Story By: NHRA – PHOENIX, AZ – A week after opening the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season with a victory, Top Fuel rising star Justin Ashley will look to keep rolling and make it two wins in a row in 2022 in just his second career appearance at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park during this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals.
It’s the NHRA’s first trip to Phoenix area since 2020 and Ashley is looking to make a big impression in his 11,000-horsepower Phillips Connect dragster. Ashley, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year, closed last year strong, earning a victory and advancing to two final rounds in the playoffs en route to a career-best fourth-place finish, and seems intent on sending an early-season message in 2022. Plenty of racing remains, but Ashley is undoubtedly thrilled with the way his team has started the new year.
“We were very proactive in the off-season and that’s how we wanted to be,” Ashley said. “We knew the Top Fuel field was going to be stacked and we didn’t want to stay stagnant. It’s just a testament to the work of our team, so be able to see it come to fruition (with a win) is really meaningful. I always have to be on my ‘A’ game. There’s no room for error and you always have to be on top of things in this class.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) all won the 2020 race in Phoenix. This year’s event will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations action at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, and the Duel in the Desert marks the second of 22 races in the 2022 NHRA season. For Ashley, it couldn’t be a better start as he takes his crack on tracking down four-time defending world champ Torrence.
He’s one of many standouts in a loaded Top Fuel field that has been dominated by Torrence in recent seasons. Others to watch in Phoenix include Tony Schumacher, who has returned to full-time action in 2022, Austin Prock, who advanced to the finals in Pomona, Leah Pruett, who is part of Tony Stewart Racing’s new team, Pomona No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force, Doug Kalitta and Josh Hart. It’s also a big weekend for the class, as it’s the last chance for competitors to earn in their spot in the highly-anticipated eight-car Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout, a specialty shootout event that takes place at the next event in Gainesville. Ashley could be an early front-runner for that, as he has nothing but praise for his team and dragster to open the year.
“From a driver’s perspective, when (the car) is going down the track, there’s very few things that give you as much confidence,” Ashley said. “But there’s always pressure to perform for your team. Our team does an outstanding job and it’s up to me to be the best driver I can be. It’s just a lot of fun to be able to drive this car.”
In Funny Car, Robert Hight bounced back from a disappointing – by his standards – 2021 season with a season-opening victory in Pomona. After winning the championship in 2019, Hight and all of John Force Racing have worked through considerable adversity, including not racing for most of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hight finished an uncharacteristic eighth last year, which was all the motivation Hight and his team needed heading into the new season.
They impressed at every turn last weekend in Hight’s 11,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS, but Hight knows it will be a tough task to continue that momentum in Phoenix. He’ll have to face off against the likes of Pomona runner-up Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, teammate John Force, who has eight career Phoenix wins, Cruz Pedregon, J.R. Todd and Bob Tasca III, but Hight is locked in on having a big year.
“We’re on a mission, we’re focused and we’re going to try to do the best we can,” Hight said. “It’s not going to be easy, but we’re up to the task. The team really went through every single race (last year) and figured out what went wrong. We went back to how we ran in 2019 when we had the best Funny Car from start to finish, and it’s been great. We’ve been pretty consistent so far and we’ve got to continue to up our game.”
After celebrating Pro Stock’s 900th race at the opening event of 2022, Enders will look to keep rolling against another standout field. She claimed her first career Winternationals win and will now aim for her third triumph in Phoenix. To do so, she’ll have to beat the likes of reigning world champ Greg Anderson, who is after his 100th career win, Aaron Stanfield, Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky and Matt Hartford.
The event also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills, as well as a special Big Tire/Small Tire shootout. After nitro qualifying on both days, fans can also enjoy a thrilling wheelstander exhibition from the “Little Red Fire Truck” driven by Mike Mantel, as well as a can’t-miss jet car exhibition from the Team “Muy Caliente” jet car. The NHRA Arizona Nationals marks the first Electric Exhibition presented by Pep Boys Electric Vehicle Service, showcasing exciting specialty electric vehicles making runs down the track. Among the featured drivers for this weekend’s electric vehicle exhibition is Steve Huff, who became the first person to make a 200-mph run in an electric dragster.
Throughout the weekend, NHRA fans can take part in the special walking tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits and can attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Wild Horse Pass Motorsport Park will also host the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the event winners celebrating their NHRA Arizona Nationals victories.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. This unique opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 4:30 p.m. PT on Friday, Feb. 25 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 26 at 1 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 27. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday on FS1, and then eliminations action at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday.