10 Biggest Breaks That Defined the NHRA in 2022

Emptying the notebook and taking a final look back at the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

erica enders nhra pro stock
NHRA/National Dragster

The 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series was another one for the books. Brittany Force dazzled in Top Fuel, Erica Enders did it again in Pro Stock for another women-in-drag-racing milestone. Ron Capps won a title in his first year as an owner/driver in Funny Car, and Tony Stewart teased his fans by making his NHRA racing debut.

Breakups and break-outs punctuated a campaign full of surprises.

Here's some of the biggest breaks that caught our attention during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season:

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Breaking Away
nhra brittany force
NHRA/National Dragster

Brittany Force left the Top Fuel field in her nitro smaze on her way to a second championship. She twice reset her own national speed record, including the fastest in class history at 338.94 mph, at the season finale at Pomona, Calif.

Force set 16 track records that incorporate speed marks at 12 different venues, giving her a total of a combined 25 speed and elapsed-time track records.

Force closed the year as owner of the top 10 speeds in NHRA history and five of the top 10 quickest E.T.s. and both ends of the national record. She won five races (both Las Vegas events and at Houston, Richmond, and Sonoma, Calif.). In qualifying No. 1 10 times, she followed Tony Schumacher as only the second to do so in Top Fuel. Force recorded low E.T. of the meet 13 times.

Breaking Out
mike salinas nhra
NHRA/National Dragster

A trio of Top Fuel drivers—Austin Prock, Mike Salinas (pictured), and Tripp Tatum—had breakout performances.

Prock, no stranger to the class as 2019 NHRA Rookie of the Year, was coming back from a two-year COVID/post-COVID layoff. And he made an impression in the Countdown, winning the first and the last events in the six-race playoff—pretty remarkable for someone who qualified for the Countdown only because of the “mercy rule” that allows in non-top-10 drivers who attend every race and make two qualifying passes.

Salinas won a career-best four times. And Tatum won the Gatornationals in the second of only four appearances all season and just his 11th since 2016.

Breaking Back In
robert hight nhra route 66
NHRA/National Dragster

The Joliet, Ill., event is back on the schedule for 2023 after a two-year absence and amid a continuing mystery.

Rumors still spin about the future of Route 66 Raceway’s prime plot of land southwest of Chicago, but drag racing is back at the sparkling, stadium-style venue.

Breaking Up
tony schumacher nhra
NHRA/National Dragster

Mike Neff has been behind exactly half of Bob Tasca III’s 12 Funny Car victories. But the urge to tune a Top Fuel dragster again has reunited Neff with eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher.

Schumacher (pictured) and Neff worked together once before, with Neff serving as the crew chief on Schumacher’s 2018 U.S. Army Dragster before the Army left the sport and the team dissolved. In their only year working together, Schumacher won at Bristol and reached five other final rounds and finished No. 2 in the standings to on-a-tear Steve Torrence.

Schumacher said Neff has “wanted to win a Top Fuel championship. When the opportunity presented itself for (him) to come over here next year, it was a no-brainer. I wanted to work with him again. I love his enthusiasm, I love his calm approach, he’s got a little bit of that cockiness, and he’s just a cool cat to work with.”

Neff said, “We were on track to do big things, and I was bummed when it went away. When the opportunity came around to have another crack at it, I couldn’t pass it up. Certainly, there will be a learning curve at first, but I don’t think it will take too long for us to be a legitimate contender.”

Meanwhile, Tasca will move forward with Aaron Brooks as his crew chief.

Breaking Formation
virginia nhra
NHRA/National Dragster

Virginia Motorsports Park owners Tommy and Judy Franklin said in a prepared statement that VMP had completed its contract with the NHRA and that renewing it “would only be detrimental to the financial needs to continue our growth as a facility.”


That makes five racetracks to leave the NHRA in five years.

Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at Englishtown, N.J., was the first domino to fall. Then went Route 66, Atlanta Dragway, Houston Raceway Park, and now Phoenix’s Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. All are casualties of urban sprawl. Only Route 66 Raceway at Joliet, Ill., has gotten back together with the sanctioning body.

Unfolding this next March 24-26 will be the final Arizona Nationals at Chandler, south of Phoenix

Breaking Tradition
ron capps nhra
NHRA/National Dragster

Don Schumacher Racing’s Funny Car Fab Four—Jack Beckman, Ron Capps (pictured), Matt Hagan, and Tommy Johnson Jr.—didn’t let even COVID stop them from collaborating for a winning streak of 13 races dating from October 2019 through October 2020.

After the sport’s four-month coronavirus-caused layoff in 2020, they still took turns winning and shutting out any upset-minded rivals. But by the 2022 season, the band had broken up. Don Schumacher Racing had no Funny Cars. So John Force’s nemesis had vanished.

Capps became a team owner, Hagan went to Tony Stewart’s new team, and Beckman and Johnson returned to life in the slow lane.

“I like Capps owning his own team," Force said. "I’m really happy that Tony Stewart’s coming in. We need new blood. We need new names. And he’s a big name that can help our sport. And it helps me sell in the boardroom. But I like (Don) Schumacher being here, because he brought seven teams to the sport and a lot of people. I like what he’s given to the sport—and he’s still giving.”

But it isn’t the same, even though John Force Racing’s Robert Hight was the 2022 dominator with eight victories (but fell three points short of his fourth Funny Car championship) and Force himself was a top-five contender.

On the Top Fuel side, Steve Torrence couldn’t sustain his supremacy and ultimately wasn’t close in his bid for a fifth title.

Breaking Ground
nhra erica enders
NHRA/National Dragster

For the first time in its 68-year history, the NHRA crowned two women among its pro champions.

Ten-time winner Erica Enders earned her fifth Pro Stock title, and Brittany Force captured her second in Top Fuel.

Tony Stewart expanded his footprint in motorsports with a two-car nitro team composed of his wife, Leah Pruett, in a Top Fuel dragster and Matt Hagan in a Funny Car.

Ron Capps struck out on his own with a Funny Car team, and Antron Brown became a Top Fuel team owner.

Breaking News
tony stewart nhra
NHRA/National Dragster

Wild stories about a sale of the Los Angeles County Fairplex, site of Auto Club Raceway, were put to rest in November with the announcement that In-N-Out Burger has signed a long-term deal to become title sponsor of the NHRA Finals race and purchase the naming rights to the newly renamed Pomona Dragstrip.

In October, Tony Stewart (pictured) no longer could resist the urge to take up drag racing, and he competed in the sportsman-level Top Alcohol Dragster class. He qualified second on the 16-car grid and posted a runner-up finish.

Breaking The Mold
john force nhra racing
NHRA/National Dragster

If this were an annual award, it would go every year to Funny Car superstar John Force.

At age 73, Force didn’t earn his 17th championship, but he did win the four-wide race at Charlotte this spring to extend his streak of winning at least one race a season to 34 years.

That victory at zMAX Dragway, where he set both the elapsed time and speed records, was his 155th. After he and teammate Robert Hight finished 1-2, Force said, “On some days, magical things just happen.”

Force has had many of those days.

Give Me a Break
robert hight nhra
NHRA/National Dragster

The whole concept of the Countdown to the Championship has added nothing to fan or media interest for 15 years.

Drivers like it or hate it, depending on whether the sanctioning body’s points manipulating helps or harms them. Awarding one-and-a-half times the regular points at the U.S. Nationals and again at the Finals and bunching up the title-eligible field—taking away any advantage a racer has earned in the regular season—seemed especially criminal to Robert Hight this year. He lost by a lousy three points to repeat Funny Car champ Ron Capps – who, ironically, had lost in 2012 to Jack Beckman by two points, the narrowest margin in class history.

In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Countdown was off the table, and title chases across the categories brought drama to the final day of the season.

Let the racers race—and let the marketing department hustle to sell tickets.

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