NHRA Sonoma Nationals
Event 12 of 21
July 28-30, 2023
Justin Ashley Wins in Sonoma, Retakes Point Lead
SONOMA, Calif. (July 30, 2023) – After a dominant weekend, championship contender Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma raced to victory today at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. The Maynard Ashley Racing team’s Sonoma triumph added another event win to the growing JCM Racing win count, bringing the total up to six. Ashley picked up his fifth win of the season in his sixth final round appearance defeating Doug Kalitta, Austin Prock, Josh Hart and Antron Brown to secure his tenth career Top Fuel win. The win moved Ashley back into the Top Fuel point lead after only one week in the No. 2 spot. Ashley will also compete in his sixth Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge in two weeks, a specialty event that he has already won five times collecting $50,000 and 15 champions points. The success exhibited today at Sonoma Raceway has Ashley and the Phillips Connect team eager to close out the regular season and head into the NHRA Countdown playoffs.
“The competition is so difficult,” said Ashley. “It's so hard. It really feels like every round is a final round each time you get up there. There's no margin for error. I knew it would take a real team effort to win a race this weekend, and it did. My crew chiefs Mike Green and Tommy DeLago had an incredible race day.”
Ashley started his race day with a tough first round opponent in Toyota teammate Kalitta. It was a battle of two Mac Tools backed teams looking to keep building momentum as the Western Swing ended. Ashley with the starting line advantage and never trailed for the win. He made his quickest run of the weekend with a winning time of 3.707 seconds against Kalitta’s 3.750 second, which was his best pass of the Sonoma Nationals.
In the quarterfinals Ashley had to take on No. 1 qualifier Prock. Ashley had the advantage of lane choice and the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year took a sizable starting line advantage and parlayed that into another trip to the semifinals. The Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma crossed the finish line with a winning time of 3.740 seconds at 327.03 mph ahead of Prock’s 3.761 seconds, 329.10 mph run. After the race, Ashley was asked about how important round wins and points were to his team as the end of the regular season is approaching.
“Points are important whether they are earned early in the season or late in the season,” said Ashley, who will participate in his sixth Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge at the Topeka Nationals. “For our Phillips Connect Toyota team that isn’t something we really focus on. We are focused on taking it one round at a time. That has been our approach and we will keep doing that. At the end of the day, it is all about putting ourselves in a position to win the championship. For everyone at Phillips Connect and Toyota it is time to put these Mac Tools to work and get some Lucas Oil in this car and do it again.”
Racing Hart in the semifinals, Ashley was chasing his 100th round win and trip to his 17th career final round. Each of these drivers was on a mission to get to the final round but it was Ashley getting the win on the strength of a solid reaction time and great performance numbers by his Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster. Ashley’s 3.768 second run was the quickest pass of the semifinals and gave him lane choice over Brown in the final round.
The final was a clash between Toyota teammates and technical alliance partners as Ashley and Brown squared off, looking to close out a tough three-race stretch with a win. Brown took an early starting line advantage but by 660 feet Ashley had pulled beside Brown and he took the win by .0001 with an elapsed time advantage of 3.778 seconds to 3.787 second with both dragsters nearly hitting the 330-mph mark.
“Maybe because it was the final round and I felt a little more dialed in so I didn't see him or hear him or anything,” said Ashley after the final. “I knew it was gonna be a close race no matter what most of the time when we lined up it is a close race and you got to credit Antron and his team. I was trying to do everything I could to stay focused on just you know my point ahead in our lane. I am happy to win such a close race.”
With the points lead and three races left in the regular season Ashley is not taking anything for granted. The team will head back to the shop and begin preparing for the Topeka Nationals in two weeks. The win today gave Ashley some momentum after a tough start to the three-race stretch.
“We didn't have the results that we wanted during the first two races in the Swing but you know, just like we put the qualifying in the past, we're going to put those races in the past,” said Ashley. “It's go time. We’re gonna get after it and really start to develop our tune up. So, everyone's really got to start hitting their stride now when you see it, and there's absolutely no letting up.”
Qualified: No. 7 (3.770 E.T. at 322.27 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.707 E.T. at 329.67 MPH defeated Doug Kalitta 3.750 E.T. at 328.38 MPH
E2: 3.740 E.T. at 327.03 MPH defeated Austin Prock 3.761 E.T. at 329.10 MPH
E3: 3.768 E.T. at 329.10 MPH defeated Josh Hart 3.793 E.T. at 327.43 MPH
E4: 3.778 E.T. at 328.78 MPH defeated Antron Brown 3.787 E.T. at 327.90 MPH
Tony Schumacher Ready to Move on to Topeka After Early Exit at Sonoma
Tony Schumacher and the SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel team bounced back from qualifying struggles by making their best pass of the weekend in the opening round of the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. The 3.748-second effort wasn’t enough to get past Josh Hart’s holeshot advantage, though, leaving the eight-time world champion looking ahead to Topeka.
Schumacher was one of numerous nitro drivers that struggled to get down the track on Friday, and his challenges continued on Saturday in the third session. The JCM Racing brain trust then put together a conservative pass for the final session, allowing Schumacher to lay down a 3.833 E.T. to qualify No. 11.
The SCAG Power Equipment dragster had a huge performance jump in the first round of eliminations, recording a weekend-best 3.748-second pass at 330.39 MPH. Unfortunately, opponent Josh Hart cut the quickest reaction time of the session and ran quick enough to hold off Schumacher’s better pass to beat him on a holeshot.
“That was a rough one,” said Schumacher, a two-time Sonoma winner. “The car made a great, great move. Honestly, for what we got in qualifying and being able to run down that right lane twice [after oildowns in that lane], we didn't get the runs we needed. (Co-crew chiefs) Mike Neff, Phil Shuler, and Jon Schaffer made an excellent move, made it a great race, and I was late. That one's on me. It falls on me and I take the blame for it. It's just the way racing goes. It was a long tree. When I wanted to go, the tree wasn't on, and when the tree came on, I wasn't ready to go. Game over. We'll head to Topeka, but at least we'll go in there with a good, good solid run.”
Schumacher’s SCAG Power Equipment team will return to the JCM Racing shop in Brownsburg, Indiana, to refresh and restock after the Western Swing. They’ll prepare for the next NHRA Camping World Series race, the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor, Aug. 11-13, which is billed as the final NHRA national event at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas.
Qualified: No. 11 (3.833 E.T. at 322.11 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.748 E.T. at 330.39 MPH defeated by Josh Hart 3.779 E.T. at 324.44 MPH
Seattle Winner Tim Wilkerson Closes Out Western Swing with Quarterfinal Finish in Sonoma
Fresh off of his NHRA Northwest Nationals victory near Seattle one week prior, Tim Wilkerson was looking for a repeat performance in wine country on Sunday at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. The driver/tuner of the SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang was strong in qualifying to secure a spot in the quick-half of the Funny Car field, but came up short in a tough quarterfinal match, ending his chances of going back-to-back with Western Swing wins.
Wilkerson opened the weekend by tuning his SCAG/LRS Ford to a good, representative run of 3.974 seconds during the first qualifying session. In the final qualifying round, Wilkerson launched hard and kept his 11,000-horsepower machine hooked up to clock the second-quickest pass of the session, earning two bonus points and the No. 4 starting position.
On race day, the two-time winner in 2023, drew Alex Laughlin as his first-round opponent. Against the Funny Car upstart, Wilkerson powered his tiger-striped machine to the finish line in 3.966 seconds, easily defeating Laughlin’s early tire-smoker. In the second elimination round, Wilkerson faced multi-time world champion and current point leader, Matt Hagan. Wilkerson made a good run but tire-spin downtrack caused him to slow to a 4.014 E.T. as he approached the 1,000-foot marker, and Hagan was able to hang on, posting the quickest pass of the round for the win.
“Good weekend overall. We didn’t hurt anything except our feelings,” said the championship-challenger, who currently occupies the No. 6 spot in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Funny Car standings. “It barely started spinning the tires at about 600 feet in the second round. I caught it, and lifted off the gas, and held it there, but Matt got by me.
While Wilkerson didn’t leave Sonoma Raceway with the hardware on Sunday, he is happy with his SCAG/LRS team’s overall performance on the Western Swing.
“If I had to assign a grade, I’d give ourselves a B,” he said. “Outside of Denver, we did pretty well; we just mucked up there. Hopefully, we’ll take this momentum and go onto Topeka [Kan.] and Brainerd [Minn.], and finish the regular season strong in Indy. We’re excited about our performance as of late, and again, not hurting anything is a really great thing.”
Wilkerson and the Maynard Wilkerson Racing SCAG/LRS team will return to their home base in Springfield, Ill. before they head to Norwalk, Ohio where they will compete in the 46th annual Night Under Fire event at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park on Saturday, Aug. 5, during the one-week break in the NHRA Camping World Series schedule.
Qualified: No. 4 (3.949 E.T. at 328.06 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.966 E.T. at 326.40 MPH defeated Alex Laughlin 5.055 E.T. at 177.58 MPH
E2: 4.014 E.T. at 297.81 MPH defeated by Matt Hagan 3.955 E.T. at 324.98 MPH