Austin Prock clinched his first career No. 1 qualifier on Saturday at Texas Motorplex, taking the top position in Top Fuel into race day at the 37th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals.
Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified No. 1 at the 20th event in the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the fourth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Prock’s strong run of 3.682a at 334.57mph in his Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist dragster from Friday held up through final qualifying on Saturday, giving the young standout and the 2019 NHRA Rookie of the Year his first No. 1 qualifier in his professional career. It’s another exciting moment for Prock in the Countdown to the Championship following his win in Reading to open the playoffs. He’ll open eliminations against Alex Laughlin looking to collect his second victory of the 2022 season.
“We were really glad to keep our number one spot and hopefully this will translate into a good day on Sunday,” Prock said. “We went down the track every run in qualifying and I think the last time we did that was Reading and we ended with a Wally [trophy]. So, hopefully, that will be the same case tomorrow.
“This team, they never quit. Everybody kept their heads down and kept working for that same common goal of competing for wins. All the parts and pieces are here and when we get it together, we’re right there. We have to make smart decisions tomorrow and if I drive well, we’re going to turn on some win lights.”
Clay Millican qualified second with a run of 3.685s at 332.08mph, while Brittany Force’s 3.689s at 335.75mph gave her the third spot.
In Funny Car, Hagan collected his sixth No. 1 qualifier in 2022 on the strength of Friday’s run of 3.825s at 334.85mph in his Dodge Power Brokers Charger SRT Hellcat. That set the track record on Friday and the three-time world champion followed with two outstanding runs on Saturday, giving him plenty of momentum heading into race day. Entering eliminations 98 points behind Robert Hight, Hagan will take on Terry Haddock in the opening round as he aims to finish off a big weekend with his fourth victory of the season.
“We’ve had four really good runs out there and, you know, it’s hard to do when you’re in a Funny Car,” Hagan said. “I mean, you put nitro in the tank, and you never know what’s going to happen. But honestly, just the way [crew chief] Dickie [Venables] has got this card dialed in this weekend, and the way the cars reacting and driving and just handling, it’s just been great.
“It’s such a cool feeling, you know, to be able to do that, and to go out there with that expectation of doing that, then it comes together. So just shows you what Dickie and the crew and the guys are capable of when the conditions in the track’s there.”
Hight ended up in second with his 3.854s at 333.43mph, while defending event winner Ron Capps qualified third with a 3.865s at 335.40mph.
Enders capped off a flawless performance over four Pro Stock qualifying sessions by taking the No. 1 position on the strength of her 6.524s at 210.53mph from Friday in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. That gave the points leader her fifth top spot in 2022, as Enders also made the quickest run during all four qualifying sessions. It’s the second time in the Countdown to the Championship that Enders, a four-time world champ, has been the quickest in every qualifying session and she is hopeful for another dominant weekend. She’ll open eliminations against Fernando Cuadra Jr., trying to pick up her ninth victory this season, which would also equal a career-best.
“That was really exciting,” said Enders, who will take a 125-point lead into Sunday. “Today’s weather was significantly different than yesterday. It was obviously hotter and that’s something that our cars don’t necessarily appreciate. So, to be able to go out there on a tricky racetrack and to go low each session, that was pretty cool. It’s really exciting going into Sunday, but tomorrow is going to be a new day. But we’re going to motor through it and see if we can finish it out.”
Aaron Stanfield stayed second with a 6.529s at 209.52mph, while Cristian Cuadra’s 6.533s at 209.30mph puts him third.
Sampey held on to her fifth No. 1 qualifier of the Pro Stock Motorcycle season, as nobody could top her 6.728s at 202.05mph from Friday on her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki. It’s also the 58th career top qualifier for the three-time world champion, who also strengthened her chances for a Dallas win with an impressive run of 6.759s to close out qualifying. Needing a win to stay alive in the championship chase, Sampey, who has one win this season, will open race day against Ryan Oehler.
“That [6.75] was a really good run for us,” Sampey said. “I’m pretty sure it was as solid as the [6.72], considering the weather conditions were worse. We have the motorcycle to win the race, as we always do every weekend, I just hope and pray that my team has the rider to win the race.
“The competition makes it pretty tough. It’s fierce out here these days. Just getting past first round is always a task, but I know my team is ready for a win. But everybody else trying to stop us. I’m just going to try to keep my head straight, have a good time, enjoy the day, and look forward to putting that [symbolic winner] cowboy hat on my head at the end of the day for the first time.”
Defending event winner and points leader Matt Smith sits second with a 6.734s at 203.58mph, improving on his time from Friday. His wife, Angie, is third after going 6.793s at 200.96mph.
Eliminations for the Texas NHRA FallNationals begin at 11 a.m. CT on Sunday at Texas Motorplex.