Caruso Makes History In Phoenix

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 28 2023

Pro Stock driver Camrie Caruso and her new best friend Wally.

Third-generation drag racer Camrie Caruso added significant chapters to her family and NHRA record books Sunday, scoring her first Pro Stock victory in what was billed as the final NHRA Arizona Nationals.

NHRA’s 2022 Rookie of the Year, Caruso defeated former world champion Bo Butner in the final round to become only the second female to win a Pro Stock national event. Caruso joined mentor Erica Enders, the five-time/reigning world champion, on that exclusive list of ladies.

“It was a great day of racing. It was awesome,” said Caruso, who posted her first professional victory in her 21st start. “I’m just thankful and blessed to have the team and the partners that have supported me. I have to thank my mom and dad and Papa for all their support, too.”

Caruso drives the Right Trailers Chevrolet Camaro SS fielded by KB Titan Racing, an alliance forged during the offseason between Ken Black Racing and Titan Racing. A 24-year-old resident of Mooresville, N.C., Camrie is following the career path of her father, former Pro Mod racer Marc Caruso, and her grandfather “Papa Joe” Caruso, who competed in Super Gas, Top Sportsman and Pro Mod.

Justin Ashley (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) also emerged as champions at the second of 21 events during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

The 38th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals played-out before sellout weekend crowds in Chandler, Ariz., at a multi-purpose facility that opened in 1983 as Firebird International Raceway. The future of professional drag racing in the state remains in limbo, as Sunday’s event was advertised as the final NHRA-sanctioned national race before WHPMP is shuttered and replaced by a new overpass roadway for an extension of Interstate 10.

Ironically, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park was the site of Caruso’s first career round-win last season, when she defeated Cristian Cuadra in the opening pairing. As this event’s No. 8 qualifier, Caruso outran class veteran Deric Kramer, first-time pole-sitter Cuadra, Arizona’s Matt Hartford and Butner en route to hoisting her first Wally trophy and inaugural post-race podium champagne shower.

Caruso advanced to her first final round last season in just her fifth professional race, a record for rookies in the Factory Hot Rod class. Sunday’s victory capped a journey Caruso has been working towards for two seasons.

“I was really hoping we’d start the year off with a good bang,” said Caruso, who first got behind the wheel of a race car at age 8 competing in the NHRA Junior Dragster League. “My crew chief Dave Connolly has had a great track record with younger drivers and new drivers in the class. Going into December we were nervous about how everything was going to go down with the team merger. But  they’ve been behind us ever since and working with all of them and having teammates to lean on like (five-time world champ) Greg Anderson, Dallas Glenn and Kyle Koretsky it’s been way better than I could have ever imagined.”

The final round pitted Caruso against Butner, the 2017 world champion and No. 11 qualifier in a Camaro fielded by arch-rival Elite Motorsports. 

“I’m not gonna lie _ I wasn’t really sure if I won or not until I pulled off the racetrack because I like to just focus on going straight,” Caruso said after her quarter-mile pass in 6.592-seconds at 210.31 mph. “I don’t really look around, but it was so awesome. I just went up there and tried to make it just another round and tried my best to do my job because I knew the guys were going to do theirs.”

Caruso’s reaction time of 0.044-seconds edged Butner’s 0.045 on his pass of 6.592-seconds at 209.23 mph. Butner reached his first final since 2020 _ also at WHPMP _ by defeating Elite teammate Enders, Fernando Cuadra Jr. and Koretsky. The next Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge in Pro Stock will feature Caruso against Hartford and Butner facing off with Koretsky.

Caruso’s second-round match against No. 1 qualifier Cristian Cuadra saw Camrie unintentionally light both her pre-stage and stage bulbs almost simultaneously. When Cuadra failed to stage his Ford Mustang within the seven-second limit he was timed-out and disqualified. It was an added bit of drama for both, as Cuadra began race day as the first Mexican driver to qualify on-pole at any NHRA national event. Caruso later confessed to making a starting line error, denying she was playing mind games with Cuadra.

“I just took too much of the first bulb and then as soon as I put my line-lock on it moved a little bit and turned on both bulbs,” Caruso said. “Then we were in. It wasn’t intentional. I did go over (to Cuadra) and say ‘I’m sorry’ and that it wasn’t intentional at all. I don’t like to really play starting line games because I probably messed myself up, to be honest. I’m still new at this and, you know, we’re thankful for the win. But it was just a mistake.”

Her win in Race 2 of the 2023 season moved Caruso into second in the Pro Stock point standings, six markers behind Troy Coughlin Jr. It’s the highest point position in Caruso’s pro career after qualifying last season for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Camrie’s move to Pro Stock has capped a journey through various NHRA classes for over a decade, including competition in Top Alcohol Dragster, Elite Top Dragster and Pro Outlaw 632 in the Professional Drag Racers Association. Away from the track, Caruso has earned degrees in finance and marketing from SUNY Empire State College. In 2018 she was recognized by Drag Illustrated magazine as a “30-Under-30” drag racing personality.

“I need to hold up my end of the bargain because my KB Titan teammates always hold up theirs,” Caruso said of a group led by Anderson. “I was a little worried this season just because they’ve had so much success already together. And then the whole KB Titan team is extremely successful. My teammates all have wins and No. 1 qualifiers and championships. I just wanted to be able to hold up the name and do good for all of them.”

The Camping World Drag Racing Series returns March 30-April 2 with the Lucas Oil Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip in Pomona, Calif. Ashley (Top Fuel), Hight (Funny Car) and Enders (Pro Stock) all won last year at the famed Southern California facility. This weekend’s race will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations at 7 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday, April 2.

Sunday’s Top Fuel final saw Justin Ashley power to victory over Shawn Langdon, the 2013 world champion. Ashley posted a 1,000-foot run of 3.705-seconds at 329.34 mph in his Toyota dragster to drive past Langdon’s 3.732 at 329.58.

Ashley scored his sixth career victory and first at WHPMP after defeating eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, privateer Mike Salinas and four-time world champ Steve Torrence to reach the final. Ashley was spot-on the starting line during eliminations, leaving first in the final.

“It was an incredible race day,” said Ashley, a 28-year-old resident of Plainview, N.Y. “To be honest, it really was an incredible weekend. We knew coming into the weekend that we were going to have to go through a gauntlet of opponents just if we wanted to give ourselves a chance to win on Sunday.

“My crew chiefs _ Mike Green and Tommy DeLago _ learned a lot. They really approach this the right way. We made a lot of changes in the offseason and they took Friday and Saturday to make quality laps down the racetrack and learn. We were in a good position to go rounds on Sunday. I think that proved to be the case. You have to have four perfect rounds of racing to just give yourself a chance to win and there are a lot of really great racers out there. I’m just proud of my team and grateful that we collected this win. A win like this sets the tone for the year because it builds momentum and every point matters.”

Torrence has an 11-point lead over Salinas after two national events. Ashley is fourth, 23 points behind Texan Torrence and his family-owned Toyota dragster.

Langdon, driver of the DHL/Kalitta Air dragster, advanced to his first final of 2023 and 38th in his career by defeating three-time world champion Antron Brown, No. 1 qualifier and Kalitta Motorsports teammate Doug Kalitta and Leah Pruett of Tony Stewart Racing. Langdon will face Pruett in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge next weekend in Pomona, Calif., with Ashley racing Torrence.

The Ha-Ha Car final showcased a pair of three-time world champions, with Robert Hight earning his 62nd career victory at the expense of reigning series champ Ron Capps.

Hight, who finished second to Capps in the 2022 point standings despite winning eight national events, wheeled his Chevrolet Camaro SS to a 1,000-foot run in 3.930-seconds at 328.62 mph. The win gave Hight the point lead via his second straight WHPMP victory, as the veteran from John Force Racing put on a show after struggling to qualify ninth.

However, Hight and a team led by crew chief Jimmy Prock were brilliant on Sunday. It was the first win for Hight’s newly configured tuning braintrust led by Prock and co-assistant crew chiefs Thomas Prock, Jimmy’s son, and Nate Hildahl, a long-time JFR crew member. Hight methodically recorded the quickest run of every round, including a 3.900-second pass in the semifinals to beat Chad Green. Hight also picked up wins against 16-time world champion/teammate John Force in his Camaro and No. 1 qualifier Bob Tasca III in his Ford Mustang.

“We better get used to that because this whole Funny Car field is stacked from top-to-bottom,” said Hight, a 53-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif. “To win one of these races you’re going to have to go through four ‘hitters,’ and that’s we did that today. It’s a huge win. You can just tell when Jimmy is on to something, and he’s got the confidence and that gives me confidence.

“I just love coming here. The fans are great and to see this crowd we had for three days, that really pumps you up as a driver. They’re back in the pits with you and that’s just what makes NHRA drag racing so awesome.” Hight holds a four-point lead over Hagan after two events.

Capps, owner/driver of his Toyota GR Supra, advanced to his 141st career final via round wins against Alex Laughlin, Blake Alexander and Alexis DeJoria. Capps will race DeJoria in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, after DeJoria won the Challenge on Saturday at WHPMP. Hight will take on Green in a semifinal rematch as well.


Final finishing order (1-16) at the 38th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz. The race was the second of 21 events on the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule:

Top Fuel _ 1. Justin Ashley; 2. Shawn Langdon; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Leah Pruett; 5. Mike Salinas; 6. Austin Prock; 7. Doug Kalitta; 8. Brittany Force; 9. Antron Brown; 10. Krista Baldwin; 11. Tony Schumacher; 12. Clay Millican; 13. Josh Hart; 14. Rob Passey; 15. Jim Maroney; 16. Buddy Hull.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight; 2. Ron Capps; 3. Alexis DeJoria; 4. Chad Green; 5. Bob Tasca III; 6. Tim Wilkerson; 7. Matt Hagan; 8. Blake Alexander; 9. J.R. Todd; 10. Terry Haddock; 11. Paul Lee; 12. John Force; 13. Bobby Bode; 14. Alex Laughlin; 15. Jim Campbell; 16. Cruz Pedregon. 

Pro Stock _1. Camrie Caruso; 2. Bo Butner; 3. Matt Hartford; 4. Kyle Koretsky; 5. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 6. Greg Anderson; 7. Aaron Stanfield; 8. Cristian Cuadra; 9. Dallas Glenn; 10. Erica Enders; 11. Jerry Tucker; 12. Chris McGaha; 13. Mason McGaha; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Troy Coughlin Jr.; 16. Deric Kramer.

Final Pro and Sportsman class results from Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park:

Top Fuel _ Justin Ashley, 3.705-seconds, 329.34 mph def. Shawn Langdon, 3.732-seconds, 329.58 mph.

Funny Car _ Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.930, 328.62 def. Ron Capps, Toyota Supra, 5.534, 136.80.

Pro Stock _ Camrie Caruso, Chevy Camaro, 6.592, 210.31 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.593, 209.23. 

Competition Eliminator _ Bruno Massel, Chevy Cobalt, 7.043, 185.28 def. Ralph VanPaepeghem, Bantam, 7.301, 181.64.

Super Stock _ Brad Burton, Pontiac Firebird, 9.332, 136.75 def. Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Cobalt, 9.085, 139.88.

Stock Eliminator _ Jody Lang, Chevy Malibu Wagon, 12.125, 94.65 def. Tony DeFrank, Chevy Camaro, 19.726, 65.29.

Super Comp _ Thomas Bayer, Dragster, 8.938, 163.08 def. Brandon Dolezal, Dragster, 8.942, 180.45.

Super Gas _ Chris Bishop, Chevy Corvette, 9.966, 154.67 def. Bill Dennis, Cadillac XLR, 9.926, 166.46.

Top Sportsman _ Sammy Gonzales, Pontiac Grand Am, 7.157, 192.49 def. Lance Abbott, Chevy S-10, 6.895, 193.16.

Top Dragster _ Chad Axford, Dragster, 6.808, 193.32 def. Dylan Hough, Dragster, 6.650, 202.48.

Final round-by-round results from Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park:


ROUND ONE _ Shawn Langdon, 3.716, 331.28 def. Antron Brown, 3.702, 332.34; Brittany Force, 3.682, 336.23 def. Josh Hart, 10.780, 59.32; Mike Salinas, 3.715, 333.25 def. Clay Millican, 10.164, 83.11; Doug Kalitta, 3.760, 327.59 def. Rob Passey, 11.283, 70.74; Austin Prock, 6.455, 96.71 def. Jim Maroney, Broke; Leah Pruett, 3.729, 331.04 def. Buddy Hull, Foul/Red Light; Steve Torrence, 3.735, 328.62 def. Krista Baldwin, 3.846, 314.17; Justin Ashley, 3.741, 329.67 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.879, 160.33;

QUARTERFINALS _ Torrence, 3.737, 331.85 def. Prock, 3.768, 327.59; Pruett, 3.725, 333.74 def. Force, 9.864, 73.42; Ashley, 3.743, 330.80 def. Salinas, 3.750, 332.34; Langdon, 4.007, 318.54 def. Kalitta, 6.511, 125.11;

SEMIFINALS _ Ashley, 3.740, 327.82 def. Torrence, 3.743, 305.84; Langdon, 3.719, 331.85 def. Pruett, 3.761, 326.79;

FINAL _ Ashley, 3.705, 329.34 def. Langdon, 3.732, 329.58.


ROUND ONE _ Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.922, 319.45 def. Jim Campbell, Toyota Solara, Broke; Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Supra, 3.906, 327.66 def. J.R. Todd, Supra, 3.923, 328.38; Chad Green, Mustang, 4.618, 178.80 def. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 5.046, 150.53; Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.962, 285.11 def. Paul Lee, Dodge Charger, 4.034, 305.77; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.178, 225.79 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, Broke; Ron Capps, Supra, 3.912, 324.36 def. Alex Laughlin, Charger, 7.591, 80.73; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.003, 315.27 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.031, 309.13; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.911, 325.37 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.286, 219.26;

QUARTERFINALS _ DeJoria, 3.949, 323.35 def. Wilkerson, 4.678, 175.96; Green, 3.984, 323.97 def. Hagan, 4.962, 165.90; Capps, 3.982, 318.09 def. Alexander, Foul/Red Light; Hight, 3.936, 330.07 def. Tasca III, 3.966, 321.88;

SEMIFINALS _ Capps, 3.930, 322.73 def. DeJoria, 3.935, 323.35; Hight, 3.900, 329.34 def. Green, 3.955, 322.96;

FINAL _ Hight, 3.930, 328.62 def. Capps, 5.534, 136.80.


ROUND ONE _ Camrie Caruso, Chevy Camaro, 6.564, 210.57 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 24.425, 39.45; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.561, 209.26 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, Foul/Red Light; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.565, 208.17 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.569, 208.88; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.552, 210.24 def. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.636, 209.69; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.558, 208.55 def. Jerry Tucker, Camaro, 6.616, 209.92; Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.567, 209.49 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.624, 208.17; Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.562, 209.79 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 16.551, 50.35; Fernando Cuadra Jr., Mustang, 6.574, 210.05 def. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.561, 209.88;

QUARTERFINALS _ Butner, 6.591, 208.17 def. Cuadra Jr., 6.607, 209.26; Caruso, 13.793, 62.23 def. C. Cuadra, Foul/Red Light; Koretsky, 6.589, 209.20 def. Anderson, 6.644, 209.43; Hartford, 6.559, 209.49 def. Stanfield, 8.201, 124.94;

SEMIFINALS _ Butner, 22.587, 34.08 def. Koretsky, Foul/Red Light; Caruso, 6.568, 210.41 def. Hartford, 6.566, 210.47;

FINAL _ Caruso, 6.592, 210.31 def. Butner, 6.593, 209.23.

Point standings (top-10) following the 38th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 168; 2. Mike Salinas, 157; 3. Leah Pruett, 155; 4. Justin Ashley, 145; 5. Doug Kalitta, 140; 6. Shawn Langdon, 128; 7. Brittany Force, 122; 8. Austin Prock, 109; 9. Antron Brown, 86; 10. Tony Schumacher, 84.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight, 169; 2. Matt Hagan, 165; 3. Ron Capps, 157; 4. Alexis DeJoria, 154; 5. Chad Green, 149; 6. Bob Tasca III, 123; 7. J.R. Todd, 121; 8. John Force, 97; 9. Blake Alexander, 91; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 84.

Pro Stock _ 1. Troy Coughlin Jr., 156; 2. Camrie Caruso, 149; 3. Kyle Koretsky, 133; 4. Matt Hartford, 130; 5. Mason McGaha, 129; 6. (tie) Greg Anderson, 128; Bo Butner, 128; 8. Dallas Glenn, 114; 9. Cristian Cuadra, 95; 10. Aaron Stanfield, 94.


March 9-12 _ 54th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway: Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Troy Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Justin Bond (Pro Modified).

March 24-26 _ 38th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz.: Justin Ashley (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Camrie Caruso (Pro Stock).

March 30-April 2 _ 63rd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com, Pomona Raceway, Pomona, Calif.

April 14-16 _ 23rd annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

April 28-30 _ 13th annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.

May 19-21 _ 23rd annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by PEAK Performance, Route 66 Raceway, Joliet, Ill.

June 2-4 _ 10th annual NHRA New England Nationals, New England Dragway, Epping, N.H.

June 9-11 _ 22nd annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tenn.

June 22-25 _ 17th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Summit Motorsports Park, Norwalk, Ohio

July 14-16 _ 43rd annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals, Bandimere Speedway, Morrison, Colo.

July 21-23 _ 34th annual Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals, Pacific Raceways, Kent, Wash.

July 28-30 _ 35th annual DENSO NHRA Sonoma Nationals, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway

Aug. 11-13 _ 34th annual Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor, Heartland Motorsports Park, Topeka, Kan.

Aug. 17-20 _ 41st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway

Aug. 30-Sept. 4 _ 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals, Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, Clermont, Ind. The event also will include the Pep Boys NHRA Funny Car All-Star Callout.


Sept. 14-17 _ 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa.

Sept. 22-24 _ 15th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.

Sept. 29-Oct. 1 _ 12th annual NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill.

Oct. 12-15 _ 38th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis

Oct. 26-29 _ 23rd annual NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Nov. 9-12 _ 58th annual NHRA Finals, Pomona Raceway, Pomona, Calif.

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 28 2023
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