NHRA’s Arizona Run May Be About To Come To An End

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 26 2023

The motorsports facility that opened in 1983 as Firebird International Raceway will play host to its final NHRA-sanctioned national event Sunday before being shuttered and replaced, ironically, by another slab of Arizona highway.

The future of professional drag racing in the state will remain in question once today’s 38th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals are run at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. As announced in a news release from NHRA’s California-based headquarters in March 2022, a new overpass roadway for an extension of Interstate 10 will utilize space now occupied by WHPMP.

“We want to thank Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park and the Gila River community for their dedicated commitment to drag racing,” NHRA President Glen Cromwell said in the release. “The NHRA Arizona Nationals have provided NHRA fans countless memories for many years, and our race teams, partners, and NHRA officials look forward to celebrating the track in 2023 as we close-out this chapter in NHRA history.”

Located in Chandler, Ariz., the facility features four racetracks, including a quarter-mile drag strip; a 1.6-mile road-course; a 10-turn/1.25-mile road-course and a 1.1-mile road-course with an 0.375-mile straightaway. The facility also includes a 2.4-mile International Hot Boat Drag and American Power Boat Association-sanctioned 120-acre oval lake. During its 40-year tenure, the park has played host to events ranging from drag and boat racing, off-road races and Monster Trucks.

Prior to the 2004 season, the drag strip was repaved and the pit area asphalt chip-sealed while the pit area for professional competitors was expanded. In 2007, the concrete at the starting line to 700 feet was replaced and the shutdown area received new asphalt. In 2010, the management of Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park had the racing surface completely re-worked.

NHRA’s traditional annual early-season visit _ dubbed the “Duel in the Desert” _ dates to 1985. The list of winners includes NHRA royalty, led by 16-time Funny Car world champion John Force. “Brute” Force leads the track’s all-time list with eight national event victories scored between 1994 and 2005. Tony Schumacher, an eight-time Top Fuel world champ, has five career victories between 2000 and 2015, as well as an historic 330 mph pass during the 1999 season. The late Bob Glidden, a 10-time Pro Stock world champion, scored five event victories between 1985 and 1990.

Saturday’s second day of qualifying, played-out before a sold-out crowd, saw Alexis DeJoria win the first Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, defeating J.R. Todd in the Funny Car final. The Challenge offered a bonus purse and bonus playoff points, plus competitive racing during qualifying. It included semifinal rematches from the 2023 season-opening event at Gainesville Raceway in Florida.

Longtime NHRA venue in Arizona may be on its last runs.

Additional Challenge winners were Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel and Troy Coughlin Jr. in Pro Stock. Kalitta, Bob Tasca III (Funny Car) and Cristian Cuadra (Pro Stock) qualified No. 1 during the second of 21 races on the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule.

DeJoria covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.914-seconds at 324.51 mph in her Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota GR Supra to defeat Todd, claiming the bonus purse and points for the season-ending Countdown to the Championship playoffs. DeJoria’s win also took place at the site of her first Funny Car victory in 2014. Alexis trailered three-time world champion Matt Hagan of Tony Stewart Racing to reach the Challenge final and then easily drove past Todd, whose car went up in smoke upon launch.

“It feels really good to give that $10,000 check to my team, and know that when we start the Countdown later in the year we’ll have the added bonus of three championship points included in our tally,” DeJoria said. “I won my first Funny Car race here in 2014, so to be the first (Challenge) winner is really incredible and it’s just one more good memory I have from this track. Huge respect for both opponents I raced today. Both are championship winners and very good drivers.”

DeJoria also saluted the Arizona fans for their near four-decades of loyalty. “They just keep coming here,” said DeJoria, a six-time national event winner. “The track has been a little tricky this weekend for most of the teams so just to make it down the track was a big deal. And not only did we make two good runs, but we were low E.T. of Q2 and ran second-low of Q3.

“It’s a pretty big deal to come off of this win during qualifying and go into eliminations. It’s definitely a morale boost for the team and myself, and I think we’ll do really well on race day. We’ll see what happens _ but today we’re going home with a win.”

Tasca claimed the No. 1 spot with a stout run of 3.898-seconds at 329.50 mph in his Ford Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang, earning his 10th career pole. The only driver to make a run in the 3.80s during qualifying, Tasca will open race day against Jim Campbell.

“Hats off to (crew chiefs) Todd (Okuhara) and Aaron (Brooks) and the whole team,” Tasca said of his new-for-2023 tuning braintrust. “They’re very different than anyone I’ve ever raced with. You saw all of the cars struggling, but they don’t care what anyone else runs. They just focus on what they believe we can run.

“I love racing here and it’s great to see a sellout crowd. It’s an iconic place and I’ve had so many great memories here.”

DeJoria finished second in qualifying and Blake Alexander took third after his pass in 3.927 at 322.50.

In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta is staring at a stellar weekend after his victory in the Challenge. The veteran earned the win over Mike Salinas in the bonus event with a 1,000-foot pass in 3.868-seconds at 294.82 mph in the Mac Tools dragster fielded by uncle and drag racing legend Connie Kalitta. Doug also secured P1 with his Friday run of 3.679-seconds to earn his 52nd career pole.

Kalitta will open eliminations against Rob Passey in a bid for his milestone 50th career win. Kalitta added to his momentum during the Challenge, which included defeating four-time world champion Steve Torrence in Saturday’s semifinals.

“We certainly appreciate the opportunity to run this race and it’s such a cool challenge,” said Kalitta, who failed to reach a final round in the 2022 season. “Fortunately, I got to the end and the win light was on, so that was good and we’re super-happy. We’re looking forward to getting after it and let’s see if we can get a double-up.”

A six-time championship runnerup, Kalitta posted a disappointing 15-22 round win/loss record in 2022 during his first season working with master tuner Alan Johnson and sidekick Brian Husen.

“My guys have been working their tails off on this thing to make it happen,” Kalitta said. “There’s no better place to do it than here because we love coming to Phoenix. Last year was just one of those years. For whatever reason, the car just wasn’t happy and it wasn’t responding to what we were doing. It was a long year, but I think all the changes and everything we’ve made have been paying off. Hopefully we’ll just stay on a nice roll.”

Privateer Salinas qualified second via his 3.689-second pass at 335.73 mph from Friday, while Austin Prock’s 3.696 at 330.31 placed him third for John Force Racing.

In the Pro Stock portion of the Challenge, Troy Coughlin Jr. defeated five-time world champion Greg Anderson in the final with a quarter-mile pass of 6.572-seconds at 208.78 in his JEGS.com/White Castle/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. The win followed Troy’s victory at Gainesville Raceway in Florida. Coughlin also defeated Dallas Glenn in a rematch from the Gatornationals.

“What an honor to be the first winner of this. I can’t say enough about my group right now,” Coughlin said. “Cloud Nine is an understatement right now. They’ve got this car flying and it’s just a tribute to my guys and how hard they work. I wish we could race every day, so let’s keep this going.”

Pro Stock qualifying also included an historic NHRA moment, as Cristian Cuadra became the first Mexican driver to qualify No. 1. Cuadra, who made his Pro Stock debut by competing in 10 national events in 2019, did so via a quarter-mile run in 6.552-seconds at 210.24 mph in his Corral Boots Ford Mustang from Friday. Now looking to score his first career victory, Cuadra will open eliminations against Alan Prusiensky and his privateer Dodge Dart.

“It’s crazy. Everything starts with a dream,” said Cuadra, a 22-year-old native and resident of Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico. “I was a kid and saw my dad (Fernando Sr.) racing and I wanted to be in that spot. You meet the people at Elite Motorsports to help make the dream come true. My heart wants to go out of my chest and I feel really, really happy. That’s why we’re here. We want to make history for our country. Now my next goal is to try and get a Wally.”

Eliminations for the NHRA Arizona Nationals will begin at 11 a.m. (MDT) Sunday. Two hours of qualifying coverage will be aired on Fox Sports 1 beginning at noon (EDT). Three hours of eliminations will be aired on FS1 beginning at 7 p.m. (EDT).

First-round pairings for eliminations Sunday at the 38th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., second of 21 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _ 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.679-seconds, 330.23 mph vs. 16. Rob Passey, 4.840, 209.88; 2. Mike Salinas, 3.689, 335.73 vs. 15. Clay Millican, 4.283, 199.08; 3. Austin Prock, 3.696, 330.31 vs. 14. Jim Maroney, 3.960, 311.49; 4. Leah Pruett, 3.721, 327.66 vs. 13. Buddy Hull, 3.899, 284.62; 5. Brittany Force, 3.722, 323.12 vs. 12. Josh Hart, 3.869, 314.02; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.724, 329.02 vs. 11. Krista Baldwin, 3.844, 321.35; 7. Justin Ashley, 3.724, 328.06 vs. 10. Tony Schumacher, 3.762, 330.07; 8. Shawn Langdon, 3.729, 330.07 vs. 9. Antron Brown, 3.739, 328.54.

Funny Car _ 1. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.898, 329.50 vs. 16. Jim Campbell, Toyota Solara, broke; 2. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Supra, 3.914, 324.51 vs. 15. J.R. Todd, Supra, 5.332, 138.50; 3. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.927, 322.50 vs. 14. Paul Lee, Dodge Charger, 4.692, 176.84; 4. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.934, 325.85 vs. 13. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.671, 172.87; 5. Chad Green, Mustang, 3.952, 319.29 vs. 12. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 4.474, 187.91; 6. Ron Capps, Supra, 4.028, 269.19 vs. 11. Alex Laughlin, Charger, 4.465, 197.83; 7. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.044, 308.14 vs. 10. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.228, 231.04; 8. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.057, 272.39 vs. 9. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.218, 222.95. 

Did Not Qualify _ 16. Jim Campbell, DQ. 

Pro Stock _ 1. Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.552, 210.24 vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.644, 206.95; 2. Kyle Koretsky, Chevy Camaro, 6.554, 210.37 vs. 15. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.611, 208.42; 3. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.556, 210.11 vs. 14. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Mustang, 6.600, 209.17; 4. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.557, 209.52 vs. 13. Jerry Tucker, Camaro, 6.595, 208.55; 5. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.558, 209.04 vs. 12. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.586, 208.75; 6. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.566, 208.59 vs. 11. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.577, 209.04; 7. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.567, 209.17 vs. 10. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.575, 209.65; 8. Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.571, 210.24 vs. 9. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.573, 209.14.

Did Not Qualify _17. Shane Tucker, 6.657, 208.04; 18. Fernando Cuadra, 12.852, 67.35.

Mission Food #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge final results from Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park:

Top Fuel Challenge _ Doug Kalitta, 3.868-seconds, 294.82 mph def. Mike Salinas, 4.523-seconds, 171.97 mph. 

Funny Car Challenge _ Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Supra, 3.914, 324.51 def. J.R. Todd, Supra, 7.782, 86.99.

Pro Stock Challenge _ Troy Coughlin Jr., Chevy Camaro, 6.572, 208.78 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.603, 208.91.

Mission Food #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge final round-by-round results from Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park:


ROUND ONE _ Mike Salinas, 3.752, 330.55 def. Leah Pruett, 4.337, 216.90; Doug Kalitta, 9.114, 80.37 def. Steve Torrence, Foul/Red Light; 

FINAL _ Kalitta, 3.868, 294.82 def. Salinas, 4.523, 171.97.


ROUND ONE _ J.R. Todd, Toyota Supra, 5.332, 138.50 def. Chad Green, Ford Mustang, 7.499, 58.84; Alexis DeJoria, Supra, 3.980, 308.92 def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.078, 270.43; 

FINAL _ DeJoria, 3.914, 324.51 def. Todd, 7.782, 86.99.


ROUND ONE _ Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.575, 209.65 def. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.623, 208.71; Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.567, 209.17 def. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.572, 210.24;

FINAL _ Coughlin Jr., 6.572, 208.78 def. Anderson, 6.603, 208.91.


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); Josh Hart (Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout).

March 24-26 _ 38th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz.

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 Sunday, March 26 2023
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