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Tricky Tipster: Gerber Collision and Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals

As NHRA returns to Route 66 Raceway for the Gerber Collision and Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Peak Performance, Tricky Tipster has studied the probabilities and come up with a list of favorites that includes Doug Kalitta, Austin Prock, Erica Enders, and Gaige Herrera.
16 May 2024
NHRA National Dragster staff
Tricky Tipster®
Tricky Tipster

Now that the madness of “four-wide season” is behind us, it’s time to return to racing in a more traditional two-wide format as the second quarter of the 2024 season begins at Route 66 Raceway.

Justin Ashley, Austin Prock, Greg Anderson, and Gaige Herrera enter the event as the top points earners in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Prock and Herrera are the favorites this weekend, while Tipster leans towards Doug Kalitta and Erica Enders.


The favorite: The first three events of the 2024 season weren’t kind to reigning champ Doug Kalitta, but he was solid at the two four-wide events with a win in Las Vegas and a semifinal in Chicago. Kalitta also qualified No. 1 at both events, which plays a sizable role in his pick as our pre-race favorite. It’s been a while, but Kalitta also has a bit of history at Route 66 Raceway with wins in 2002, 2004, and 2006, and he’s 3-0 in final rounds there.

The contenders:  Justin Ashley enters Chicago as the championship leader, and that’s largely because he’s got a couple of holeshot wins already. Ashley’s qualifying results haven’t been exactly what the Scag Power Equipment team has expected as he’s started in the bottom half twice and was the No. 8 seed in Gainesville. That’s the only issue that prevents him from topping our chart.

Shawn Langdon continues to enjoy a bounce-back season, and he’s the one guy who can rightfully take offense to the notion that Ashley is the best driver in the Top Fuel class. More often than not, Langdon’s lights are equal or better than anyone else in the class, and for what it’s worth, he’s been on a tear in high-stakes bracket racing with a couple of big payouts already this season.

It's also very possible that the Capco team gets on the scoreboard this week as both Steve Torrence and his father, Billy, have gotten off to strong starts this year. We’ll also give a nod to Antron Brown, who has three Top Fuel victories here.

The dark horse: Clay Millican is the defending event winner, so it probably isn’t fair to label him as a dark horse or a long shot, but he’s also No. 8 in the standings. Lately, the Parts Plus team has been solid, especially in qualifying, as they were No. 3 in Las Vegas and No. 4 in Charlotte. Millican was also a runner-up at the zMax NHRA 4-Wide Nationals.

Doug Kalitta                       Mac Tools                                    4-1
Shawn Langdon                Kalitta Air                                     5-1
Justin Ashley                      SCAG Power Equipment           6-1
Steve Torrence                  Capco Contractors                     7-1
Billy Torrence                    Capco Contractors                     8-1
Antron Brown                   Matco Tools                                 9-1
Tony Stewart                     Mobil 1                                         10-1
Clay Millican                      Parts Plus                                     11-1
Brittany Force                   Monster Energy                           12-1
Tony Schumacher            Leatherwood Distilleries            13-1
Field                                                                                           15-1


The favorite: There have certainly been a few miscues along the way, but after five races, it’s hard to find much fault in the performance of Austin Prock, as he’s successfully made the transition from Top Fuel to Funny Car. Prock has already appeared in three final rounds and won in Phoenix. While he’s coming off a round-one loss in Charlotte, it’s hard not to pick the Cornwell Tools team as the pre-race favorites, especially after they’ve qualified No. 1 at three of five races.

Prock already has nine round-wins this season in five races, and by comparison, he had just 19 last year during a full 21-race season in Top Fuel.

The contenders: Bob Tasca III has been a major headline-maker in the Funny Car class as of late, but the fact remains that he’s a leading contender for the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series championship. Tasca already has a win this season and a semifinal in Gainesville, and he’s also got some of the fastest time slips in the history of the Funny Car class.

While we’re not going to dive into the whole “big three” or “big four” labels when it comes to the Funny Car category, we are going to add J.R. Todd and Matt Hagan to our list of leading contenders. While we’re at it, throw in Ron Capps, who has appeared in seven final rounds at Route 66 Raceway and collected two wins in 2005 and 2017. Capps has struggled a bit out of the gate with just two semifinals, but the NAPA team is rarely down for long, so it’s reasonable to think a big comeback is on the horizon.

Finally, never count out John Force, a notion that the 16-time champ reinforced in Pomona with his 156th career victory. Force qualified No. 2 in Las Vegas and was the leader in Charlotte with the quickest run of his career, all of this as he recently celebrated his 75th birthday.

The dark horse: There are a lot of ways we could go here, but let’s throw a dart here and go with Paul Lee. While he’s got just one semifinal in his nitro career, there is something good happening with the McLeod/FTI team as crew chief Jonnie Lindberg and consultant John Medlen have already made a huge difference. After qualifying No. 10 in Gainesville, Lee has been solidly in the top half of the show at the next four events. Sooner or later, that will translate into round-wins.

Austin Prock             Cornwell Tools Chevy                  4-1
Bob Tasca III             Motorcraft Ford                            5-1
J.R. Todd                    DHL Toyota                                   6-1
Matt Hagan              Dodge Power Brokers Dodge     7-1
John Force                Peak/Blu Def Chevy                      8-1
Ron Capps                NAPA Toyota                                  9-1
Daniel Wilkerson     SCAG Mowers Ford                      10-1
Chad Green             Bondcoat Ford                               11-1    
Paul Lee                   McLeod/FTI Dodge                        12-1
Alexis DeJoria          Bandero Toyota                             14-1
Blake Alexander     Pronto/Head Inc. Ford                  15-1
Field                                                                                   18-1


The favorite: When she won in Gainesville to open the season, there was no reason to think Erica Enders wouldn’t continue winning and make a serious run at 2022’s 10-win campaign. That might still happen, but the reigning champ has slipped to second place following a runner-up, a semifinal, and two quarterfinal finishes. Enders has just one win in Chicago, but it’s a big one as she scored her first Pro Stock title here in 2012 following a memorable final round against Greg Anderson. The Elite flagship has qualified sixth and seventh at the last two events, but given how close Pro Stock fields are, that’s not much of a concern. Between the race, the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, and the GETTRX Allstar Pro Stock Callout, Enders has three shots to take a win in Chicago. We’re betting she lands one or more.

The contenders: As usual, the other 15 qualifiers in Pro Stock can rightfully be called contenders, but in reality, that distinction falls to current points leader Greg Anderson, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Dallas Glenn and have a slight separation from the rest of the field.

Anderson has just two wins in Chicago, which seems low for someone who has attended just about every event ever staged at Route 66 Raceway, but in this “what have you done for me lately” world, he’s off to a great start in 2024 with a pair of wins and a 12-3 record in elimination rounds.

Coughlin, on the other hand, has bagged six Pro Stock titles in Chicago, and he’s coming off a win in Las Vegas while Glenn is the defending event winner and was also the low qualifier in NHRA’s return to Route 66 Raceway last season.

The dark horse: Could we see a first-time Pro Stock winner this weekend? It’s entirely possible, and there are multiple candidates, including Jerry Don Tucker, who was the low qualifier in Las Vegas, as well as Brandon Foster, who is solidly in the top 10 in his rookie season. We’d also have to take a look at Cristian Cuadra, who has been close on several occasions. Brothers David and Fernando Cuadra Jr., Mason McGaha, and Sienna Wildgust also fall into the category of drivers seeking their first wins, which accounts for half of the 18 cars expected to enter.


Erica Enders             JHG/Elite Camaro                                4-1
Greg Anderson        HendrickCars.com Camaro               5-1
Dallas Glenn            RAD Torque Systems Camaro           6-1
Jeg Coughlin Jr.        SCAG Power Equipment Camaro     7-1
Aaron Stanfield        Janac Bros/J3 Energy Camaro           8-1
Troy Coughlin Jr.      JEGS.com Camaro                               9-1
Cristian Cuadra        Corral Boots Mustang                        9-1
Brandon Foster        Aquaprop Camaro                              12-1
Jerry Tucker              Outlaw Mile-Hi Light Beer Camaro   14-1
Deric Kramer            Get BioFuel Camaro                            15-1
Field                                                                                           19-1


The favorite: Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but Gaige Herrera is the favorite to win in Chicago, and it’s not even close. Well, actually, it might just be closer than it has been lately, but Herrera will occupy the top spot here until someone says otherwise, and it might just be a while until the reigning champ is dislodged. For a bit of perspective, Herrera has made 17 starts since joining the Vance & Hines team in 2023, and he’s won 13 of them with a runner-up thrown in for good measure. In that span, he’s 57-4 in elimination rounds, which is good for a 93% win rate. No racer in any other category is even close.

The contenders: Matt Smith is nothing if not persistent as he won’t rest until he’s able to catch up with Herrera or at least make it a fair fight. Honestly, Smith has already done that as he ran a 6.68 in Charlotte to qualify No. 2 on his Denso Buell. With the Pro Stock Motorcycle class racing in just two of the first five events this season, Smith has also committed to a steady diet of testing, which has netted positive results.

Beyond Smith, the next best bets to dethrone Herrera is his own Vance & Hines teammate, Richard Gadson, who went to the semifinals in Charlotte and seems to be adjusting to his new surroundings. We also have to take a look at Angie Smith, Hector Arana Jr., LE Tonglet, and John Hall, who are the likely candidates to step up should Herrera somehow fumble the ball.

The dark horse: As he approaches his milestone 500th start in the category, Steve Johnson remains a competitive rider. Yes, he’s hit or miss, but when everything is working properly, Johnson is capable of winning races. In fact, he was one of just four riders to win a race last season along with Herrera, Matt Smith, and Hector Arana Jr.


Gaige Herrera          RevZilla/Vance & Hines Suzuki            Even
Matt Smith                Denso Buell                                            4-1
LE Tonglet                 Maple Grove/Nitro Fish Suzuki           6-1
Hector Arana Jr.       GETTRX Buell                                          7-1
Angie Smith              Denso Buell                                            8-1
Richard Gadson       RevZilla/Vance & Hines Suzuki            9-1
Steve Johnson           MacRak Suzuki                                      11-1
John Hall                    BRAKES Buell                                         12-1    
Kelly Clontz        Steamfitters UA602 Suzuki                         13-1
Chase Van Sant    Trick Tools Suzuki                                      14-1
Field                                                                                              19-1