Cream rises to the top at Reading Nationals

By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer

After preparation all season long, this is it. The time has finally arrived for the 15th annual Countdown to the Championship (NHRA‘s version of the playoffs), which started this past weekend at Reading Nationals and the action sure didn’t disappoint. Robert Hight and Austin Prock doubled up for John Force Racing, while Erica Enders continued her dominance in Pro Stock, and Joey Gladstone got back to his winning ways after a brief dry spell. Kickin’ The Tires will take a look at how they got to victory lane in this week’s column. 

  1. John Force Racing Doubles Up – For the first time this season, John Force Racing doubled up the win count Sunday afternoon with Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Austin Prock (Top Fuel) sweeping the Nitro class Wally’s. Additionally, Topeka 2021 was the last time where JFR doubled up with John Force and Brittany Force winning that day’s action. Going into the Countdown, Robert Hight had six wins of the season and was seeded in the No. 1 position with his success. The California native sought to keep the dominance going and is looking for his first championship since 2019. Entering race day, Hight was fast with a run of 3.867 and 331.20 mph. With only 15 cars on the property, he was given a bye run in the first round. While the first round might’ve been easy so to say, Hight had tough competitors in the next three rounds with the likes of Cruz Pedregon and Matt Hagan. However, one after the other, Hight knocked them down and found himself going to the finals. His JFR team continued to be running consistently all day long with a 333.74 in Round 1, 332.67 in the quarterfinals, and 332.67 in the semis. By eliminating his competitor Hagan, Hight advanced to the finals once more this season to face Tim Wilkerson who had a wacky day getting to the finals. Wilkerson won against John Force in the semis, but his car was engulfed in flames after coming to a stop. With a live TV window, Wilkerson was allowed to bring out his backup for the finals. Unfortunately for Wilkerson, his day was over before it started, as he fouled right off the get-go thus giving the ultimate victory to Hight and his AAA Auto Club team for the seventh time this season. “It’s been a dream come true. We worked hard all winter and this Auto Club team remained focused and there was never any doubt. Sixty wins is a big number and there’s one common denominator and that’s the Auto Club. They’ve been here for every single one of them, can’t do it without ’em, Chevrolet most of them.”
    Robert Hight storms to victory at Reading, Photo Courtesy of Chevy Racing 

    As for his teammate Austin Prock, the 2022 season has been a challenging one, to say the least. Prock has nine first rounds including the last five consecutive dating back to Sonoma. The JFR dragster was seeking its first round since 2019. Prock qualified fourth with a time of 3.706 and 332.02 mph and earned a first-round match with Doug Foley. 

    Prock had a great starting line advantage with a .053 reaction time and rocketed to the win. His second-round match wasn’t any easier as Prock had to face four-time Top Fuel champion, Steve Torrence. The two had a great drag race, but Prock won against Torrence with a 3.762 to 3.767. He then went on to eliminate Indianapolis winner Antron Brown in the semis to meet Justin Ashley in the finals. 

    The finals featured a 118-degree track temperature with an air temp of 81 degrees. Ashley had the advantage over Prock by being 5-0 against him in prior rounds in their careers and Ashley already had one win against Prock in the finals. Ashley was able to jump off the starting line with a .034 to Prock’s .058. However, Prock came running back at the 330 feet mark and barely just got by for the victory that was approximately two feet. The win was Prock’s first since 2019.

    “This is awesome. It was just one of those days where everything was kind of going our way and I’m so proud of this team,” he said. “Joe Barlam, Rahn Tobler, the whole Montana Brand team and thank you John Force for giving me this opportunity. Thank you to the brain trust for fixing my race car.”

    Austin Prock scores his first victory since 2019, Photo Courtesy of Chevy Racing 


  2. Big Names Out Early in Countdown – Reading Nationals was not an easy start for champions Tony Schumacher, Brittany Force, and Steve Torrence as all three drivers were out early in eliminations on Sunday. Schumacher fell out of the first round with a loss to Clay Millican. Brittany Force escaped a big fire out the back end of her dragster in a second-round loss to Antron Brown. Meanwhile, Steve Torrence and CAPCO team got beat by eventual winner Austin Prock in the second round. It wasn’t the start any team wanted knowing points are critical with every run and they will have to make up for it at next weekend’s race in Charlotte. Entering this event, Brittany Force was the No. 1 seed, while Torrence was fourth (40 points back), and Schumacher entered in the 10th position (-100 points). Additionally, this just goes to show how tough the Top Fuel class has been this season. 
  3. Elite Motorsports Sweep Pro Stock Category – As has been the case most of the 2022 season, Pro Stock has featured Ken Black Racing vs Elite Motorsports. Both teams have set high standards with Greg Anderson of KB Racing, and Elite Motorsports who have Erica Enders, Aaron Stanfield, Bo Butner, Troy Coughlin Jr, and the Cuadra boys. Enders entered the Countdown to the Championship in the first seed with a 20-point buffer over her teammate Stanfield. After qualifying this weekend, Enders entered in a first-round match with Alan Prusiensky in round one, while Stanfield faced Camrie Caruso, Bo Butner vs Fernando Cuadra Sr, and Troy Coughlin Jr vs Cristian Cuadra. All Elite drivers were successful and made it into the second round. However, things got exciting though as Butner was eliminated by his teammate Coughlin Jr and Stanfield was defeated by new Maple Grove Raceway track owner Kyle Koretsky. Enders and Coughlin Jr were the only successful Elite drivers moving on to the semis. In the third round, Coughin Jr defeated Indianapolis winner Greg Anderson and Enders won against Koretsky thus ending what could’ve been a feel-good story. In doing so, we saw an all-Elite Motorsports final round with Coughlin Jr seeking his third win of the season and Enders her seventh. When the finals came around, Erica was off the starting line first with a .026 to her teammate Coughlin Jr’s .038. She never trailed and would go on to score the 40th Pro Stock win of her career. 
    “I’ve had a race car that most Pro Stock drivers dream about all season long,” said Enders just moments after she exited her car. “That’s thanks to my guys. They work their tails off back at the shop. It’s my job behind the wheel to execute perfectly and make them shine. We did that today, and I could not be more proud.

    “This year I had a goal to win at the tracks we hadn’t won at before. We started off winning the Winternationals in Pomona, then we won in Sonoma which had evaded us for 18 years. We’ve missed Reading for 18 years as well, but we got it done today. 

    Unnamed 4
    Erica Enders kicks off the Countdown to the Championship in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro, Photo Courtesy of Auto Imagery 

    4. Joey Gladstone On Top Once Again – Following a first-round loss to Karen Stoffer at Indianapolis a few weeks ago, Gladstone and his Pro Stock Motorcycle team was looking for a bit of redemption. He had a big win over U.S. Nationals winner Matt Smith in E2, which moved him on to the semis to see him face Marc Ingwersen. Eventually, he would have to face Angie Smith who had a bad fast bike all weekend long hitting speeds over 200 mph in qualifying. 

    As the two met in the final round, Smith was unsuccessful in getting her first win since 2020 Las Vegas, as she red lit and Gladstone was the ultimate winner. The victory would be his third of the season and with the win, he now takes over the championship points lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle. 

    “This is the playoffs, so that win is big. Matt [Smith] has been a strong force, so to be able to get a good edge is awesome,” Gladstone said. “We’ll need it because he hauls butt. Everyone in this class is so tough, everybody is a contender, and any day you can beat one Smith is a good day – but two Smiths? That’s a big deal. I’m proud of my team and proud of my tuner. Today is my daughter, Olivia’s, birthday. It was a really special day, and how memorable is it to do this on her birthday.”

    Smith’s performance didn’t come with a lack of effort. She obtained victories over Ron Tornow, Eddie Krawiec, and Steve Johnson. 

Other news and items – John Force made his 800th career start on Sunday. Three Pro Stock Motorcycle riders hit the 200 mph club this weekend in qualifying. Those were Angie Smith, Angelle Sampey, and Matt Smith. Speaking of Pro Stock Motorcycle, Gaige Herrera made his debut on Friday afternoon in qualifying. Unfortunately, Herrera didn’t make the show. Former Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Sr fielded Chris Bostick’s bike. 

Official NHRA Camping World Results 

Top Fuel 

  1. Austin Prock 
  2. Justin Ashley 
  3. Antron Brown 
  4. Mike Salinas 
  5. Steve Torrence 
  6. Brittany Force 
  7. Doug Kalitta 
  8. Clay Millican 
  9. Jeffrey Chatterson 
  10. Cameron Ferre 
  11. Leah Pruett
  12. Tony Schumacher 
  13. Shawn Langdon 
  14. Doug Foley 
  15. Josh Hart 
  16. Joe Morrison 

Funny Car 

  1. Robert Hight 
  2. Tim Wilkerson 
  3. Matt Hagan 
  4. John Force 
  5. Bob Tasca III
  6. J.R. Todd
  7. Ron Capps 
  8. Cruz Pedregon 
  9. Alexis DeJoria 
  10. Chad Green 
  11. Paul Lee
  12. Phil Burkhart 
  13. Cory Lee
  14. Jim Campbell 
  15. Terry Haddock 

Pro Stock 

  1. Erica Enders 
  2. Troy Coughlin Jr 
  3. Kyle Koretsky 
  4. Greg Anderson 
  5. Matt Hartford 
  6. Bo Butner 
  7. Dallas Glenn 
  8. Aaron Stanfield 
  9. Cristian Cuadra 
  10. Camrie Caruso 
  11. Fernando Cuadra Jr 
  12. Chris McGaha 
  13. alan Prusiensky  
  14. Mason McGaha 
  15. Fernando Cuadra 
  16. Tanner Gray 

Pro Stock Motorcycle 

  1. Joey Gladstone 
  2. Angie Smith 
  3. Marc Ingwersen 
  4. Steve Johnson 
  5. Eddie Krawiec 
  6. Matt Smith 
  7. Jerry Savoie 
  8. Angelle Sampey 
  9. Scotty Pollacheck 
  10. Kelly Clontz 
  11. Jianna Evaristo 
  12. Karen Stoffer
  13. Chris Bostick 
  14. Ron Tornow 
  15. Ryan Oehler 
  16. Hector Arana Jr 

Official NHRA Camping World Series Points Standings 

Top Fuel 

  1. Justin Ashley, 2,170 points 
  2. Brittany Force, -9
  3. Mike Salinas, -10 
  4. Antron Brown, -54
  5. Steve Torrence, -56
  6. Austin Prock, -74
  7. Josh Hart, -87
  8. Doug Kalitta, -107
  9. Leah Pruett, -107 
  10. Shawn Langdon, -118
  11. Clay Millican, -124
  12. Tony Schumacher, -138

Funny Car 

  1. Robert Hight, 2,225 
  2. Matt Hagan, -81
  3. Ron Capps, -84
  4. John Force, -97
  5. Bob Tasca III, -106
  6. Tim Wilkerson, -122
  7. J.R. Todd, -130
  8. Cruz Pedregon, -152
  9. Alexis DeJoria, -163
  10. Jim Campbell, -203

Pro Stock 

  1. Erica Enders, 2225
  2. Greg Anderson, -81
  3. Kyle Koretsky, -88
  4. Troy Coughlin Jr, -90
  5. Aaron Stanfield, -91
  6. Dallas Glenn, -118
  7. Matt Hartford, -162
  8. Mason McGaha, -164
  9. Bo Butner, -172
  10. Camrie Caruso, – 173

Pro Stock Motorcycle 

  1. Joey Gladstone, 2,193 
  2. Matt Smith, -29 
  3. Steve Johnson, -42
  4. Angie Smith, -49
  5. Angelle Sampey, -78
  6. Marc Ingwersen, -89
  7. Eddie Krawiec, -90
  8. Jerry Savoie, -104
  9. Karen Stoffer, -116
  10. Ryan Oehler, -137 

Up Next: The NHRA Camping World Series will head to Charlotte, North Carolina for race No. 2 in the Countdown to the Championship Sept 23-25. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *