betway NHRA Carolina Nationals
Event 17 of 21
Countdown Event 2 of 6
Sept. 22-24, 2023
Justin Ashley Leaves Charlotte Focused on St. Louis Rebound
CONCORD, N.C. (September 24, 2023) – The Countdown has long been recognized by regular season Top Fuel champion Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster team as a marathon and not a sprint. After an early exit today at the betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, Ashley who will leave the second race of the Countdown in third place, is eager to hit his stride next weekend at the NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis. Coming into race day, Ashley was qualified No. 7 after opening qualifying as the No. 3 Top Fuel dragster, collecting a bonus point on Friday night for his 3.698 second pass at 331.61 MPH.
“We felt really good coming out of qualifying,” said Ashley, a six-time Top Fuel winner in 2023. “Mike Green and Tommy DeLago do an excellent job with this Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster week in and week out.”
In the opening round, Ashley had lane choice over No. 8 qualifier Leah Pruett. The team had to wait for the entire Top Fuel field to run before they were able to make their first pass. Both lanes appeared to be even with winners coming from the right and left side of the Christmas Tree.
Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster, which also receives backing from KATO Fastening Systems, Mac Tools, Lucas Oil and Chip Lofton’s Strutmasters.com, was first off the starting line. As soon as more power was transferred to the track from his 11,000-horsepower race car, his Goodyear slicks lost traction and he was forced to pedal his dragster, lifting off the throttle and then reengaging to pick up valuable speed and momentum. Pruett was on a smooth run and Ashley was unable to track her down before the finish line. She made her quickest pass of the weekend, 3.708 seconds, while Ashley slowed to a 4.922 second pass and only 152.99 mph.
“We launched with a lot of power and were on a nice pass ,” said Ashley. “But we came up short and Leah got the job done. This a part of racing and we understand the strength of the competition. We are a resilient group that thrives when the pressure mounts. We have four more races and plenty of time to continue progressing forward.”
Yesterday, Ashley was able to pick up a win for the Wyakin Foundation, the charity of choice for Ashley and his Phillips Connect team, when he was presented a check for $2,500 from Toyota as part of the Supra Showdown event. Throughout the season, Ashley and the rest of the Toyota Top Fuel drivers battled their Toyota Funny Car teammates in head-to-head races leading up to this weekend. Antron Brown took the final win light over Ron Capps to secure victory for Ashley and team Top Fuel.
“It was great to raise money for the Wyakin Foundation as well as a lot of other great organizations through the Supra Showdown all year,” said Ashley. “I love representing Toyota and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. Certain things are bigger than racing and charity is one of them.”
Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team will be back on track on Friday at the NHRA Midwest Nationals from World Wide Technology Raceway.
Qualified: No. 7 (3.698 E.T. at 333.74 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 4.922 E.T. at 152.99 MPH defeated by Leah Pruett 3.708 E.T. at 333.08 MPH
Tony Schumacher Out Early, but Undeterred
After a get-healthy weekend in Reading, Pa, which saw Tony Schumacher advance three spots in the Top Fuel standings thanks to a strong qualifying performance and semifinal finish, the Mike Neff/Jon Schaffer-tuned SCAG Power Equipment team was looking to carry their newfound momentum down to Concord, N.C. for the betway NHRA Carolina Nationals.
At the second event of the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoff series, Schumacher and the SCAG team continued to run strong. Right out of the trailer, they unloaded with a 3.700-second pass, their quickest of the season, in the opening session on Friday night. During the third and final qualifying round, the team backed up their Q1 run by once again resetting their season-best E.T. The SCAG dragster blasted down the track with header flames high through the 1,000-foot beams to post a 3.692 E.T., placing them sixth on the Top Fuel ladder.
Armed with the advantage of lane choice, Schumacher drew No. 9 qualifier Shawn Langdon as his first-round opponent on Sunday morning. The two Top Fuel world champions were the first pair to hit the track on race day and while they left close together and were dead-even by the time they approached the 330-foot marker, Schumacher’s machine started to lose traction near the eighth mile, opening up the door for his opponent to pull away for the win.
“You know, we were running good, and that run today, we missed it by a tiny little bit. I’m tired of saying that but even Zippy and L.J. (Neff and Schaffer) said it up there, it was fast from the hit, and it never got to grab hold of that track. It was just building heat in that tire,” said Schumacher, the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history.
“We had too much potential today with the point leaders going out, the guys behind me going out. We could have moved up to the top 4 or 5, I don’t even know,” added Schumacher of the Top Fuel points battle that continues to heat up as the championship chase intensifies. “I hate that it turned out that way today, and I wish we didn’t pick the left lane, not sure that would have changed anything, but looking back at that session in Top Fuel and Funny Car, so many good cars went out in that left lane, maybe it was something there because too many good cars couldn’t judge that left lane.”
While disappointed that the team wasn’t able to capitalize on the points opportunities and make a run deep into the field on Sunday at zMAX Dragway, Schumacher is happy with how much the performance of the car has picked up as of late, particularly over the last few events.
“It’s unfortunate that we were eliminated first round today, but that being said, this is a totally different car than we had in the first half of the season. We’ve got a great car; it’s getting better every time. To be the champ, you’re going to have to run quicker 3.60s, but we have to inch toward that. The guys are doing a hell of a job and I’m proud as heck to race with them and I’m looking forward to getting to the next one.”
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series heads to World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis next weekend, Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, for the NHRA Midwest Nationals, the third of a three-race back-to-back swing. Schumacher and the SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel team will begin the weekend from 10th in the Top Fuel standings.
Qualified: No. 6 (3.692 E.T. at 331.12 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 4.257 E.T. at 200.65 MPH defeated by Shawn Langdon 3.764 E.T. at 328.38 MPH
Tim Wilkerson Hits Hot Track Too Hard at NHRA Carolina Nationals
After making one of the best passes in the first round of eliminations at the betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway, Tim Wilkerson got a little too aggressive in his second-round match with Matt Hagan on Sunday afternoon. The hot track couldn’t hold Wilkerson’s SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang Funny Car, marking the end of Wilkerson’s time at the second event of the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
Wilkerson, who is competing in his 15th Countdown, opened qualifying with a 3.900-second lap to end Friday as the provisional No. 4 qualifier. He improved to a 3.876 E.T. in the second session before driving into tire smoke nearly immediately in the third and final qualifying session, ending up No. 7 on the final qualifying order.
The first round of Funny Car eliminations on Sunday morning saw numerous higher qualified drivers bow out. Wilkerson emerged unscathed, though, as he left the line first against No. 10 qualifier Cruz Pedregon and laid down a 3.918-second pass at 329.91 MPH to beat Pedregon’s tire-smoking 4.822 E.T. He was the third-quickest driver of the round, but not quick enough to get lane choice over Matt Hagan in the second round. There, Wilkerson left first by .002 seconds and held an early lead before losing traction and lifting to a 4.543 E.T., while Hagan won with a 3.996-second pass.
“I’m a little disappointed in my second-round appearance, of course,” said Wilkerson, the 2021 event champion. “We had a good car first round, and a good car throughout qualifying. I really didn’t think it would do what it did there during round two. It would be easy to blame the lane, but after I looked at what I did there, I was probably a little too greedy from 200 to 500 feet and the car just didn’t like it. Anyhow, we’ll go to St. Louis and put this in our memory bank, and when the track gets to be 120 degrees, we need to do a better job next time.”
The next stop on the 2023 NHRA Camping World Series schedule is a home race for Wilkerson, the longtime owner and operator of a NAPA AutoCare Center in Springfield, Ill. The No. 7 ranked Maynard Wilkerson Racing team will briefly return to its home base before making the 90-mile drive south to World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., for the NHRA Midwest Nationals on Sept. 29 – Oct. 1.
Qualified: No. 7 (3.876 E.T. at 325.06 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.918 E.T. at 329.91 MPH defeated Cruz Pedregon 4.822 E.T. at 160.96 MPH
E2: 4.543 E.T. at 186.82 MPH defeated by Matt Hagan 3.996 E.T. at 313.88 MPH