NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Engine man and racer Aaron Stanfield is not-so-quietly gaining steam

Aaron Stanfield isn't much of a talker. He isn't rude or unsociable, he's just a guy who keeps his head down and stays focused. Humble, observant, and relentlessly hardworking, Stanfield's way of doing things has produced plentiful opportunity over simple luck, and the multi-class talent is just fine with that.
30 May 2024
Kelly Wade
Aaron Stanfield

Aaron Stanfield isn't much of a talker. He isn't rude or unsociable, he's just a guy who keeps his head down and stays focused. Humble, observant, and relentlessly hardworking, Stanfield's way of doing things has produced plentiful opportunity over simple luck, and the multiclass talent is just fine with that.

Although his scorecard has had at least one win on it each season since claiming his first trophy in 2015, the son of champion drag racer Greg Stanfield has often flown curiously below the radar — at least in the eyes of the general public. Through the years, however, the volume of his accomplishments on the racetrack has grown louder and louder. The younger Stanfield may be a bit quiet in casual conversation, but he most certainly cannot be ignored.

In recent weeks, particularly, Louisiana-based Stanfield has generated a steady, threatening rumble as he deftly maneuvered his way to four final rounds in two races. At the four-wide extravaganza in Charlotte, he defeated Jesse Alexandra for his first Factory X title on the same weekend he reached the Pro Stock final, where veteran racer Greg Anderson got the nod. In Chicago two weeks later, Stanfield was runner-up in both Pro Stock (to Dallas Glenn) and Factory X (to dad Greg), painting a rather spectacular story in both classes along the way.

"I think we've had some luck roll our way," said Stanfield early in the interview for this feature, before validating that he isn't actually "lucking into" anything. It takes a village, as they say, and this driver is locked solidly into one that stretches across several entities. 

"It's definitely 'hats off' to all the guys on both teams — my Pro Stock team and Stanfield Racing Engines and the guys that work at our shop," he said. "I don't think everyone realizes just how much it takes, and it doesn't work at all without the guys we have on both teams.

"Jason and Nikki Johnson and JHG gave me a huge opportunity to represent their brand, and I hope I'm making them proud. Elite Motorsports and that humongous team, Melling Performance, and Janac brothers and Joe Janac, who really trusted me in this position to have all of these opportunities. He is still a huge part of the Pro Stock car and owns the cars I currently drive. Then on our side of things [at Stanfield Racing Engines], CTech, Pat Quinn, Rod Shop, and Rottler — it's just a good example of how many great people are involved and why we get to compete in two classes at such a high level at the same race." 

His father's son

Stanfield has been racing for all of his adult life and observed his father compete in Pro Stock and win five Super Stock championships while also building the family business. He's made his own name in the drag racing arena now. Off track, he's sharing the lead with his father at Stanfield Racing Engines, where they build and maintain bullets for, most notably, a plethora of Factory Stock and Factory X entries. 

On track, Stanfield has wheeled his way to national event trophies in Super Stock, Top Dragster, Factory Stock, Pro Stock, and Factory X, and he won't rule out the possibility of adding more categories to the mix.

"Who knows, maybe one day I'll hop in a really fast car," he said. "It's ambitious, and NHRA would have to allow it to happen, but I would like to be the first person to win in two Pro categories on the same day. I like dragsters, so Top Fuel would be my first pick — but I'm not too picky. As long as it's not a Top Fuel Harley, I'm going to have a blast racing it."

His 25 wins across five different categories were recently highlighted by two near-doubles that gave him a shot at repeating history. Stanfield is one of just 30 different drivers in NHRA history to have doubled. He got it done in Houston in 2020 with a win in both Pro Stock (over Jeg Coughlin Jr.) and Factory Stock (over David Barton). The coveted and rare national event double has happened 44 times. Most recently, Lauren Freer scooped up two trophies at one race with victories in Super Comp and Super Gas at the 2023 Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk.

Ten drivers have doubled more than once, and for Stanfield, breaking the seal made him realize it was possible, and he was eager to do it again. It's a terrible itch, and to have had the chance to win four trophies and come away with just one isn't an easy pill to swallow. 

"It's tough," he admitted. "To have two shots to do it and not be able to close the deal stings a little bit — but those four finals were still some good days at the track."

That statement did slightly raise a writer's eyebrow as the vision of Stanfield's smoky engine mishap in the first round of Pro Stock at Route 66 Raceway was still very, very fresh in memory. Fernando Cuadra Jr. red-lighted in the opposite lane, and Stanfield was triumphantly making hay down the quarter-mile before chaos closed in.

"Right when I went through the finish line, I felt and heard the engine let go," he detailed. "I [went through] my normal routine: push the clutch in, turn the ignition and all the computer stuff off. About the time I realized the engine was still running, smoke filled the car. It was basically like somebody put their hands over my eyes and said, 'Good luck.' Out of my peripheral, I had seen [Cuadra] shut off, and that was my main concern. I knew he was behind me, and I didn't want to get over in his lane."

Stanfield knew he had won the round, so he also wanted desperately to keep the car off the retaining wall so that he could continue the race without further wear on his race car. He was able to stop the Chevrolet quickly and safely, although to many observers it was an uncomfortable tick too long before he emerged in the billows of dark gray. 

"It was a lot of smoke, but I didn't realize how bad it was," he said. "I'm a relatively calm person, I don't get too worked up, but I guess next time I will be bailing out with my helmet on and not take so long. Everybody was asking me if I was OK. I had a bad taste in my mouth, but I was just fine." 

Stanfield's team, including the crew on each of the Elite Motorsports entries that had gone out first round, rallied to change the engine and prepare the car for the fast-approaching second round. He was right back in the game with a steady .020-second reaction time in his defeat of Jeg Coughlin Jr., followed by a win light over red-lighting Jerry Tucker en route to the 17th Pro Stock final of his career. He barely missed the trophy there as Dallas Glenn got the nod, 6.567 to 6.580.

Trading power

Alongside his Pro Stock journey in Chicago, Stanfield took a single in the first round of Factory X when opponent Stephen Bell could not make the call, and he then defeated Jesse Alexandra to score a final-round meeting with Dear Ol' Dad. In a late-afternoon standoff, father knew best with a seasoned .006 reaction time to his son's .057 paired with a 7.140 at 192.25 mph to a quicker but losing 7.122, 192.63. 

Notably, the two had met in a Chicago final round before — in 2017, it was Stanfield who bested his dad in Super Stock. The two most recently met in the first round of Factory X in Charlotte, where the younger Stanfield was a bit better at both ends of the track to advance.

"I guess he had to get some payback on me, because he absolutely busted my butt," said Stanfield with a smile in his voice. "But my dad and I are both of the mindset that we want the cars we have our hands on to do well, so in our minds, we'd already accomplished what we wanted to. Essentially, whoever won got trash-talking rights. I lost that right, but other than that, I'm extremely happy with the performance we had — and he showed me the old man's still got it, for sure." 

At this weekend's New England Nationals in Epping, Stanfield — as a driver — will be solely focused on Pro Stock as Factory X takes a break from the action. He was runner-up in Pro Stock at the retro-feel New England Dragway in 2022 to now-JHG counterpart Erica Enders, and he won the race over Anderson there in 2021. 

"I enjoy Factory Stock and Factory X a lot, and I spend my days working on that when I'm not racing, but I would be lying if I told you I didn't enjoy Pro Stock," he said. "My dad finished No. 2 in Pro Stock many years ago, and I'd like to put a Pro Stock championship on our family's name. That would be a huge accomplishment for me, and it's something that my team is working very hard toward. It's something that I have put a lot of focus and effort into myself, and I believe it's going to happen in the near future."