Erica Enders clinched her fifth Pro Stock world championship on Sunday, racing to her 10th victory of the season at the 22nd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals to cap off a dream weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won at the 21st event in the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
In the final round, Enders knocked off teammate Troy Coughlin Jr. with a run of 6.640s at 206.86 mph in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to collect her ninth Las Vegas win, which is the most for any professional driver in NHRA history. She clinched her fifth world title a round earlier with a pass of 6.639 at 206.67 against Kyle Koretsky, celebrating a massive moment in the career of one of the top drivers in Pro Stock history. In the finals, she clinched her 10th victory, which sets a single-season career-best for the 43-time event winner.
“What an incredible day,” Enders said. “My crew chief said we were going to go for it, and I just had to drive. To qualify No. 1, win the race and win the championship, it’s been a badass day. As a personal goal, we wanted to get that 10th win and I have the best guys that stand beside me. They all make it possible for me and I’m living my dream.
“This whole season has been a dream come true for our whole team. This season, like every season, we set out to win races and win a championship and we did just that. We spent the whole season with a No. 2 on the car and that didn’t sit well with any of us. It lit a fire under our team to become champs again.”
Coughlin reached the final round for the fifth time in his breakout season, driving to wins against Camrie Caruso, Deric Kramer, and Cristian Cuadra.
In Top Fuel, Brittany Force jumped back in the points lead with a dominant weekend, going 3.705 at 332.34 in her 11,000-horsepower Flav-R-Pac dragster to defeat Mike Salinas on a holeshot in the final round. After struggling at the first four races of the Countdown to the Championship and not advancing past the second round at any of them, Force regained her momentum in Las Vegas, sweeping both races at The Strip in the process this year. She also erased an 82-point deficit to Justin Ashley heading into the weekend – and then some.
Ashley lost in the opening round, while Force picked up huge victories against Antron Brown – her first against him in eliminations this weekend – and Tony Schumacher to reach the finals. She posted a stellar .034 reaction time against Salinas to pick up her fifth win this season – and first since July – and 16th in her career. It also gave her a seven-point lead over Ashley heading toward what will be a must-see showdown in Pomona.
“It’s huge to win on a holeshot,” Force. “It’s a giveback to my guys for all the times they’ve carried me, so it’s a thank you to them. They’re incredible. We feel good really to be in this position. We’ve struggled in the entire Countdown, and we started to make ground last weekend and I screwed up, so coming in this weekend we really turned it around. It gives us a lot of confidence. This is our career-best season with five wins, and it’s been a little while since we’ve been in that winner’s circle, so today was a big turnaround for our team. We want (the championship) so bad and we’re going to chase this thing until the end.”
Salinas picked up wins against Leah Pruett, Clay Millican, who upset Ashley in the opening round, and Austin Prock to reach the finals. He also moved into third and trails Force by 66 points with one race remaining.”
Hagan stayed alive in the Funny Car championship hunt, going 3.896 at 330.23 in his 11,000-horsepower Dodge Power Brokers Charger SRT Hellcat to defeat points leader Robert Hight in the championship round and collect his fourth win this season. Knowing it was a must-win situation, Hagan picked up his first victory since June, closing to within 63 points of Hight heading to the Auto Club NHRA Finals. He needed two holeshots to do it, including an opening-round win against Steven Densham and in the semifinals against Bob Tasca III, setting up the marquee matchup with Hight. It gives Hagan four wins in Las Vegas and 43 wins in his career – as well as a shot at a fourth championship in two weeks.
“My guys are making some real power it’s running strong, man,” Hagan said. “They put a great hot rod underneath me, and to come out here on Sunday, and win on two holeshots and get my team that little extra bump of what we needed to keep going, it’s great.
“I don’t know what it is about these later races, we just always do well here and in Pomona as well. I feel the momentum building back. I feel like these are our type of races, our type of conditions, and Pomona, I have done really, really well. It’s such a historical place to be, they crowned champions there, and when you roll into Pomona, you know, history is going to be made.”
Hight advanced to his 12th final round in his standout season and the 96th in his career thanks to victories against Jeff Arend, Alexis DeJoria, and J.R. Todd. He’ll take a 61-point lead into Pomona, where he will also seek a fourth championship.
Hector Arana Jr. has now won eight straight rounds and picked up his second straight Pro Stock Motorcycle victory, knocking off points leader Matt Smith on a holeshot in the final round on his GETTRX Buell. Arana went 6.866 at 196.42 in the final round, using a .009 reaction time to hold off Smith and his run of 6.862 at 198.47. It hands Arana his 17th career win and his third in Las Vegas, and the standout did it after qualifying No. 15. He knocked off Angelle Sampey, Eddie Krawiec and Angie Smith to reach the final round, ending his day with three holeshot victories and plenty of momentum to take into the off-season.
“It was a fight just to get here,” Arana Jr. said. “Dallas was supposed to be our last race. Honestly, we weren’t prepared. We had to go home and rebuild engines after Dallas. I struggled a little in qualifying, but we had a back-up plan for race day. I did win a couple of races on holeshots, but you’ve got to have the pace to get there, and we had that. I have a lot of confidence right now. I can’t wait to go to Pomona and keep going. We found our groove pretty quickly. Now, our mission is to get the funding we need to come back next year.”
Smith reached the final round for the 71st time in his career and the sixth time in 2022 thanks to round wins against Katie Justice, Chip Ellis, and Jerry Savoie. Smith also built his points lead and now has a 104-point advantage over Joey Gladstone heading to the finale.
In the Legends Nitro Funny Cars presented by Red Line Oil category, Bobby Cottrell defeated Billy Morris in the final round with his run of 4.742 at 238.55.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series closes its 2022 season with the 57th Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona on Nov. 10-13.