NHRA heads north to Pacific Raceways

After getting through an unfortunate rough stretch earlier this season, things have swiftly turned around for Funny Car standout J.R. Todd. The former world champion has three semifinal appearances in the past four races, bringing plenty of much-needed momentum into this weekend’s 34th annual Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways.


Todd has run well in Seattle in recent years, too, advancing to the final round last year in his 11,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Supra GR. More than anything, though, the standout wants back in the winner’s circle.


That hasn’t happened since the first race of the 2021 campaign, but things appear to be coming together at a great juncture in the season. He’s ninth in points, but a big weekend during the second race of the NHRA’s Western Swing could continue to send Todd and his team in the right direction.


“We had a really good, consistent car that was capable of winning the race (in Denver),” Todd said. “Going to the semifinals consistently is good momentum, but at the end of the day, you want to win races, collect trophies and as many points as possible. Hopefully, it’s something to build on going into the rest of the Western Swing. When it gets hot and tricky, that’s where this DHL Toyota team tends to thrive.


“I expect it to be warm in Seattle like it usually is, and that’s usually the kind of conditions when we run well so I’m looking forward to getting there. You’re happy to go rounds, but at the end of the day, we all have the same mentality. You’re not ok going to the semifinals –you want to win. We’ll keep digging and get after it in Seattle.”


Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) both won the 2022 event in Seattle, and this year’s race will be broadcast on both the FOX and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations coverage starting at 1 p.m. PT on Sunday, July 23 on FOX. It is the 11th of 21 races during the 2023 campaign and with the second half of the season kicking off this weekend in Seattle, the time is now for Todd and his team to be hitting their stride.


The Countdown to the Championship begins in just over a month and Todd knows he has a championship-caliber team. The 19-time event winner has waited far too long for a 20th win and things have taken a dramatic turn since the beginning of the year, when Todd suffered through a handful of first-round losses.


With that behind him, Todd is focused on taking down the likes of Hight, points leader and Denver winner Matt Hagan, back-to-back world champ Ron Capps, Bob Tasca III, Cruz Pedregon, John Force, Alexis DeJoria and Tim Wilkerson in Seattle. He’s also in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge in Seattle, where he’ll get a rematch with DeJoria. The other matchup includes Capps and Hagan, with the winners facing off for bonus playoff points and a bonus purse.


“We’re getting to the point now where it’s getting later in the year, and you have to start looking towards Indy and the Countdown,” Todd said. “We’re sitting there towards the bottom of the top 10 which is not the most comfortable spot. You definitely want to put some space between yourself and the guys behind you, but you also don’t want to let the guys in front of you get too far away. I feel like we’re making hay at the right time of the year. We’re going to Seattle where we had some success last year so hopefully, we can take those notes and take it one step further and leave there with a trophy.”


Schumacher will look for a repeat and his first win of 2023 against a loaded Top Fuel lineup that includes points leader Justin Ashley, who has four wins this year, Brittany Force, Antron Brown, Denver winner Clay Millican, Austin Prock and Leah Pruett.


Fans in Seattle will get their first-ever glimpse at Pro Stock Motorcycle. Points leader Gaige Herrera has enjoyed a strong start to 2023, winning four events, but others to watch include Hector Arana Jr., defending world champ Matt Smith, Eddie Krawiec, Angie Smith, Steve Johnson and rookie Chase Van Sant.


All three professional classes will take part in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge bonus race on Saturday, which brings competitive racing – including a bonus purse and bonus points – to qualifying. Millican races Shawn Langdon, and Doug Kalitta faces off with Steve Torrence in Top Fuel. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Herrera races Van Sant, and A. Smith takes on Arana Jr., with the winners in all classes meeting in the final round of the specialty race on Saturday.


NHRA legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme will be the grand marshal at the event and will be in the announcer’s booth for Friday’s first qualifying session. He will then take part in a Super Fan Appreciation Meet & Greet and Breakfast at the Finish Line Club Saturday at 9 a.m., followed by an autograph session at 11 a.m. at the Flav-R-Pac display and a Q&A session with fans at the Nitro Alley Stage between the second and third qualifying sessions. Prudhomme also will be part of the NHRA on FOX broadcast show that evening. Prior to eliminations, Prudhomme will lead the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and will be celebrated as the event’s grand marshal during the pre-race ceremony.


The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, featuring some of the top drivers in the sport. The weekend includes the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League Shootout as well, along with autograph sessions at the Toyota and Mission Foods Midway Displays.


Race fans at Pacific Raceways can 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. The final 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 Seattle event winners.


Fans are invited to the Nitro Alley Stage all weekend, which will help create a festive atmosphere leading into Nitro Alley. The Nitro Alley Stage will be the main entertainment hub in the pits when the Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors are not on the track, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets and much more. As always, fans get a pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. Fans can see their favorite teams in action and servicing their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. They can also visit NHRA’s Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, merchandise, food, and fun.


NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 4:00 p.m. PT on Friday, July 21 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 22 at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. PT on Sunday, July 23. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, and then eliminations on FOX at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday.


To purchase tickets to the Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals, fans can visit www.nhra.com or call 800-884-6472. For more information about NHRA, visit www.nhra.com.


(Courtesy of NHRA Communications)

Adam Sinclair