Competition Plus’ Water-Cooler Topics From The NHRA Vegas 4-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas.

1 – KALITTA REIGNS IN TOP FUEL – Top Fuel’s Doug Kalitta picked up the first victory of his championship reign and his first four-wide victory Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. His 53rd career victory gave his team boss and uncle Connie Kalitta a fourth victory for the organization in as many races this season. Kalitta’s victory took the shine off the anticipation of Tony Stewart’s possible first victory. Kalitta had the worst reaction time of the four finalists at .067 seconds in the Mac Tools dragster, and runner-up Justin Ashley had the best, .040 seconds. Ashley countered Kalitta’s 3.715-second elapsed time with a 3.745. Steve Torrence was third and Stewart fourth. Eyeing another four-wide challenge at the next race, the April 26-28 Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte’s zMAX Dragway, Kalitta said his crew members “are hungry, and I’m as hungry as they are” to win more races and back-to-back championships.

He called the final round "a hell of a run there. I was really happy to see a win light come on. Obviously, those other three teams are hungry and running strong there. Yeah, that was as exciting as it gets there. It was super close for all four cars and the fans got their money’s worth. We came out with the win there, and getting my first Four-Wide win was pretty special as I’ve been really hungry to pull one of these off. My guys really had my car running strong this weekend. We qualified with a low elapsed time, and I think we had the lowest times in each session. Yeah, it would’ve been a crying shame to miss this opportunity and, fortunately, we got it done.”

Ashley replaced Round 1 finisher Shawn Langdon as the points leader. Langdon is second, 23 points behind. Steve Torrence is third, Kalitta fourth, and Billy Torrence fifth. In order, Stewart, Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, Brittany Force, and Josh Hart round out the top 10.

2 – TASCA SCORES TRIPLE-HOLESHOT VICTORY - Bob Tasca III made a bit of esoteric history Sunday in winning the Funny Car trophy, earning his first victory of the season and his second in first four-wide fashion on a triple holeshot. That marked just the third time in the history of four-wide races that has happened. Tasca’s BG Ford Mustang was the slowest on the racetrack, but his .034-second reaction time at the starting line enabled him to beat those of runner-up Austin Prock, third-place Ron Capps, and fourth-place Matt Hagan.

“I saw the Tree come down, and I hit it good,” Tasca said.

“I knew I had to step up,” he said, referring to his first-round exits in the previous two events. Saying he was aiming to get a handle on consistency and “make four qualifying passes and put ourselves in a position to win. We come out here to win for Ford and our Ford fans. We’ve got a team that can win the championship.”

The final-round foursome featured four different manufacturers: Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, and Dodge.


3 – COUGHLIN ROCKIN’ – Jeg Coughlin Jr., the five-time class champion and victor in Saturday’s Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, claimed his 66th Pro Stock victory (85th total) and his first in this latest comeback from a hiatus.

“Team Elite brought me back with open arms,” Coughlin said of his triumphant return. Of his SCAG / JEGS Chevy Camaro, he said, “This thing was a-rockin’ all weekend.”

His Elite Motorsports teammate Jerry Don Tucker, the top qualifier for the first time in his young career, was runner-up. Erica Enders, a 10-time winner at this venue, was third, also for Elite. And Brandon Foster, making his first final-round appearance in just his fourth start, was the lone KB Titan team representative. Foster red-lit and took himself out of contention.



4 – WHAT’S A GUY GOT TO DO? – Matt Hagan posted the low elapsed time of the meet with the class’ lone three-second pass, at 3.895 seconds – and he finished fourth in his final-round quad.


5 - RISING COSTS MIGHT BE GETTING BETTER OF DENSHAM – The large, block-lettered “FOR SALE” sign on Gary Densham’s bright-orange Funny Car might be signaling the end of an era.

“I don't want to leave. I don’t want to quit racing, but the cost has gone up astronomically,” said the former suburban Los Angeles high-school shop teacher, who has raced since 1979. “It just has gotten to be astronomical and non-sustainable to a normal person.

“In 2001, I used to tell my people, ‘If we're careful and we don't beat up our stuff and we qualify, we can go racing.’ You try and show me one single career, whether it's a burger flipper, a CEO, a politician, or anybody that hasn't had a raise in 25 years, or you show me one product, whether it's a pencil, a computer, a jet fighter that hasn't gone up in cost 25 years. The only thing that hasn't gone up is our prize money. It’s the same money we had 25 years ago,” he said.

Densham admitted he has sticker shock with consumer goods. Racing, he said, “is wonderful, but the bottom line is it just takes too much money. And I am completely out of touch with money, because basically I've been retired from teaching for 25 years now, and I look at stuff and I just can't believe it costs that much money.”

Still, he said, “I would not swap my career with John Force's 16 championships. I've had more fun, met more people, traveled more places, raced in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Alaska, made friends all around the world.”

His longtime crew chief, Greg Amaral – a former student of Densham at Gahr High School at Cerritos, Calif – said he couldn’t confirm that Densham is leaving the sport after 45 years: “He’ll probably change his mind.”

And maybe Amaral was right. Densham said it’s possible he’ll be back on the dragstrip, whether it’s in the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series or on the Nostalgia circuit. Then again, he said he might sell his equipment.

As for the car, Densham said with his typical self-deprecating humor, “First of all, there’s probably nobody stupid enough to buy it. I'll probably keep it and just get rid of the truck and trailer and get a little stacker or something and put all the stuff in the garage. If somebody says, ‘You want to go run Pomona? I got some money.’  Or Vegas or Sonoma, I might go run it. Somebody walks up with cash and wants to buy it, then it’s theirs.

“That's a good car. It drives great. Best driving car out here. It's a Parallax-Plueger chassis – there's only two of them left in existence out here, Jason Rupert’s and ours – and they're just very forgiving. They're very easy to work around. It'd be a great car for anybody. If somebody puts some money in the thing, it'd be as fast as anything out here. But when you're running parts 10, 15, 20 years old and two or three generations behind, it's still going pretty good right off the trailer with a qualifying number.”

Son Steven Densham put it into the No. 13 starting spot in the order this weekend. And Gary Densham said, “Well, that, in my opinion, is pretty darn good for a bunch of derelicts. If my dumb ol’ kid with very few runs can drive it right down the center or an old guy like me drive it right down the center, it must be a good-driving car.”


6 – WHAT’S EATING ERICA ENDERS? – Erica Enders had her mind set Sunday on showing everybody – or at least showing somebody in particular – why she’s the reigning and six-time Pro Stock champion who pretty much rules this venue. In her first-round run, she cut a nearly perfect .007-second reaction time to lead her quad.  She admitted to top-end announcer Jason Galvin that she had awakened with a chip on her shoulder.

“There’s been some things going on behind the scenes that not a lot of people know about,” she said, “but it’s enough to light a fire under your butt. For Elite Motorsports, the guys who go home, go to work, and put their heads down and ignore the haters, they’re the ones who make all this [success] happen. They’re the ones who deserve the credit. It’s going to be a fun day of racing.”





7 – DISAPPOINTING FOLLOW-UP – Top Fuel team owner/driver Krista Baldwin, who set career-best numbers last weekend at Phoenix, experienced the opposite end of the emotional spectrum Sunday during the first round of eliminations. Her dragster got sideways in Lane 2, then darted across the center line into Lane 1 behind Clay Millican. So her run was disqualified. Immediately afterward, she was visibly upset.

Baldwin told Competition Plus the experience was “definitely not my favorite day at the track. When I hit the gas, I knew it was fast, but it was fighting me all the way down. When the tires blew off at the same moment, I was correcting the car to stay in the groove. A perfect storm with me correcting the car and the tire smoking made for it to be a wild ride. Very glad that Clay was on a good run and that I was able to escape with no damage to myself or anyone else. I guess this is another feather in my cap in my Top Fuel adventure. Still love what I do and will continue to learn every lap. And, yes, I was emotional at the top end. Sometimes you can't hide it.”

Millican said he had “no idea whatsoever” that Baldwin was struggling in the lane beside him: “I barely know what’s happening in my own lane, so I am certainly not paying attention to what’s happening in the other lanes.”


8 – BROWN SET TO GO IN BLAZIN’ AT zMAX – After winning Saturday’s Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge for the Top Fuel class, three-time champion Antron Brown was hoping to get his season rolling in Sunday’s eliminations in what he predicted would feature “Triple-A throwdown.” But his first-round performance Sunday might have called for Triple A to come out.

“We came in yesterday and had a great day in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge,” Brown, who has reached the final quad at the Four-Wide Nationals here four times, said. “We won that, then came out this morning and we just dropped a cylinder 200 feet out. We lost a really close drag race by running a 3.80 flat on seven cylinders. So, we're going to lick our wounds. We're going to work on our package. It's going to keep getting better, and we're going to take it to the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte and come in there blazing. That's the game plan. We’re very, very focused, but it’s a little upsetting. It knocked us down a little bit, but we'll be back up on our toes for the next one.”





9 – RESPECTABLE WEEKEND – Lower-budgeted part-time team owner/driver Jason Rupert took a big stride in his Funny Car program Sunday, advancing past his first-round quad along with Matt Hagan in a foursome that included 16-time champion John Force and two-time champ Cruz Pedregon.

Rupert expressed pride in his crew and said, “We wish we could run the car more. But we can do what we can do.”
Veteran crew chief Rahn Tobler said working with the younger, volunteer crew “is kind of like herding a bunch of wildcats. But they’re learning. And I’m really proud of what we’ve done this weekend.”

Rupert started race day from the No. 15 spot.


10 – HAPPY 70TH – The U.S. Nationals will turn 70 years old this Labor Day weekend, and the NHRA is planning a celebration. The sanctioning body will announce in upcoming weeks a schedule of special events. The NHRA, in a prepared statement, promised “a massive event payout.” Last year’s winners for the second straight year were Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won for the second straight time. Matt Hartford was the Pro Stock winner in 2023.