The 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing series will now pass through the “Gateway to the West” in St. Louis, as the competitors have now completed the first half of the six-race Countdown the Championship. Having started with the PEP Boys Nationals in Maple Grove raceway where Austin Prock, Robert Hight, Erica Enders and Joey Gladstone claimed wins in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, the series moved on to zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C.
At the Betway Carolina Nationals, Antron Brown and Ron Capps repeated their Indy Nationals efforts by winning Top Fuel and Funny Car as first year team owner/drivers. Aaron Stanfield outlasted Erica Enders (who was defeated by Matt Hartford in the semifinals) to win Pro Stock.
The third event in the Countdown is the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technologies Raceway in Madison, Illinois located just across the Mississippi River from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. The weather was near perfect for racing, resulting in sellout crowds over the course of the event weekend.
In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence and the Capco Construction team showed why they are four-time champs. They qualified number one and thundered into the final round, utilizing strong performances and their driver (Steve) showing why he is the reigning four-time champion, by leaving with or ahead of most of his opponents each round. Timing is everything and the Torrence team was right on time, as nearly all the top contenders for the championship (Justin Ashley, Antron Brown, Mike Salinas and Brittany Force), were eliminated in the first two elimination rounds. Force did manage to reset the NHRA speed record for Top Fuel to 338.43 mph in her opening round win over Austin Prock. Josh Hart, who has been in the proverbial sophomore slump in his second year in Top Fuel, out powered and/or left first on nearly all of his opponents, marching into the final round to take on Torrence. But Torrence was not going to be denied, as he left first (0.027 to 0.048) and drove away (3.741 at 328.70 mph to 3.749 at 329.57 mph) to take the win. The win (second of the season and 53rd of his career) moved him to second in the championship point race, 16 points ahead of Brittany Force and 14 points behind Justin Ashley, with three events left. The top seven racers in the championship points battle are all within 14 to 88 points of the top spot.
In Funny Car, Robert Hight has been the driver to beat. After winning in Maple Grove, he lost in the in the second round at zMax Dragway, as his car suffered a rare part failure. Ron Capps scored the win at zMax Dragway, placing himself well within striking distance of Hight in the championship point battle. At the Midwest Nationals, Hight was back to form. After qualifying number one (his teammate and team owner, John Force qualified second), he marched into the final round, where he would square off against his closest contender, Ron Capps. If Capps won, he would be only six points back. If Hight won, he would leave the event with a 46-point lead over Capps. In the final, Capps came in with lane choice, after posting a quicker elapse time in his semifinal win over John Force (3.884 at 332.02 mph to 3.950 at 328.46 mph) than Hight did over Matt Hagan (3.913 at 327.59 mph to 3.945 at 330.31 mph). Hight got away first (0.041 to 0.059) and held on for a holeshot 3.911 at 331.61 mph to (quicker) 3.908 at 330.47 mph win. This was Hight’s 61st career win and eighth this season.
In Pro Stock, Erica Enders extended her points lead to 120 points over teammate Aaron Stanfield, defeating Dallas Glenn (6.535 at 210.28 mph to 19.825 at 54.19 mph) in the final round, when Glenn left 0.075 seconds early and fouled out.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith qualified number one and raced his way to the final round, taking out the points leader (Joey Gladstone in the semifinals), where he defeated Jerry Savoie (6.756 at 202.00 mph to 6.819 at 197.77 mph). With the win, the 36th of his career, Smith takes over the points lead by 21 points over Gladstone, as he pursues his sixth championship. The championship is developing into a three-way battle between Matt Smith, Joey Gladstone and Angie Smith.