By Jeff Thornton
The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Midwest Nationals took place this past weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, IL. THE NHRA is a governing body which sets rules in drag racing and hosts events all over the United States and Canada. The Association started in 1951 by Wally Parks and is the largest auto racing organization in the world. The winner of each race is given a “Wally” trophy after the founder of the organization.
The weekend consists of amateur and professional divisions. Since we have a limited space we will only be covering the four biggest professional categories: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Motorcycles. First the difference between Top Fuel and Funny Cars are simple. Top Fuel cars have the engines located in the rear and are long and narrow. Funny Cars have the engines in front of the driver and a fiberglass frame opens and when the race begin the frame covers the engine. Both series can achieve speeds of over 330 miles per hour. Pro Stock series are cars that are molded to look like everyday cars. The series mostly utilize Chevrolet Camaros with a few Ford Mustangs mixed in. Pro Stock cars have speeds up to 210 miles per hour. Pro Motorcycles are racing motorcycles reaching speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.
This form of racing is not cheap. If the body of a funny car gets damaged it could cost as much as $80k. Most teams have a lot of overhead with crew members trucks to transport the cars and shop. After each race the motors are rebuilt and you add fuel and other expenses. It costs a lot when the weekend begins on Friday. Without a sponsor, teams could not survive. Prize money on weekend does not cover the costs of the weekend. Race weekend starts on Friday. Each team has one chance at qualifying. The top 16 make Sunday’s finals the rest go home. If your car does not make it Friday night then teams have two more chances to qualify on Saturday. Each of the three qualifications could be different. The Friday night qualifications usually are the fastest with the cooler track temperatures. Saturday’s qualifications could be a lot slower with warmer track temperatures. If you are on the bubble it is not a good feeling to be in on the final qualification.
Friday’s night qualifying was where the number one fastest qualifiers were made. Doug Kalitta won the Top Fuel category with a speed of 331.85. It was Kalitta’s 53rd time he has qualified in the number one position. Bob Tasca III was the top Funny Car driver with a speed of 331.85. Erica Enders was the top Pro Stock driver with a speed of 210.05. This was Enders’ 34th time in the number one position and the third straight time in St. Louis. Enders was looking to win her 5th straight title in St. Louis. “There is something about St. Louis and Las Vegas tracks that click with us. We do very well at both places,” said Enders. In the Pro Motorcycle category, Gaige Herrera qualified with fastest speed of 201.79. Herrera has dominated most of the year in this category and was the points leader coming into the event.
Saturday was crunch time for a few teams to make the top 16. Fan Favorite Brittany Force made it into Sunday with a strong run to finish 11th. Bob Hight the points leader for Funny Car also was able to get into the field on his final try to start 8th. Chad Green had his best run of the season on Saturday to start in the second position in Funny car category. The scariest qualifying attempt was in the Pro Motorcycle Category. During her second try, Angie Smith came off the bike during the attempt. She was transported to the hospital and was not released as of Sunday’s event. Her husband, Matt Smith also competes in the same category. Matt qualified second and competed on Sunday. Erica Enders had a message in her back window wishing Angie a speedy recovery in Sunday’s event.
Sunday’s driver’s introductions were a lot of fun for the fans that were lucky enough to be near the podium. Most of the drivers throw hats at the fans and high five fans. Fans are very important to the series as fans are able to walk right up to the garage areas and watch the crews rebuild the cars during the races. Drivers are also accessible and sign a lot of autographs during the weekend. John Force sums it up the best, “Fans are who pays the bills, and every team wants to make sure the fans have a good time and enjoy themselves!”
The elimination brackets began in the Top Fuel series first. There were no upsets as all 8 drivers who selected the right lane won their races. During the second round top seed Doug Kalitta was defeated by Leah Pruett. Antron Brown the second seed also was upset by all time great Tony Schumacher. In the semifinals Pruett defeated Steve Torrence and Clay Millican defeated Schumacher to make the finals. In the finals Clay Millican defeated Leah Pruett in one of the best races of the day to win the title and the “Wally” trophy.
For the Funny Car series. Second Seed, Chad Green was upset in the first round by 15 seed, Alex Laughlin. Top seed Bob Tasca III won his first two rounds but lost in the semifinals to Matt Hagan. Ron Capps the seventh seed, defeated Laughlin in the second round then got a big win over Blake Alexander in the semifinals to face Hagan. Hagan had an outstanding run with a speed to 324 to defeat Capps. “It was not an easy day. We had some very good runs today and were lucky to win the event,” said Hagan.
In the Pro Stock event, top seed Erica Enders won her first two rounds but was beaten by Greg Anderson in the semifinal round. It was the first lost in St Louis for Enders since 2018 and snapped her four year hold on the championship of the St Louis event. Aaron Standfield came out of the bottom of the bracket to face Anderson in the finals. Stanfield had trouble early and Anderson won the finals and the trophy. “We have not had a good year until the last two weeks. I was thinking about retiring and finding a new person for the seat and then we won last week and here again. A shout out to the team,” said Anderson.
In Pro Motorcycle, top seed Gaige Herrara did not disappoint. He won the first round over Joey Gladstone the received a bye in the second round and faced fourth seeded Chase Van Sant in the semifinals. This was a tight race and Herrara eked out a win to make it into the finals against third seeded Eddie Krawiec. Herrara easily defeated Krawiec to win for the 8th time this season and retain his grip on the points lead. “We have had a great year, but we cannot let up. I was really nervous in the first round against Gladstone. Those guys run us tough every time. Once we get through this we relax and succeeded in getting another victory,” said Herrera.
The funny stat of the day was that all four winners in the final bracket came from the left side. It was a great weekend of racing. Several capacity crowds and a sell out on Saturday night. The weather was perfect and the speed amazing. Thanks to the NHRA for visiting the St Louis Area!