1 – ADDING INJURY TO INSULT– Camrie Caruso arrived at Firebird Motorsports Park this weekend, hoping to repeat her 2023 Arizona Nationals Pro Stock victory Sunday and celebrate her dad Marc’s birthday Saturday. Everything fell into place for her last year as she entered as the newly honored NHRA rookie of the year and earned the first victory of her professional career. This year, everything seemed to go wrong.

During the final qualifying session, her Aqua Prop Chevy Camaro sent her into first the left-side guardwall after crossing the finish line at 142.87 mph, then into the right wall before coming to a halt. Caruso was examined on site by NHRA Medical Director Dr. Phillip Surface. She was transported to a Phoenix-area hospital for further evaluation.

Caruso was conscious and alert and out of her car minutes after the high-speed accident occurred. She was making her last-chance effort to break into the 16-car lineup for Sunday’s eliminations. But that pass – her best of the three Saturday sessions – at 8.920 seconds wasn’t enough to top surprising No. 16 qualifier Matt Hartford’s 6.595-second elapsed time.

It’s unclear what caused the car to get out of shape, but it was misbehaving a bit during the quarter-mile run. The wheels hiked up on the launch and when they came back down on the surface, the car drifted slightly to the right, toward the center line. Caruso coaxed it back into the groove, but when the parachutes deployed, the car hooked into the left wall, then skidded into the right-side wall.

If Competition Plus learns any authorized information about Caruso’s condition or the extent of any possible injuries, we will report that.


2 – JOHN FORCE GETS 156TH VICTORY – John Force was perturbed. He already had been teetering on that tricky tightrope, wavering between whether to pack it in with his 75th birthday about a month away or to stay in the drag-racing game that is his life and fight the younger generation. He has hated being called the G.O.A.T., even after he found out it meant Greatest Of All Time. On the other hand, life would be too scary if people didn’t think of him in that way.

And Saturday morning, after J.R. Todd scored a wire-to-wire victory against him in the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge to pocket the tidy cash prize and the maximum Countdown bonus points, Force was ready to bolt.   

"I'm just facing the truth in life, that, you know, time's running out, and I'm trying to hang on," Force said. "This morning, I was talking about 'You know, maybe this is it, maybe I should just walk out the gate and go to the casino.'”

But he hit the jackpot, didn’t need  slot machine or roulette wheel. And he didn’t just get lucky. But his fortune changed – and so, he said, did his demeanor ...  and his victories total, which extended to 156. He beat keen competitor Matt Hagan in the rain-postponed final round of the Winternationals, and right away he said, "All of sudden you win and your weight and your personality just changes. Things went right, and I got the win, so I'm excited."

At the top end of the track, just after receiving his first trophy in almost two years -- since the spring race at Charlotte in 2022 and his eighth at the Winternationals -- Force said, “It’s exciting. I give it all I do and fudge everywhere I can. I'm really excited to pull this off. I'm kind of embarrassed by these kids, but I'm excited to be here. Right now, I'm alive. I was going to quit this morning. And now I changed my mind.”

Other winners of the delayed finals were Justin Ashley in Top Fuel and Dallas Glenn in Pro Stock.

After recording his third consecutive Winternationals victory, Ashley said, “First off, Tony Schumacher is a great competitor. They have a great team over there, and I have a lot of respect for them. Even though it’s not in Pomona, it is still the NHRA Winternationals and is a very prestigious race. So to win it once is extraordinary. To win it three times in a row is an incredible blessing.”

But it was more than just another trophy or even another Pomona trophy.

“This event, the way everything played out,” Ashley said, “it was really a test for our team. And they came through just as they seemingly do every time. We’ve been fighting a few gremlins in the car, but they’ve been working at it, picking at it. It looks like, hopefully, we have it resolved. We needed this win as a team. This was a huge win. It’s just so special, because you never know when you’ll be in another final.”

But Ashley knows when he’ll be in another match-up with Schumacher – Sunday morning in Round One of eliminations. Schumacher qualified sixth and will have lane choice against No. 11 Ashley.  

By 15 thousandths of a second, Glenn defeated Erica Enders for the first time in their three career final-round match-ups. The RAD Torque Chevy Camaro driver gave the KB Titan team a victory over its on-track nemesis, Elite Motorsports. And maybe it changed his mind about this facility in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Ariz.

“I was just thinking that the last two times I’ve raced here in Phoenix, I’ve lost first round both times. So Phoenix hasn’t been the best place to me,” Glenn said. “I definitely wanted to finish that last one in Pomona. We tried some new things and kind of took a few runs to get it dialed in, but it definitely came around in the final. I just tried to do everything I can to hit everything I could on that one. I’m just glad to be able to get it done, because I was feeling really good in Pomona.”

3 – THREE NEW CHALLENGE WINNERS – The Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge specialty race began here last year, and Saturday the series sponsor crowned three new Phoenix winners. Cash prizes and maximum Countdown bonus points went to Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), and Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

For Schumacher, the specialty race was something new, but he overcame all his questions about it and won in his first try. He said, “I think the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge is interesting, because we were coming in without a winner from the last race at the time. And I was wondering how it was going to work out. But I only worried about it because we hadn’t been in any of the Challenges last year. I wasn’t familiar with it. So, coming out and getting to earn that championship, get my name on the trophy, and get that check, it was great. I really like what Mission Foods is doing. I think it’s a cool, unique thing for the fans that pay good money to come out on Saturday and see an actual race instead of just qualifying.”

Schumacher, driving the RAC Financial Dragster, defeated Brittany Force in the final round.

Todd claimed the Funny Car victory, and as it turned out, he also denied John Force a double victory Saturday. Force won the make-up Winternationals final round later in the day. Todd led from start to finish and is 7-6 in #2Fast2Tasty Challenge races and 2-2 in finals. He won last summer at Sonoma.

“When you’re racing 16-time [champion John Force], you always have to get up for him. Any time you can turn on a win light against the greatest of all time, that’s doing something, whether it’s the Mission event or the actual race on Sunday. He’s a tough one to get by,” Todd, driver of the DHL Toyota Supra, said. “We’ve been getting lucky so far this year, but like I’ve been saying, I’ll take luck any day of the week as long as it lets us keeps turning on win lights. I also want to thank all the fans for coming out and packing this place today. It was pretty awesome.”

Enders, in the JHG/Melling/SCAG Chevy Camaro, outran Mason McGaha, and was in take-no-prisoners mode, despite the class not getting any time on the racetrack Friday.

“We are very thankful for what Mission Foods is doing for our sport,” she said. “It’s exciting to have a race within a race, despite the stress that it adds. Rolling off the trailer and having no shots at the tree or racetrack before a round of eliminations is a little nerve-wracking. We were all under the same rules, so we just had to go out there and do our best. Fortunately, we laid down an awesome pass that first round against [Greg] Anderson, and then taking down Mason McGaha in the finals. Both my competitors had .00 reaction times, taking me to school on the Tree, but fortunately my horsepower saved me. I’ve saved my car before, and today the guys and the car saved me. Obviously extremely thankful for that.”

4 – OFFICIAL FULL-TIMER – SCAG/Versatran-sponsored Funny Car driver Dave Richards said “it definitely still hasn't sunk in yet, even though we're three races in” that he’s a full-time competitor. “But when I think about what we're going to do for the whole year, really, it's a good feeling. It's really cool to be out here and to know that we're going to be able to do it. And I'm just looking forward to the benefits of running full-time. where our performance is going to step up. That's the part I'm really looking forward to.”

He has faith in his new Mustang and said, “I feel like once we get one or two good laps in, it's going to steamroll from there and do good. We've got a great group of guys here, and everyone's working really hard, and I'm excited for everyone to see this car go down the track and put down a good number.”

He might be looking still. Heading into the final qualifying session, the Wellington, Fla., resident occupied the No. 16 bump spot.  However, he was bumped out and failed to qualify, along with Terry Haddock.

However a race weekend goes, Richards has been enjoying becoming more visible to fans. He said he’s looking forward to everyone knowing who he is. And they will, if he keeps greeting fans at the rope line at his pit.

“I love being out here with the fans, and it's really a cool deal. It’s really cool to have so many people that have come over just to congratulate us – other teams, other fans that are just congratulating us on being able to do this full-time. They know how hard it is to be able to do this and to get a deal. I think it's a lot of just the right people at the right time, and when we met Randy [Gloede, CEO of Metalcraft/SCAG], we just instantly hit it off. I feel like we've got the best sponsor in the world, because they're such great people and they want us to have fun and be good to their people. So yeah, the passion's going to pay off for us. I know it.”

One goal this year, Richards said, is to make the Countdown – something that once seemed so unattainable that he never paid attention to points. “Honestly, racing, I never paid attention because it never applied to me,” he said. “So I mean, one of my goals this year is to be into that Countdown mix. So then I guess I'll learn the pros and cons of it, but our goal is to get into that top 10.”




5 – TWO-DAY EVENT – For the first time in the sport’s history, drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle will make three qualifying passes in a single day as part of a two-day event this June 22-23 at Virginia Motorsports Park. Qualifying will go Saturday, with eliminations Sunday at Dinwiddie, Va., south of Richmond.

Why now and why Virginia?

“We’re trying something new,” Jeffrey Young, the NHRA’s vice-president of marketing and communications, said. “Having three qualifying sessions in one day is going to make for an incredible experience for our fans. This is a trial run for us. It’s something new and different, and we’ll revisit the decision following the event.

“When discussing these things, we all work together as a team and look for new ways to approach an event. When we spoke to our stakeholders – the race teams, the racetracks and our partners – we all thought (Virginia) was a great opportunity to try a two-day event that included three qualifiers in one day,” Young said.

Many racers, including Funny Car’s Paul Lee and Pro Stock’s Greg Anderson, are all for it.

Lee, an active PRO member and team owner/racer, said, “We did it at Bradenton, and it was very successful. NHRA asked us about it, how it went, and we told 'em it went great. Fans never left the stands. We got action all day long. It was great. Fans loved it. At least the fans I've talked to, they loved it. They had action all day. It was, like, non-stop. What's better than that? That's a good show.”

He said that was one of PRO’s goals with the Superstar Shootout.

“That was one of the things we wanted to try, because we think this doesn't make sense to make one run on Friday and two on Saturday. And then also, we have too long of a turnaround time between runs. Fans don't want to wait three, four hours for the next run. We said, 'Let's do it.' Quick turnaround and it worked out,” Lee said.

That rushed servicing, he said, was “no different than an NHRA race day where there's quick turnarounds. We just did it at a qualifying session. It was awesome, and I'm glad NHRA has taken the initiative to try it out, because I think the fans are going to love it.”

Five-time Pro Stock champion Anderson certainly did.

He said, “I love it. I love that deal. I wish we do that more often. That's definitely what most of us racers would rather do. Instead of stretching it out for three days, we'd much rather do it that way. So that's great. And I hope it opens a lot of people's eyes that it can be done and it's a better way to do it. It’s the right move. They’re scared to do it, but I'm telling you, I really believe it's the way to go. They’ll be surprised that you can make money at it this way. This is a better way than what we do.”

Buddy Hull, the Funny Car division’s resident philosopher, said, “I think it’s a good experiment. I think it’s a trial-and-error thing. Our sport is powered by fans, so we want to get as many fans as possible coming to our events. The more fans, the more opportunity it creates for all of us as drivers and owners. The NHRA is doing a good job at trying to discover what fans want the most.

“I think some teams are going to really enjoy it, because it is a simulation of what it would be like to go all the way up to the semifinals on race day. And I think some teams maybe will dislike it because of that exact same reason. There are going to be some mixed reviews from both fans and teams,”

Hull said. “Overall, I come from a school of thought of ‘If you’re not trying new things and you’re not attempting to make something better, then why are you doing what you’re doing?’”

Pacific Raceways operator Jason Fiorito has demonstrated his willingness to think in non-traditional ways, with among other decisions, the Pacific Technology Center that’s adding relevance and longevity to his racetracks. But he said the notion of a two-day national-event format wouldn’t serve his particular market well.

“I just don't know if that would play in our market as well as it's playing in other markets,” said the host of July’s Northwest Nationals. “Every market is different, and one point is the length of travel that it takes to get to Seattle. We're a very, very long pull. Our market is an important one. But it's also much different in geographic location and maybe in population base and demographics, as well. I would never second-guess anybody in their market."

Anderson would challenge that take on the situation. 

 “I don't know that that's true. I think fan-base wise, it's a better deal. First of all, we don't get the fans that are here today, they don't come all three days anymore. They don't cost too much. So they pick one day, maybe two days. Right?," he said.

"So if you shorten a three-day event to two, they're going to get all those same people. They just condense into two days. That's my opinion. So I think it's a better deal. You've got more people on the grounds each day. That's how I think it'll go.”

But Fiorito continues to buck the trend and confound conventional wisdom.

“A big deal for PRO was adding back in that fourth qualifying session [at Seattle] because of the needs of their sponsors, their hospitality, and kind of a guaranteed minimum purse to justify a shorter drive. Getting rid of Friday does mitigate some of the expenses, certainly both in prize money and staffing, but in our case, I think we're going a little bit the opposite direction.

“We're adding a qualifying session back in, adding lights to put on what we hope will be a phenomenal show at night. We're making the decision to increase our expenses and put on a longer and what we hope will be a better show to attract more spectators. We have to do all we can to put on the best show for the fans to make it worthwhile for PRO and their sponsors and create an experience both for in-person and on TV that we hope will really play well.

"So we're just taking some risk here, for sure. The NHRA and Pacific Raceways are sharing that risk, but we feel like adding to the show is a better play in our market, and we're probably the best to judge what will and won't play in our market," he said. "And other folks are better situated to make those decisions in theirs. I'd never questioned what somebody else is doing in terms of what's best for their market and their fans. We're all business people, and we have to do what's best in our own little niches in the country.” 

“We haven't specifically sat down with PRO or NHRA to contemplate a two-day event. I think my knee jerk, if that conversation were to happen, would be to hesitate in our market,” he said. “I think knowing what I know about PRO and its desire to have four qualifying sessions up here, my guess is that they would hesitate to support a move like that. I don't know that that conversation would gain a lot of traction in our market, but we're always willing to entertain any ideas that keeps the sport healthy and profitable.”

Maybe surprisingly, small-budgeted team owner Terry Haddock said he’s not a fan of the shortened race weekend.

“I don't particularly care for it. When you abbreviate something, you usually take something out,” he said. “At the end of the day, the guy that's selling beer at the concessions, he gets one less day of selling beer. The fans get one less day of racing. I don't know, but I don't know what the decision-making process is.”

“Some say it's to save money, but buying plane tickets on Fridays is more expensive than Thursdays and Wednesdays. So I don't know that that's going to help anybody. It does probably save one night at hotels. I don't know that it's any good for us,” Haddock said. “Our team has improved so much that can we do three [qualifiers] in a day? Yes, we can. But we're trying to get better at doing this, and when you rush, you make mistakes.”

Hull concluded that whatever happens, “hopefully someone understands that they need to track what's going on. They need to poll the fans, find out what they like, count the heads, count the dollar bills. It's got to make dollars.”

6 – ‘ALL I CAN DO IS KEEP TRYING’ – Terry Haddock continues to show improvement in his Funny Car program. He began the year with a No. 12 start and lost to Chad Green.

He bounced back at Pomona by atoning for that. He defeated Green in the first round of the Winternationals before exiting against Ron Capps in the quarterfinals. Qualifying on this tricky racetrack has been like a bit of a roller-coaster ride: He was 13th Friday then was bumped out Saturday morning. In the final session Saturday afternoon, he was unable to muscle his way back into the field.

And once again, Haddock is shouldering the tuning duties by himself. Johnny West, instrumental in helping Haddock the past few years, left the program to join Cruz Pedregon’s efforts. But Haddock knows he’s capable of doing the job.

“Johnny taught me a lot, but last year I was doing the same job I'm doing now and working with Johnny,” Haddock said. “We’ve been blessed, and there's many, many, many smart people out here that have taught me lots of different things and that I talk to and I learn things from.”

Haddock will compete also at the next race on the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, the four-wide event at Las Vegas. But the rest of his season is uncertain.

“We're only going when we have funding, and we're committed to the first four, and then I'm going to do my best to keep going,” said the Mustang driver racing out of Temple, Texas. “But a lot of the things that we learned with Johnny last year is having all paid guys to do the same job every time, every day, keep the car consistent. And if you can't afford to have those people, we can't go racing. I want to race every day, but I can’t afford to.We want to be at all of 'em, and I just don't know how that's going to play out. So all I can do is keep trying.”

7 – SIDELINED – Also not making the show in Pro Stock, along with Camrie Caruso, were Fernando Cuadra Jr., Joey Grose, and Caruso’s newest teammate, Sienna Wildgust. Debuting Travis Shumake, the home-crowd favorite, anchors the barely full Top Fuel field at No. 16. 
8 – THINK ABOUT THIS – While the NHRA is entertaining new and exciting ways to attract fans, Paul Lee has an idea for them. How about having just 16 races on the schedule?

After he said he was all for the two-day race format, Lee fielded the question: Can you see that happening 21 times a year?

“Probably not that many times,” the Funny Car owner/driver and racing-industry businessman said. “But I don't think we need 21 races. It's too many, in my opinion. I think we need 16 races. [That’s] a good spot, because the money's just not out here for people to get $4 million anymore.”

9 – FANS FLOCK BACK – A year ago, drag-racing fans jammed the grandstands to witness what they thought was the final Arizona Nationals. The race was reinstated in a multi-year agreement, and the fans packed the newly rebranded Firebird Motorsports Park stands again Saturday. The NHRA declared it a “sellout” crowd, but provided no attendance figures.

Track manager Casey Buckman said, “When we started this journey to pursue a new era of Firebird Motorsports Park, it was driven by the passion of keeping racing alive in Arizona for our great fans, drivers, and teams. Today is proof that racing is alive and here to stay at ‘Arizona’s Home for Motorsports.’ Thank you to the loyal fans, racers, sponsors, and employees for selling out the 2024 Arizona Nationals. We look forward to hosting this great event for years to come.”

It is the first announced sellout crowd of this season.

10 –  Overheard:

“I just realized I'm going to be 75 in another month, May 4, and I'm doing some serious thinking where I'm going. But my mood’s changing right now. I told myself, 'How bad do you want to win?' I was mad, mad at myself. I started saying, ‘You just need to get out of the seat. You're just too old for this stuff. Or you get out there and fight the fight. And I did. Things went right, and I got the win. So I'm excited.” – John Force after claiming his NHRA-record-extending 156th victory Saturday

“We had a good car. We should have won that race. That one hurts.” – Tony Schumacher, following his Winternationals final loss to Justin Ashley




1 – CHALLENGE FIELDS COME INTO FOCUS - It’s a mouthful, the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge. And this bonus race that pits semifinalists from the previous event with cash and Countdown bonus points at stake has had its name chewed up. Some refer to it as the #2Fast2Furious race. J.R. Todd, who’ll square off Saturday against John Force in the final round for the Funny Car class at the Arizona Nationals at Firebird Motorsports Park, referred to it as “the tortilla money.”

But the second-year program from series sponsor Mission Foods continues to generate interest. Saturday’s match-ups will mark the first time in 2024 the qualified drivers will settle their duels on the racetrack. At the recent Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., rain denied all 12 racers the chance. So the purse was split in Top Fuel among Shawn Langdon, Antron Brown, and the father-son duo of Billy and Steve Torrence. In Funny Car, Todd, Bob Tasca III, Chad Green, and Austin Prock shared the prize money. KB Titan Racing and Elite Motorsports divvied up the money on behalf of Erica Enders, Greg Anderson, Cristian Cuadra, and Dallas Glenn.

Even with limited track time Friday because of racing-surface problems, the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes found out who their finalists will be.

Tony Schumacher scored a wire-to-wire victory over Billy Torrence, and Brittany Force used a 3.689-second E.T. to overcome a sluggish reaction time and eliminate Justin Ashley. So, Schumacher and Brittany Force will battle Saturday. The Funny Car showdown was set, as J.R. Todd dispatched Matt Hagan to advance and John Force sailed past tire-smoking Ron Capps for his victory.

If just saying the Challenge’s full name is a challenge, imagine how the Pro Stock class was challenged. Like the Pro Mod class, it never got a chance to get on track Friday. Waiting in the wings for a chance Saturday during its non-traditional three qualifying sessions will be epic “enemies” Erica Enders and Greg Anderson, as well as Dallas Glenn and Mason McGaha.

2 – UNFINISHED BUSINESS – Rain was the big winner at Pomona, Calif., in the second of 21 Mission Foods Drag Racing Series races. So qualifying action Saturday in each class will wrap up with the final-round pairings from the Lucas Oil Winternationals. 

In Top Fuel, the SCAG-sponsorship “haves” and “have-no-longers” – Justin Ashley and Tony Schumacher, respectively – will go for the trophy.

The Funny Car class will stage a classic match between John Force and Matt Hagan, who represent a combined 20 series championships.

Pro Stock’s reigning champion, Erica Enders, and always-dangerous Dallas Glenn will provide yet another Elite Motorsports-KB Titan clash. Curiously, in his 17 Pro Stock final-round appearances, Dallas Glenn has faced Erica Enders only twice before this weekend. She won both times. 





3 – HULL OF A GOOD LIFE – Funny Car driver Buddy Hull is as grateful and vivacious as he is philosophical and intellectual. And with a baby boy due to him and wife Madi on his 44th birthday, Aug. 26, and switch from Top Fuel to his favored Funny Car, life is blissful.    

“I’m blessed. I'm so thankful for life,” the Jim Dunn Racing driver and Dallas-based businessman said. “When I look at my life and what I came from, the only thing I can say is I've worked hard to get to this point, and it inspires me to work harder, to never lose what I have gotten, what I've gained. Don't take it for granted.

“My hard work has led me to be around a bunch of good people. And then once my hard work got coupled with good people, that's when my life started to get interesting. And my life really started to get interesting probably in my early 30s, because up to that point, I was still a kiD, and you don't have the wrinkles. You don't have the gray hair. All you have then is a lot of tenacity and a lot of work ethic,” Hull said. “Then as you get older, you start to earn more respect because you're older. I know that sounds crazy, but you get older and then more good people start to come around you.

“And I believe that success follows success. So I've always looked at my life and said, ‘OK, who can I pick out in this crowd that's doing better at this than I'm doing it? And how can I model my life to become somewhat a shadow of their life?’ If you want to add the biggest arms in the gym, you follow the guy's workout that currently has the biggest arms in the gym. And once you get yours to be his size, then you figure out a way to surpass him. If you want your business to be the best business that it can be, you mimic and mock the best in the industry. And then once you get there, you do something to surpass them. If you want to be the best race car driver you can be, you mimic and mock what the best person does. And once you get there, you do something to surpass them. You never reinvent the wheel. That wheel has been a circle since it was created. We live in a world that I believe there's not too much left. The technology's left, but the keys to success as an individual, they've already all been uncovered. They've been unleashed,” he said.

Hull called Connie Kalitta and Don Schumacher team owner “models” and declared that “they're the best team owners of all time. Now, John Force, undoubtedly the best Funny Car driver of all time, built his business off of his talents, his personality, but how do you mimic that? You can't. It’s not duplicatable.”

Making that all the more remarkable, Hull said, is the fact that “this is one of the most complicated businesses on the earth. You got a race car that's got to perform, but then you have a whole business to run behind the scenes that people just don't even understand. It's a business. Professional sports, whether it's got tires and wheels on, or whether they wear a helmet, throw a ball, it doesn't matter. It's all a business. It's all business.” 





4 – PATIENCE, SON – Steve Torrence, a two-time Top Fuel winner here at Firebird Motorsports Park, is proud and relentless. And it has irritated him not to be crushing the competition like he did in years past. He won 35 of 77 starts and four series crowns between 2018 and 2021, and he openly has said it has been hard to tolerate just three wins in two years. His tuner, Richard Hogan, heard about it plenty.

“I think I went to Hoagie a couple of times and said, ‘What the hell are you doing?  We had a really good race car, and now we can't outrun our own shadow.’ But, bottom line, my dad taught me that you hire a guy, you put him in a spot, you support him the best you can, and you let him do his job.’ And when you do that, more times than not, it pays dividends.  It just took a little longer to figure it out than we thought it would,” the currently No. 4-ranked driver said.

Torrence understood the scenario. “Sometimes you got to take a step back before you can go forward,” he said. “You can go from hero to zero out here pretty quick.  We had peaked with what we were doing, and we needed to make some changes to stay relevant.”

The Kilgore, Texas, native certainly is relevant, and he looked Friday to be getting back in the winning groove as the tentative No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel. 


4 – 11-YEAR-OLD PRO STOCK RECORDS HOLD UP – Long-retired Mike Edwards, the 2009 Pro Stock champion, set his class’ track records here in 2013 at 6.498 seconds and 213.77 mph. No one in the 20-entry category had a chance to topple these 11-year-old marks Friday. In the cold, windy, dank late afternoon, the NHRA permitted only the nitro cars, which have added downforce, to make passes. The Pro Mod class, which consisted of 21 competitors, have to wait until Saturday to debut this weekend.

Track records in Top Fuel and Funny Car also remained intact Friday. No one Friday threatened Brittany Force’s Top Fuel supremacy. She owns both ends of the class-best performances, at 3.643 seconds and 337.92 mph from February 2020. Matt Hagan (3.823-second elapsed time from 2022) and Courtney Force (337.16 mph speed from Feb. 2018) still own the Funny Car standards.
5 – BROWN SOON COULD BECOME NO. 2 ON TOP FUEL LIST – Antron Brown completed his Top Fuel license here in 2008, and he’s seeking his 75th overall victory (59th in Top Fuel). Brown, who earned 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle trophies before moving to a dragster, is third on the Top Fuel class’ all-time victories list. He has just four victories to go to tie inactive No. 2 Larry Dixon.  



6 – ARIZONA SPICE – Rather surprisingly, Top Fuel newcomer Travis Shumake had his first opportunity Friday to show his Fry’s Food Stores/Arizona Lottery/ Lerner & Rowe Injury Attorneys dragster to mom Susie. Shumake is the son of popular hometown hero Tripp Shumake, the late Funny Car racer who lived in nearby Chandler. Both Tripp and Susie Shumake are inductees into the Arizona Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

Travis Shumake is a bit continental, with close ties to his Phoenix-area roots, a race shop at Brownsburg, Ind., and a residence in New York City. And after earning competition licenses in the Super Comp, Top Alcohol Dragster, and Nostalgia Funny Car categories, he’s ready to embark on the nomadic life of an NHRA drag racer.

And a handful of Arizona-based companies have pledged their commitment to his endeavor. They include Postino Wine Cafe, Tide Cleaners, Radford Racing School, Mexican restaurant chain Someburros, newly Arizona-headquartered aftermarket parts distributor FCP Euro, and Goldbook Financia. Yates Buick-GMC in nearby Goodyear, Ariz., has stepped up, too, with a fleet of GMCs.

“Homegrown Arizona companies showed up for me in a big way,” Shumake said. “As a kid from central Phoenix it’s wild to see the places and names I grew up with on the side of my car. Their support will undoubtedly fuel our success on the track as we dive head first into the Rookie of the Year battle with Tony Stewart. I have so much gratitude for all of our partners and their invaluable support.”

His good friend Jasmine Salinas, driver of the Scrappers dragster, is only one race ahead of him, and she said she has “gotten past those first-race jitters.” She said, “My love for racing grows exponentially every time that Top Fuel engine roars to life. It feels right, and I really do love the challenge. Getting to race with fans in the stands just fuels my passion for the sport, and I want to give them a better performance each time I go out there.”

After Friday qualifying, in which they ran side by side, Shumake was 16th in the order and Salinas eighth.  

7 – FOSTER HOLDING HIS OWN – KB Titan Racing associate Brandon Foster, who’ll celebrate his 44thbirthday Saturday, is competing at only his third Pro Stock race. But after a pair of quarterfinal finishes, at Gainesville and Pomona, the Owasso, Okla.-based founder and CEO of Aqua Prop, said, “I think I'm doing pretty good. There's a lot going on at the starting line. I've got to work on my reaction time. That's my biggest hurdle right now. But other than that I've been all right.”

Foster came to the growing KB Titan team through his association with teammate Camrie Caruso. “I met Camry back in 2019 or 2020, I think it was 2020. [I’ve been] following her, sponsored her, and then I just got hooked up with these guys.”

Two of his four children (who range from 17 to two years old), son Cashyn and daughter Adley, have been racing in the Jr. Dragster program.

Foster isn’t exactly one of the youngsters at KB Titan, such as Caruso or 17-year-old Sienna Wildgust, or even the thirtysomethings such as Dallas Glenn and now-less-active Kyle Koretsky who have made a big splash in the organization. So where does Foster see himself in the mix that includes team co-owner Eric Latino?

“I feel like I'm pretty young,” the father of four kids aged 17 to two said.

Aqua Prop keeps him busy and away from home at Midland, Texas, about as much as the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series. He has said he’ll compete at 15 races this season, but he devotes a lot of his energy to Aqua Prop, which combines all of his interests – construction, transportation, and logistics.

But he’s livin’ on Tulsa Time. 



8 – HART HUNGRY FOR MORE SUCCESS – After a successful “Fill the Food Pantry” campaign to benefit his hometown of Huntington, Ind., Top Fuel’s Josh Hart is looking to start restocking his trophy case.

The R+L Carriers dragster owner-driver said, “We haven’t reached our full potential recently. We made some serious parts changes towards the end of the season [in 2023] to get on the same level with our competition, and that is still taking some time to work everything out. These Top Fuel dragsters are incredible machines from the standpoint of tuning and driving. Every change affects another element, so this is an ongoing process. This weekend I am looking forward to seeing more improvement.

“We made a lot of passes in Bradenton leading up to and during the PRO Superstar Shootout, which was a big deal for us. We still need more passes,” Hart said, “but I felt good in Gainesville at the Gatornationals. Two weeks ago, at the Winternationals, Mother Nature didn’t do us any favors. And only having three scheduled qualifiers and losing one of those didn’t do anyone any favors. We missed our tune-up on Sunday morning when the conditions changed for everyone.”

Sadly, the conditions this weekend at Phoenix are almost as capricious. But the weather might provide some chances to see some quick and fast passes.

 “We definitely want to go rounds at Firebird this weekend. That is everyone’s goal, but we have a race car that can turn on win lights. We just need to get over a couple issues with the tune-up,” Hart said. “I think we can come off the trailer with a good run Friday.”

He was 15th in the provisional order Friday.

But he was No. 1 with the United with Love of Huntington County food bank. Hart and wife Brittanie pledged $10,000 in matching funds during the month of March to support their hometown food bank. United with Love reported that goal was met before the end of the month, including a final-week donation of $5,721. That brought the total to $15,721, plus the Harts’ $10,000 donation.


9 – BALDWIN RESETS CAREER NUMBERS – In grabbing the provisional No. 6 qualifying position Friday, Top Fuel team owner-driver Krista Baldwin recorded her career-best elapsed time and speed with her 3.755-second pass at 325.37 mph. That eclipsed her previous mark from Brainerd, Minn., last year of 3.817, and it improved the 321.35 mph she clocked here at Phoenix in 2023. Clutching her time slip after the run, Baldwin said, “This right here makes everything over the winter worth it.” 


10 – ROCK ON – Following Saturday’s activity on the dragstrip, The 80s Rock Tour concert will entertain at the Wild Horse Pass Festival Grounds (19593 S. 48th Street, Chandler). Billed as “The Sound of Freedom and Rebellion,” it will feature singers Lou Gramm, Steve Augeri, Fran Cosmo, and John Payne, former vocalists, respectively, for the bands Foreigner, Journey, Boston, and Asia.