PHOTOS BY MIKE BURGHARDT
The 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA US Nationals brought in many big stories. The biggest involved reigning Funny Car champion Ron Capps and one of the biggest legends in the sport, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. Capps, who drove his first funny Car for Prudhomme from 1997 through 2004, winning 13 events, decided to do something special and put together a tribute car to honor the 50th anniversary of the Snake’s 1973 Funny Car win at Indy. The paint scheme featured the famous yellow “Hot Wheels” layout that cloaked Prudhomme’s famous 1970 Hot Wheels Funny Car and was the most popular car at the event. It was not just a show, no go deal. Not by a long shot.
Top Fuel had its moments. Antron Brown, in his second year as a team owner, was on the verge of not qualifying for the season’s biggest event. He was the defending US Nationals Top Fuel event champion, but tuning gremlins were holding him back. His team found the problem, making the show in the final qualifying session, getting in with the 15th spot. In the first round he squared off against Brittany Force and her record setting Flav-R-Pak Top Fuel Dragster. Brown got away first (0.054 to 0.065) and thundered towards the finish line, as Force started to run him down. But destiny was on Brown’s side as the supercharger on Force’s engine exploded, allowing Brown to take a 3.749 at 320.05 mph to 3.870 at 244.21 mph win. Brown then took out Clay Millican and point leader, Justin Ashley, to advance to the final round. On the other side of the ladder, Steve Torrence and the CAPCO Contractors team marched from the #1 qualifying position to the final round by taking out Will Smith, Shawn Langdon and Doug Kalitta (who set low elapse time and top speed of the event in the opening round, 3.692 at 336.49 mph). In the final, Brown and Torrence left together with Brown pulling away to a 3.779 at 328.54 mph to 3.870 at 327.43 mph win. It was Brown’s second consecutive Indy win, as team owner with his Matco Tools dragster.
In Funny Car, Capps had the most popular car on the premises but the real goals were to defend his Indy title from last season, put the “Snake” tribute car in the winner’s circle and claim the top spot in the season championship point battle going into the countdown. Starting from the #5 spot, he took out Dale Creasy Jr. in the opening round with a 3.894 at 326.87 mph. That would give him lane choice over the current point leader Matt Hagan. Typically, the left lane in Indy is the preferred lane for the nitro cars but the opening pair of Pro Stock in the previous round of eliminations threw a knuckleball into the mix. The car in the left lane broke the drive train and covered the first 200-300 feet of the lane with gear oil (similar to what happened in Sonoma and Brainerd events). Capps and his team watched other cars lose traction in the left lane before them and decided to swap lanes, taking the right lane. The two drivers left together, but Hagan lost traction quickly, followed by Capps. The fans were then treated to some amazing driving skills, as both drivers worked the throttles. Capps recovered, taking the win light. This turned out to be one of the most important round wins of the event for Capps. He then defeated #1 qualifier Robert Hight to advance to the final round, where he would match up against JR Todd in his DHL/Kalitta Flying Services Toyota. Todd, who qualified 10th, defeated Blake Alexander, (#2 qualifier) Bob Tasca III and Cruz Pedregon to get into the final round. Capps utilized snake like quickness to leave first (0.032 to 0.057) and thundered to a resounding 3.986 at 328.27 mph to 4.131 at 289.09 mph victory. It closed out an amazing dream like weekend for Capps. He scored his second career Indy win and made it two in a row. He put the Don Prudhome “Hot Wheels” tribute car into the winner’s circle at the biggest race on the tour. Prudhomme had mentored him and gave him his first opportunity in a Funny Car and now they could celebrate together. If that was not enough, Capps leaves Indy as the point leader, as the series enters the six-race Countdown to the Championship.
Pro Stock has featured a field of cars, where any one of them could win at any event, if all the pieces fell into place at the right time. Dallas Glen came in as the point leader. He had one of the quicker running cars, but more importantly, pieces fell into place at the right time more often than not. Matt Hartford was on the other side of the spectrum. He had one of (if not the best) car in the class all season, but the pieces simply never seem to fall in place at the right time. At Indy, he started from the #1 spot and marched into the final round, turning in the quickest elapse times each round. He took out Mason McGaha, Camrie Caruso and Erica Enders along the way. In the final it would be up and coming racer, Fernando Cuadra Jr. and Hartford. Cuadra is up and coming and a win is definitely on the horizon soon and he could not be taken lightly. Cuadra got away first (0.020 to 0.035), but the pieces fell into place for Hartford as Cuadra suffered tire shake shortly after the launch, allowing Hartford to race on to a 6.624 at 206.57 mph win. It was his first career win at the famed NHRA Indy US Nationals.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle/Bike class could almost be called the Gaige Herrera class, as he has dominated throughout the season. Herrera had won nearly every round of eliminations and almost every event, riding nearly mistake free. He qualified on the pole and had the quickest bike the entire event. But this is Indy and mystical things happen in Indy. Herrera marched into the semi-final round, taking out Cory Reed and Ron Torrow with elapse times 0.1-seconds quicker than anyone else in the class. Matt Smith would be his semi-final round opponent. The two left virtually together, but Smith handed Herrera only his third-round loss of the season, 6.876 at 198.35 mph to 6.920 at 197.97 mph. Smith then defended his 2022 Indy title by defeating the fastest motorcycle in the class (the only one to go over 200 mph at the event) ridden by Hector Arana Jr.
Arana fouled out; -0.0003 as Smith collected his third career Indy win, 6.864 at 198.20 mph to quicker 6.848 at 199.49 mph.
Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle all featured back-to-back Indy winners, each having won last year. Now the six-event Countdown to the Championship begins.