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Sunday News and Notes from the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd

News, notes, quotes, and photos from the final day of eliminations at the :Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd Int'l Raceway in Brainerd, Minn.
20 Aug 2023
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
Race coverage
Antron Brown

It took just one pair for the difference in air and track conditions between qualifying and eliminations to become apparent as Mike Salinas made what was then the quickest run of the weekend with a 3.726 at 335.32 mph in his win over Austin Prock, who also showed a significant improvement over his qualifying effort with a 3.748. Salinas’ crew chief, Rob Flynn, expended the Scrappers car to run quicker, and it might well have done that if it hadn’t lifted a supercharger in a ball of fire just before the finish line. The win was huge for Salinas, who won the season-opening race in Gainesville, but had recently dropped to No. 8 in the standings.

The first 3.6-second run of the weekend appeared on the Brainerd scoreboard in the second pair as Antron Brown ran a 3.689 in his win over Shawn Langdon’s Kalitta Air dragster. Brown and his Matco Tools/Toyota team weren’t the least bit surprised to see that type of performance. In fact, they expected it. “With the conditions the way they are, you should be able to run in the 3.60s and that’s what we did. We said we aren’t going to accept anything less,” said crew chief Brian Corradi.

After struggling a bit during qualifying with a difficult-to-diagnose electrical problem, the Rick Ware-owned Parts Plus team and driver Clay Millican scored a much-needed round win, and did so in impressive fashion with a 3.689 that covered Doug Kalitta’s 3.720. Millican, the winner of two events this season, came into Brainerd as the No. 10 ranked driver in the class, but has moved past Josh Hart to ninth after the victory.

So, who says green race cars are unlucky? Leah Pruett wheeled her limelight Dodge Power Brokers dragster to a round one win against eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher even though she lost a blower belt before the finish line and slowed to a 3.820. Pruett, who left the starting line first, never trailed after Schumacher’s SCAG Mowers entry rattled the tires near halftrack. The win allowed Pruett to keep pace with points leaders Ashley, Torrence, Force, and Brown, all won ahead of her. 

Round two pairings (lane choice first): Justin Ashley vs. bye; Brittany Force vs. Leah Pruett; Clay Millican vs. Mike Salinas; Antron Brown vs. Steve Torrence

Given the weather change, many expected to see upsets on Sunday and the Funny Car class delivered as Dave Richards, the No. 14 qualifier, took out points leader Matt Hagan, who smoked the tires just off the starting line. Richards, who now has five round wins in his career, stumbled across the finish line with a 4.469, but it was enough to secure the victory. Richards has been active this year with his Versatran Mustang, racing in five previous events and he’s got bigger plans for the future. “I knew it was good when I didn’t see him,” said Richards. “I don’t pedal very often but I was just trying to keep it hooked up.”

The upsets continued when Dale Creasy Jr., who is always a tough out, took down Sonoma winner J.R. Todd. This was a more traditional victory as Creasy simply outran the DHL team, 4.038 to 4.045. “This is big for any team. I just knew it was going to pass me but he didn’t,” said Creasy, who has beaten some of the best Funny Car drivers in the sport during his career including John Force, Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Tony Pedregon.

On the heels of his win in Saturday’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, Robert Hight celebrated his birthday on Sunday with a strong 3.881 in his win against Bobby Bode, who made one of the best runs of his career with a 3.929, but made contact with the retaining wall after the finish line. Hight hasn’t won a race since Charlotte, but he’s never been far from the top spot and his Cornwell Tools team smelled blood in the water in Brainerd following the early loss by incoming leader Matt Hagan.

Some people might argue the pros and cons of John Force’s well-known routine of staging his Peak Camaro deep in most elimination runs, but its hard to make a case against it after the 16-time champ took out Chad Green in the opening round in Brainerd. Force took an extra bite on the starting line and it paid dividend with a 3.959 to 3.945 holeshot victory in a race that was decided by just .002-second at the finish line. Throughout his career, Force has been a consistent winner at most racetracks, but he’s been particularly effective at Brainerd where he has 11 career wins. “I don’t know if that’s a holeshot,” said Force. “I might have run 90 flat or 89 [shallow staged]. I ain’t killer on the lights but at the end of the day we got the win.”

Round two pairings (lane choice first): Tim Wilkerson vs. Ron Capps; Bob Tasca III vs. Cruz Pedregon; John Force vs. Dale Creasy Jr.; Robert Hight vs. Dave Richards.

There isn’t much that flashy about Aaron Stanfied’s game as he’s every bit as humble and unassuming as his father, Greg, and late grandfather, Howard. Stanfield is, however, an elite Pro Stock driver and he proved it in round one with a solid 6.577 run in his win over teammate Bo Butner. Stanfield kicked off the run with a .031 light and improved over his qualifying time by nearly five-hundredths of a second. Stanfield is also looking to move up in the standings ahead of the Countdown to the Championship as he’s currently the No. 7 ranked driver in the class.

The quickest run of the weekend changed hands several times during the opening round as Dallas Glenn had it briefly before Deric Kramer passed him with an impressive 6.546 in his GetBioFuel Camaro. Kramer needed all of it as opponent Troy Coughlin Jr. was game with a 6.566.

To suggest that this has been a tough season for Chris McGaha and the Harlow Sammons team would be a vast understatement but every now and then, this sport throws a bone to those who are struggling so McGaha was all-too happy to see a red-light from round one opponent Cristian Cuadra. The win was the first of the season for McGaha, who runs his own engine program out of the team’s Odessa, Texas headquarters. “There’s one race to go before the Countdown, I guess there’s no better time to get your first round win of the year,” McGaha joked. “Finally, someone messed up worse than we did. I’m going to take it.”

Round two pairings (lane choice first): Greg Anderson vs. Kyle Koretsky; Deric Kramer vs. Chris McGaha; Matt Hartford vs. Aaron Stanfield; Dallas Glenn vs. Erica Enders.

Leah Pruett was admittedly distracted on the starting line in her quarterfinal race against Brittany Force, but the win light still came on for the Dodge Power Brokers dragster. Pruett’s .205 reaction time left her more than a tenth behind Force, but she got a reprieve when the Monster Energy car smoked the tires. Pruett, who is in the semifinals for the fifth time this season, recorded a 3.750 to give her lane choice against Justin Ashley in the semifinals. “It was definitely not my best performance,” said Pruett.

The prediction of record breaking performances came to fruition in round two when Mike Salinas unloaded a 3.654 at 338.26 mph in his win against Clay Millican. Salinas’ speed is the third fastest in the history of the Top Fuel class, but not far behind Brittany Force’s record 338.94. Salinas also broke up Force’s monopoly on the speed marks. The Monster driver and tuner David Grubnic previously had the top ten speeds in the history of the class. “I didn’t expect that at all,” said crew chief Rob Flynn. “We watched a couple of cars in front of us get into trouble,so I backed it up. And in the first round we didn’t make it to the finish line. I knew it would be good, but not that good.”

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Leah Pruett vs. Justin Ashley; Mike Salinas vs. Antron Brown.

Bob Tasca III believes his Motorcraft Quick Lane Mustang is the best far in the Funny Car class and while there is plenty of competition for that honor, it’s hard to argue against him. Tasca, the winner in Epping and last weekend in Topeka, reached the semifinals for the fifth time this season following a 3.905 win against Cruz Pedregon. Tasca was ranked No. 7 after a tough Western Swing that produced just one round win, but he’s already climbed to No. 5 and has a chance to improve by another position or two before the start of the Countdown to the Championship.

Ron Capps, who has earned his reputation as de facto Mayor of the Brainerd Zoo since he’s easily one of the most popular personalities in the infamous Brainerd campground, kept his legion of fans happy with a 3.892 to beat Tim Wilkerson, who lit the tires almost instantly. Capps ran just quick enough to earn lane choice against red hot Bob Tasca III in the semifinals. The duo have raced four times this season with Capps holding a 3-1 advantage.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Ron Capps vs. Bob Tasca III; John Force vs. Robert Hight

Kyle Koretsky came into Brainerd needing a good result for his confidence as much as anything and he delivered with a holeshot win over low qualifier Greg Anderson in the quarterfinal round. Koretsky got off the mark first with his Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish Camaro, and made it stick with a 6.582 to 6.587 win in what’s become known as a “baby holeshot.”

Facing a three hundredths disadvantage, Dallas Glenn was at risk of becoming Erica Enders latest holeshot victim, but his RAD Torque Systems Camaro saved the day with a 6.561 as Enders slowed to a 6.648. Enders transmission reportedly “dead-headed” which essentially means it wouldn’t engage high gear. Glenn will have lane choice against Aaron Stanfield as he looks to pad his lead in the Camping World standings.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Deric Kramer vs. Kyle Koretsky; Dallas Glenn vs. Aaron Stanfield.

The Top Fuel final will feature Leah Pruett and Antron Brown, two drivers firmly seeded in the Top 5 in the Camping World standings. Pruett, the winner in Norwalk who is making her 200th start as a pro, managed to stay with Justin Ashley off the  starting line and her Dodge Power Brokers dragster did the rest with a very respectable 3.733 that was just enough to hold off Ashley’s 3.753 in a race decided by just .002-second at the finish line. Brown, the winner of Saturday’s Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, remained unbeaten on the weekend with a narrow 3.710 to 3.708 victory against new track speed record holder Mike Salinas in the other half of the semi’s. The winner of the final round will move into third place as the Countdown to the Championship field continues to take shape ahead of the upcoming Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indy.

Topeka champ Bob Tasca III smoked the tires at the hit of the throttle in the semifinals of Funny Car, sending Ron Capps to the final round with a 3.914 on his NAPA Toyota. Capps will have a chance to win a seventh Brainerd title when he takes on Robert Hight, who defeated his teammate, John Force in the other half of the semi’s. Hight ran a 3.918 to take the win, but boldly predicted that it would take a 3.8-second run in order to win the final. Capps and Hight are two of NHRA’s most accomplished Funny Car drivers having combined for 137 victories thus far. Should Capps win, he’ll join a short list of drivers with 75 wins.

“Kid Chaos”, better known as Kyle Koretsky, continued to have one of the best driving performances of his career with a second holeshot win to beat Deric Kramer and earn a spot in the Brainerd Pro Stock final. Koretsky cut a .025 light in his Lucas Oil Products Camaro and his 6.586 was just enough to stave off the quicker 6.574 by Kramer. Koretsky won’t have an easy time in the final as he’ll be paired against is KB Titan teammate, Dallas Glenn, who powered to a 6.555 in his win over Aaron Stanfield in the other half of the semifinals. Glenn has all but locked up the top seed in the Countdown while Koretsky came into the Brainerd event as the No. 10 driver in the class.

Jason Lee  def. Jason Scruggs


Matt Cummings def. Mike Lewis

Doug Gordon def. Bob McCosh

Bruno Massel def. Brett Speer

Mike Mans def. David Goldie

Ben Line def. Scott Dugdale  

James Glenn def. Trene Cressonie

Donnie Durenburger def. Duan Westra

Clint Geise def. Bob Fuller

Steve Stockton def. Rob Meservier