The first iteration of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship came into play more than 15 years ago, and the inception of a playoff-style format to decide the championship changed the overall landscape of the season. It matters more than ever that drivers peak at the right time, and the veterans in Pro Stock have taken that to heart in a season that has been dominated by the next generation.
The Pro Stock category has enjoyed a steady flow of newcomers in recent years, and nearly every season has produced at least one brand-new winner. Over the course of 53 years of Pro Stock, only 14 have gone without a first-time winner. This year, it was 2022 NHRA Rookie of the Year Camrie Caruso in Phoenix, and she hasn't stood alone in making a case for the new kids on the block.
Dallas Glenn, the 2021 NHRA Rookie of the Year, has seen the inside of the winner's circle more than anyone in the class with four wins. He's led the points most of the season, while third-generation racer Troy Coughlin Jr. and second-generation driver Deric Kramer have each also claimed wins in very strong seasons.
Mason McGaha — whose father, Chris, races alongside him and grandfather, Lester, raced Comp — made it to the final round at the season opener. Kyle "Kid Chaos" Koretsky, whose father — Kenny "Captain Chaos" Koretsky — also raced Pro Stock, reached the final round at the most recent event. The fighting Cuadras – brothers Cristian and Fernando Jr. – have been fearsome on the starting line and inching toward their first wins, and younger brother David made his Pro Stock debut this year with father Fernando Sr. keeping a watchful eye from a Pro Stocker of his own.
For drivers who have been around a day or two, the fresh and hungry Pro Stock pack could spell trouble, but they are showing that with experience comes wisdom and effective timing.
Matt Hartford launched into the category in 2006 and has a history of lying low and striking with fury at the opportune time. He's been No. 1 qualifier three times this season and won Norwalk in his Eddie Guarnaccia-tuned Total Seal Camaro to keep himself nicely situated No. 2 in the standings for much of the year.
The developing story as the Countdown to the Championship nears has included two drivers who had a most unusual start to their respective seasons. Incoming and five-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders didn't get past the second round until Bristol, when she and her Mark Ingersoll-led Elite Motorsports team cracked the code. The Houston native qualified in the No. 1 spot and drove her Johnson's Horsepowered Garage Chevy to victory in Thunder Valley, and she quickly began to build momentum. A No. 1 in Denver was followed by a trophy in Topeka – the 45th of her Pro Stock career. Before Bristol, Enders was No. 14 in the standings; she now stands fifth.
"We had no intention to start the year off as we did, but we were definitely glad to see everything come together," said Enders in Brainerd. "[Starting the Countdown] No. 1 is way out of reach, but last year, we had a [204-point] lead and gave it up when the Countdown started. After we won Topeka, I was like, our goal is to be in the No. 2 role. It was a tall order, but we've faced larger challenges in our career. We're just going to put our heads down and do the work, because it's the final six that really matter."
Greg Anderson, a five-time world champion and Pro Stock's most-winning driver with 101 victories, reached the final round in Topeka next to Enders and earned his first No. 1 of the year in Brainerd driving his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet. Anderson is still chasing his first win of the year, but his performance has picked up dramatically over the last few races. He's currently No. 6 in the Pro Stock points.
"I haven't been in that 'count every point' mode," said the driver who cracked a milestone last year at the U.S. Nationals when he scored his 100th win. "I've been experimenting a little bit this year, and I've been more than willing to try things all season for the benefit of the team. That's worked out well, because KB Titan has had a good run all year, and now it's time for me to make some hay. The time to experiment is over, and it's time to win races."
Anderson and Enders each have extensive history at the most prominent event on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule. Anderson has seven wins at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park – more than any other currently competing Pro Stock driver (Bob Glidden claimed nine). Enders has scored three times there, tying Dave Connolly as fifth-best on the all-time Indy Pro Stock wins list behind Warren Johnson (six) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (four).
Although they are fierce competitors, the history that they're each writing in the class has brought them to somewhat common ground. Anderson made his Pro Stock debut in 1998, and seven years later, Enders joined the class. They've raced one another 51 times in eliminations, and including the Topeka final, they've battled one another for the trophy on 10 separate occasions. Enders came up against Anderson three times in the final before finally getting one for herself, and her first win over Anderson was never to be forgotten as it was also the first Pro Stock win of her career. Whether they like each other off track is inconsequential to a rivalry that's as real as it gets, and they're using it to their advantage.
"We talked about it leading into the season last year; there was all this scuttlebutt about all these kids, and they're going to put the old guys to shame," said Enders. "Greg and I made the agreement to go to the mat. As fate would have it, we ended up No. 1 and 2 in the world last year, and that was pretty fitting. We both struggled substantially this year being pretty low in points, but we're both working our way back up, and we're both hitting our stride at the same time. We had a little laugh about it in Topeka – you just can't count us out."
Anderson, while in agreement, was quick to fess up to the discomfort that can creep in during a dry spell. His most recent celebration in a winner's circle was at the NHRA Finals last year, when he defeated Enders on a holeshot just after she had clinched the series title. Their final-round dance was a fitting conclusion to the season and an underscore of a rivalry that encourages them both to rise – not just against one another, but against the spry competition.
"When you have four or five races where you just can't get it done and you're getting beat by all the young cats out there, you think, will I ever win again? Can I still do this? It's great to get a reassurance," said Anderson. "Erica has gotten that the last couple of months, and I have a car that can win. I feel good, and she's absolutely back on top of her game. She's going to be a hell of a challenge through the playoffs – and I expect to be, too.
"For the first three or four months this season, it looked like it was the Year of the Young Guns. It still may be, but we're not going to lie down easy. We've got a little bit of experience in this, and we're not going down without a fight."