By the end of the day on Monday, Sept. 4, lives will be changed forever as champions are crowned at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. That’s especially true should there happen to be new winners, but even those who have won Indy before have the desire to relive the feeling that comes with accepting a U.S. Nationals Wally.
The magic of winning Indy aside, the seedings for the upcoming Countdown to the Championship playoffs will also be determined this weekend, and that will likely go a long ways towards determining who gets to deliver a speech at the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series banquet in November.
Finally, there is money, lots of it up for grabs, as the total purse for Indy exceeds $2,000,000, making it the richest and most important drag race on the planet. Taking all that into consideration, Tricky Tipster, who has been a part of the U.S. Nationals since its inception, has picked Steve Torrence, Ron Capps, Erica Enders, and Gaige Herrera as the favorites.
The favorite: Could we have picked Justin Ashley or Antron Brown in this spot? Absolutely, but Steve Torrence seems to have a knack for showing up for big moments, and there is no moment bigger than the U.S. Nationals. Torrence and the Capco team have won the U.S. Nationals twice and also won one of the 2020 special events held during the pandemic. Indy success aside, Torrence has been solid in the second half of the season and appears poised for a strong Countdown to the Championship. His margin over the rest of the field is perhaps microscopic, but he is our favorite.
The contenders: We’ve already mentioned Justin Ashley and Antron Brown, and if Torrence should miss the mark, they remain the favorites to get the job done. Brown is the defending Indy winner and also scored here in Top Fuel in 2011. Much like Torrence, he shines on NHRA’s biggest stage.
Ashley is looking for his first U.S. Nationals title, but he also has a win at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park during the summer events held in 2020. Ashley has been the most consistent driver in Top Fuel this season, and he’s a favorite to head into the Countdown as the top seed.
Leah Pruett and Brittany Force have locked up their spots in the Countdown field, but both want more, including an Indy victory. Pruett won here in the Factory Stock class, and naturally, it remains her favorite Indy memory. Force has won two Top Fuel championships, but an Indy win remains at the top of her to-do list. The same can be said for Force’s teammate, Austin Prock, and Clay Millican, who have both had success this year but are looking to establish more consistency headed into the playoffs.
The dark horse: We could take Mike Salinas, Josh Hart, or either one of the Kalitta Motorsports entries, but for a true dark horse, how about T.J. Zizzo. Remember, it was just a couple of years ago that Zizzo nearly won a race in Indy when he took on Justin Ashley in the final round. Zizzo also has a new car and fresh parts, and while he hasn’t raced much this season, he’s not someone you’d want to face during Monday’s final eliminations.
Steve Torrence Capco Contractors 4-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 7-2
Antron Brown Matco Tools 5-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 6-1
Brittany Force Monster Energy 7-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 8-1
Clay Millican Parts Plus 10-1
Doug Kalitta Mac Tools 11-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 13-1
Josh Hart R+L Carriers 14-1
Shawn Langdon DHL/Kalitta Air 15-1
The favorite: Let’s go with the hot hand and take Ron Capps, not just because he won the last race in Brainerd or because he won the 2022 U.S. Nationals, or even because he is the incoming points leader. Capps recently unveiled a special Don “the Snake” Prudhomme tribute paint scheme that he’ll be running in Indy, and it mirrors the same colors that Prudhomme wore when he won the 1973 Indy title. In many cases, history does indeed repeat itself, and there are very few people who wouldn’t want to see Capps (and Prudhomme) make a return trip to the Indy winner’s circle.
The contenders: Eight of the drivers entered in this year’s U.S. Nationals Funny Car field have won Indy at least once before, so there is a great chance that there will be a repeat winner. In addition to the favorite Capps, that list includes Alexis DeJoria, Cruz Pedregon, J.R. Todd, John Force, Matt Hagan, Robert Hight, and Tim Wilkerson. And for what it’s worth, Funny Car rookie Alex Laughlin also has an Indy win in Pro Stock, further reducing the odds of a first-time winner. Quite honestly, any of the aforementioned drivers could win this year’s event, although Hight, Hagan, Todd, and Wilkerson would seem to have the best odds.
The dark horse: There is no planet on which Bob Tasca III is considered a dark horse, but to be fair, he’s one of the few class leaders who has yet to win Indy, so it’s fair to give him a mention. Let’s also give a nod to Blake Alexander, who won earlier this year in Norwalk. Remember, team owner Jim Head is a two-time Indy winner who authored one of the class’ most memorable moments in 1984. We’re also going to continue to ride with Chad Green until he finally wins a nitro race, which could happen at any moment.
Ron Capps NAPA Toyota 3-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 4-1
Robert Hight Flav-R-Pak Chevy 5-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 6-1
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 7-1
Tim Wilkerson SCAG Mowers Ford 9-1
Chad Green Bondcoat Ford 10-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 11-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 12-1
Blake Alexander Pronto/Head Inc. Ford 13-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 14-1
The favorite: We bucked the trend last time in Brainerd and picked Erica Enders over Dallas Glenn, and let’s just say that didn’t work out too well. We could either change directions or ride it out, and in this instance, we’re willing to ride it out one more time just because Enders has done some of her best work in Indy. It’s hard to argue that Glenn doesn’t have a slightly better car right now, but it’s simply too difficult to overlook Enders’ three previous Indy victories. And it’s worth pointing out that she’d have a fourth if not for a transmission malfunction against Alex Laughlin in 2019.
The contenders: Because Glenn isn’t the favorite (maybe he’s the co-favorite), he rates as the top contender, especially after winning in Brainerd. We also like KB Titan teammates Deric Kramer and Matt Hartford, who are each having memorable seasons.
Troy Coughlin Jr. certainly looks like a solid bet simply because the bright yellow JEGS cars have historically done quite well in Indy. Coughlin has two wins while his father, Troy Jr., and uncles Jeg Jr. and Mike have also been to the IRP winner’s circle.
The dark horse: Last time out, we picked Kyle Koretsky, and he nearly came through with an inspired runner-up finish. He’d be another good choice, but instead, we’re riding with CC and CC as our longshot bets. That would be Cristian Cuadra and Camrie Caruso, both of whom have underachieved at times this year but figure to put forth their best effort on NHRA’s biggest stage. Caruso has won a race this season while Cuadra seems to be a likely candidate to become NHRA’s next first-time Pro winner. He can certainly get the clutch out on time. The only question is if he’s got enough power to run with the leaders.
Erica Enders JHG/Elite Camaro 4-1
Dallas Glenn RAD Torque Systems Camaro 5-1
Matt Hartford Total Seal Camaro 6-1
Deric Kramer GetBioFuels.com Camaro 7-1
Troy Coughlin Jr. JEGS.com Camaro 7-1
Greg Anderson HendrickCars.com Camaro 8-1
Aaron Stanfield Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro 9-1
Kyle Koretsky Lucas Oil/Nitro Fish Camaro 10-1
Camrie Caruso Tequila Comisario Camaro 12-1
Cristian Cuadra Corral Boots Mustang 14-1
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The favorite: This is the easiest pick on the board, and there’s no surprise that it’s Gaige Herrera. The guy who has been Mr. Everything in Pro Stock Motorcycle this season and has a 27-2 record in elimination rounds, which means he’s made few mistakes. The only question remains, “How will Herrera fare in Indy, where the spotlight is the brightest?” For sure, he’ll face additional pressure, but so far, that has not been an issue. Remember, this is the same guy who recently became the first Pro Stock Motorcycle rider to sweep the Western Swing.
The contenders: Matt Smith is always a contender, and if not for Herrera, he’d be the favorite. We can also throw in Smith's wife, Angie, who has a very fast Denso Buell. Matt Smith has won Indy twice, and he’s also helped John Hall and Scotty Pollacheck earn Indy titles.
Two other riders who merit consideration are Vance & Hines Suzuki racer Eddie Krawiec, who already has a trio of Indy wins, and Hector Arana Jr., who won the Big Go in 2011.
The dark horse: Steve Johnson’s longevity in the class is admirable, but his inconsistency is sometimes maddening. There are times when Johnson’s Suzuki can be one of the best bikes in the class. Other times, not so much. So, which Johnson shows up in Indy? Is it the same guy who won this race in 2005 and 2008, or the guy who is coming off just one round-win during the three-race Western Swing? Johnson is clearly better than his record has shown, so we’ll see what he brings this time around.
Gaige Herrera Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki 3-2
Matt Smith Denso Suzuki 4-1
Hector Arana Jr. GETTRX Buell 5-1
Eddie Krawiec Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki 6-1
Angie Smith Denso Buell 7-1
Chase Van Sant Trick Tools Suzuki 9-1
Steve Johnson Mac Rak Suzuki 10-1
Joey Gladstone Percision Services Suzuki 11-1
Jianna Evaristo Scrappers Suzuki 14-1