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Saturday News & Notes from the NHRA Arizona Nationals

News, notes, quotes, photos, and video from the second day of the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird Motorsports Park. Updated throughout the day
06 Apr 2024
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
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Later today, John Force will race Matt Hagan for the Winternationals Funny Car title in a final round postponed two weeks ago due to rain in Pomona. A victory for Force would be his 156th and first in nearly two years, but he almost wasn’t in the position to do any of that after flirting with not making the field in Pomona. Force lost his first qualifying attempt when he crossed the centerline in Pomona, but then got into the show on his final attempt.

“You don't know if there's another qualifying run the next day because they say it's going to rain, and you're thinking, ‘I might not be in the show,’” Force said of his Saturday predicament in Pomona. “I should have gotten to the other end. And I thought I got it to the other end, but I tapped the centerline or actually I went over. I didn't see any cones go down. I wanted to believe I missed it, because I don't make excuses for myself, I learned a lot that weekend … So that's kind of where I'm at. I'm ready to go dancing.

“I want everything right to run for the title this year,” he added. “I found some things that could be causing me some problems and I'm going to address it. I need to get back to where I belong. I'm just trying to be a better driver, trying to do a better job for us and to do the job for the sponsors.”

Force also is in the final round of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge after beating Ron Capps yesterday, giving him a chance to double on the day if he can also beat J.R. Todd in the Challenge final.


While Force has won this race eight times (but not since 2005!), his daughter, Brittany, has never won at Firebird. She has three runner-ups t and remains the track record holder for elapsed time (3.643 ) and speed (337.92 mph), both set way back in 2020 at what was the last race before a four-month shutdown during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. She's also looking to end a 24-race victory drought (her last win came at the fall event in Las Vegas in 2020)., but also will take on Tony Schumacher in the final round of the Mission Challenge in today;s first qualifying session.


The third John Force Racing car on the grounds, Austin Prock, is the low qualifier in Funny Car after the one run on a gusty Friday, and he had his hands full.

“These crosswinds really push these cars around even though you're punching a hole through the air, it really moves these cars around," he said. "So you got to be ready for that. If you don't have your elbows locked in by the 330[-foot mark] when the clutch starts coming in, it's really hard to navigate it back into the groove so I had my hands full a little bit downtrack there, but that's what I love about Funny Cars.”

After an outstanding pre-season and a No. 1 qualifier at the Gatornationals. Prock had a tough go in Pomona with a first-round loss to Ron Capps.

“That’s racing,” he shrugged. “When I first started racing, my dad said that you better get used to losing because you're gonna lose a lot more than you're gonna win. So you just gotta you just got believe in your craft and believe in what you're doing and go out there and try and be the best you can every time, and when you do, it’s more than likely you will be rolling out of there with the Wally.”


Steve Torrence finished Friday as the low qualifier in Top Fuel with a run of 3.678, and the four-time champ is excited about what the car has on tap.

"I definitely think this is the quickest racecar I've ever I've ever been in," he said. "I feel like we can set the national record in the right conditions. I feel like that this car is that strong right now. There's a couple of cars that can do it, and I don't think that we've ever been one of those cars — we won our championships more on consistency than performance — but I feel like we're one of those cars now."

Torrence's father, Billy, is running his first full season and, after a runner-up in Gainesville and a semifinal in Pomona, he might well end up being one of his son's toughest challengers for the championship.

"I'm excited that he's out here," said Steve. "He does a good job. I think that he just needs to get some more lap time and more experience. He's done a good job in the past, but he's been intermittent, running a couple of races, then sitting out four or five or whatever. He's never had the opportunity to just go out there and run week in and week out, and that's what it takes to just be better. I think that the car will do well, and as he gets more comfortable and confident in it, he'll do even better. "


Pro Mod, which like Pro Stock didn't get a pass down the track Friday due to weather conditions, finally made their long-awaited Phoenix debut, and Khalid alBalooshi showed them what they've been missing with a sizzling 5.686 at 252.19 mph in the opening pair, a pass that stayed in the No. 1 spot throughout the session. Kevin Rivenbark settled into second place with a 5.704 and  Billy Banaka was third with a 5.707 at 252.76 mph, the fastest pass of the opening session.



A day late, it was still a sweet opening session for world champ Erica Enders, who not only beat arch-rival Greg Anderson in the opening round of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty completion from Pomona but also grabbed the provisional No. 1 spot with a 6.518 to 6.575 decision.

Enders will take on Mason McGaha in the Mission Challenge final after Dallas Glenn red-lighted to him in the other semifinal, throwing away a 6.595 on an uncharacteristic -.029 red-light, a mistake that was even more painful after McGaha shook the tires and coasted to a 17.916 winner.

Enders, of course, is also in the delayed Pomona final that will run after nitro Q3, where she will take on Glenn for a chance to keep alive the chance of a rare triple-win weekend. 

Enders’ Elite teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr. and his nephew, Troy Coughlin Jr., slid in behind her with runs of 6.528 and 6.541 while another teammate, Cristian Cuadra, who made history here last year as the first Mexico-born driver to qualify No. 1 in the class, is fourth with a 6.557. Eight drivers, across both lanes, struggled to get down the track due to tire spin or shake.



Neither Tony Schumacher nor Brittany Force won a Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge last year, but Schumacher is this year’s first winner, defeating tire-smoking  Force with a sub-par-yet-winning 3.925. In yesterday’s first round, Schumacher had defeated Billy Torrence while Force had bested Justin Ashley.

Schumacher will have a chance later today to add a second Saturday win in the delayed Winternationals final against Ashley,

For a while early in the session, it looked like a right-lane-only affair as no one made it down the left in the first three tries until Clay Millican ran a 3.84 at just 272 mph after the Parts Plus dragster lost a fuel line late in the run robbing him of an even better pass. Alongside him, privateer Terry Totten improved his career-best by about a tenth with a 3.85.

Jasmine Salinas also bettered her career best with a strong 3.774 alongside Antron Brown’s 3.771, which was the best run of the session. Salinas had the second-best run of the frame.

“I was just having this conversation last night with my dad and my crew about how when I was when I was licensing for Top Fuel. I was saying, ‘You know, A/Fuel [Dragster] is the same as Top Fuel,” Salinas said. “Well, gosh, it's not. It’s a whole other world. I called him right before that run and he said ‘I promise you, if you keep your foot down the whole way, at the top end, you're going to smile, and I was smiling after that.”



J.R. Todd, who was in seven Mission Challenge events last year and notched a win and two runner-ups, including here last year, where he finished second behind Alexis DeJoria, added another Mission score to his account, defeating John Force, 3.974 to 4.007. In Friday’s first round, Todd had defeated Matt Hagan, while Force beat tire-smoking Ron Capps.

Todd’s run also held up as the quickest of the frame as his 330-mph speed was better than the 313 recorded by Paul Lee on a similar pass earlier in the session.

Hagan (3.976) and low qualifier Austin Prock (3.982) had the session‘s only other three-second passes on a tricky track.


For the second straight year, NHRA and officials at Firebird Motorsports Park announced a sellout crowd for Saturday qualifying at the NHRA Arizona Nationals. See the full story here.


Some more unfinished Winternationals business got in the books with the delayed semifinals in the Legends Funny Cars class where Bobby Cottrell defeated Nathan Sitko and will face off in the final with Jeff Arend (pictured), who took down Ryan Horan.



Erica Enders, who won the Mission Challenge last year in Brainerd, squared off against Mason McGaha for the #2Fast2Tasty points, cash, and glory, and captured another victory, 6.541 to 6.591, to keep alive her hopes for a weekend triple that will continue later today when she faces Dallas Glenn in the delayed Pomona final.

Although he lost the final, McGaha’s run was good enough to qualify him for the field.

Enders’ run was not the quickest of the session, as that honor went to Jeg Coughlin Jr. at 6.531.

With one session remaining, Chris McGaha is on the bump spot with a 6.632 with Jerry Tucker, Joey Grose, defending event champ Camrie Caruso, and rookie Sienna Wildgust on the outside looking in.



Justin Ashley collected his third straight Winternationals title, using an .023 to .081 holeshot to get ahead of Mission #2Fast2tasty winner Tony Schumacher and score the win, 3.80 to 3.77, and deny Schumacher the chance for a triple win this weekend. It's Ashley's 12th career win in the class.

Kalitta Motorsports teammates Shawn Langdon and Doug Kalitta had the two best runs of the final session at 3.750 and 3.766 while Steve Torrence clocked a 3.768 but still remained in the No. 1 spot with his Friday 3.678.

After a pair of frustrating qualifying passes that had netted just a 6.16 best, Tony Stewart worked his way to a 3.98 that was hampered by midtrack tire haze but the car was solid early on. He ended up 15th and will face Brittany Force in round one still looking for his first Top Fuel round win.



John Force won the Winternationals for the eighth time, even if he did finish it nearly two weeks later in Phoenix. Force collected his sport-leading 156th career win, 4.03 to 4.04, over Matt Hagan. The win was the first for Force in nearly two years, since the spring event in Charlotte in 2022. For what it’s worth, Force was undefeated (4-0) in all previous Winternationals races against Hagan.

Neither of those runs were anywhere close to the best of the session, where the honors went to Blake Alexander (3.959), No. 1 qualifier Austin Prock (3.963), and Paul Lee (3.964). Prock, Lee, and Mission Challenge winner J.R. Todd were the only drivers to make three-second runs on all three qualifying passes.



Two of the class’ best starting-line artists went at it in the final round of the rain-delayed Winternationals, and the quicker left foot won it as Dallas Glenn put an .024 to .045 holeshot on Erica Enders and won a back-and-forth battle, 6.537 to 6.531, for his ninth career Pro Stock win and 10th overall.

As good as the day’s first session had been for Enders, the third was the opposite as she not only lost her chance to triple-win, but lost the No. 1 qualifying spot to teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr., whose 6.517 passed her 6.518 for the No. 1 spot, the 35th of his career. She ended up No. 2 and Glenn’s winning run also earned him the No. 3 spot.

After winning this race last year, Camrie Caruso was no doubt feeling devastated when her third and final shot at making the field failed, but things got way worse when her Aqua Prop Camaro appeared to lock the brakes in the shutdown area, sending her plunging into both guardwalls. Caruso was examined onsite by Medical Director Dr. Phillip Surface before being transported to a local medical facility for further evaluation. 


Bobby Cottrell claimed the Legends Funny Car win in the rain-delayed Winternationals final, running 4.718 at 240.47 over the 1,000-foot course to defeat Jeff Arend, who had to abort his effort at halftrack.