Story By: NHRA – ST. LOUIS, MO – With a victory last weekend, Aaron Stanfield jumped right back in the championship mix, but the rising star in Pro Stock said the chase for an NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series world title in the class won’t be his main focus heading to this weekend’s NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Stanfield moved back to second in points heading to the halfway point of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs and now trails Elite Motorsports teammate Erica Enders by just 64 points with four races remaining this year. But the three-time race winner in 2022 insists counting points won’t be on his radar going to St. Louis.
It’s an approach that has never served him well before and it’s a mindset he’ll be sure to avoid even as the title talk heats up at World Wide Technology Raceway. Instead, he’s focused on another win in his Janac Brothers Chevrolet Camaro, knowing full well that another standout playoff performance will keep him in a great position.
“We’re not going to give up and it’s still anyone’s shot,” Stanfield said. “There’s no better feeling in the world than winning an NHRA race, so I just want to keep trying to go to each race and focus with just that goal in mind. We wanted to come in and turn things around (in Charlotte) and we did that. I’m more worried about winning races, going rounds and being consistent as a driver. Every time I start to focus on points, I start to think about it, so I just want to continue to do well, produce consistent results and win races.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Enders (Pro Stock) won last year’s race, while this year’s playoff event will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), with live action from eliminations set to air at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 2. It is the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship and Stanfield believed his effort last weekend in Charlotte was perhaps his best all-around showing of the year.
That came at a perfect time, especially as Enders looked on the verge of running off with the title. She dominated the Countdown to the Championship opener in Reading and qualified No. 1 in Charlotte before an exit in the semifinals. But she remains the dominant force in the class in 2022 on the strength of seven victories and Enders has also ruled in St. Louis, picking up her fifth win last year at the track.
But having a four-time world champ as a teammate has also brought out the best in Stanfield, who will also have to deal with the likes of Troy Coughlin Jr., defending world champ Greg Anderson, Kyle Koretsky and Dallas Glenn in St. Louis. Stanfield has enjoyed a standout season with three victories and seven appearances in the final round.
“In my DNA, I want to be the best,” said Stanfield, who has seven career Pro Stock wins. “Erica is the best right now and she’s proven that time and time again. We’re a team and I support her, and she supports me, and it’s good to have that competition when you put the helmets on, but I would say we both push each other.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle also returns to action in St. Louis and Joey Gladstone brings plenty of momentum with him after his victory in Reading. That sent him back into the points lead on his J&A Service Suzuki Hayabusa, but he knows things can change in a hurry in a class that has featured five changes to the points lead in the past five races.
“It’s going to take goods run and good lights and a lot of consistency for whoever’s going to win it,” Gladstone said. “It’s way too early to say what the trend is going to be now. You saw what Matt (Smith) did in Indy where a couple of people falter, and he blasts right back into the points lead. Anything can happen and I’m just going to go one race at a time. If we can get the championship, that’s killer.”
Smith has four wins at the facility and just won in Indy, which put him in the points lead after that race, but Gladstone went back to the top for the second time in three races with his victory at the playoff opener in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Steve Johnson and Angelle Sampey have also led the points in this recent stretch and other contenders include Angie Smith, Karen Stoffer and Jerry Savoie.
“To be able to get a little bit of an edge for the next one is good because we’ll need it,” Gladstone said. “Matt hauls butt everywhere he goes, so it’s going to be tough. Everybody in this class is so tough and everyone is a contender.”
Four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence is after his first Top Fuel win of the playoffs, but he has to contend with star drivers like Justin Ashley, who is the current points leader, Charlotte winner Antron Brown, Brittany Force, who has four wins this year, Mike Salinas, and Leah Pruett.
Funny Car’s Matt Hagan is after his fourth win of the season, but it won’t come easy in a loaded field that includes points leader Robert Hight, who has seven wins this season, Charlotte winner and defending world champ Ron Capps, John Force, Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria, Tim Wilkerson, J.R. Todd, and Bob Tasca III.
The NHRA Midwest Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by D-Wagon. The ET Racing Showcase, high school challenge and Jr. Dragster challenge will all take place during the weekend as well, and fans can also attend Nitro School on Saturday to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. The Gear Jammer’s Car Club will be on display at the event, while fans can also be entertained by the PT Cruiser Wheelstander that will make exhibition runs following nitro qualifying.
Directly after nitro qualifying on Friday, fans will be treated to a special fireworks show and a concert by country music star Tim Dugger. Top Fuel and Funny Cars will run a special 7 p.m. CT night qualifying session that will kick off the racing weekend, leading into the fireworks and concert from Dugger.
Race fans at World Wide Technology Raceway can also enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. Another 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 winners of the NHRA Midwest Nationals.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in St. Louis. 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 6:00 p.m. CT on Friday, Sept. 30, and the final two rounds on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. CT on Sunday, Oct. 2. Television coverage includes qualifying action at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 2 and eliminations starting at 2 p.m. on ET. Both will air on FS1 as part of 4.5 hours of Sunday coverage.