April 25, 2022
At the final NHRA SpringNationals at Houston Raceway Park, event champions Brittany Force, Matt Hagan, Erica Enders, and Steve Johnson combined to give the historic facility a proper send-off.
There was more than enough drama to go around at Houston Raceway Park but the Pro Stock final stole the show as Erica Enders topped rising star Camrie Caruso in the first all-female final in the factory hot rod class. Enders won her third race of the season and, perhaps more importantly, won for the final time at her home track.
Enders grew up racing Jr. Dragsters in Baytown and earned her first win in Super Gas in 2004. She’s since followed with three Pro Stock victories. Caruso was slightly quicker off the starting line, but Enders powered to a 6.568 for her 37th win to cover Caruso’s 6.624.
“I wanted it bad. This morning did not start out terrific for me. I wanted to work all day long to prove to people that I’m everything they say I’m not and I can do everything that they say I can’t. This one is for team Enders and for Team Melling. I just watched a lot of the people I grew up with just win. We all just wrecked house here in H-town.”
Although she qualified No. 2 behind Caruso, Enders’ Elite Camaro was clearly the class of the field on race day as she powered past Cristian Cuadra, Matt Hartford, and Kyle Koretsky to reach the final for the 66th time in her career. Enders also did what she does best with a holeshot win against Hartford, a two-time Houston Pro Stock winner.
As for Caruso, she’s exceeded even her own lofty expectations by qualifying No. 1 and reaching the final in just her fifth start in the class. Caruso drove her Jim Yates-tuned Camaro to wins against Fernando Cuadra Sr., Bo Butner, and world champ Greg Anderson to run her record to an even 5-5 on the young season.
Enders successfully defended her title from the Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas three weeks ago and so did Top Fuel champ Brittany Force, who gave Justin Ashley a tasted\ of his own medicine with a holeshot victory. Force, who has clearly addressed the starting line issues that plagued her for much of 2021, left first with a competitive .041 light and powered to a 3.767 to 3.763 victory.
“I love Houston,” said Force. “Winning here, with this team, we’ve had some great years. I won here back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. I won in 2018 after a terrible wreck [in Pomona] That was an emotional win because I didn’t know if we’d come back. Now, we’re here with [tuners] David Grubnic and Mac Savage and it’s incredible to be able to do it again. This Monster Energy team wanted to close out Houston on top and we did it.”
“We looked at the ladder and we felt confident coming in,” Force said. “We wanted to be No. 1, but we got moved to second but still thought we had a good shot at it. We also didn’t make every single qualifying run but it didn’t seem to hold us back. We’ve just been working so hard to get where we are.
“This was a baby holeshot but it was huge. This is for all those runs where my guys gave me the car to win, and I didn’t give it back to them. This is for them.”
Force took over the points lead thanks to a solid day that includes wins against Josh Hart, Shawn Langdon, Billy Torrence, and Ashley. Force now has 13-career wins in 30 final rounds.
Hagan has now won 41 races in a nitro Funny Car but few have been as dominant as his most recent win over upstart Bobby Bode in Houston. The three-time world champion gave new team owner Tony Stewart his second win of the season in five races with a 3.98, but most of the attention was focused on the other lane after Bode backfired a supercharger and blew the body off his Arbee Mustang. Bode was ahead of Hagan at the eighth-mile mark before his car began to drop cylinders.
Hagan quickly checked to make sure Bode wasn’t hurt and then his thoughts turned to his longtime crew chief Dickie Venables, who recently lost his father, Dick Sr.
“Dickie has been such a big part of this, and this is such a special event,” said Hagan. “I won my first race here in Houston with a pedal job and its crazy how history works. This is for Dickie and his dad in remembrance of him. We’re leading the points now and we’ve got a second win for Tony Stewart Racing. Our crew is doing a hell of a job.”
“I won three racers with Tommy [DeLago] and the rest have been with Dickie,” Hagan said. “That’s a statement of how good the guy is. There are a lot of heavy hitters out here, but I wouldn’t trade Dickie for any of them. The dude is incredible. It was super-emotional this weekend. Rolling up to final, I just told myself don’t do something stupid and mess this up.”
Steve Johnson has appeared in 464 career Pro Stock Motorcycle races, far more than any other rider, and he’s now got 10 wins after riding past reigning champ Matt Smith in the final. Johnson came in holding a sizable performance advantage and never gave an inch as he won easily, 6.720 to 6.811.
“I love this. I tell people, if I had 10 million dollars, I’d still be doing the same thing,” said Johnson. “Find what you love and chase it. Do not stop and beat Matt Smith, no matter what bike he brings.”
Johnson was dominant with a string of 6.7s as he topped Michael Ray, Jimmy Underdahl, and four-time champion Eddie Krawiec.
As for Smith, he’s long been known as one of the sport’s most resourceful racers and he proved it by switching motorcycles before the final. Smith determined that his Suzuki was wounded before the final and with no time to diagnose or fix a problem, he simply unloaded last year’s championship-winning Denso Buell from his trailer. Although Smith hadn’t turned a tire on his Buell since last year’s Auto Club Finals, he made a game effort with a 6.811.