I have so much confidence every time I go to the start line, because I know, as long as nothing breaks, my bike should run good as long as I do my job.

"I know we can maybe wrap up the championship in Vegas but we can't take anything for granted. It would be cool to wrap it up in  Vegas but I'd rather do it in Pomona because that's my hometown and I'm going to have a lot of friends and family there."

Herrera has been fast at every race this season, but his performance this weekend was other-worldly. Herrera set the national record with a 6.627 and by the time he was done, he had destroyed the record books with nine of the 10 quickest elapsed times in the history of the class.

Herrera wasn’t seriously challenged at any point in eliminations as he rolled past Blaine Hale, Chris Bostick, and Hector Arana Jr., the reigning event champion.