SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - 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.




1 – YOU’RE NOT ALONE - Strip away all the focus on elapsed times, speeds, and positioning in the starting order, and what is left in the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series is a connection. It’s a connection with others, and, in many cases, a platform for helping one another.

Tony Stewart’s Top Fuel dragster once again this weekend raises awareness for the Rayce Rudeen Foundation, which honors the memory of the adventurous young Seattle resident and Spokane Valley native who died from an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2016 at age 26. Friday would have been the 34th birthday for this elder son of sprint-car team owner Kevin Rudeen.

The foundation’s mission is to let families affected by this crisis know about available addiction resources while erasing the stigma associated with addiction.

“I’ve never really been around it,” Stewart said of addiction cases, but through Rudeen, he said, “you realize what the severity is.”

Of course, he said, he is aware of the growing problem from news reports and hearing others’ experiences.

“Kevin has started this foundation. It's not going to bring his son back, but he's trying to help communities and neighborhoods and families guard against opioid addiction. He’s trying to empower these neighborhoods and communities to help bond together. They do a real good job of helping families with prevention and recovery," Stewart said.

“It’s something we’re very dedicated to, so this weekend’s a cool weekend. Take Vegas out of the equation. Take driving Leah’s car out of the equation. Being here and being able to support Kevin and what they do and the mission that they have is something that really means a lot this weekend,” he said.

Stewart might not have a personal story when it comes to addiction. But his team’s Funny Car driver, four-time champion Matt Hagan, does. Hagan lost his younger brother Kyle, 32, January 7, 2017, to an addiction that began with a surgery and a doctor who over-prescribed Oxycontin.   

“I think it touches a lot of families,” Hagan said of the epidemic. “I think there's a lot of families out there that are dealing with those types of issues: ‘I don’t know where to go or how to make it better.’ My brother was in and out of rehab a couple of times, and it just didn't work. That's  a  serious  drug -- I  watched  it  kill  my  brother  in  three  years. There are so many folks that  are  out  there  that  are  prescribed  this  stuff  and  then  they  turn  to  heroin  afterwards  when  the  doctor  cuts  them  off, and then heroin is full of fentanyl nowadays. And you have people OD-ing all the time, and it starts with their primary-care doctor.”

But Hagan said he appreciated the work the Rayce Rudeen Foundation does: “It’s a real thing and a real need. And I really champion what they’re doing out there.”

Stewart said, “It’s a hard thing for families to talk in public about. But that’s exactly why this foundation is so important. It gives you an outlet. It gives you somebody you can talk to behind closed doors or on the phone who can help. Just knowing there’s help out there is half the battle. They feel like they’re dealing with it all alone. And it’s a very helpless feeling. It’s a lonely feeling, feeling like you don’t know what to do, where to turn. So having a car and Kevin and his foundation here this weekend is huge for people – just knowing there is an outlet. And when they go on the website (www.raycerudeen.org), [they] realize there are hundreds of thousands of people going through this, it definitely makes them more comfortable and allows them to open up about it.”  


2 – ALL IN THE FAMILY – Jeg Coughlin Jr. scored the first triumph in his 2024 return to Pro Stock competition, acing out nephew Troy Coughlin Jr. by eight-thousandths of a second Saturday afternoon to win the first four-wide version of the Pro Stock Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge. But Troy Coughlin Jr. recorded the best reaction time of the quad that included Aaron Stanfield and Dallas Glenn. He launched in .011 seconds – or as Uncle Jeg said, “The little rascal was .011" on the Tree.

Jeg Coughlin said, “We’ve got one badass hot rod, and I feel good behind the wheel. Any win is very special [but] we had a pretty mean quad. We needed all the horsepower under the hood to win.”

As for his prospects of earning a sixth Pro Stock championship, he said the class “is pretty tight right now. It’s anybody’s game.”

Coughlin, a five-time winner here, will start eliminations from the No. 2 slot Sunday.


3 –  BROWN ASSERTS HIMSELF – Antron Brown lost to Shawn Langdon at Gainesville. Brown lost to Langdon at Phoenix. But Saturday, at this fourth race on the schedule, Brown got a little bit of revenge, edging Langdon for the Top Fuel victory in the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge. After reigning in an all-star quad over Doug Kalitta, Tony Stewart, and Langdon, Brown completed the distinction of defeating Langdon twice in one day.

So they’re even now, and Brown had some fun with that, saying, “Shawn’s been cleaning my whistle lately, so it was good to get him back.” He said he and Langdon, both series champions, don’t wish each other a good race when they face off against each other. “We say, ‘Be safe.’ That means, ‘I’m coming to kick your tail.’”

Brown said his program is “definitely going in the right direction. It’s so incredible how tight this class is.” He said his #2Fast2Tasty final-round opponents had “cars that could win on any given Sunday.” With a cooler weather forecast for Sunday, Brown said eliminations promise to be “Triple-A throwdown” but said he’ll be ready: “We were in race mode all day" Saturday.




4 – PROCK SCORES YET ANOTHER VICTORY – Austin Prock, winner last Sunday at Phoenix and at the preseason, non-NHRA-sanctioned PRO Superstar Shootout at Bradenton, Fla., added the No. 1 qualifying position Sunday to his Funny Car Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge victory.

“It’s pretty cool. To get the first four-wide one is pretty special. I appreciate what Mission Foods is doing. That 10 grand really pads our back pockets.” He said he’s anticipating “a lot of great runs” during Sunday eliminations.



5 – SORRY, SON - If you can’t bump your kid from the staring lineup, who can you bump? Chris McGaha used his final qualifying chance to jump into the field of 16 for Sunday’s eliminations – at son Mason McGaha’s expense. Mason McGaha’s 6.704-second elapsed time wasn’t quick enough to hold off his dad’s 6.683. Another surprise non-qualifier on the entry list of 20 was Matt Hartford, along with Steve Graham and Joey Grose.  


6 – GET OUT OF THE WAY FOR JERRY TUCKER – An Elite Motorsports driver claimed the top starting spot on the Pro Stock grid Saturday, but it wasn’t The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Queen of Hearts Erica Enders. It wasn’t Jeg Coughlin. It wasn’t Troy Coughlin or Aaron Stanfield (although he was No. 1 in Factory X qualifying). This time it was second-year driver Jerry Don Tucker, and for the first time in his career.

Tucker earned his first No. 1 qualifying position, and he was plenty satisfied, because he said, “It’s pretty difficult to get these cars down the racetrack” and “I’m barely past being a rookie. It takes about a year to learn how to drive one properly.”

He has inherited Enders’ car from last season, when she claimed her sixth series crown. But that hasn’t caused Tucker to be overly confident. “There’s no difference between me and No. 16 [the last-place starter], really.”







7 – SAVED BEST FOR LAST – Erica Enders, the most successful professional drag racer at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with 10 victories, was on the bump spot when she pulled up to the starting line in the final Pro Stock qualifying session Saturday. But she pulled out a 6.63-second pass to climb from 16th place to sixth.
8 – DOUBLY STRONG – Aaron Stanfield advanced to the finals of the Pro Stock class’ Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge Saturday afternoon following his No. 1-starting effort in the Factory X class. His father, Greg Stanfield, was second. Aaron Stanfield will race in Pro Stock’s Round 1 on Sunday from the No. 11 spot. 
9 – OL’ STUPID?? NUH-UH– The inaugural four-wide Funny Car victory was one of John Force’s six here at Las Vegas. But Saturday afternoon, he evidently wasn’t pleased entirely with his performance even as he grabbed the No. 2 spot in the order. Mocking himself, he said, “I won the inaugural. You’d think Ol’ Stupid here would remember how this s--- works.” 
10 – STRATEGY IN PLACE – Cruz Pedregon, going for his fifth victory at this facility and third at the spring race, qualified seventh Saturday and said about his race-day strategy, “We have to race within ourselves. We have to be methodical.”





1 – TOP TRIO -Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) closed Friday’s first day of qualifying for the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the tentative No. 1 qualifiers.

Two more sessions are scheduled for Saturday, with eliminations to start at noon Sunday.


2 – HUSEN GETTING CHANCE TO SHINE – Shawn Langdon earned his first Phoenix victory this past Sunday, but the Top Fuel points leader is the first one to say it’s because of crew chief Brian Husen. And it came with a little “tough love.”

Langdon said he “put Brian behind the eight-ball” with his uncharacteristic move at the starting line in the first round.

He recounted it this way: “You're just kind of set up on the start line, so if you hear anything, if you see anything, you're going to go. And I heard [Josh Hart’s] RPMs go up, and so I made a mistake and hit the gas. If you make the mistake and you hit the gas and you hold it down, you can make the run. My mistake was that I hit the gas and didn't hold it down. So, at that point, you can't get back in it [the throttle], because it throws everything out of whack and probably going to end up hurting a lot of stuff. So I did the idle of shame down the racetrack first round.”

And he beat himself up about that. “I pride myself on being perfect and when I'm not perfect it really hurts me,” Langdon said.

Husen simply told him, “Get over it and redeem yourself.”

Langdon said, “He’s really good about ‘Suck it up, Buttercup. Get over it and move on to the next round.’ And he puts it in a simple way that I just simply get over it.”

With what he called “full confidence in Brian,” he overcame fellow champions Antron Brown and Steve Torrence, then finally the hungry and hard-to-beat Justin Ashley – and the problematic racetrack. (“The track was really tricky. It was really tricky on that transfer spot onto the asphalt. There was a lot of variables out there for today, I'll just say that,” Langdon said.) By that time, he said, he knew he had “a flawless car.” So he said his plan was just to  “leave it up to Brian. I have that much confidence in Brian and my guys.”

So Langdon sucked it up and later said, “That's just the perks of working with a great crew chief like Brian. There’s years when we were on the Al-Anabi team [including when he won the 2013 championship]. It’s good to surround yourself with good people that in times when you may not have 100 percent confidence, they bring you right back to 100 percent.”

Husen is beginning his first season, officially, as a crew chief. But with his reputation for detail and focus, he easily could have been a crew chief long before now.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Langdon said. “Personally, I felt like Brian was ready years ago to be a crew chief. But when you're in a position like Brian and you work with Alan Johnson, it's not a bad position to be in. I think he just took advantage of the opportunity of working with AJ and for as many years as he could and not force something -- just wait for the right opportunity and wait for everything to fall into place. Fortunately for me, I'm the lucky driver that gets the residual effects of Brian patiently waiting his opportunity and now being able to showcase it.”

Even Husen, though, has to keep his concentration. The season has 17 more races and a lot of title contenders. Langdon remembered 2013 as “a dream season” and said, “Getting two wins out of the first three races, we got a little bit of a head start on that. It'd be awesome to be able to have a year like that, but it's just so hard. So many things that happened or so many good teams and so many good drivers, just to really have those dominant seasons is just so hard to do in this day and age. But to be in the position we're in, we're very excited and we're very proud of my team. It's still early in the season. This is my 15th year, and I've had a lot of seasons that we're still in test mode. We're still in the beginning of the season, but fortunately we just got a good head start on it and hopefully we can maintain that.”

Racing on back-to-back weekends is no hardship. It’s the norm for Langdon: “I basically race every weekend, whether it's the fuel car or the bracket car. So, I keep maintaining from February to November. It's just a matter of ‘Do I hit the pro tree or do I hit the top bulb?’”

3 – WHO KNEW? NOW WE ALL KNOW – Tony Stewart drove the McPhillips team’s Top Alcohol Dragster and won at Las Vegas a year ago. At the time, he probably had no idea that 12 months later he’d have a successor – one who’s brave enough to slam a surface-to-surface missile called a jet dragster down the quarter-mile, using an unholy mix of kerosene and fuel that once propelled U.S. Air Force bombers. But that’s the case this weekend.

Juan "El Árabe" (“The Arab”) Cantu, a jet dragster driver from Monterrey, Mexico, has been dreaming of powering his way to the elite level of this sport. Not a massive-sized man to begin with, he even lost 30 pounds to prepare for this first big break.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Cantu is following Stewart, a.k.a. “Smoke,” considering the mega-clouds of choking smaze his turbine engine produces as afterburner pops punctuate his presence on the starting line. Like Stewart, Cantu is tough – he started racing at age 9 ... against adults, because a class for youngsters didn’t exist. And he has chosen to jump into four-wide NHRA competition after dozens of jet-dragster launches and blasts down the track in “Majestic.”

“I’ve never raced against three other cars at the same time,” Cantu said. “So that will be something new for me. I’m going to try to stay focused on my own lane. I have a dream of racing in Top Fuel one day, and if I want to get there, I need to start and compete with the best in Top Alcohol.

“I know this race won’t be easy, and I will have a lot of eyes on me. But I’ve been preparing physically. I lost 30 pounds for this race. And I’ve been working on my mental game, as well,” he said.

“I’m grateful for the support of CompassBlue DEF and for the trust that the McPhillips team has in me,” Cantu said on the eve of his Top Alcohol debut that has at least one thing that’s familiar to him: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I chose to race in Las Vegas because when I’ve raced there in my jet dragster, people gave me a lot of support,” the regular performer on this speed-centric Las Vegas stage said. “I also got my Top Alcohol Dragster license at the facility.”

CompassBlue DEF (not to be confused with John Force Racing sponsor Blue DEF, of Old World Industries) is a Mexican company that produces high-quality, pollution-reducing exhaust fluid for diesel vehicles. And Cantu said, “I’m honored to represent a Mexican brand at the NHRA Four-Wides.” And he said he’s hoping to drive this car to the winners circle, like Tony Stewart did.

After Stewart won here last April, he repeated the feat at Reading last September, as well as at divisional races at Indianapolis and Maple Grove Raceway in between.


4 – ‘NEXT GENERATION’S HERE’ – Madison Payne is on a roll. She aced out Tony Stewart for her first Top Alcohol Dragster victory at this race last April. And last weekend at Phoenix, the third-generation racer recorded her first Super Comp triumph. The 21-year-old from Claremont, Calif., at least partly, can thank Kalitta Motorsports Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon.

He guided her to the Super Comp victory mere minutes after his own Top Fuel final-round victory at the Arizona Nationals. The two-time Super Comp champion (2007-2008) has been consulting/coaching and doing some tuning for Payne and following her brother Toby’s budding sportsman career.

Langdon called the accomplishment “awesome for her and said he was “very proud of her getting her first Super Comp win. I felt so bad for her because so many years [things didn’t go her way]. I'm like, ‘Just keep doing what you're doing. You're doing a great job. Eventually, it's going to turn around the corner.' She does such a great job driving and the poor girl has a lot of bad luck. People lay really good runs down against her. It was cool to be a part of that for the Payne family to get her first Super Comp national event win. Very deserving for her. She's an excellent driver. Hopefully opportunities like that open up a lot of people's eyes to some very, very good talent down in the sportsman ranks, some that are seen and some that are overlooked. But the next generation's here.”

Payne is racing Super Comp again this weekend in addition to trying to repeat as Top Alcohol Dragster champion.

5 – BUDDING TOP FUEL RIVALRY ORGANIC – Tony Schumacher has yet to win in four-wide competition – and he has yet to conquer Top Fuel rival Justin Ashley this year – in back-to-back match-ups. (Schumacher has a 5-4 record against the young racer from Long Island.) And that’s no shame: Points leader Shawn Langdon, no slouch himself at the Christmas Tree, called Ashley, the No. 2-ranked driver “the best leaver in the class, bar none.”

If it’s any consolation, Schumacher might not have defeated Ashley yet this season, but he does have the distinction of being the only one this year so far to stop 9-1 Langdon (Pomona, Round 2). But Schumacher has those races against Ashley on his mind as the first of two successive four-wide events is here.

“I love going to a four-wide,” Schumacher said, “because even Justin Ashley can’t put me out of those rounds! All I’ve got to do is beat everyone else, which I’ve done all year, with the exception of Gainesville, and I’m good. I can finish second to him twice and then win in the finals.

“But all jokes aside, he’s my Achilles' heel lately,” he said. “He’s a great leaver, and we’ve got mutual respect for each other. And we’re making our own natural rivalry. No one has to build it, no one has to fake it. We have a great, great car. We ran low E.T. and would have beat every car except for Justin’s car on that [Phoenix E1].”

It came on the heels of his Saturday pass against Ashley for the rain-delayed Winternationals trophy.

Schumacher said, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a situation where my run won, but would’ve lost to everyone else, or my run lost, but would’ve beat everyone else. But, at the end of the day, we have a car that’s 50 times better than what we’ve had the last few years. We’re ready to race. We’re showing up with a car that can perform. My light that round against Justin was third-quickest. It just got whooped by the guy who had the first-quickest. So, we’re not dropping the ball. It’s just we had a team step up to race us.”

6 – STEWART NOT SWEATING LONG-RANGE PLANS – Four races into his Top Fuel driving career, two-car team owner said Friday the one last adjustment from last season’s Top Alcohol Dragster campaign is missing Funny Car teammate Matt Hagan’s runs. Last year, he said, he “never missed a run of his. That’s kind of what I miss now. So far, going into Week 4, I don’t get to watch his runs now like I used to. I don’t like not seeing Matt’s runs.”

But he and Hagan have a chance to do what they did a year ago at this event; i.e., double up in the winners circle. This time, it would be a nitro double. And he’d see Hagan, for sure. The four-time Funny Car champion likely would rush over to him at the top end of the track and give him a big ol’ smooch. Hagan has done so in the past.

And Stewart said he’s alright with that.

“Listen,” Stewart said with a laugh before Friday’s two qualifying sessions, “if that’s the worst thing that happens ...  If him kissin’ me guarantees a win, he can stick his tongue down my throat – I don’t care. Whatever it takes.”  

Stewart is enjoying the challenge of competing in the NHRA’s headliner class. He’s standing in this season for wife Leah Pruett, who finished third in the class last year but is focusing on trying to start a family with Stewart. He said he’ll turn the car back over to her whenever she’s ready to resume racing one day. But he said he has no specific plan when that happens.

“I haven’t got that far yet,” Stewart said. “I’m more excited about trying to start this family with her. We’ll worry about the rest of it down the road. Honestly, there’s no pressure. There’s no timeframe. And she [Pruett] has even asked me what I think and what I think I want to do.

"I’m kind of good with going with the flow. It’s nice to not always have to have a plan. It’s nice to be able to go along and just enjoy the moment. When it’s time to make decisions, we’ll make decisions,” he said.

Rather surprisingly, Stewart said he “might go back to the alcohol car. You never know.” He was referring to the Top Alcohol Dragster class, in which he brought two national-event and two divisional trophies to the McPhillips family-owned team last year.

To many, that might seem like a regressive move, but that’s not how Stewart looks at it.

“I’m not doing this to make a living. I’m not doing this to prove a point. If I go back and run the alcohol car, I don’t feel it’s like a step backwards. I really enjoyed last year,” he said.


PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING - For the third event in a row, Paul Lee will enter the final day of qualifying, in the top five of qualifiers. He is tuned by Jonnie Lindberg, with assistance coming from John Medlen. 


7 – BUSY BOYS – Aaron Stanfield and Billy Torrence are having extra-busy weekends.

When he isn’t focused on his Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage / Melling Performance / Janac Brothers Pro Stock Chevy Camaro for Elite Motorsports, Aaron Stanfield will be trying to go for another trophy in the Factory X class.  (He doubled at Houston in 2020 in Pro Stock and Factory Stock Showdown, clinching one of his three championships in the latter class.)

He also will be competing Saturday in the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge as the specialty race runs in four-wide format for the first time. Stanfield led the Pro Stock class in #2Fast2Tasty Challenge competition with two victories in three appearances.

Stanfield, who has raced in more than one class at selected races for the past four years and will compete along with dad Greg Stanfield this weekend, knows what he’s getting into. He said, “Mentally, I start preparing for controlled chaos. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes, but luckily I have really good people on both teams that allow me to be able to do it.” His father helped pioneer the class that debuted last season and will appear at eight national events in 2024.

“I am feeling really good about the first Factory X race. We have gone testing a few times, and it went well. We always show up to a race to try and win. That's our goal. Hopefully we meet that goal this weekend,” Stanfield said.

In Pro Stock, the young 2024 season has been a struggle. “But I say it all the time, ‘One good run fixes everything,’” he said. “I've got some of the best guys at the racetrack working on my hot rod, and I have some great new sponsors. We plan on parking Black Betty in the winners circle soon.”

Billy Torrence, a Division 4 Super Comp champion in the past, will attempt to become the first driver ever to win at the same national event in both Super Comp and Top Fuel. His first national-event Super Comp victory came on this track in Oct. 2011, and his most recent was in May 2016 at Atlanta Dragway. The eight-time Top Fuel winner is chasing the championship for the first time in the sport’s headliner class.

8 – ENDERS RULES AT LAS VEGAS – Erica Enders, the six-time reigning Pro Stock champion, has more victories at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway than any other professional driver. The JHG / Melling / SCAG Power Equipment Camaro driver and third final-round appearance of the season. She won for the 10th time in her most recent visit here last fall. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) each have eight victories at Las Vegas.




9 – ABOVE AND BEYOND, DOWN UNDER – The Sydney, Australia-based Rapisarda Autosport International team hasn’t raced in the United States for a couple of years. But members of two American drag-racing teams were with the Wayne Newby/Damien Harris-fronted team in spirit last weekend at the Riverbend Nationals at Tailem Bend, South Australia.   

“The windscreen on Wayne’s car got scratched when it went into the net at the Perth Motorplex last month," team owner Santino Rapisarda said. So he called on two U.S. friends,  Mike Domagala, crew chief for Tony Stewart Racing, and Bobby Lagana, car chief for the Capco team.

“We contacted Mike Domagala at PMP [Premium Motorsports Products], and he arranged for a new screen to be sourced and shipped to Australia, along with many other bits and pieces we needed. The front wing was also damaged, but the CAPCO team and Bobby Lagana were able to help us out there. We’re really grateful. They’re our American brothers, and we really appreciate what they did for us.” 


“I got closer to that center line, but I cleared it. I learned my lesson. I’m tired of that s---.” – John Force, after vaulting from unqualified and in 17th place following Q1 to third place in the provisional Funny Car order. He was in Lane 3, next to Matt Hagan, who also entered that qualifying session outside of the 16-car field. Hagan moved up from 18th to sixth overnight.

AND . . .

“I think the coolest thing about this racetrack for me is that we get to watch those fighter pilots [from Nellis Air Force Base, across Las Vegas Boulevard from the dragstrip]. I always think I'm a badass. I watch those guys fly over us and just the respect that you have for our military and everything else. But I mean it's just cool to sit back and you be in the staging lanes, getting ready, and these fighter jets fly over and you're like, ‘Damn, that's badass.’ You know what I mean? So I really, truly love that about being out here beside the Air Force base. It's a humble reminder that I'm not the baddest dude on the planet.”  – Funny Car racer Matt Hagan.

“Funny thing, because they say the same thing about us.” – Top Fuel racer and Hagan’s team owner Tony Stewart

“I wouldn't trade 'em right now. I'd probably puke in my helmet up there. But this track is great. There's nothing better than to win here and then be able to celebrate here on The Strip. So that's pretty cool.” – Hagan, who has five victories at this facility but just one at this spring race (2023)