Competition Plus’ Water-Cooler Topics From The NHRA Arizona Nationals from Phoenix, AZ.

1 – CARUSO SUFFERS BROKEN LEG – NHRA Pro Stock driver Camrie Caruso is expected to be out of commission for a minimum of six weeks with a broken left fibula and a possible sprained ankle following Saturday’s qualifying crash during the Arizona Nationals at Firebird Motorsports Park.

Her  Aqua Prop/True Brand/Big Jeff Audio Chevrolet Camaro slammed into the left wall after she clocked a pass at 142.87 mph. The car then ricocheted across the track and made contact with the right-side wall before coming to a stop.

“First and foremost, I want to thank the fans and everyone who has reached out to me for support,” Caruso said Sunday morning in a prepared statement. “The NHRA community always rallies around one of its own, and that’s something I’ve now experienced firsthand. The outpouring of support has been incredible.
“My return date is a little up in the air at this moment,” she said, “but I can’t wait to get back on the track and represent my incredible roster of partners aboard my Aqua Prop/True Brand/Big Jeff Audio Chevy Camaro.”

Back at the racetrack Sunday morning to watch her class’ eliminations unfold, Caruso said, “We’ll be back soon. It’s probably going to be about three months. I have a few broken bones. We’ve got to get those fixed and get the car fixed. We’ll be back out. We’ll come back strong.”

NHRA Medical Director Dr. Phillip Surface checked out Caruso’s injuries on site and sent her on to a Phoenix-area hospital for further evaluation.

The accident occurred during the third and final qualifying of the day for the Pro Stock class. Caruso was unqualified and was trying to break into the 16-car field. She remained unqualified.

Dallas Glenn, her KB Titan Racing teammate, said Sunday morning before eliminations, “That was a brand-new car, and we're obviously still getting some bugs worked out. All new cars are pretty temperamental, so it kept going right on her. And it's unfortunate. The shutdown’s a little bit bumpy, and it can get you if you're not ready for it.

“She definitely lifted when she needed to on the run,” Glenn said, recalling that three-time champion Jason Line “wrecked the same way in testing a few years ago when he was on our team. He lifted it half-track, coasted to the finish line, and then hit a bump in the finish line and just got the brakes a little too hot and locked it up.”

Glenn, who defeated Erica Enders for the rain-postponed Winternationals trophy moments after Caruso’s incident Saturday, said, “The Pro Stock class has been pretty good the last few years. We haven't had too many incidents, but we need to make sure we don't do that. These cars are really expensive, and they take a long time to fix.”

As for Caruso’s recovery, he said, “That's unfortunate. Hopefully it's not a major thing and she can be back up and running here shortly. You never want to see anybody injured in a race car.”



2 – DOES THIS DRAGSTER MAKE MY BUTT LOOK FAT? – After first-round losses to Justin Ashley at Gainesville, Fla., and Steve Torrence at Pomona, Calif., Tony Stewart earned his first NHRA Top Fuel elimination round-win Sunday morning at the Arizona Nationals at Firebird Motorsports Park.

Stewart, racing in the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series’s headliner class for the first season and starting out of the No. 15 spot on the 16-car grid Sunday, defeated No. 2 qualifier Brittany Force. Afterward, he acknowledged that it's a rather difficult kind of race car to master. 

However, he said, "One of the hardest things is my wife [Leah Pruett] drove this car last year, and she's 55 pounds lighter than I am. So [crew chiefs] Neil [Strausbaugh] and Mike [Domagala] and Ryan [car chief McGilvry] and all these guys in this Direct Connection Dodge team with this Top Fuel car, they're having to figure out how to get my fat butt going, getting it started."

Strausbaugh said, "He's been driving his ass off. Everybody knows he can do it. I've been working my butt off to get it to go down the track."

Stewart said, "So, we're struggling, but this is something the teams needed. We haven't made it through the first round in the first two events." 

Two of his three opening-round opponents are series champions Torrence and Force, who have a combined six titles, and Ashley is a perennial contender and renowned ace with reaction times on the launch. 

Stewart lost in the semifinal round to Ashley. With the difficult track conditions and just three qualifying sessions, Stewart said he’s looking forward to returning this coming weekend to Las Vegas.

“The struggles continued Friday and Saturday that we went through at Gainesville and Pomona. There were just difficult track conditions on Friday, so we didn’t get down. Saturday really wasn't much better and was still a little frustrating for the team," he said. "Race day on Sunday, we ended up 15th out of 16 qualified cars and drivers, so we go up against the No. 2 qualifier, which was Brittany Force.

“She had trouble. We had trouble just a little bit further out than she did. We pedaled it down to the line and got to the next round. Honestly, it's kind of the break this Dodge Direct Connection team needed. It doesn’t sound like a lot, just winning one round, but having that opportunity to keep working on this car on a tricky racetrack meant a lot. We've had three very challenging racetracks because of weather and different conditions and different variables. These guys really rallied today.” 

He said, “We're finally starting to get a base and then can work from there. The encouraging thing is we're going to Vegas next week, and we're all very confident the track is going to be in great shape. We're going to have way better conditions and feel like it gives us a better opportunity to dial in under what I would consider more normal circumstances than what we've been through these first three weeks.

“I never thought just winning one round would take such a weight off your shoulders. It’s kind of like when we made the first run at Gainesville. I kind of relaxed and settled in. It was the same way today getting through the first round and after we did that, I started to get that rhythm again,” Stewart said. “Having those experiences last year [in the Top Alcohol Dragster category] definitely came into play today, so it's good for all of us as a team. We’ll just keep digging.”

3 – PROCK JOINS ELITE CLUB – Austin Prock has begun to conquer the car he called “by far the hardest car I've ever driven” and made a huge splash in the category he said is “the most competitive class I've ever driven in, and I've been racing since I was 10 years old.”

The NHRA driver from the John Force Racing organization has switched from a Top Fuel dragster to a Funny Car. They both produce 11,000 horsepower. They both guzzle nitromethane. But they’re incredibly different. And after winning his first Funny Car trophy Sunday at the Arizona Nationals to become just the 19th driver to win in both nitro classes, Prock (a midget and sprint car multi-time winner as a youngster) said, “These Funny Cars are no joke. There's nothing funny about a Funny Car.”

He has proven he can master it quickly, though.

Prock took 16 races to win as a Top Fuel rookie. But when he became the caretaker this offseason of the Cornwell Tools Chevy Camaro when Robert Hight took a medical leave, he won the PRO Superstar Shootout in February. Then in just three NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series races, he has qualified No. 1 twice and managed to win in two final-round appearances.

The difference between his slower path to success in Top Fuel and his rapid rise in Funny Car, he said, was continuity.

“My Top Fuel career, I worked with some wonderful people, very brilliant, smart people, but we never really had a fair shot at running back-to-back seasons with the same group of people. And that really crippled our performance,” Prock said. “I feel like any one of the crew chiefs that I got to work with and we would have had back-to-back years, I think could have really done some damage. But when you fall into a golden pot like I did this year, into a championship-contending car every year it goes out there, the thing's just bad-fast. And I'm hanging on and just trying to learn as fast as I can. It's definitely been a crash course, but I'm doing the best I can, and that's all you can ask.

“I knew the car was capable of it. I was sure I wasn't going to be the weak link. I'm just hanging on for dear life and just trying to do the best I can. And today was good enough to get the win,” he said.

Prock called Sunday’s feat “a huge win,” especially after a first-round loss at the previous race.

“This car's been running great and started the year out strong and struggled a little bit last week and had to get some revenge this weekend. And we definitely did that. That was a great run in the final round there. We were trying to do that all weekend long and just couldn't piece it all together and it finally came together.”

He said his first Funny Car victory makes it “pretty cool to be a part of that small group” that includes Sunday’s Top Fuel winner Shawn Langdon, Todd, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, “and all these people that are legends and future Hall of Famers -- and to do it with my family makes it even more special.”

Always confident and optimistic, even in the face of hiccups and disappointments, Prock – whose father Jimmy tunes the car and brother Thomas is on the crew – said, “There hadn't been a bad day at the racetrack, even last weekend when we struggled. You never want to struggle, but when you get in a race with your family, there's never a bad day out here and everyone's just doing an outstanding job and we earned this one today.”





4 – ANDERSON GETS IN ON HENDRICK HOOPLA – Greg Anderson gave Hendrick Motorsports a two-series sweep Sunday. The Chevy Camaro driver said he felt the pressure to perform –  especially after watching snippets of the NASCAR event at Martinsville, Virginia. He saw his Hendrick Motorsports brothers William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Chase Elliott post a 1-2-3 finish as the team was marking its 40th anniversary in the Cup Series.

Perhaps Sunday was more of a relief than a thrill for the 104-time winner.

“Before the semifinal, we watched the end of that race. So proud of everybody on that team, and it was a great motivator,” Anderson said. “I love to be a part of that team. I love it to represent the colors on my car and love everything that that group has done for me. I love the man himself. Mr. Hendrick is a great, great man and has done a ton for me. So it just feels fantastic to finally get it done and not drop the ball. They certainly don't drop the ball. They're on a hell of a run this year and they're celebrating 40 years in the sport, so I'm going to have to fight to get a part of that acknowledgement that they're getting this year. So it just feels great to be part of it. It's dream come true.”

At times it might have felt more like a nightmare. But he overcame the odds that this weekend threw at him and said that “feels great. It is just so hard to win in this class anymore. I didn't embarrass myself. I actually did a good job behind the wheel, so I'm really thrilled with that. But that's what it takes to win this class anymore. You have to have the whole total package. You have to have the best car, you have to have the best crew, and you have to drive it well. So we were able to put all three together today on a very, very tricky racetrack. We managed the racetrack.”

5 THE OLD TONGUE BITER – Shawn Langdon said he had to bite his tongue sometimes during the recent lean years. “It's been hard for the last couple of years to struggle,” he said. “But you just keep your head down, just keep working hard, and eventually, the tide's going to roll the other way at some point. You don’t know how long that will be, but it's paying dividends right now.”

It’s paying off not only with Sunday’s Top Fuel victory for the Kalitta Air dragster team at the Arizona Nationals. But that final-round victory against Justin Ashley represented two victories in the first few races and a firmer grip on Langdon’s season-long points lead. The 2024 campaign is young still, but it definitely is a turnaround season for the man who has won championships in Jr. Dragster, Super Comp, and Top Fuel.   

“There was a lot of variables out there for today, I'll just say that. But the guys gave me a flawless car, and Brian [crew chief Husen] did an excellent job. And when you're running Justin in the final, you know what he's capable of. I mean the best lever in the class, bar none,” Langdon said. “And so my only focus was just leave with him and then leave it up to Brian. I have that much confidence in Brian and my guys. And so when I hit the gas, we left with him. I said, ‘Well, we got a shot.’ And so I just tried to hold it straight and saw the win light. I was just very proud of my team, really. You know, it really was a picture-perfect day. This whole Kalitta Air team, from Connie (team owner Connie Kalitta), Chad Head (Kalitta Motorsports general manager), to Brian Husen coming over this year. Brian’s done such a fantastic job making some crew changes and the crew has been absolutely flawless. They’ve given me a picture-perfect car all year long.”



6 – AT THE FINISH LINE – Drag racing pioneer Larry Dixon Sr. has passed away, and the crowd at the Arizona Nationals paused to remember him during the pre-race prayer.

In a 2012 interview with Rob Gibson after the father-son tandem were named Grand Marshals of the March Meet at Bakersfield, Calif., Dixon Sr. shared some memories from his earlier days:

“I started racing in 1957 at San Fernando. Back then it was like the 'Ozzie & Harriet' days. Everything was simpler,” he said. “It was more of a laid-back deal. It was a lot of fun. not as professional as today. I think that's one of the reasons people like the nostalgia drag races. I won my first trophy in a '55 Chevy. Years later, so did Larry Jr.

“I remember Garlits' first race in Bakersfield. Not sure if the race was even called the March Meet back then. Jimmy Nix was there and asked his girlfriend to warm up his Top Fuel dragster. Well, she kept driving around and around. He couldn't get her out of the car. The joke was that if it didn't run out of gas, she'd still be in it. Jimmy just laughed. He always had a smile.

“I used to drive The Fireside Inn Roadster. I ran it in Long Beach with a small-block Chevy engine and it kept blowing up. We had lots of borrowed parts on the car. Ronnie Scrima, a chassis builder I met when I worked at B&M, put a 354 Chrysler Hemi with borrowed mags in it and it didn't blow up anymore. That's the car I took to the March Meet and won.

"Just to let you know how important the March Meet was to me and my family, Larry's sister Cathy was born the Tuesday before the race, and we were breast-feeding her in the tech line. That's the racin' Dixons for you.” 

When Blake Bowser announced in 2012 that the Dixons would be Grand Marshals of the March Meet at his dragstrip, he called them “drag racing royalty” and said, “"Larry Sr.'s the old-school, front-engine driver who competed during drag racing ... and Larry Jr. is a ... three-time Top Fuel champion, representing modern-age racers.”

Dixon Jr. told Gibson, “It was pretty cool, because my dad raced on the West Coast. I'd take off school on the Fridays he'd race and drive with him to the track. It was great -- he kept the race car in the garage at home. At the races, I'd help push him back from a burnout. I was 11 years old. Nowadays that wouldn't be an option because of insurance and liability. I feel very lucky to have been able to be around my dad when he raced and help out. Drag racing is a true family sport.”

Dixon Sr. won the 1970 Winternationals and gave his Wally trophy to his son. Dixon Jr. returned the favor in 1998. The younger Dixon said years later, “It wasn't anything that was planned, like, ‘When I grow up, I'm going to win the Winternationals and give the trophy to my dad.’ It's very hard to win a race, period, let alone have it be a race that he's at. He gave me that trophy then, so I thought it would be fitting for me to give him that one in 1998.” 

Dixon Sr. showed his sense of humor when he responded by quipping, “I’m glad he reminded me I won there a million years ago.”

It wasn’t a million years ago, of course, but Larry Dixon Sr. has left his family and the drag-racing community with a million wonderful memories.




∫Reporter Bruno Massel asked Funny Car driver Daniel Wilkerson, who several years ago had a stint as a driver but became a tuner and is a driver again, whether he preferred driving to being a crew chief or vice versa.

During the offseason, his father, Tim Wilkerson stepped from the cockpit and yielded the seat to his son.
Wilkerson replied, “I’m like 50-50, honestly. I love doing both of them. Just about the time I thought I was over driving, Tim gave me a little taste, gave me another hit, and I was sucked in again.

“I’ve never done drugs,” the younger Wilkerson said, “but this is more addicting than anything I can imagine.”
8 – PROCK BLOWS BY – No. 1 Funny Car qualifier Austin Prock likes to say his Cornwell Tools Chevy Camaro is flying. He was traveling so fast Sunday in the quarterfinals against Daniel Wilkerson that the car, as it drifted right and got close to the wall, blew a sign from the wall.

He didn’t touch the wall, and after a brief inspection, officials deemed Prock did not commit any infraction and indeed was the winner. Prock never doubted his round-win would stand, that he hadn’t touched the out-of-bounds barrier.

“I knew I didn’t. I was sure damn close. I did get the flag. I know that,” he said. “It was going straight down there, and it seemed like it was more holes and more holes. I damn near pulled my left arm out of the socket, trying to steer this thing off the wall. It was on a good run.”






“I had a really good feeling when I woke up this morning. I said, 'I’m going to win the f---ing round.'” – Alexis DeJoria, driver of the Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota, after her first-round victory against Bob Tasca III

“We believe it’s a one-lane track today.” – Todd Smith, crew chief for J.R. Todd’s DHL Toyota

“This place is like me – a little old and cantankerous. But it’s cool.” – Tim Wilkerson regarding Firebird Motorsports Park

“Twenty-four hours ago, I was ready to puke. Now I’m ready to cry.” – Team owner Del Worsham, watching his Funny Car driver, Alexis DeJoria, advance to the final round Sunday. When she pulled to the starting line Saturday for her final qualifying attempt, she was unqualified, in the order.

10 – PACKIN’ ’EM IN – The NHRA and officials at Firebird Motorsports Park announced Sunday that they achieved a second straight day of “sellout” crowds – and a second straight year of race-day “sellouts” at the Arizona Nationals. Turnout at this third of 20 races on the 2024 Mission Foods Drag Racing Series schedule impressed Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis.

He called the facility “an important jewel,” saying, “It’s just incredible to see the crowd and all the loyal fans in this area. To be able to continue to offer this race and bring back that original Firebird name, it’s very exciting. We’re very fortunate to continue this race, and we’re focused on growing this whole area. We’re really planning for even bigger and better things in the area, and this track is an important jewel. We’re so thankful to all the fans and their loyalty, and it’s exciting to hear they’ve had just a great experience this weekend.” 

Firebird Motorsports Park Track Manager Casey Buckman said, “If there were ever any doubters about the passion of Arizona’s motorsports fanbase, we absolutely silenced them today by capping off the weekend with another sellout crowd. Thank you to all of our incredible fans for supporting the rebuild of this historic facility and undeniably supporting both the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority and the Gila River Indian Community’s decision to allow us to continue racing at Firebird. We can’t wait to be back better than ever next year and continue to build on this success.” 

The NHRA, per its longstanding policy, did not announce attendance figures.