NHRA Midwest Nationals
Event 18 of 21
Countdown Event 3 of 6
World Wide Technology Raceway
Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 2023
Justin Ashley Races to Midwest Nationals Quarterfinals
MADISON, Ill. (October 1, 2023) – Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster raced to the quarterfinals today and will enter the back half of the NHRA Countdown firmly in the Top Fuel championship chase. The fourth-year team owner and driver is 77 points out of first place with races in Dallas, Las Vegas and Pomona remaining on the schedule. This weekend at the NHRA Midwest Nationals, Ashley powered his way to race day as the No. 4 qualifier and a first-round match up with veteran TJ Zizzo.
The last and only previous time Ashley raced Zizzo was at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2020 when the two drivers were each vying for their first professional Top Fuel win. Ashley took top honors on the way to Rookie of the Year honors in that race. Today was another wire-to-wire win for the now 11-time Top Fuel winner. Ashley was first off the line and made a smooth run to victory in front of Zizzo’s tire smoking 11,000-horsepower land rocket.
“You really have to go one round and one race at a time,” said Ashley. “On race day, qualifying is in the past and we're focused on the future. We're doing the best we can, but we know this will be a long fight and an absolute battle. The countdown competition is so good you have to be at your best every run.
In the second round, Ashley faced Toyota teammate and championship contender Steve Torrence. Ashley was giving up lane choice and he once again knew it would be a tough race. He took a starting line advantage, but Torrence made up the difference and as both dragsters flew down the track it was Torrence getting the nose of his Toyota machine out in front. The margin of victory was .0015 seconds to approximately nine inches at over 320 MPH. Ashley’s losing time was a 3.815-second run beside Torrence’s 3.773-second blast. It was almost a Herculean effort for the win by Ashley.
“That was a race in the second round,” said the Maynard Ashley Racing driver. “I could hear him right beside me the whole way and I didn’t know who won until the very last second. You hate to lose a race early, but we just came up a little short. We weren’t hurt too badly in the points and now it is anyone’s game. I have a lot of confidence heading to these final three tracks. This Phillips Connect Toyota team is starting to hit its stride again and I can’t wait to get back on track.
The Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team will be looking to make it three wins in a row at Texas Motorplex for the NHRA Texas Fall Nationals, October 12-15. Ashley will be one of the featured drivers as part of the Stampede of Speed, a 10-day racing and music event held outside of Dallas at the state-of-the-art Texas Motorplex.
Qualified: No. 4 (3.730 E.T. at 331.69 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.769 E.T. at 330.96 MPH defeated T.J. Zizzo 5.507 E.T. at 119.79 MPH
E2: 3.815 E.T. at 326.08 MPH defeated by Steve Torrence 3.783 E.T. at 322.50 MPH
Tony Schumacher Charges to Second Semifinal Countdown Appearance at St. Louis
Eight-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher’s Countdown to the Championship resurgence continued Sunday afternoon when he raced to the semifinals at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. It was Schumacher’s second semifinal finish in three Countdown races, helping the driver of the SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel dragster move up a spot in the points standings with three races left in the season.
Guided by crew chiefs Mike Neff and Jon Schaffer, Schumacher ended Friday as the provisional No. 5 qualifier on the strength of a 3.734-second pass. He struggled to get down the track in the second session on Saturday, but he bounced back in the final session with a 3.754 E.T., the fifth-quickest run of the round. Schumacher settled into the No. 6 spot going into Sunday, marking the second consecutive top-half qualifying effort for the JCM Racing team.
In NHRA’s marquee matchup, reigning world champion Brittany Force left the starting line first, but Schumacher pulled ahead by the half-track mark and posted a 3.730 E.T. at 332.84 MPH to finish ahead of Force’s 3.803 E.T. Schumacher met another fellow multi-time world champion, Antron Brown, in the second round. There, he was quicker at the starting line and quicker at the finish line, winning with a 3.808-second pass. Schumacher and semifinal opponent Clay Millican had nearly identical reaction times, but Millican started to pull away by the 330-foot mark and finished ahead of Schumacher and his 3.869 E.T.
“The first couple of rounds were outstanding,” said Schumacher, a two-time winner and three-time runner-up at St. Louis. “The last one we went into a mad thrash – we had to change engines twice. I was strapped in before we even pulled out of the pit. Unfortunately, we put a cylinder out and got beat. I had a lot of confidence in that car today and would have been nice to go to the finals. Really would have moved us up seriously in the points. We did some damage. We got some big boys and girls. We got the champ, we got Antron, and made a couple of good runs. Looking forward to getting to Dallas and doing it again.”
Schumacher started the Countdown in the No. 12 spot after a regular season plagued by gremlins and tough losses. By reaching the semifinals at two of the three Countdown races, he’s moved up to No. 9 going into the Texas NHRA FallNationals, Oct. 12-15, at the Texas Motorplex outside Dallas.
Qualified: No. 6 (3.734 E.T. at 329.83 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.730 E.T. at 332.84 MPH defeated Brittany Force 3.803 E.T. at 292.71 MPH
E2: 3.808 E.T. at 327.43 MPH defeated Antron Brown 3.896 E.T. at 290.69 MPH
E3: 3.869 E.T. at 305.22 MPH defeated by Clay Millican 3.823 E.T. at 308.35 MPH
Tim Wilkerson Misses Out on Illinois Sweep with Early Loss at NHRA Midwest Nationals
NHRA Funny Car veteran Tim Wilkerson was aiming for a second win in his home state of Illinois this season at the NHRA Midwest Nationals but fell short of his goal on race day. Wilkerson has had previous success at World Wide Technology Raceway, the home track for the Maynard Wilkerson Racing SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang Funny Car team, including two runner-up finishes and a 2008 event win.
Wilkerson, who won the event in Joliet, Ill. near Chicago earlier this year, started the weekend off with a strong pass in the opening qualifying session when he posted a run of 3.982 seconds at 321.04-MPH on Friday night. He followed that on Saturday with a qualifying effort of 4.017 seconds at 317.27, which held up to be the best E.T. of the session, earning him three bonus points in the process. When qualifying concluded, the team was in the 10th position and matched with fellow championship contender Ron Capps in the first round.
In eliminations, Wilkerson was looking for a win light versus Capps, but his opponent’s quicker reaction time enabled him to cross the finish line beams first, with Capps’ 3.998 E.T. defeating Wilkerson’s quicker 3.977-second run.
“I had a good car today. It was a long light, and I missed it. That’s all there was to it, but I’m proud of my guys,” said Wilkerson, a two-time winner in 2023. “It was the best run we’ve made all weekend, and in the worst lane of the day, just unbelievable to go out in that way. It was the best we could do and we’ll try and make it up at the next one.”
The Springfield, Ill. native had a large contingency of supporters during the weekend as long-time partner Levi, Ray & Shoup (LRS) brought over 1,500 fans to celebrate the conclusion of their partnership, which spans more than two decades.
“Unbelievable how one guy could support another guy for that many years. It’s spectacular. Dick Levi has been a part of our family, watched my kids grow up. He helped Daniel in 2007 win his Alcohol Funny Car championship in Division 3 by sponsoring him,” continued Wilkerson. “We’ve just been so lucky to have Dick Levi in our lives. All the employees at LRS, they use this program as a good marketing tool. We’ve had a ton of customers come out over the years. The salesmen tell me that we’ve sold things for them and made deals for them. It’s been a spectacular 24 years.”
NHRA returns to action Oct. 12 – 15 at the Texas Motorplex for the Texas NHRA FallNationals, the fourth race in the six-event Countdown to the Championship series. Wilkerson will begin the Ennis, Texas race ranked seventh in the standings.
Qualified: No. 10 (3.982 E.T. at 321.04 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.977 E.T. at 318.47 MPH defeated by Ron Capps 3.998 E.T. at 306.12 MPH