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Pep Boys NHRA Nationals Sunday preview

The 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals has already been a riveting affair as drivers launch into the NHRA Countdown to the Championship. Qualifying at Maple Grove Raceway offered a receptive racetrack that hosted career-best runs and track records, and Sunday is slated to bring more of the same.
17 Sep 2023
Kelly Wade
Race coverage
Maple Grove Raceway

This weekend’s 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals has already been a riveting event as drivers in four professional categories launch into the NHRA Countdown to the Championship. Qualifying at Maple Grove Raceway offered a receptive racetrack that hosted career-best runs and track records, and Sunday’s eliminations are slated to bring more of the same. 

Defending event champion Austin Prock and the Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist Top Fuel dragster reached the final in Pomona and won Charlotte earlier this year, but Prock ended the regular season on a disappointing note and started the Countdown eighth. In Reading qualifying, he earned a top-half start, No. 8, and will race eight-time world champion and five-time Maple Grove winner Tony Schumacher

Prock’s John Force Racing teammate and the reigning Top Fuel world champion, Brittany Force, proved she has a very capable dragster as she flew to top speed of the meet with a 336.57 mph pass in qualifying. She is starting from the No. 2 spot by just .002-second and will race Jacob Opatrny, who is wheeling the Leverich Racing Top Fuel entry for the third time this season. Force, who started the Countdown mid-pack in the No. 5 spot, gained eight bonus points in qualifying – more than any other Top Fuel driver – and must continue to make up ground to gain solid footing towards a second-consecutive and third overall championship for the Monster Energy team. Force won this event in 2017. 

Justin Ashley, driving the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster, led the points through much of the season with six wins in seven final rounds. He carried that momentum over into the first race of the Countdown to the Championship by claiming his third No. 1 qualifying start of the season and  scooping up three bonus points as one of the quickest cars. Last year’s runner-up will race Scott Farley in round one. Two-time Reading winner Antron Brown, No. 3 in the standings, earned two bonus points and a start from the No. 5 position. He’ll start the day going head-to-head with Doug Foley. 

Doug Kalitta, who won here in 2002, will be racing on Sunday from the No. 10 position and with a back-up car after the right rear tire on his Mac Tools entry began to shred following his final qualifying pass. The tire shred damaged the rear wing and chassis of his primary car, and the team worked late into the night on Saturday to prepare the backup car. He will race Josh Hart in round one. Five-time world champion Steve Torrence and his CAPCO Contractors rail will meet Mike Salinas, and Clay Millican – who scored four bonus points in qualifying driving his Rick Ware Racing/Parts Plus dragster – will race Leah Pruett, who is No. 4 in the championship chase. 

Shawn Langdon, the 2013 winner in Reading, will meet Canadian Dan Mercier in round one. 

Robert Hight and the Cornwell Tools/AAA Chevrolet Funny Car are aiming to defend the title earned here last season over Tim Wilkerson, and Hight will begin this year’s charge with a first-round meeting with Jim Campbell. Hight, who started the Countdown No. 2 in the Funny Car points, has two overall wins in Reading. So does Cruz Pedregon, and if he wants another, he’ll have to defeat seven-time Maple Grove winner John Force, the most winning professional driver in the history of the event. The only drivers with more wins than Force at the venerable facility are Peter Biondo (eight wins across three Sportsman categories) and Top Alcohol Funny Car ace Frank Manzo, who earned an astounding 14 wins in Reading over the course of a long and very decorated career. 

Incoming points leader and defending Funny Car champion Ron Capps and his NAPA Toyota are aiming to claim a second Reading win and repeat what they accomplished at the facility in 2017. Capps will begin his day with a round-one meeting with Dave Richards. Capps has a powerful racecar at Maple Grove and currently has hold of top speed honors with a 335 mph pass clocked in qualifying. Capps holds both ends of the track record already, both of which were set in 2019 (3.837, 339.28).  

No. 1 qualifier Bob Tasca III and his Motorcraft/Quicklane Ford Mustang is having a career year and hopes to capitalize on that with his first world championship in the nitro Funny Car category. Tasca has earned five low qualifier awards on the season and has been a perfect two-for-two in final rounds to start the Countdown in the No. 4 position. He has one previous nitro win in Reading, earned in 2009, and he’ll be starting his quest for another with an early match with Cory Lee and the New Englander Funny Car. 

Alexis DeJoria will have lane choice over Blake Alexander, Wilkerson will race Alex Laughlin, and three-time world champion Matt Hagan, who started the Countdown in the No. 2 spot, and his Dodge Direct Connect Charger Hellcat will match up with J.R. Todd in round one. 

Pro Stock No. 1 qualifier Erica Enders is also the defending event champion at Maple Grove Raceway. She earned her first Reading trophy last season with a final-round defeat of Elite Motorsports teammate Troy Coughlin Jr. Enders, who moved up to No. 2 in the Pro Stock standings after a strong qualifying performance, is aiming to go all the way at the first of six playoff events to bolster her efforts toward a sixth world championship. Enders and her JHG/Melling Performance Chevrolet will begin the march with a first-round meeting with Val Smeland, who returns to the tour along with teammate Kenny Delco after a long respite. 

Incoming points leader Dallas Glenn is starting from the No. 9 position, a surprising departure from the more elevated starts he logged during the regular season. Glenn and his RAD Torque Systems Chevrolet are set up for a first-round meeting with Cristian Cuadra, and as the No. 8 and No. 9 qualifiers, they will likely be the first pair out. In the coolest conditions of the weekend and without fresh and applicable data to tune from, the outcome of this first pair is anyone’s guess.

U.S. Nationals winner and low qualifier Matt Hartford will begin his day with a first-round rendezvous with KB Titan Racing teammate Greg Anderson, the most winning active Pro Stock driver at ‘The Grove’ with three previous trophies claimed. Hartford made a surprising turn from the performance shown in Indianapolis and is qualified in the No. 13 position. He entered the event No. 2 in the standings and is currently third. 

KBT teammates Deric Kramer and Camrie Caruso will race one another in round one, as will Coughlin Jr., a two-time Maple Grove winner in the Top Alcohol Dragster category, and Eric Latino, who is competing in the third Pro Stock race of his career. 

Last season’s low qualifier, Bo Butner, will race Indy finalist and fellow Elite Motorsports-powered Fernando Cuadra Jr., Aaron Stanfield will challenge Chris McGaha, and Maple Grove Raceway’s own Kyle Koretsky will go head-to-head with Jerry Tucker in a modern day battle of the beers. Koretsky is flying the colors of Michael Waltrip Brewing Company’s Talladega Light, while Tucker is campaigning a Chevrolet Camaro decorated with Outlaw Beer branding. 

Last season in Reading, Matt Smith ran the table in qualifying and was No. 1 qualifier with low e.t. and top speed aboard his DENSO-backed Pro Stock Motorcycle. This season, he’s starting from the No. 4 position and will meet Chris Bostick in the first round. Smith is seeking a third Maple Grove Raceway title and looking to edge into Herrera’s lead in the points – Smith is No. 2 entering the event. Eddie Krawiec stands as the most winning, currently competing rider in Reading with five trips to the winner’s circle. Krawiec is starting seventh and will race Kelly Clontz in round one. Hector Arana Jr., who has two wins at the historic facility, will race Ron Tornow in round one. Arana started the Countdown No. 3 in the standings.

Last year’s winner in the two-wheeled category, Joey Gladstone, is not competing this weekend – but teammate Cory Reed is back on the Reed Motorsports/J&A Service bike for the second consecutive event after some time away. He’s No. 15 on the qualifying sheet and will race Chip Ellis, who Matt Smith Racing (MSR) tapped as a blocker for the Countdown, in round one. Ellis’ MSR teammate Angie Smith will race John Hall.

Gaige Herrera claimed his ninth No. 1 of the season with an outstanding performance in Reading qualifying. He rode his Vance & Hines Mission Suzuki to a best time and speed of 6.672, 202.94. which reset both ends of the Maple Grove Raceway track record. In a field of 15, the dynamic rider will have a bye run in the opening act and be looking to continue the roll and pick up as much points as possible as he chases his first championship title. 

Steve Johnson, who won this race in 2021, will race Jianna Evaristo in round one. Evaristo, aboard the Scrappers Racing Suzuki tuned by Smith, made the first 200 mph pass of her career in qualifying. Rookie of the Year contender Chase Van Sant, starting fifth, will race Marc Ingwersen. 

Eliminations for the 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals were moved up to a 9:30 a.m. start due to incoming wet weather.  


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 - 6.678 seconds by Gaige Herrera, Sept. 23; 203.00 mph by Herrera, Sept. '23



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.




SUNDAY, September 17

Pre-Race ceremonies begin at 8 a.m.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series eliminations begin at 9:30 a.m.



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