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Three-time NHRA Comp eliminator champ Frank Aragona Jr. passes away

Frank Aragona Jr., one of the greatest and fiercest NHRA Competition eliminator racers of the modern era, passed away Feb. 10 after a long and brave battle with cancer. He was 53.
10 Feb 2023
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Frank Aragona Jr., one of the greatest and fiercest NHRA Competition eliminator racers of the modern era, passed away Feb. 10 surrounded by family after a long and brave battle with cancer. He was 53.

Aragona, a second-generation racer from Freehold, N.J., won three NHRA Comp world championships, seven Division 1 championships, 16 NHRA national event titles, and 40 divisional events, in a variety of open-wheeled dragsters and altereds with a variety of non-traditional powerplants.

Aragona’s three world championships (2007, 2018-19) are tied for most in the class alongside other greats such as David Rampy, Bill Maropulos, and Bruno Massel Jr., and he is just one of three drivers to win back-to-back Comp crowns in the points-earning era (Dean Carter, Coleman Roddy).

Aragona followed his father, Frank Sr., into the class and scored his first national event win in St. Louis in 2000, then he spent the next two decades terrorizing the class. Among his greatest wins was a victory at the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals in 2019. Fifteen of Aragona’s wins came in Comp, but he also showed his versatility by winning in Super Comp at the fall 2015 Charlotte event. His 15 wins in Comp are tied for fourth most behind fellow class legends Rampy, David Nickens, and Dan Fletcher.

In his 2019 championship interview, Aragona told NHRA National Dragster, “The things I love about Comp are the challenge and the chess game. It’s not as simple as everybody thinks; you gotta know what your opponents can do, who’s going to be in a race, how fast they can go, the [Competition Index Control], and permanent index penalties. It’s challenging, and that’s what keeps me going.”

Aragona bravely battled the disease and even returned to the winner’s circle in June 2022 at the Division 1 event in Atco, N.J., after his diagnosis and fell just short of winning the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals when a fuel-line fitting shook loose.

Massel, perhaps Aragona’s fiercest competitor over the last two decades, lauded his friend and rival.

“Frankie was, first of all, probably the biggest advocate for Comp eliminator I ever met,” he said. “He was a key member of the SCRA [NHRA’s Sportsman Racing Advisory Committee] and was a rep for a Division 1 forever. He was a guy who lived and breathed Competition eliminator. I don't know of anybody who put more into the category than Frank did. Even when he was sick, he still wanted to be involved in the SRAC."

Dave Mohn, the recently retired director of Division 1 where Aragona did the bulk of his racing, added, “Frank’s involvement with the SRAC went beyond the rules of the class. He knew more about everyone else's index than he did his own. He'd be the first person to volunteer to jump in on class index concerns and always tried to make sure the class got the attention it deserves. We are all better for having him a part of the SRAC. If a racer had any issues Frank would accompany them to the tower for the discussion. Always learning and looking for ways to improve racing.

"I am honored and proud to have been inducted into the Northeast Division Hall of Fame at the same time as Frank last week at the D-1 banquet. More importantly, I'm glad I was able to know Frank and call him a friend.”

Massel also addressed Aragona's competitive side on the racetrack and his nature off the track.

“From a competitive standpoint, we had some fierce rivalries over the years. There were times we butted heads, and then we’d go to the next race and shake hands and hug, and that's kind of how Frankie was," said Massel. "He was a friend to everybody at the track, and he was your enemy when you staged up alongside him. 

“Not only did he compete with multiple cars, but he did it for decades. One of the things I really appreciate is that his uncle did his motors, and the team was so family-orientated, and, like me, they did it with something different. They didn't go like everybody else down the road with a small-block V-8. You always knew he was gonna be in the race. He always knew he was on the track. He did a great job conserving his index and a great job hitting the Tree. He drove both sides of the racetrack as good as anybody.”

“I respected him for who he was as a racer and what he's accomplished. He and his dad were great competitors, and it kind of mirrors the relationship I had with my dad and drag racing, so it really kind of hits home.”

Rampy, the class’ all-time GOAT (81 wins) and 100-time NHRA national event winner, also had tremendous things to say about Aragona.

“I raced with his daddy a little bit when I first started, but Frankie was a fierce competitor,” said Rampy. “He really put forth a lot of effort into it. He was always very, very hard to beat, you know, and a lot of times you didn't. It seems like we battled a lot, both, you know, being pretty good at it, and having good equipment. We always seem to wind up racing each other a whole lot, and you definitely never took that for granted, because he was always gonna be on time, and he was gonna be fast.”

Aragona is survived by his parents, Frank Sr. and Louise; sister Lisa; wife, Beatrice, and kids, Frankie III and Emma.