2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Season Preview
Can 2023 NHRA Competition Be Even More Brutal Than Last Season?
BY SUSAN WADE
It’s hard to imagine what Josh Hart, the third-year NHRA Top Fuel team owner-driver, could be envisioning for the 2023 Camping World Drag Racing Series.
“It’s going to be even better than last year,” Hart predicted. It has become cliché to say the competition in any season is more fierce than the year before. But in 2022, his class saw four different winners (including relatively new part-timer Tripp Tatum) to start the schedule. And Austin Prock, who squeaked into the Countdown via the “perfect attendance rule” rather than a top-10 performance, was the lone racer to win more than once in the playoffs. Steve Torrence, aiming for a fifth consecutive crown, stayed in the top five for all but the final event but never seemed to be a factor. He had an enviable season and finally hushed his doubters by winning at Brainerd and later at St. Louis, but his streak slipped away from him by midseason.
The Funny Car scenario was more predictable – or was it? Robert Hight won eight times in 12 final-round appearances – the best in the class since John Force won 13 of 18 outings in 1996. Hight led the standings for virtually all season. However, he lost the championship to Ron Capps by three points. And it wasn’t until the 12th race of the year that someone – Bob Tasca III – broke the Hight-Matt Hagan-Capps winners cycle.
“There are going to be a lot of people who are going to try to redeem their performances, and I think there are going to be a few people who want to make their own stamp on things. There’s going to be a lot of hungry people this year,” Hart said.
The Top Fuel category doesn’t have many new faces this year, but Hart and a handful of veterans have stocked their arsenals during the winter. Hart has a pair of brand-new Morgan Lucas Racing-built dragsters, ones he said are “the first I’ve ever had built for me, all designed the way we wanted it from scratch. I think we’re a top-five car, no matter what. We’re a little bit more ahead of the curve now than we were last year. We’ll be right there with ’em.”
Three-time champion Antron Brown came alive toward the end of the summer and ended up winning three races and ended as runner-up to two-time titlist Brittany Force. With that momentum, he’s sure to be more of a factor out of the gate. Justin Ashley, in contention until the final weekend, is, by consensus, a champion in waiting, and Mike Salinas has been coming on stronger every year since he broke into the pro ranks. Torrence wants to get back into his pulverizing-the-competition groove. But the driver to keep an eye on in Top Fuel just might be eight-time king Tony Schumacher. With Joe and Cathi Maynard getting comfortable in taking over the decorated Don Schumacher Racing operation and bringing in Mike Neff, Jon Schaffer, and Phil Shuler as tuners, their Top Fuel headliner is planning to wake up the echoes cheering his fame.
Hight, Capps, and Hagan each have three Funny Car titles and are just as ravenous for a fourth championship. But don’t be surprised if cagey Cruz Pedregon joins them in the class stratosphere. He has his dream-team crew plus legendary tuner Lee Beard hovering over the set-up, and this combination, headed by John Collins with help from Rip Reynolds, quietly goes about setting records and pulling off surprises. Tim Wilkerson has joined forces with the Maynards and looks to be an even more potent contender. Of course, John Force easily could add to his unprecedented 155 victories. Joe Morrison has made the switch to Funny Car from Top Fuel, as has Alex Laughlin in the Jim Dunn entry.
In Pro Stock, five-time champions Erica Enders and 101-time winner Greg Anderson will top the lineup. But this could be the year “The Kids” start taking over. Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky, Aaron Stanfield, Troy Coughlin Jr. remain aggressive, and young Mason McGaha is improving all the time. Camrie Caruso, the 2022 rookie of the year, has teamed with newly reorganized KB Titan Racing (with Eric Latino partnering with Anderson). So she’s poised to start earning trophies, catching up with teammates Glenn and Koretsky.
A new look and new rider (Gage Herrera) give Vance & Hines a fresh shot at another title, as four-time champ Eddie Krawiec is eager to be back on top. Current and six-time champion Matt Smith isn’t slowing down, either.