Caruso Honored as NHRA’s 2022 Rookie of the Year

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 19 2022

Pro Stock driver Camrie Caruso has been named the NHRA’s top rookie.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

When Camrie Caruso began her pursuit of an NHRA career, she went right to the source.

Caruso “interned” with multiple Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders at Elite Motorsports, an experience that eventually played into Camrie’s selection as 2022 NHRA Rookie of the Year. Caruso was honored during the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series awards ceremony earlier this week at the Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, Calif.

A third-generation drag racer with Caruso Family Racing, Camrie qualified at all 19 Pro Stock events this season and advanced into the six-round Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Camrie’s in-season highlight weekend occurred in late April during the final edition of the NHRA SpringNationals at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown, Texas. Caruso earned her first No. 1 qualifier before defeating Fernando Cuadra, 2017 world champion Bo Butner and five-time world champ Greg Anderson to reach the final.

Fittingly, Caruso staged opposite Enders in the first all-female final round in Pro Stock history. Houston native Enders won that matchup at her home track _ one of a personal-best 10 national event victories Erica earned en route to her fifth Pro Stock world championship.

Camrie Caruso’s Caruso Family Racing team at Pomona.

Caruso is just the fifth female driver to win ROY, an award NHRA first presented in 1990. Camrie is following the career path of her father, former Pro Mod racer Marc Caruso, and grandfather “Papa Joe” Caruso, who competed in Super Gas, Top Sportsman and Pro Mod.

“I am so proud to win this award and it wouldn’t be possible without the support and love from my Poppa, dad and mom,” said Caruso, who qualified No. 13 for last weekend’s season-ending 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. “We achieved so many of my goals this season from qualifying No. 1, to getting to a final round to qualifying at every national event.

“We didn’t check all the boxes, but I’m very thankful. The competition is so tough out here and to be recognized as the Rookie of the Year is a tremendous honor. Thank you to all the media that voted for me.”

Top Fuel’s Scott Farley and Funny Car’s Jason Rupert also were ROY nominees. Voting was conducted by a national panel of motorsports journalists, including this reporter.

Caruso, a 24-year-old native of Freeport, N.Y., got her start as an 8-year-old in the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League. She moved through the NHRA ranks for over a decade, rising to Top Alcohol Dragster as well as Elite Top Dragster and Pro Outlaw 632 in the Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA).

Caruso has earned degrees in finance and marketing from the State University of New York system. In 2018 she was recognized by Drag Illustrated magazine as one of its “30 Under 30” personalities. Away from the cockpit, Camrie handles marketing for Titan Racing Engines in Denver, N.C.

Camrie was looking to compete in Pro Mod when her career path led her to Elite Motorsports in Wynnewood, Okla. “She was here six months or so a couple of years ago,” Enders said during an interview with RacinToday.com. “She was just trying to learn the ropes of Pro Stock. She lived at my house for six months until she got homesick and went back to New York.

“At that time she was wanting to run Pro Mod, which is what her dad ran. That was kinda the direction she wanted to go, but perhaps she fell in love with Pro Stock when she came to work for us. My team-owner, Richard Freeman, is friends with her father and sold them four of our engines. They were able to get their feet wet in Pro Stock because of Elite Motorsports, so that’s pretty cool.”

Caruso said that six-month stint truly altered her career path. “That taught me about the cars and general knowledge about what it actually takes to go Pro Stock racing,” Caruso said. “They (Elite) were the reason we bought into Pro Stock. They really opened our eyes to it _ me and my father and grandpa. My dad will probably get his Pro Stock license over the winter.”

Enders noted her relationship with Caruso has become less cordial since Camrie began competing in the “Factory Hot Rod” class in her Powerbuilt Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS with power provided by Titan Racing Engines.

“We set out to win the championship, but that has not exactly gone as-planned,” Caruso said in an interview with RacinToday.com. “I mean, I don’t really see a point in racing if you can’t race for a championship.”

Enders, who finished the 2022 season a massive 242 points in front of Greg Anderson of rival Ken Black Racing, said she appreciates Caruso’s mindset. “And I think it’s surreal to be in a position where as a kid somebody looked up to me and now they get to do what I do,” said Enders, 39. “That’s awesome. Good for her.”

Caruso and her young team developed during the back-half of the season, as Camrie improved her reaction times while qualifying for the Countdown as the No. 8 seed.

“Every race this season I feel like we got better and I’m excited to get back on track next season,” said Caruso, the ninth Pro Stock driver to win NHRA Rookie of the Year. Fifteen previous ROY winners have gone on to win NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series world championships since 1990. That list includes Pro Stock standouts Jason Line, Tanner Gray, Mike Edwards, Kurt Johnson and Jeg Coughlin Jr.


Multi-time NHRA world champions Brittany Force, Ron Capps, Erica Enders and Matt Smith were honored during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series awards ceremony at the Pechanga Resort Casino in Southern California’s scenic Wine Country.

Each champion officially accepted their championship-winning trophies.

Force, a 36-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif., earned her second Top Fuel title following a banner season. The 2017 world champ, Brit clinched this title with her first-round victory during the season-ending 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. Force drove her Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac dragster to five wins and 10 No. 1 qualifiers _ along with a plethora of track records including the fastest run in Top Fuel history at 338.91 mph at Pomona.

In his rookie season as a team-owner, Capps became the first repeat Funny Car champion in 20 years, outlasting Robert Hight at Pomona to claim his third career title. Capps’ semifinal win, coupled with Hight’s second-round loss to Bob Tasca III, secured the championship for Capps and his NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra. Capps, a 57-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif., posted five wins this season for Ron Capps Motorsports.

Enders, a 39-year-old native of Houston, was recognized for her fifth Pro Stock championship and third in the past four years. She clinched in Las Vegas, winning four of the first five races in the Countdown to the Championship in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro SS. Enders also enjoyed her best season to-date, bagging 10 wins and advancing to 13 finals.

Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Matt Smith laid claim to a third consecutive world championship aboard his Denso Auto Parts Buell as well as his sixth career title. That championship tied Smith with retired Andrew Hines and the late Dave Schultz for most in class history, with Smith winning four of his titles in the past five years. Smith picked up four wins and advanced to six finals in 2022, winning aboard both a Suzuki and a Buell. Smith is a 50-year-old resident of King, N.C.

NHRA’s Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to legendary driver and team-owner Don Schumacher. Heralded as one of drag racing’s pioneers, Schumacher has claimed more than 365 wins, as well as 19 world championships, as a team-owner. As a driver, Schumacher won five Funny Car races between 1970-1973, including the prestigious 1970 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also were recognized as 2022 world champions: Jeremy Hancock (Top Dragster), Lance Abbot (Top Sportsman), Bob Locke (Super Gas), James Glenn (Super Comp), Jimmy Hidalgo Jr. (Stock), Pete D’Agnolo (Super Stock), Ryan Priddy (Comp), Top Alcohol Funny Car (Doug Gordon) and Joey Severance (Top Alcohol Dragster).

The 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season is scheduled to begin March 9-12 with the 54th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at historic Gainesville Raceway in Florida.


Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage (JHG) will double its #JHGDriven presence in NHRA’s Pro Stock class in 2023. In addition to continued primary backing of the Chevrolet Camaro SS driven by 2017 world champion Bo Butner, a second fully JHG-branded Chevy will be wheeled by five-time/reigning world champ Erica Enders of Elite Motorsports. Both JHG entries will run the full NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule.

Jason Johnson is the founder of Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage, a brand rooted in preserving and showcasing automotive history. A lifelong and self-professed “car guy,” Johnson has amassed a world-class collection in his middle-Tennessee headquarters that includes vintage muscle cars to modern-day hot rods and supercars. The vehicles are driven to and displayed at events by Johnson and his team with the goal of growing interest and keeping car culture thriving for generations.

“We enjoy having Jason and his wife, Nikki, as part of our family,” said Richard Freeman, owner of Elite Motorsports. “It’s an honor to be part of his vision both on and off the track.”

Johnson’s association with NHRA began on the sponsorship level with Copart on the Top Fuel dragster driven by Brandon Bernstein in 2010 and 2011. After a brief stint on a Don Schumacher Racing nitro Funny Car in 2021, Johnson hooked up with Butner’s Elite Motorsports-powered Pro Stock Chevy through all of 2022.

“Our goal is to make an even bigger impact going forward,” Johnson said. “Having two championship drivers competing in Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage cars in NHRA Pro Stock will be a very powerful statement for years to come. It’s going to be exciting.”

Enders is the winner of 43 Pro Stock national events, while Butner has collected 11 Wally trophies.

Enders is looking forward to the expanded partnership as she chases a sixth world title. “Matt, Mark, and everyone at Melling (Performance) are great, and we’re excited to have Melling continue as a major associate partner on my car,” Enders said. “Both of these companies like the color red, so visually, it’s a natural fit. I can’t wait to put the No. 1 on the Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance Chevy Camaro next year.”


Tony Schumacher and crew chief Mike ‘Zippy’ Neff will reunite in Top Fuel for the 2023 Camping World Drag Racing Series season. The Maynard Family Racing team confirmed the news earlier this week.

Crew chief Mike Neff and Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher.

“Yes, it’s official. Zippy will be the crew chief on our SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel dragster next season,” said Schumacher, an eight-time world champion. “Truthfully, this is a huge deal, and I have no doubt we’re going to be a powerhouse team.”

Schumacher is the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history with those eight world championships and 86 national event victories. 

Neff joins Schumacher after tuning Funny Car driver Bob Tasca III to six of his 12 wins over a two-year period. Joining Neff in his new role is Jon Schaffer, who served as Neff’s assistant crew chief on Tasca’s Motorcraft Ford Mustang. Phil Shuler, a member of Schumacher’s current tuning brain trust, will remain onboard to lend his expertise. Meanwhile, legendary tuner Todd Okuhara has vacated his job as Schumacher’s crew chief.

Neff previously worked as crew chief on Schumacher’s 2018 U.S. Army dragster before the Army redirected its marketing dollars away from motorsports, a decision led to the dissolution of the team. In their first and only year as driver and crew chief, Schumacher and Neff advanced to six final rounds, including their Bristol, Tenn., victory, and clinched three No. 1 qualifiers.

“We only got one year together,” said Schumacher, a 52-year-old resident of Austin, Texas. “Ever since then, my intentions have been to team back up and win a championship together. He’s wanted to win a Top Fuel championship and we finished No. 2 in the points that year behind Steve Torrence, who was dominant all season.

“When the opportunity presented itself for Zippy to come over here next year, to me, it was a no-brainer. I love his enthusiasm, I love his calm approach _ he’s got a little bit of that cockiness and he’s just a cool cat to work with. We were a team that everyone knew was going to be awesome that next year, and we just ran out of time. Now our time is back.” 

Neff brings a proven track record and a wealth of knowledge to the SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel team. Neff has experience inside the cockpit as well, having earned 10 race wins as a driver. Neff first started in the role of crew chief in 2002. As a tuner, he’s earned numerous race wins and two Funny Car championships, working with high-profile drivers John Force, Robert Hight and Gary Scelzi.

“When the opportunity came around to have another crack at it and team-up with a championship driver like Tony, I couldn’t pass it up,” Neff said. “Certainly, there will be a learning curve at first. But I don’t think it will take too long for us to be a legitimate contender, and ultimately, race for the championship.”

Established in 2022, Maynard Family Racing (JCM) is a single-car NHRA Top Fuel team owned by Joe and Cathi Maynard, along with partners Eric and Kim Lehman, all of Clarksville, Tenn. The  Maynards and Lehmans partnered with Don Schumacher in July 2022 to assume a majority ownership stake of the Top Fuel organization. 

Chevrolet Racing completed the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule as winner of the Manufacturers Cup for the sixth consecutive season and a record-extending 27th time overall.

The award is presented to the automaker whose current model year vehicles accumulate the most points during the NHRA season. Among those who enjoyed banner campaigns for Chevrolet were five-time/reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders of Elite Motorsports.

Chevrolet drivers have won the award for the eighth time in the past 10 seasons. Points are awarded to entries in Funny Car, Pro Stock, Super Stock and Stock Eliminator as well as the Constant Aviation NHRA Factory Stock Showdown series.

Points accumulated by Chevrolet Camaro SS and Chevrolet COPO Camaro drivers in the professional and Sportsman classes were more than triple the closest manufacturer.

Chevrolet first earned the award in 1966, and no other manufacturer has won it more times. GM brands Oldsmobile and Pontiac combined to win 24 titles between 1971 and 2006.

“I’m so proud of the hard work by the Chevrolet teams that delivered valuable points toward the Manufacturers Championship again this year,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. vice president, Performance and Motorsports. “Thanks to the owners, drivers and crews in the professional and Sportsman classes for another year of high-performance results every time they showed up at the track.”

Chevrolet has compiled 18 Pro Stock driver championships and 366 victories, including 247 with the Camaro nameplate. In addition to Enders, Greg Anderson, Aaron Stanfield, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Dallas Glenn visited various NHRA Winner’s Circles in a Camaro SS.

Anderson, who has driven a GM product to five Pro Stock championships, became the second driver in the professional classes to reach 100 victories and won the season-ending 57th annual Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., for No. 101. “Brute” Force, with 155 Funny Car victories, is the all-time wins leader.

Chevrolet Camaro SS Pro Stock driver Camrie Caruso was voted NHRA Rookie of the Year. It is the second year in a row in which a Chevrolet driver has received the award and third time in the past four years. Glenn, of Ken Black Racing won in ’21, and Top Fuel’s Austin Prock of John Force Racing won in ‘19.

David Barton of Reading, Pa., claimed the Constant Aviation NHRA Factory Stock Showdown series title for the second time in his Saw Mill Auto COPO Camaro. Drivers of the COPO Camaro won five of eight races, including three by Barton and one each by two-time champion Aaron Stanfield and Len Lottig. Chevrolet has won the past three championships.

Funny Car drivers Robert Hight and John Force made important points contributions to the Manufacturers Cup race. Hight, driving the Automobile Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS, amassed a career-high eight victories and six poles. Sixteen-time Funny Car world champion Force, driving the PEAK Antifreeze and Coolant Chevrolet Camaro SS, won the four-wide race at Concord, N.C.

Additionally, national event Stock Eliminator wins were recorded by Leo Glasbrenner (Pomona1, Phoenix, Las Vegas2), Jeff Strickland (Gainesville), Ryan McClanahan (Las Vegas1), Darren Poole-Adams (Charlotte1, Bristol) and Tyler Cassil (Topeka).

The Top Fuel class does not contribute points to the Manufacturers Cup standings, but Brittany Force and Prock produced multiple highlights in their Chevrolet-powered dragsters. Force won the Top Fuel championship for the second time. She recorded five victories, 10 No. 1 qualifiers and set the national event speed record of 338.91 mph in the season-finale at Pomona.

Prock, returning to full-season competition for the first time since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2019, won two races and earned his initial Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis.

Final 2022 Countdown to the Championship point standings (top-10) following the 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.:

Top Fuel _1. Brittany Force, 2,596; 2. Antron Brown, 2,534; 3. Austin Prock, 2,514; 4. Justin Ashley, 2,510; 5. Mike Salinas, 2,461; 6. Steve Torrence, 2,443; 7. Josh Hart, 2,419; 8. Clay Millican, 2,348; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,339; 10. Doug Kalitta, 2,335.

Funny Car _ 1. Ron Capps, 2,682; 2. Robert Hight, 2,679; 3. Matt Hagan, 2,587; 4. Bob Tasca III, 2,504; 5. John Force, 2,490; 6. Cruz Pedregon, 2,410; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 2,372; 8. J.R. Todd, 2,344; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,343; 10. Blake Alexander, 2,199.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders, 2,823; 2. Greg Anderson, 2,581; 3. Aaron Stanfield, 2,575; 4. Troy Coughlin Jr., 2,538; 5. Kyle Koretsky, 2,459; 6. Matt Hartford, 2,397; 7. Dallas Glenn, 2,375; 8. Cristian Cuadra, 2,295; 9. Bo Butner, 2,265; 10. Deric Kramer, 2,259.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Matt Smith, 2,610; 2. Joey Gladstone, 2,528; 3. Angie Smith, 2,519; 4. Jerry Savoie, 2,432; 5. Steve Johnson, 2,407; 6. Angelle Sampey, 2,353; 7. Eddie Krawiec, 2,306; 8. Marc Ingwersen, 2,284; 9. Karen Stoffer, 2,253; 10. Ryan Oehler, 2,229.


Sept. 15-18 _ Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa: Austin Prock (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Joey Gladstone (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sept. 23-25 _ Charlotte NHRA Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.: Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock).

Sept. 30-Oct. 2 _ NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill.: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 13-16 _ Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis: Justin Ashley (Top Fuel); Ron Capps (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 27-30 _ NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: Brittany Force (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Nov. 10-13 _ Auto Club NHRA Finals, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.: Austin Prock (Top Fuel); Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Angie Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

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 Saturday, November 19 2022
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