Competition Plus’ Water-Cooler Topics From The NHRA Virginia Nationals outside of Richmond, Va.


1 – BRITTANY FORCE SAYS DAD JOHN FORCE ‘WILL BOUNCE BACK, LIKE HE ALWAYS DOES’ AFTER VIOLENT HIGH-SPEED CRASH - NHRA Funny Car icon John Force was taken to a Richmond-area hospital Sunday afternoon following his fiery, wall-smashing, high-speed crash during the first round of the PlayNHRA Virginia Nationals. 

And his daughter, two-time Top Fuel champion Brittany Force, said following her second-round loss to Tony Stewart that her 16-time champion and 75-year-old father will recover from his 302.62-mph accident.

Racing in Virginia Motorsports Park’s right lane against Terry Haddock, Force clocked a 4.10-second elapsed time before his engine let go in a fireball and sent him across the track and hard into the left-side wall. The car came completely off the pavement as it shot back across the track back into the right lane and made contact with that wall, too.

Force was able to exit his car and was alert and talking with the Safety Safari workers on site before he entered an ambulance. The extent of his injuries is unknown. The only information is that Force was transported to the hospital "for evaluation and observation." Late-evening word came to the track that he will remain in the hospital “at least overnight.”

Brittany Force, who upset higher-qualified Jasmine Salinas in Top Fuel's Round 1, stayed at the track to face Tony Stewart in the quarterfinals. She lost to Stewart, but said when she climbed from her dragster, “My dad’s going to be alright. I was in the ambulance with him, holding his hand. And he’s one of the toughest people I know. So he’ll bounce back, like he always does.” 

She said of returning to the track after witnessing a traumatic incident, “It’s something that’s tough. We know that’s a part of the drill. That’s how this sport goes. I wouldn’t be his daughter if I wasn’t back up here in that car, trying to win this thing with this team for him.”

John Force's teammate, Austin Prock, also made a second-round pass, and after eliminating Ron Capps, he said, “We’re race-car drivers, and we have to flip the switch. You got 'at-home Austin Prock,' and you got 'race-car driver Austin Prock.' You got to flip the switch and get the job done. I know John wants us to be out here, going rounds. Maybe we can get him a Wally.”

When Force crashed, Prock had been waiting for him at the top end of the track following his own first-round victory.

“He’s one tough son of a bitch, I know that. He’ll be back,” an emotional Prock said. “It’s just tough to see somebody go through that. I hope he’s all right. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers. I know he’ll be back.”

While he waited through the hour delay, Capps said that “the old man having that accident was tough to watch.” He said he sat in his tow vehicle and “you start thinking, ‘Man, what are we doing?’ We don’t know how he is.”

And reigning Funny Car champion Matt Hagan said, “My main thought is I hope John’s OK. You hate to see him go through that. Send prayers up for him. He’s a legend of the sport, the GOAT. The car looked pretty burned up.” Hagan said, “I’ve always been an advocate of not tying these [car] bodies down, and that’s a direct result of why we shouldn’t tie the bodies down.”

Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier Shawn Langdon said after advancing to the semifinals, "We love what we do, but we're all thinking about John at this point."

Two of Force’s Funny Car rivals expressed their wishes for Force’s speedy recovery.

Bob Tasca III said after he reached his 32 final-round appearance, “For me, it’s a little different mood out here. I’m just looking forward to my cellphone ringing and John Force being on it. What we do is real dangerous. We come out here and have fun, but this is a scary sport. What happened to John is frightening. From what I hear, he’s going to be OK. John, we’re thinking of you and can’t wait to see you back out here.”

Hagan said to Force via a TV interview, “We love ya, brother. Don’t let that be your last ride. We know what a tough SOB you are. If anyone can bounce back from that kind of stuff, you can.”

2 RACING INSPIRED – Funny Car winner Austin Prock is game for any adventure in racing, but he endured one Sunday that he never bargained for. But after a day of drama, trauma, a rainstorm, long delays, a drastic swing from heat and humidity that turned into cool and optimal conditions, he sorted out his jumbled feelings by saying, “The day started out sucking and ended up pretty cool.”   

He conceded that he was emotional at the start of eliminations after watching boss John Force wrecking and being taken away to the emergency room. But he said he told himself, “Pull your shit together, dude.” He said, “I didn’t want to be the weak link and wanted to make John proud. I’m looking forward to seeing him.” Prock said this seventh overall trophy – and third this season in six final-round appearances in the nine completed events – “is going straight to the hospital” where Force is expected to stay overnight for observation.

As he celebrated his victory over Bob Tasca III at the top end of the track, Prock said, “Thank the Lord for keeping John Force safe today.”  

Prock, who retained his points lead, denied Tasca his 300th round-win and second victory of the season.  


3 – HERRERA MAKES HISTORY – Gaige Herrera extended his historic winning streak to 10 Pro Stock Motorcycle victories by defeating Vance & Hines Suzuki teammate Richard Gadson, breaking an NHRA-record tie with the late Bob Glidden. That mark had stood since 1979. Herrera said the feeling of accomplishing such a milestone “is hard to describe. It doesn’t seem real to me.” Referring to expectations he has shouldered since he began racing for the premier bike team, he said, “This is probably the biggest monkey of all, and I’m glad it’s off my back.” Gadson said of Herrera, “He’s the man, for sure. We’re all chasing him, including me.”




4 – FINALLY – The third time was the charm for Pro Stock winner Aaron Stanfield. The Elite Motorsports driver used a .007-second reaction time to defeat Dallas Glenn to record his first victory of the season in three final-round tries. In earning his 26th triumph across five categories of competition, Stanfield flipped the finish of the final round at the Route 66 Nationals in May at Joliet, Ill. Stanfield entered the final with a 1-3 record against rival team KB Titan Racing’s Glenn.
5 – KALITTA FLEXES MORE MUSCLE – Both Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon were going for their third Top Fuel victory of the year in an all-Kalitta Motorsports final round. But Kalitta, the reigning series champion and points leader, maintained his edge over Langdon in the standings. They’re 1-2, just like they were in Sunday’s starting line-up (except Langdon led the field and Kalitta qualified No. 2). “We definitely all work very hard at it. Chad Head (general manager, Kalitta Motorsports), Connie (Kalitta, team owner, Kalitta Motorsports). Just real proud of what Connie has put together here for us. Bragging rights, I guess at the shop. You know, my Mac Tools, Toyota, Revchem guys, Alan Johnson (crew chief), everybody. Really, heck of a job today, just going rounds. You know, it was so hot, obviously, and we had this rain delay. Great weekend for all of us.” 
6 –  500 AND COUNTING – Four-time Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence became the 23rd racer in NHRA history to hit the 500-round-win plateau with his opening victory Sunday against Justin Ashley. And it happened at the same dragstrip where the Capco Contractors driver made his professional debut in 2006. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of success and heartache all at the same time. But to be able to do it with my family and those Capco Boys is remarkable,” Torrence said. “It’s crazy to think I’m 41 years old, and I’ve been out here since I was 23 doing this, just a kid living his dream. And we’re out here, still livin’ it. Thankful to be here. That’s pretty cool – 500 of ’em.”    




7 – TWO-DAY RACE FORMAT POPULAR – Count Top Fuel’s Shawn Langdon and Funny Car’s Bob Tasca III, nitro’s No. 1 qualifiers this weekend, as fans of the two-day NHRA national event.

Tasca said he felt bad for the fans, whose reward for packing the grandstands both days was hot metal seats and scorching sun. However, he said, “I love the format. I think the format is awesome. I think it gives us some bandwidth through the day to compare to what we're going to do on Sunday. I don't think it's right for all markets, but I think there's a lot of markets that should take notice of what we did, because we gave the fans more nitro racing. It's a little bit more condensed than the three-day race. So, I'm hopeful that this actually gets some traction to some other races.”

Langdon has lobbied for a new presentation, at least once in awhile and perhaps in a variant of the Saturday-Sunday program. “I’ve been outspoken a little bit the last few years about something like that. Now, whether anybody’s heard or not, I don’t know. But I have talked about doing two-day things. I would like to see a Friday-Saturday [event], potentially a Saturday night race, especially in the summers, because a track like this, you take out 40 degrees of track temp, you’re picking up a couple of tenths [of a second in elapsed time]. This track, if you get in the right conditions, you can fly here. I think a night race would be really intriguing. It’d be a lot of fun – Saturday night race, something different. I know there’s a lot of moving parts to these things to make it work for all parties involved is really difficult to accomplish. But I’m all for the two-day format. I think it’s great.”      

Tyler Crossnoe, vice-president at Virginia Motorsports Park, said, “We are interested to see what stems from this in the future – but the only way you learn and get better is by trying new things and getting outside of the box.” He would classify himself as a fan of the fresh-to-NHRA format.

Crossnoe agrees with Langdon’s stance. “I am a fan of the two-day format, with final rounds under the lights on Saturday evening. Saturday is historically the ‘easiest day’ for fans to go to the races, and then having Sunday as a reserve in your back pocket in case of weather or other factors,” he said prior to race weekend.  

“I am anxious to see how the NHRA format translates to a two-day show for the professional classes on Saturday and Sunday and how that affects other categories in competition. There is one thing for sure: We are all going to find out together on June 21-23 at Virginia Motorsports Park when the Virginia NHRA Nationals rolls back into town for all to witness live in Dinwiddie, Virginia.”   

Despite the heat and Sunday’s rain interruption, the experiment seems to have been successful.

PDRA Photo

8 – RICHMOND TRACK BACK IN NHRA ORBIT – Virginia Motorsports Park was on the NHRA schedule from 1994-2000, 2006-2009, and 2018-2019. It missed the 2020 and 2021 lineup because of the pandemic, returned in 2022, but opted out of the 2023 season. This year’s race marks its fourth return.

Funny Car owner-driver Ron Capps said, “We’re very fortunate to be going to the Richmond area and racing at Virginia Motorsports Park this year. Sometimes you don’t realize what you had until it's gone, and not being able to race in that area last year was heartbreaking for our fans and also for us racers.”

But for owners Tommy and Judy Franklin, the sport is a business. And Tyler Crossnoe, VMP’s vice-president, said, “When we stepped away from the national-event schedule after the 2022 edition, there was a considerable financial loss tied to each national event since the return in 2018 that forced that decision to essentially save ourselves,” Crossnoe said leading up to the weekend. “NHRA reached out to us midseason in 2023 about a possible national event return, and we all came to new contractual terms.

“We never wanted to leave the schedule in the first place, but when the financial aspect was so damaging to the overall facility, we had to back up and try to gather ourselves. In 2023, we had a successful season, and we want to continue that trend in 2024 so we can continue to reinvest in general,” he said. “We are excited to be back on the NHRA tour. And we are excited to bring the quickest, fastest, and wildest motorsport back to Virginia in 2024 and hopefully for many years to come.”    

Crossnoe continued, “The definition of a successful business model, in our world, is raise income and lower expenses. This is true for not only a series or a motorsports facility, but also for race teams that fill the pits in which fans are buying tickets to come meet and watch. In looking into this format change for numerous reasons, I believe the NHRA is hoping to lower expenses for all involved while hoping to raise the atmosphere level and ‘bang for the buck’ for the fans who attend on Saturday to see three qualifying runs and on Sunday to see four rounds of final eliminations, creating a different vibe.”




9 - TRICKIE RICKIE STILL TRICKING THEM - Legendary multi-time NHRA Pro Mod champ Rickie Smith picked up yet another victory in the Congruity NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by LearnEV+ on Saturday at Virginia Motorsports Parks, defeating Kris Thorne in the final round as part of this weekend’s PlayNHRA Virginia Nationals.

It was the six of 10 races during the 2024 season and the final race in the regular season in the category. This weekend’s event was also powered by DPFXFIT by GESi.

Smith went 5.702-seconds at 253.37 in his nitrous-powered Ford Mustang, taking down Thorne’s 5.714 at 252.43 with the quickest run of the weekend. It is Smith’s first victory since Brainerd in 2022 and gives the multi-time champ his 18th career NHRA Pro Mod win.

“I never thought I’d win another race at 70 years old,” Smith said. “I’m just so proud of the people who are behind me. I wouldn’t have even made it the last three years without them. It’s awesome. I don’t even know what to say. I’m usually crying and overly excited, but I don’t even know if it’s hit me. Out of all the races I’ve won, I don’t know how I pulled this one off. We weren’t even qualified until the last run.”

To reach the final round, Smith defeated Lyle Barnett, J.R. Gray and Jason Scruggs, taking down Thorne with an impressive run.

In the other specialty series classes, Johnny Pluchino won the JHG Mountain Motor Pro Stock division while Larry McBride took the first race in the Top Fuel Motorcycle division.

9 – STRANGE DAY INDEED - Even before John Force’s accident, the Funny Car field was having what Ron Capps called a “strange day” and “bizarre.” First, No. 2 starter Chad Green’s high hopes for an outstanding day of eliminations fell before he even finished his burnout. A stuck throttle prevented him from making his pass against Mike Smith.

Green said he was “very disappointed. I hit the gas on the burnout, and the throttle just stuck wide open. I was just trying to control that thing, keep it off the wall, keep it from crashing, trying to get the fuel shut off at the same time. Luckily, I was able to do that. Nothing was hurt, car wasn’t hurt. We’re just very disappointed to go out first round like that. I’ve never had the throttle stick on me like that.” Evidently, the culprit was a blower strap that had become caught in the butterflies on the supercharger.

Next, Alexis DeJoria had problems when she performed her burnout and had to be pushed off the track. With Force obviously unable to return for the quarterfinal, Blake Alexander earned his way into the semifinals and a berth in the Norwalk, Ohio, version of the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge on a solo. Force’s incident came right after that.

10 – QUOTABLE –“I’m going straight from here to Norwalk,” Top Fuel racer Tony Schumacher said, referring to the next event on the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series tour, this coming weekend. “I’m not even going home. I’m just going to pretend like this is one continuous race. We’re going to go to Ohio and we’re going to celebrate at a wonderful racetrack, America’s racetrack, right in the middle of the country. Looking forward to seeing all of the fans out there.”