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NHRA Playoffs Roar To A Solid Start
nhra prock
Austin Prock got the win in the first event of the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship, defeating Justin Ashley in the Top Fuel final round. It was Prock’s second career win. Photo By Jeff Burghardt

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series “Countdown to the Championship” has started, with the first event being completed at the famed Maple Grove Raceway. The seeding in each NHRA Camping Word Drag Racing series category was locked in at the completion of the NHRA US Nationals over the Labor Day weekend. The top 10 drivers in event points earned from the season opening Winter Nationals in Pomona through Indy made the playoff”. In addition, those drivers who competed at each of the regular season events and made the required qualifying runs, also were seeded into the playoffs in positions 11 and up, depending on how many there were). These drivers seeded 11 and above are also eligible to compete for the championship in their respective category. At the completion of the Indy Nationals, the season points are reset. The top seed is separated ahead of the #2 seed by 30-points. Positions 2 through 10 are all separated by 10-points per position. The 11th position (if there is one) is separated from position #10 by 10-points, #12 is 10-points behind #11, and so on. The furthest position back from the top, to have ever won a championship was Robert Hight in 2009, who got into the countdown on the last day (at the completion of the 2009 Indy Nationals, in the 10th position). Being the top seed has its advantages, but does not always guarantee a championship.

Coming into the first countdown event, top seeds in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively, were Brittany Force, Robert Hight, Erica Enders and Matt Smith. At the end of the event, only Robert Hight and Erica Enders still remained as the top seed in their categories.

In Top Fuel, Brittany Force came in as the favorite, having the quickest car in the class for most of the season. She qualified #1 but, was beaten in round two of eliminations by Antron Brown. She ran the only two sub-3.70-second runs of the event, going 3.696 in qualifying and 3.698 in her opening round win. She also posted the top speed of the event at 337.66 mph. With her loss in round two, when her motor exploded before halftrack, it opened the door for all the other drivers in her category to move up. Only Justin Ashley and (her teammate) Austin Prock made any serious moves as they both advanced to the final round, to race for the event win. In the final, Prock defeated Ashley, 3.755 at 329.67 mph to 3.783 at 326.40 mph. It was Prock’s second career win and moved him from the 12th spot to 6th (74-points back) in the countdown point race. With his runner-up finish, Justin Ashley took over the point lead by 9-points over Brittany Force.

In Funny Car, Robert Hight came in as the #1 seed and took the top spot in qualifying with a 3.867 at 331.20 mph. Simply put, Hight had the car to beat, powering his way into the final round. His crew chief (Jimmy Prock) had the AAA of Southern California Chevy Camaro running strong throughout the event. In the final, Hight took the win, with a strong 3.937 at 328.38 mph run. The win extended Hight’s point margin to 81-points over Matt Hagan. The win was the 60th of his career and 7th of the season. It also allowed father and son (Jimmy and Austin) to celebrate together in the winner’s circle (Top Fuel and Funny Car).

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders came in as the #1 seed and from the #2 qualifying position, blasted her way into the final round. In the final, she took out teammate, Troy Coughlin 6.582 at 209.72 mph to 6.601 at 209.56 mph. The win extended her point lead over Greg Anderson, who lost to Coughlin in the semi-finals, to 81-points.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith came in as the #1 seed and qualified in the top spot. In the 2nd round, Joey Gladstone took out Smith and then raced his way into the final round. In the final, he defeated Angie Smith (Matt Smith’s wife), as she fouled out. Gladstone collected his 3rd career win. The win moved him to the top of the point battle by 29-points over Matt Smith.

The next event is at Z-Max Raceway in Concord, NC.

NHRA cycle
Action in Pro Stock Motorcycle saw Joey Gladstone race his way into the final round and past Angie Smith to collect his third career victory and move to the top of the season standings point battle. Photo By Jeff Burghardt