The challenging track conditions at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals presented significant hurdles for Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers and their teams during the 69th edition of the “Big Go” at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan, drivers for Tony Stewart Racing (TSR Nitro), managed to secure impressive victories in the first round of eliminations on Monday in the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories. However, as the day progressed, the rising temperatures and humid air made the track conditions more demanding, causing both Dodge//SRT Direct Connection racers to struggle in the second round.
In the opening round, Matt Hagan, who holds the current track record with his TSR Direct Connection Dodge//SRT HELLCAT, defeated Alex Laughlin with a strong performance, recording a 3.914-second run compared to Laughlin’s 6.157 seconds. As the day heated up, the track became even more challenging. Unfortunately, both Hagan and his second-round opponent, Ron Capps, faced traction issues early in their runs. Capps managed to secure the win with a 4.582-second pass, while Hagan finished with a 5.146-second time.
Despite the second-round setback, Hagan remains just 24 points behind Capps as they enter the “NHRA Countdown to the Championship.” This championship battle is set to begin with the next event in Reading, Pennsylvania, on September 15th – 17th. The top ten drivers in the professional points standings have secured their spots in the “Countdown” during the final six NHRA Camping World Series races.
Hagan expressed his determination, stating, “You can win the championship from anywhere. You have to be in it to win it. We have six races left, so I really want to park this Direct Connection Dodge//SRT HELLCAT Funny Car back in the winner’s circle. We have to win two or three of these races to be a real title contender. It was a productive weekend as far as making good runs in the heat. Unfortunately, we didn’t have lane choice in the second round, and the left lane was a bit tricky. We’ll go into the next race with guns blazing. Reading is always a fast racetrack, so we will be ready for that one.”
In the Top Fuel category, Leah Pruett, the Summit Nationals Top Fuel winner earlier in the year, secured a narrow first-round victory in her Dodge//SRT Direct Connection dragster over Austin Prock, recording a 3.747-second pass to Prock’s 3.777 seconds. In the second round, she faced off against current NHRA Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley, whom Pruett had defeated in their last two matchups at Norwalk, Ohio, and Brainerd, Minnesota. However, Pruett’s car lost traction early in the run, allowing Ashley to advance to the semi-finals.
Pruett’s first-round victory propelled her to the fourth position in the Top Fuel points standings. As the “Countdown” gets underway in Reading, Pennsylvania, in two weeks, she will start 58 points behind the points leader, Justin Ashley.
Pruett remained optimistic, saying, “We definitely did not leave any efforts on the table to win the world’s longest and most prestigious drag race event, the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals. Monday morning began with faith that any issues were solved, and the tune-up was on point with one of the most meaningful rounds of the year. Seeing Brittany Force go out in the first round meant our countdown placement was directly in our hands. Those are the unique type of nerves that Indy serves. We’re not letting our second-round loss stop our momentum. Racing Indy is the hardest feat of our crew. We’re taking it as conditioning for the most important chapter of the season.”
With the “Countdown” now set, both Hagan and Pruett are eagerly anticipating the three-race NHRA national event swing in late September, featuring events in Reading, Pennsylvania, Charlotte, North Carolina, and St. Louis, Missouri. Hagan, a 47-time NHRA national event winner, has previously secured NHRA race victories at all three of these races.