NHRA drivers expect boost from Las Vegas weather

Drivers, from right, Antron Brown, J.R. Todd, Alexis DeJoria, and Shawn Langdon watch a blooper ...

The weekend forecast at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is four wide with sunny skies.

Which probably means that drag racing fans will be on the edge of their seats and drivers on top of their games.

“We get to come in here and get four qualifying rounds in — not one, like in Gainesville, and just roll the dice,” said three-time Top Fuel champion Antron Brown, using an analogy usually associated with Las Vegas to describe the recent Gatornationals in Florida.

Torrential rains and brisk temperatures — it was 42 degrees when final eliminations began — produced some unexpected results and left Brown and other contenders searching for speed. While four cars hurtling down the track in unison instead of the usual two should provide a wrinkle or two, most drivers believe the weather will be a far bigger factor in who gets the wins at LVMS.

“For us, the more runs we get, the better we’re going to become,” said Brown, who left vaunted Don Schumacher Racing to form his own team during the off-season and sits an uncharacteristic 13th in season points after three races.

“What’s so cool about coming here is the weather is going to be out of the park. So the track conditions are going to be formidable (but) we’re going to have four laps of qualifying. The more laps we get, the better our team is going to get.”

With the inclement conditions and dearth of qualifying opening the door for others, Tripp Tatum defeated fellow first-time finalist Doug Foley for the Top Fuel victory in Florida. Meanwhile, Steve Torrence, who won 11 times in 20 starts and advanced to 14 final rounds en route to his fourth Top Fuel title in 2021, remains winless in 2022 and has yet to race in a final.

Hagan wins for Stewart

The Funny Car standings look much more familiar, with three-time champion Robert Hight on top after winning in California and Arizona.

Matt Hagan topped the ladder in chilly Florida, which also was hardly a surprise, given the husky Virginian has earned three Funny Car titles and 40 race victories. But winning in just his third start for a new team headed by former NASCAR star Tony Stewart and his new bride (and Top Fuel driver) Leah Pruett still raised eyebrows.

“It’s a big day to get the first win for Tony Stewart Racing,” Hagan said after icing down the victory podium in Gainesville with a spray of champagne. “For Tony to come over here and be a part of NHRA is huge. He’s married to Leah, but, you know, he ain’t married me, and you can tell he wants to be here and that says a lot for our sport.”

In Pro Stock, four-time champion Erica Enders won the season-opening Winternationals. But relative upstarts Aaron Stanfield and Dallas Glenn also have broken through for victories while rookie Camrie Caruso and others have shown early speed.

“I’m excited, thankful and just happy to have the opportunity I do,” said the 24-year-old Caruso about her family-owned team breaking into a sport in which women race side by side with men and often beat them. “I don’t really look at it as a girls and a guys class. We’re all racecar drivers. We all know what we’re doing. We’re all out here for the same goal.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.