Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals
Event 14 of 21
Brainerd International Raceway
Aug. 18 – 20, 2023
Mike Lewis, Vice President of JCM Racing, competed in the Top Alcohol Dragster category for the second event in a row during the NHRA Brainerd Nationals, campaigning the JCM SCAG Power Equipment/Versatran Transport Equipment A/Fuel Dragster owned by Robin and Tony Samsel
Lewis qualified fourth and raced to a runner-up finish on Sunday following his No. 1 qualifier and semifinal effort from the previous event in Topeka, Kan. last weekend
Lewis is now a three-time finalist and two-time No. 1 qualifier in the TAD category
Justin Ashley Races to Semis Again at Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals
BRAINERD, Minn. (August 20, 2023) – At the conclusion of qualifying yesterday, Justin Ashley ran to the No. 1 qualifier spot in the Phillips Connect Toyota dragster powered by Okuma, setting up an interesting race day at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Ashley earned a championship point on Saturday in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge race and clinched his spot in the Countdown to the Championship. The combination of championship and qualifying points had Ashley focused on making the most of his opportunity today.
“This sport is so up and down,” said Ashley, a six-time Top Fuel winner in 2023. “You have to really learn to appreciate the little things. When these moments come, you can’t bypass them because we're in the middle of our season. You need to appreciate it because it takes a lot of energy, hard work, commitment, and dedication both on and off the racetrack to be able to be in positions like this. It was very meaningful, to be able to receive all the Countdown celebration awards on behalf of our entire Phillips Connect Toyota team.”
In the first round, Ashley faced veteran Terry Totten and his Totten Racing Top Fuel team. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year and 2023 season point leader was not looking past a tough competitor. As the reaction time average category-leading driver, Ashley was first off the line and never trailed in the drag race. His winning time of 3.748 seconds at 332.51 MPH was right with his qualifying time and earned Ashley a competition Bye run in the second round.
“Every round on Sunday feels like a final round,” said Ashley. “You almost have to have four perfect rounds of racing to put yourself in a position to win, so these races are super close. The margin for error is so small. You know when you have good cars going up and down the racetrack consistently and even the part-time cars who come to fill out the field legitimately can go out there and win rounds. It makes it difficult but also at the same time it really makes it that much more rewarding.”
Ashley and his Mike Green and Tommy DeLago-tuned Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster took advantage of the Bye run and took an aggressive shot at the track with an empty lane beside his racecar. Ashley was still strong on the starting line with a .046-second reaction time. His Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster that also gets support from KATO Fastening Systems, Mac Tools, Lucas Oil, Strutmasters.com, and Toyota smoked the tires but still advanced to the semifinals for the second year in a row.
Looking to advance to his third consecutive final round, Ashley faced Leah Pruett in the semifinals. With another appearance in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty locked up by advancing to the semifinals, Ashley was looking to turn on another win light. Ashley grabbed a reaction time advantage of .050 to .068 seconds and he held the lead well past half-track before Pruett chased him down. The margin of victory was just over a foot and equated to .002 seconds at over 331 mph.
“The competition being so tough, you're going to have races like that throughout the year,” said Ashley. “Sometimes they're gonna go your way and sometimes they're not. It's just one of those races where you tip your cap to your opponent and move on to the next one. We can take that run and learn from it and make sure that we apply it moving forward.”
Ashley extended his Top Fuel point lead with the semifinal effort. He will head to the U.S. Nationals with 1,133 points and over a hundred-point lead on second-place driver Steve Torrence. The regular season will conclude at Lucas Oil Raceway September 1 – 4.
Qualified: No. 1 (3.746 E.T. at 328.14 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.748 E.T. at 332.51 MPH defeated Terry Totten 3.977 E.T. at 258.12 MPH
E2: 6.781 E.T. at 86.00 MPH (on a Bye run)
E3: 3.753 E.T. at 322.73 MPH defeated by Leah Pruett 3.733 E.T. at 331.94 MPH
Tony Schumacher Leaves Brainerd Looking for More
Three-time Brainerd winner Tony Schumacher made a trio of clean, consistent qualifying passes at the NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, providing a boost of confidence going into race day. Schumacher’s SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel dragster ran into a bout of tire smoke in the opening round, though, leading to an early end to Sunday competition for the eight-time NHRA world champion.
Schumacher opened qualifying with a 3.828-second pass at 322.34 MPH on Friday afternoon. He improved to a 3.804 E.T. at 327.90 MPH on Saturday, then followed that up with a consistent 3.819 E.T. at 326.08 to end up No. 10 on the final qualifying order.
While the SCAG Power Equipment dragster was one of the most consistent cars in qualifying, crew chiefs Mike ‘Zippy’ Neff and Jon ‘LJ’ Schaffer went into eliminations looking to step up. Unfortunately, Schumacher drove into tire smoke early in the run and couldn’t recover in time to catch Leah Pruett in their first-round match.
“Well, what can you say other than this was a disappointing Sunday,” said Schumacher, the 2022 Brainerd runner-up. “We have made huge strides and had a good car during qualifying and felt like we were ready to go on race day. We were on a killer run and the car was absolutely hauling butt, but then it rattled a bit and we smoked the tires. Losing first round is never how you want your Sunday to end.”
Schumacher remains confident that his JCM Racing team is on the cusp of a performance upswing. To ensure that happens, the team will stay at Brainerd International Raceway to test on Monday after the race.
“I’ve had a lot of great races here at Brainerd, and I was dead set on sending a Wally home with Randy (Gloede, President and CEO of SCAG) and everyone at SCAG so they could add another trophy to their display,” Schumacher said. “At the end of the day, I believe in my guys, and I believe in Zippy and LJ. We are testing tomorrow and we have some new parts we’ve added into the motor. I know we are going to come into Indy ready to fight for every round.”
After testing, Schumacher and the SCAG Power Equipment team will return to the iconic Indianapolis Raceway Park for the NHRA U.S. Nationals, where Schumacher is the winningest NHRA Camping World Series driver with 10 victories.
Qualified: No. 10 (3.804 E.T. at 327.90 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 5.103 E.T. at 144.92 MPH defeated by Leah Pruett 3.820 E.T. at 267.27 MPH
Tim Wilkerson Sees Promise with New ‘Countdown Combination’ During Brainerd Race
With two wins in three final-round appearances so far in 2023, driver-tuner Tim Wilkerson was looking to break through for his first Brainerd International Raceway victory on Sunday during the NHRA Brainerd Nationals. Aboard the SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang, Wilkerson earned five bonus points during qualifying by powering to the quickest run of the third session, and second-quickest run in the fourth and final qualifying round. While ‘Wilk’ was strong on Saturday, a loss of traction in Friday night’s ‘field setting’ Q2 round caused him to miss out on a top-seeded starting position, and he started race day from the No. 9 spot.
Wilkerson carried the momentum from Saturday's qualifying laps into Sunday’s elimination rounds, ripping off a stout 3.883-second at 331.69 MPH pass to defeat Alexis DeJoria’s 3.906 E.T. His run was the quickest of the round and allowed him the advantage of lane choice over reigning Funny Car world champion, Ron Capps. The veteran drivers lined up side-by-side ready to dual for a spot in the semifinals. Wilkerson moved first but his hopes of a first Brainerd triumph went up in smoke as his machine lost traction as soon as he stood on the throttle while Capps made a clean pass in the opposite lane to advance.
“Nice runs all weekend until E2," said Wilkerson. "I’m very upset about my performance in E2 there but we’re running an all-new clutch program here for the Countdown, and this was part of learning that. I hope it keeps reacting the way it had been prior to the second round because it’s really acting good. But, we’ll go to Indy and the plan is, to keep running as good as we have been.”
The Maynard Wilkerson Racing team occupies the No. 7 position in the Funny Car rankings. Only one race remains before the playoff starting positions are set. With the unique points-and-a-half format at the upcoming NHRA U.S. Nationals, Wilkerson has an opportunity to move into the top five when he returns to Indianapolis Raceway Park, Sept. 1 – 4.
Qualified: No. 9 (3.968 E.T. at 320.97 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.883 E.T. at 331.69 MPH defeated Alexis DeJoria 3.906 E.T. at 331.28
E2: 8.517 E.T. at 107.19 MPH defeated by Ron Capps 3.892 E.T. at 333.08 MPH