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Pep Boys NHRA Nationals Friday Preview

The first race of the 2023 NHRA Countdown to the Championship has arrived. Intensity is at a season-high as drivers across four professional categories look to make a strong step in the first of six playoff races, the 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
15 Sep 2023
Kelly Wade
Race coverage
Maple Grove Raceway

The first race of the 2023 NHRA Countdown to the Championship has arrived as the Camping World Drag Racing Series pulls into Maple Grove Raceway for the 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals. The intensity is at a season-high as drivers across four professional categories look to make a strong step in the first of six playoff races.   Following the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, the championship points were reset, and those battling for the championship were locked in place.

In Top Fuel, Justin Ashley, driving the Phillips Connect Toyota dragster kept the position he’s held for nine of the first 15 events on the strength of six wins in seven final rounds. He also scored a flurry of Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge points, which were doled out to their earners after the championship points were reset.  

Steve Torrence, with one win in four final rounds, is starting a fifth championship chase from the No. 2 position, while three-time champ and back-to-back winner (Brainerd and Indy) Antron Brown is No. 3 with three wins in five finals.

Norwalk winner Leah Pruett is No. 4, and Brittany Force, the reigning Top Fuel world champion, is still seeking her first win of the year and is No. 5 in the standings. Doug Kalitta, a two-time finalist in the regular season, starts the chase sixth, Gainesville winner Mike Salinas is seventh, and Charlotte winner Austin Prock is eighth.  

Chicago and Denver winner Clay Millican is holding down the No. 9 spot, while Chicago runner-up Josh Hart is holding in tenth. Shawn Langdon, the 2013 series titlist, and eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher both made the Countdown cut as drivers who competed at every race during the regular season and made the majority of qualifying passes.  

The defending event winner in Top Fuel at Maple Grove Raceway is Prock, who defeated Ashley in a quick-and-fast final last season. Brittany Force was quickest and fastest of all and holds both ends of the track record (3.623, 337.66). Schumacher is the most winning Top Fuel driver in Reading with five victories claimed. Brown has two, while Force, Kalitta, Langdon, Spencer Massey, Prock, Todd, and father-and-son Steve and Billy Torrence each have one.  

In Funny Car, Ron Capps ended the regular season with back-to-back wins and a second consecutive U.S. Nationals victory, and the reigning and three-time champ enters the 2023 Countdown as the No. 1 seed. Capps has won three races total in six final rounds in his NAPA-backed Toyota and had an additional 14 points added to his pile due to great success in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge during the regular season. Capps has one win at maple Grove Raceway, earned in 2017, and holds both ends of the track record (3.837, 339.28).  

Matt Hagan, a three-time world champion, enters the Countdown in the No. 2 position with four wins in six final rounds and 10 bonus marks earned in the #2Fast2Tasty events. Hagan won Reading in 2014. Robert Hight, No. 3 in the points and the defending event winner, is also seeking a fourth world title. The Indy low qualifier won two of three final rounds in the regular season. Bob Tasca III is No. 4 with wins in Epping and Topeka, 2018 champion J.R. Todd is No. 5 with one win in four final rounds, and Alexis DeJoria is No. 6 with three final round appearances. 

Chad Green, who was runner-up in Sonoma and reached seven additional semifinals, is No. 7 after a tough string of first-round losses to close the regular season. Tim Wilkerson – whose son, Daniel, tunes Green – is No. 8 with two wins in three finals. Funny Car fan favorite and 16-time world champion John Force is No. 9 with a runner-up at the New England Nationals, and Cruz Pedregon, a two-time champ, is tenth with a car that has increased in capability as the Countdown came into view. Alex Laughlin, who attended every race in his Jim Dunn-tuned entry, is 11th.  

Pro Stock’s Dallas Glenn and his RAD Torque Systems Chevrolet enter the Countdown as the No. 1 seed for the first time in his young career. Glenn, the 2021 Rookie of the Year, didn’t necessarily have the quickest or fastest racecar every weekend, but his skill behind the wheel made up for the challenges faced as he claimed four wins in seven final rounds. Glenn also scored eight total bonus points during the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge to add a little oomph to his position.

Matt Hartford, the only driver to run the table in Pro Stock with his low qualifier award, win, and low e.t. and top speed at the U.S. Nationals, is starting in the No. 2 position. So far, he’s won two events in three final rounds with what is arguably the best car in Pro Stock; he’s been the No. 1 qualifier four times, had low e.t. four times and top speed twice in the 12 Pro Stock races that made up the regular season.  

Incoming Pro Stock champion Erica Enders made up ground quickly in her JHG/Melling Chevrolet. After a tough first six races of the season, she was low qualifier and won Bristol, moving into the top 10 from No. 14 and then gradually climbing all the way to third with a perfect two-for-two in final rounds. Last year, Enders won Reading with a final-round defeat of teammate Troy Coughlin Jr., and she holds the track record for e.t. at a blistering 6.465. The victory in 2022 was her first at Maple Grove Raceway.  

Coughlin enters the Countdown No. 4 in the standings with two wins in three final rounds so far this year. He’s won at Reading twice, both times in Top Alcohol Dragster (2018 and 2019). No. 5 in the Countdown is Charlotte winner Deric Kramer, who reached a total of three finals in the regular season. Aaron Stanfield, still seeking his first Pro Stock win in 2023, is sixth, while three-time Maple Grove winner Greg Anderson, a five-time world champion, is No. 7.

Kyle Koretsky, whose family owns Maple Grove Raceway, is No. 8 in the Countdown standings with a car that is picking up speed at just the right time. He was runner-up in Brainerd and reached the semifinals at the U.S. Nationals.  

Camrie Caruso, the 2022 Rookie of the Year, is No. 9 with her Phoenix win, and Phoenix low qualifier Cristian Cuadra is No. 10. Bo Butner, runner-up in Phoenix, is 11th; U.S. Nationals finalist Fernando Cuadra Jr. is 12th; Jerry Tucker is 13th; father-and-son team Mason and Chris McGaha are 14th and 15th, respectively; and Fernando Cuadra Sr. is 16th based on his entry of ever Pro Stock race this season and contesting the majority of qualifying sessions.  

Previous Pro Stock winners at Reading include 2017 victor Butner, who was No. 1 qualifier at Maple Grove Raceway last season and won Super Gas at the same event; and Chris McGaha, who claimed one of his first wins at the 2015 event. Larry Morgan, who is on the Pro Stock entry list, won the very first national event contested at Maple Grove Raceway (in 1985) in the Comp category.  

Gaige Herrera and his Andrew Hines-tuned Vance & Hines Mission Foods Suzuki has been the undisputed dominator in the regular season, and his efforts resulted in a solid grasp of the top spot. Herrera’s 13 points claimed in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge padded his lead over No. 2 man and incoming champion Matt Smith. Eight-time No. 1 qualifier Herrera won six events in seven final rounds, while Smith’s U.S. Nationals victory was his first of the season in his third final round. Smith has two previous wins in Reading (2008 and 2013) and holds the track record for speed at 202.69 mph.

The track record for e.t. belongs to Hines and his remarkable 6.728, which was recorded all the way back in 2012.   Hector Arana Jr., who finished a career-best No. 2 in 2011, enters the Countdown in third with a win in Norwalk and a final round at the U.S. Nationals. Arana also earned six bonus marks in the #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, as did Angie Smith, who is No. 5 with a two final rounds on her scorecard. Sandwhiched between them is Vance & Hines rider Eddie Krawiec, a five-time winner at Maple Grove Raceway. The only rider to have more wins at ‘The Grove’ is Angelle Sampey, who claimed six during the course of her two-wheeled career.  

Steve Johnson is No. 6 in the Countdown with one win in two final rounds, and he was the winner in Reading in 2021. Rookie of the Year contender Chase VanSant is No. 7 with a bike that went rounds at all but three events in the regular season. Marc Ingwersen is eighth; Jianna Evaristo is ninth; Kelly Clontz is 10th; and both Ryan Oehler and Chris Bostick attended all regular-season events and qualifying sessions to earn a chance to run for the big trophy.



Austin Prock, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Joey Gladstone, Pro Stock Motorcycle



Tony Schumacher, 5, TF; John Force, 7, FC; Jeg Coughlin, 4, PS; Angelle Sampey, 6, PSM.



Top Fuel - 3.623 seconds by Brittany Force, Sept. '19; 337.66 mph by B. Force, Sept. '22

Funny Car - 3.837 seconds by Ron Capps, Sept. '19; 339.28 mph by Capps, Sept. '19

Pro Stock - 6.465 seconds by Erica Enders, Oct. '14; 214.59 mph by Greg Anderson, Oct. '15

Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.728 seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. '12; 202.69 mph by Matt Smith, Sept. '21



Top Fuel - 3.623 sec. by Brittany Force, Sept. '19, Reading, Pa.; 338.94 mph by Brittany Force, Nov. ‘22, Pomona, Calif.

Funny Car - 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. '17, Brainerd; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma, Calif.

Pro Stock - 6.450 sec. by Erica Enders, March '22, Gainesville, Fla.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May '14, Englishtown, N.J.

Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.665 sec. by Karen Stoffer, March '22, Gainesville, Fla.; 205.04 mph by Matt Smith, July '21, Sonoma, Calif.



FRIDAY, September 15

NHRA Lucas Oil Series Drag Racing Series qualifying and eliminations at 8:45 a.m.; Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car qualifying at 12:30 and 4:00 p.m.

Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown qualifying at 1:15 and 445 p.m.

NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying at 2:00 and 5:00 p.m.

SATURDAY, September 16

NHRA Lucas Oil Series Drag Racing Series eliminations at 8:45 a.m.;
Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car qualifying at 10:45 a.m.;
Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car eliminations at 2:30 and 5:00 p.m.

Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and eliminations and 5:30 p.m.

NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, September 17

Pre-Race ceremonies begin at 10 a.m.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series eliminations begin at 10:30 a.m.



FRIDAY, September 15 - FS1 will televise one and half hours of qualifying coverage at 10:30 p.m. (ET)

SUNDAY, September 17 - FS1 will televise one and half hours of qualifying coverage at 12:30 a.m. (ET)

SUNDAY, September 19 - FOX will televise two hours of finals coverage at 2:00 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. (ET) (Check Local Listings)


Watch all day on NHRA.tv