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5 Things We Learned in Richmond

Three brutally hot days, hardcore fans, track-record runs, a devastating crash, and history in the making: The PlayNHRA Virginia Nationals had it all as the NHRA returned to Virginia Motorsports Park after a short absence. Here’s our five big takeaways from the race.
24 Jun 2024
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Five Things We Learned in Richmond

Three brutally hot days, hardcore fans, track-record runs, a devastating crash, and history in the making …. The PlayNHRA Virginia Nationals had it all as the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series returned to Virginia Motorsports Park after a short absence. Here’s our five big takeaways from the race.


The 16-time Funny Car world champ rode out a terrifying crash in Sunday’s first round that sent the GOAT to the hospital for at least an overnight stay, and the impact of his absence was felt from the pits to the grandstand to the press center.

The “old truck driver” has been such an integral and important part of the sport for so long that anything he does means something, and when his very participation in the sport is threatened, alarm bells start ringing and the very heartbeat of the sport is jolted. Throughout the day, as his condition was unknown, drivers in every class either wished him well during their interviews or inquired about him. 

The crash brought back memories of his devastating accident in 2007 at Texas Motorplex, and that one kept him sidelined for months. He was “just” 58 at the time, and now at 75, the bumps and bruises are a little harder to absorb, but there was a relentless belief throughout the facility that “he’s a tough ol’ SOB" and that he’ll bounce back from this one, too.

At the time of publication, the full extent of Force’s injuries was still not public, but it’s highly doubtful he’ll make it to Norwalk next weekend, which set off an instant amount of speculation about who might fill in and earn points for him there or for as long as he’s sidelined.

Common guesses included veteran flopper pilots Tommy Johnson Jr., Jack Beckman, and Jeff Arend, and the hopeful wished hard that one of his former driving daughters, Ashley or Courtney, would hop back into the family race car — and is Robert Hight capable of getting back into a car yet? — and well-respected three-time Top Alcohol Funny Car champ Sean Bellemeur was another popular opinion.

Austin Prock’s win for the boss probably did a lot to salve some of the pain for the team, but we’ll all just have to wait and see what the future holds.


Speaking of Austin Prock, the Funny Car rookie’s third win of the year was a family effort, with father Jimmy calling the tuning shots and brother Thomas offering his young but sage input.

We all know that Jimmy Prock can bring the heat when the conditions are good, but the 140-degree track was so tricky that everyone had to back ‘er down pretty good. While Bob Tasca III had the slightly better car in qualifying, come race day, the Procks had the car to beat, and that didn’t change when a mid-day rain shower totally changed the conditions.

The first Funny Car three-second runs of the meet didn’t come until after the rain, but the Prock Rocket was obviously among them, and running low e.t. of the meet in the final when Tasca’s team overcooked the tune-up and smoked the tires was the ultimate proof of the triple-Prock threat.


As mentioned, Bob Tasca III’s Mustang was the talk of Funny Car qualifying with three straight 4.0-second passes, a claim that no other team could match. Obviously, a car capable of running 340 mph was never going to be able to negotiate the hot track in Richmond, so the team got creative.

“No BS, we just grabbed heads out of a junk pile that we weren't going to run, we've put a blower on the car that we literally couldn't sell this offseason – it was just garbage – and I told them to put the worst parts we own on the race car because you can't fix it with clutch – the car makes too much power – so we maybe took 2,000 horsepower away from it,” he explained. 

It worked like a charm, as pulling the reins in on the Mustang woah-ed the “dark horse” down to consistent performances that he rode all the way to the final.


That's not Gaige Herrera surrendering in the photo, that's him showing how many straight races he's won ... an amazing and record-breaking 10 straight. The RevZilla Vance & Hines Suzuki and Herrera again were invincible, which was probably one of the least shocking things that happened this weekend. Their victory, capped with a final-round conquest of his teammate, Richard Gadson, almost seemed inevitable, especially when he qualified No. 1, which also meant a second-round bye for the 14-bike field.

Herrera took care of the two last remaining pieces of history-making, winning his 36th straight round when he took down a surprisingly tough challenge from Chris Bostick in round one, braking one of the NHRA-record ties he held with late Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden, then turned on three more win lights to become the first driver in NHRA history to win 10 straight events, breaking his other tie with Glidden.

Herrera, who hasn’t lost since last September, has won 16 of the 20 events in which he’s competed and was runner-up at the 17th. Somehow, he’s remained incredibly humble and deflected praise to his mentors, Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec. But now that he’s broken all of the records, and that monkey is off his back, it’s really beginning to sink for him what they’ve accomplished.

They maybe took everyone by surprise last year, but everyone had fair warning and upped their games this year, which makes their 2024 success even more impressive.

No one has ever had a perfect season – Funny Car icon Don Prudhomme won all but one race in 1976, but that was when the schedule had just eight events – and no one doubts that it’s possible for Herrera and team to do it.

Of course, Matt Smith certainly will have something to say about that as his Denso Buell seems capable of matching performances, but Herrera has been almost flawless on the handlebars while Smith has been a little less so.


Earlier this year almost on a lark, Pro Mod veteran Rickie Smith entered his nitrous-assisted Parkway Ford Mustang in Comp at the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals in Charlotte. He claimed he was just there to get his sponsor some attention in an event where Pro Mod was not part of the show, but damned if he didn’t win the event.

A few months later, here comes “Trickie Ricky” back in Pro Mod, and damned if he didn’t take the exact same car to a tough win in Richmond. Smith, like John Force, is no spring chicken (he’s 70) and, with a sometime ailing back, has hinted at retirement many times, but his performance in Richmond, which netted him his 22nd career win, shows that he still knows the fast way down a racetrack.

While there are plenty of cars that could win in two different classes, they’re almost exclusively in the Super ranks, and for Smith to do it in Pro Mod and Comp in the same season speaks volumes about his trickiness.