Competition Plus’ Water-Cooler Topics From The NHRA New England Nationals at Epping, N.H.



1 – FORCE SAYS PROCK WILL REPLACE HIM – John Force, 75, beat his 28-year-old protégé Austin Prock in the Funny Car final at the NHRA New England Nationals. One opponent Force knows he can’t beat, though, is Father Time.

As he clutched his 157th Wally trophy in one hand and wrapped an arm around Prock, Force said Prock will be the one to replace him when he retires.

“I talk too much. I say too much shit. But this kid is going to replace me,” Force said of the 28-year-old class rookie who moved over from Top Fuel this season to substitute for three-time champion Robert Hight.

Force – drag racing’s winningest driver across all pro categories – did not specify when he will step from the seat. However, he did say, “My time’s pretty much up. I’ve done my time. I’m not going to quit tomorrow. I’ll be at Bristol [this coming weekend in Tennessee for the Thunder Valley Nationals]. But now I’m starting the process.

“You want a winner like Robert Hight and Brittany Force? Austin Prock, you support him. He’ll probably be the guy to replace me,” Force said at New England Dragway.

Force also said Hight will return to the Funny Car class, but again didn’t say when. And he said he is working right now to put a driver in the seat of a second Top Fuel dragster. Jordan Vandergriff reportedly has signed a contract with John Force Racing.



2 – IT’S ALL JFR IN FUNNY CAR SHOWDOWN – The New England Nationals featured an all-John Force Racing final round in Funny Car – Force’s 269th and Prock’s 12th overall and fourth in only his sixth appearance in the class. Each was seeking to match Matt Hagan as a two-timer this year.

They started the day 1-2 in the lineup, with Prock leading the field for the fifth time in seven races. But Force, the Winternationals winner who’s going to have to fend off Prock if he’s to win his 17th championship before retiring, put his PEAK Chevrolet Camaro in the winners circle.

Chris Cunningham, Force’s co-crew chief, said, “He’s 75, and he’s still kicking all these guys’ butts.”  

3 – KALITTA PREVAILS IN ANOTHER CLASSIC RUN AGAINST SCHUMACHER – Doug Kalitta and Tony Schumacher have faced each other 95 times – 19 in final rounds - in some of the sport’s most epic matches. But Sunday the dynamic was different. Kalitta is the reigning series champion and Schumacher is the class’ all-time winner who was in need of a feel-good weekend. Schumacher, the eight-time champion, didn’t have enough to stop Kalitta. The Mac Tools dragster driver grabbed that 54th victory that moved him into a tie with Steve Torrence for No. 4 on the Top Fuel victories list.

Schumacher, a two-time Epping winner and last year’s runner-up, was attempting to extend his class-best total to 87 victories. He was seeking his first triumph in 38 races, since the 2022 Seattle event that was his debut with the Maynard family.

Kalitta said that tuner Alan Johnson and his Mac Savage-led crew have given him such a strong race car that he is just hoping every week not to be the weak link of the Kalitta Motorsports group. He was no weak link this weekend, finally getting a victory at New England Dragway, which was the last of the dragstrips where he hadn’t won.

“It’s incredible,” Kalitta said. “We had a tribute to my cousin, Scott, yesterday and this was definitely true to him. Connie [uncle and team owner Connie Kalitta], Alan, Mac, the whole Mac Tools, Toyota, Revchem team, we’ve been digging hard. I’m just making sure I don’t screw up up there. They give me such a good car. Awesome weekend and super excited.”





4 – COUGHLIN ELITE OF ELITE – Troy Coughlin Jr. and Erica Enders assured Elite Motorsports a Pro Stock trophy, and in their fourth career final-round meeting, Coughlin claimed the victory. He used a stellar .013-of-a-second reaction time to record his first victory since last year’s Denver race. “It’s such a rush. I’m just tickled to death,” Coughlin said after earning his fifth overall victory and denying Enders her 49th in Pro Stock and second of the season.
5 – THE WRIGHT STUFF – Mason Wright, using Elite Motorsports power to double with Pro Stock’s Troy Coughlin in the winners circle, outran Jordan Lazic to earn the Congruity Pro Mod Series victory. On the way, he beat Mike Thielen, Kevin Rivenbark, and reigning series champion Kris Thorne to advance to the final round.
6 – YOU’RE OUT! WAIT, YOU’RE IN! – This weekend was a bit of a roller-coaster ride for Sidnei Frigo. The Brazilian businessman was planning to board a 6 a.m. Sunday flight home to São Paulo after coming eight-thousandths of a second short of qualifying for the Pro Modified starting grid. However, Chip King, the No. 7 qualifier, had crashed his car during qualifying and would not be able to compete Sunday. So Frigo, who had been No. 17 for the 16-car lineup, was inserted into the show to replace King. And Frigo made the most of it. He defeated Billy Banaka in the first round and Dmitry Samorukov in the second before Jordan Lazic took him out in the semifinal.   




7 – TODD’S TOYOTA BEATS ‘THAT FORD CAR’ – With four automakers represented this year in the Funny Car class, Kalitta Motorsports’ J.R. Todd stuck up for Toyota after his quarterfinal victory over Ford driver and home-area favorite Bob Tasca III, who also was on Todd’s heels in the standings coming into this race.

Todd said that what was most important about his Round 2 result was that he got to “turn on the win light with our Toyota GR Supra against that Ford car that for some reason everybody likes to talk about week in and week out.” 


8 – BUZZ AT HART’S PIT – Most drag racing fans would agree that Top Fuel’s Josh Hart is a pretty sweet guy. And Sunday he and his R + L Carriers dragster pit attracted a swarm – of bees. They clustered on his awning Sunday afternoon. The buzz about his chances to win for the first time since the fall 2021 Charlotte race faded early, as Tony Schumacher stung him in the second round.





9 – WANT TO BET? – This coming weekend’s Super Grip Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn., will mark the NHRA’s debut in the world of wagering. Odds will be set and wagers will be accepted beginning with this eighth race of the 20-event 2024 season. As part of the PlayNHRA initiative, NHRA’s partnerships with leading sports books and fantasy sports providers will enable fans to sign up for free and legally bet on national events and other outcomes in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series. Brad Gerber, the sanctioning body’s vice-president and chief development officer, called the move “a huge and significant step forward for the NHRA and its fans.” He said, “This initiative will provide a destination for fans to enjoy the safest and most-regulated place to bet on NHRA drag racing, participate in fantasy games, and engage with our sport in so many new ways.” IC360, which has educated employees, race teams, and other stakeholders about sports betting, will monitor patterns in the process to ensure integrity. Alen Cisija, the NHRA’s attorney, said the group “is committed to maintaining the integrity of our sport. By partnering with IC360, as well as licensed and regulated sportsbooks and fantasy operators, NHRA will help ensure everyone who engages with PlayNHRA will enjoy a safe and well-regulated betting and gaming environment. This was a vital step in the creation and rollout of PlayNHRA.”

10 – ANOTHER ‘SELLOUT’ CROWD – New England Dragway at Epping, N.H., is about as far away as possible from Firebird Motorsports Park at Chandler, Ariz. But both have the distinction this year of owning two announced sellout crowds. Sunday’s attendance was the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series’ fourth full house, according to the sanctioning body – although tradition says motorsports has no such thing as a sellout crowd. But this turnout certainly backs up the racers’ praise for the loyal drag-racing fans in the Northeast.

Paul Lorenti, president of New England Dragway, said Sunday, “I’m grateful for all these fans to pick New England Dragway as the place they want to spend their Sunday. The crowd is awesome. They are so dedicated to us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” SCAG’s Tim Wilkerson told the crowd, “God bless all of you for hanging out here. I know it’s stinkin’ hot up there in them stands. We appreciate you a lot.”

Incidentally, Lorenti was on the racetrack as a Super Street driver, and he made it to the semifinal round, when he lost to Ray Butler despite recording a perfect .000-second reaction time.