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Pro Stock’s Matt Hartford eyes turnaround in Norwalk

After a career-best season a year ago, things haven’t exactly gone to plan in 2024 for Pro Stock standout Matt Hartford heading into this weekend’s 18th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at world-class Summit Motorsports Park.
28 Jun 2024
Posted by NHRA.com staff
Matt Hartford

After a career-best season a year ago, things haven’t exactly gone to plan in 2024 for Pro Stock standout Matt Hartford heading into this weekend’s 18th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at world-class Summit Motorsports Park.

The good news is Hartford is the defending event winner, which at least gives him and the team a positive heading into the race weekend. The team performed at a high level last year in Norwalk, defeating Dallas Glenn in the final round, providing Hartford something to build on as he looks to jumpstart his 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series season.

Currently 13th in points in his Total Seal/GETTRX Chevrolet Camaro, a big weekend could change a lot of things for Hartford, who is more than ready to put the early-season frustrations behind him.

“We ran really well here last year. We have a lot of good memories at this track and we’re trying to get rid of a lot of demons we’ve had this year,” Hartford said. “It’s a small team, but at no point in time since the beginning of the year has there been any negativity with the team. There’s frustration we’re not running well, but you win together and you lose together. We’re just going to keep dragging the car up there and sooner or later this is going to change. Hopefully we qualify near the top this weekend, run well on Sunday and go on to win the race."

Last year, Leah Pruett (Top Fuel), Blake Alexander (Funny Car), Hartford (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all took home wins at an event that will again be broadcast on FOX and FS1, including eliminations on FOX starting at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday. It is the 10th of 20 races during the 2024 season and it’s a loaded weekend that includes a spectacular fireworks show after Friday qualifying, the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge on Saturday and eliminations on Sunday.

Hartford enjoyed an impressive season last year, finishing third in points, winning three times and advancing to five final rounds. That hasn’t carried over into 2024 yet, as the team has battled a variety of issues.

But Hartford did see some positives last weekend in Richmond, qualifying fourth before a tough first-round loss to Troy Coughlin Jr. It gives the team something to build on and success this weekend in Norwalk could open the door for a big summer and a swift turnaround competing against a Pro Stock field that also includes Greg Anderson, defending world champion Erica Enders and Richmond winner Aaron Stanfield.

“Richmond was positive momentum for us,” Hartford said. “I think any time you panic, you’re going to make bad decisions. We’re not panicked and we’re working extra hard, but the clock is definitely ticking. This team has proven we can overcome a lot of hardships and hopefully we can get a little momentum going this summer before Indy. We’re just going to keep working, keep our heads down and keep moving forward.”

Hector Arana Jr. was one of only four riders to win in Pro Stock Motorcycle a year ago, picking up a victory in Norwalk. He’d love to replicate that this weekend, which would also put to end Gaige Herrera’s record-breaking run in the category. The defending world champion hasn’t lost since September, picking up an NHRA-record 10 straight victories, 39 consecutive round wins and a world championship.

Herrera is undefeated in 2024, winning the first five races of the year, but Arana will attempt to put a stop to that in Norwalk. Currently seventh in points, Arana made a good move in Richmond, advancing to the semifinals in his best result of the season. Others to watch include Matt Smith, Angie Smith, Jianna Evaristo, Steve Johnson, Richard Gadson and Chase Van Sant.

In Funny Car, Alexander, one of only 19 drivers in NHRA history to win in both nitro categories, picked up his first Funny Car win last season over Matt Hagan, who went on to collect the world championship. Other stars include class newcomer and points leader Austin Prock, J.R. Todd, Daniel Wilkerson, Ron Capps and Bob Tasca III.

Reigning champion Doug Kalitta currently leads the Top Fuel points, thanks to his three wins on the season, including last week in Richmond. Close behind is his teammate Shawn Langdon, who picked up wins in Gainesville and Phoenix and finished runner-up to Kalitta in Richmond. Also in the mix is Justin Ashley, Steve Torrence, Antron Brown, Tony Schumacher and Top Fuel newcomer Tony Stewart.

The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown and the new Holley EFI Factory X category. The Summit Racing Equipment Junior Drag Racing League Shootout will take place in Norwalk as well. After nitro qualifying on Friday, fans will be treated to an impressive fireworks display that has been a highlight of the event for several years.

Summit Motorsports Park also has some of the finest camping facilities and grounds on the tour, offering fans a great way to spend their weekend at the track, enjoy a memorable atmosphere and not miss a second of the action.

Fans will be invited all weekend long to the Nitro Alley Stage, which is the main entertainment hub in the pits, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets, music and much more. Race fans at Summit Motorsports Park can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the event winners.

As always, fans get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Norwalk. Fans get a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. They can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.

NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5 and 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday, June 28 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 29 at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, June 30. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, with eliminations coverage starting at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday on FS1, moving to FOX at 5 p.m..

To purchase tickets to the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, fans can visit www.summitmotorsportspark.com or call 419-668-5555. For more information about NHRA, visit www.nhra.com.