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Last NHRA Race At Heartland-Topeka Motorsports Park
It was a win for Justin Ashley in Top Fuel in Topeka, taking out Brittany Force in the final round. Photo By Mike Burghardt

Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka has a strong history with NHRA. It featured many historical firsts in the sport. The facility became known as the “House of Speed” as it featured the first time Funny Car run under 5-seconds and over 300 mph in a quarter mile event. In the fall of 1993, Chuck Etchells ran a 4.987-second pass in his Kendal GT-1 Dodge Funny Car and Jim Epler went 300.40 mph in his Rug Doctor Funny Car. In 1990, reigning Top Fuel champion Gary Ormsby was the first in NHRA history to eclipse the 4.9-second and 295 mph marks (with his 4.881-second, 296.06-mph). from 1993-1997, the late Scott Kalitta scored six event wins (including both races, when there were two held each season), part of five consecutive event wins at the track. In 2021, father and daughter, John Force and Brittany Force, won together in Funny Car and Top Fuel. In 2008, John Force collected his track record ninth Funny Car victory. It was his first win since a severe accident in 2007.

This season’s event, Menards NHRA Nationals Presented by Pet Armor, featured ever changing weather conditions. There was high heat, rain and wind, and then closing out with nearly ideal conditions for racing. The conditions forced teams, crew chiefs, tuners and drivers to dig down deep into their skills tool chest to be competitive.

In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence looked like the driver to beat. His Capco dragster made consistent strong passes in qualifying. He looked good for another win until he squared off against a struggling, but resurging, Brittany Force in round two. Force left first and won on a 0.0543 to 0.078 holeshot (3.781 at 321.04 mph to 3.766 at 327.82 mph), then continued on to the final round, taking out Clay Millican along the way, 3.717 at 329.91 mph to 3.762 at 326.00 mph. On the other side of the elimination ladder was Justin Ashley, holder of three event wins this season and a killer on the tree with regards to his reaction times (consistently in the 0.030 zone). He also came in as the season Top Fuel point leader. Ashley took out Josh Hart, Leah Pruett and Antron Brown, with 3.7-second runs in his march into the final round. In the final, Force had lane choice, based on her 3.717 second elapse time in the semis (Ashley had a 3.726). On paper (based on recent reaction times and performances), Force would need to run somewhere around a 3.68 second pass, if she was to win. The conditions were there to do it. But Ashley left first (0.034 to 0.049) and drove away to victory with the low elapse time of the event at 3.702 at 323.56 mph to 3.707 at 322.88 mph.

In Funny Car it was strength and consistency versus the right time and place. While others faltered under the ever-changing weather and track conditions, Matt Hagan (nicknamed “the Hulk” due to his body building) showed why he is the class point leader. With consistent driving and a consistent car, he marched through the field. He did not dominate, but ran strong when he needed and those strengths got him to the final round. On the other side was Bob Tasca III. He did not make a complete run under power until the semi-final round, where he defeated the #1 qualifier, Robert Hight. Tasca got away first (0.044 to 0.056) and went 3.933 at 305.63 mph (early shutoff) to 3.969 at 320.58 mph to win. In the final round, Tasca saved the best for last, as he defeated Hagan (with his first full run under power) 3.885 (low elapse time of the event) at 332.26 mph (top speed of the event) to 3.965 at 329.26 mph winning effort.

In Pro Stock, it was simply the Erica Enders Show. Though she did not qualify #1 (point leader Dallas Glenn did that), she did have a strong car and qualified fourth. But that was not the whole story. She never had a reaction time worse than 0.026-seconds throughout eliminations and left first on each of her opponents, including a 0.009 to 0.027 reaction time thrashing of Dallas Glenn in her 6.637 at 206.54 mph to 6.629 at 204.94 mph win. In the final round, she showed five-time series champion Greg Anderson why she is the reigning five-time champion, as she left first (0.023 to 0.033) and drove away to a 6.617 at 206.13 mph to 6.36 at 198.41 mph win.

Five-time series champion Erica Enders was at it again in Pro Stock, capturing the victory in Topeka over Greg Anderson. Photo By Mike Burghardt