Mid-Season Questions

As we near the midpoint of the 2023 NHRA season, here are a handful of questions that I can’t wait to see the answers to as we hit the home stretch:

The 2023 Super Stock World Champion is…

Admittedly, every championship has its own unique story. And who can predict which category, much less which driver will present us with the next Bob Locke story?!? If I had to make a prediction for drama, this year’s Super Stock championship certainly feels like a likely source!

In Super Stock, we’ve had a handful of contenders throw their hats into the ring for championship contention with tremendous early season success. Better yet, they all seemingly come from a championship pedigree. Four-time world champion Kevin Helms kicked off his season with three final round appearances (and a semi-final) in his first five events. Two-time champ Brad Burton has done the same, highlighted by back-to-back national event victories in Phoenix and Las Vegas. 

Multi-time IHRA World Champion Monty Bogan, Jr. has also driven to three final rounds in the early season. Not to be overlooked, reigning world champion Pete D’Agnolo began his title defense with a victory in Charlotte and has been quietly accumulating round wins to make himself a legitimate repeat threat. 

All of these racers currently trail Kyle Rizzoli in the national standings. Rizzoli, who has narrowly missed on multiple championship runs in the past is putting together a dream season in Stock Eliminator, where six (yes, six!) final round appearances thus far make him the odds-on favorite to earn the championship in that category. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also been to multiple Super Stock final rounds and currently leads the national points standings in both categories.

My point is simple: All of these drivers have put up halfway totals that would traditionally contend for the national title. And all of these drivers have championship experience: they understand the pressures and emotions that come with a title run. Yet only one driver can win it.

Will Worldwide Technology Raceway Host the Largest Million Dollar Race ever?

With little exception, the original Million Dollar Race, first pioneered by the late George Howard before being handed off to Randy Folk and the Folk family, has been held in the Southeast. The event rose to prominence primarily based on its success at facilities in Alabama and Tennessee. This season, it moves into the gateway city: to World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. 

While a change in scenery is a scary proposition for promoters, this move seems to be greeted with optimism. Most insiders believe that the majority of traditional Million Dollar Race supporters will follow the event north, while the new location appeals to a wider geographic group of competitors, who will be more likely to make the trip. Plus, WWTR is arguably the most prominent and well respected facility to host the event in its 28-year history. 

All of this comes at a time when big dollar bracket racing is booming. Events across the country are routinely seeing record-breaking crowds. Last year’s Million is evidence: the event hosted a whopping 496 entries in the main event, and more than 600 entries in the surrounding races! The common consensus is that the move to St. Louis could help the Folk family top that number. Could it be enough to actually make the event pay the full Million Dollar purse for the first time ever? While the event flyer has not yet been released, last season’s format required 626 entrants to pay the full $1,000,000 winner’s purse. As obscene as that number sounds on the surface, it could be in play in 2023!

The Sportsman Cup:

While there’s no award for the sportsman champion who earns the most points among all sportsman categories, I’m here to beat the drum: there should be! Let’s call it the Sportsman Cup. If there was such an award, Pete D’Agnolo would’ve hoisted it in 2022 with a 699 point total in route to the Super Stock title (as is the case more often than you might think, second place Super Stock finisher Greg Stanfield actually tallied more points than the national champions in any of the other true sportsman categories).

So who gets this year’s Sportsman Cup? The obvious leader in the clubhouse is the man I dedicated this column to in the last issue, Sherman Adcock, Jr. Sherman has already scored five victories in just six events in 2023 and looks primed not only to secure his third Super Gas crown, but to threaten the best sportsman seasons of all time. And yet, Sherman is not a lock for the Sportsman Cup. Kyle Rizzoli’s Stock Eliminator score puts him in the same zip code as Adcock. And while it would be difficult for any driver in Comp, Top Dragster, or Top Sportsman to accumulate a comparable points total to those drivers in Stock, Super Stock, Super Comp, or Super Gas due to those classes typically requiring fewer rounds to win, the Sportsman Cup committee might have to make an exception to their “highest points total” criteria if a driver in one of those categories posted a perfect, or near perfect season. 

In Top Sportsman, two drivers have been perfect thus far. 2021 national champion Jimmy Lewis won both legs of the LODRS double-header in Dallas; the only two events of his season to date. Not to be outdone, Brandon Miller has accomplished the same feat through three events, scoring wins at the first two Division 1 LODRS events of the season in addition to the 4-wide Nationals in Charlotte.

What’s next for Division 5?

The Bandimere family recently announced the imminent closure of their storied facility near Denver. Heartland Park Topeka is mired in a legal battle that threatens to shut down that facility as well. Those two tracks traditionally host two of the three national events in the High & Mighty division, and currently play host to four of the six Lucas Oil Series events in Division 5 as well. Adding to the uncertainty, SRCA Dragstrip in Grand Bend, KS, another long-standing facility that typically hosts the Lucas Oil Series is shut down for the season in the midst of a legal battle of its own. 

While the immediate future is unclear, longterm prospects for the division may be promising – the Bandimer’s have vowed to build anew, and NHRA recently inked a contract with Flying H Dragstrip, a new facility currently in construction outside of Kansas City. Assuming those both come to fruition, the biggest concerns of racers in the region will be alleviated within a few years; but what about 2024?

The West Central division is already the most geographically diverse of the seven NHRA divisions, spanning from Colorado to Minnesota. Does newly appointed Division Director Nick Duty look to expand that footprint even further, perhaps reclassifying a facility currently in Division 3 or 5 into the High and Mighty? Could quality facilities within the current footprint be convinced to join the NHRA sanction? Are there current NHRA tracks in the division that could host major events as currently configured or that are willing to make necessary improvements to do so? 

These are fascinating questions that are certainly on the minds of racers throughout the region. The good news? The division is in the right hands: Nick Duty is as equipped to navigate these situations as any director in the country. It will be extremely interesting to see what happens next. 

Could we see a return to “Old School” Big Bucks racing?

Part of the reason we’ve seen such an increase in the number of entries within the big buck bracket scene is the result of a change in format. For years, most big dollar races were a typical single-elimination format, often with a buy-back in the early rounds of competition. Competitors had one entry per car. 

In recent years, a double entry format was adopted and popularized first by SFG Promotions. The success of their early events caught the attention of other promoters, and slowly the landscape has shifted: in recent years the same car/same driver double entry format (which allows a driver to purchase two separate entries into the event with the same car) has become essentially universal. The perceived benefit to racers is two fold: with additional entries, the entry fees were lowered (or the purse elevated), and racers got two shots at glory in each event. On the flip side, however, racers argued that the price of competition actually went up: now in order to be competitive they felt obligated to purchase two entries instead of one (and potentially two buybacks), investing more money despite the lower price tag per entry. Plus, at many of these mega events, fields have routinely reached 500, 600, even 700 entrants – creating a marathon event that has often proven difficult to even complete, much less enjoy.

In preparation for the upcoming Fall Fling at Bristol Dragway, Peter Biondo and his team – who have routinely hosted huge fields at seemingly all of their Fling events across the country – made the decision to manage that crowd by limiting the event to a true single entry. Any driver entered will make one trip down the race track in each round of competition: no double entries of any kind. They limited the field to 425 entrants, and opened the entry process several months in advance of the September event. The 425 car field sold out in three minutes.

Is this more indicative of an outcry for the “old school” format (and a sportsman racing economy willing to support it), or is it simply a result of the faith and trust that Biondo and the Spring Fling Bracket Races have rightfully earned among racers? In truth, it’s probably the latter: I think Biondo could sell out a race of any nature at this point. It will be interesting, however, to see if this is a trend that continues among other prominent big buck races and promoters moving forward.

Can Justin Lamb’s Streak Continue?

Five-time NHRA national champion Justin Lamb holds one of the most coveted and improbable streaks in all of sportsman racing. The Nevada-based standout has hoisted at least one national event Wally in each of the least eleven seasons. How unique is that accomplishment? The closest sportsman competitor to that total is Anthony Bertozzi, who had done so for just over half the length of time: his streak stood at 6 coming into 2023 (Bertozzi, by the way, has already extended that streak to 7 following his double victory at the NHRA Winternationals).

Lamb’s streak, while improbable, pales in comparison to the longest streak of its kind. Dan Fletcher earned national event glory every season for 25 consecutive years before his streak came to an end in 2020. While I think we can all agree that Fletcher’s record (much like his record for sportsman national event victories) is unlikely to ever be broken, it will be fun to see how far Lamb can stretch this out. 

After failing to reach the podium at the season-opening events near his Nevada home base, Lamb will presumably try his hand in at least four more events before season’s end: the traditional Western Swing events in Sonoma and Seattle, along with the season-ending Las Vegas Nationals and NHRA Finals.


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