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5 things we learned at the NHRA Arizona Nationals

The NHRA Arizona Nationals was a wild weekend of racing with so much going on with the Pomona completion, the Mission Challenge, and the race itself, a lot of people had the chance to shine, and many of them did. Here's a look at five things that stuck with us.
08 Apr 2024
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
5 things

The NHRA Arizona Nationals was a wild weekend of racing with so much going on with the Pomona completion, the Mission Challenge, and the race itself, a lot of people had the chance to shine, and many of them did. Here's a look at five things that stuck with us.


When Kalitta Motorsports teammates Shawn Langdon and J.R. Todd doubled in Top Fuel and Funny Car at the season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, it would have been easy to dismiss it as a possible fluke; after, neither driver had a sterling 2023.

Three races into 2024, it’s clear that the team is flying higher than one of team owner Connie Kalitta’s jumbo jets.

Langdon and Todd remain the points leaders in their classes heading to Las Vegas next weekend thanks to a solid weekend in Phoenix. Langdon won Top Fuel for the second time in three races, while Todd went to the semifinals for the second straight race and also won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge on Saturday.

"It feels great, obviously. I'm just really proud of everybody and all the hard work that went into the offseason,” said Langdon, who hasn’t led the points for three races since the 2015 season. “It's been hard for the last couple of years to struggle, but you just keep your head down, just keep working hard, and eventually, the tide's gonna roll the other way. At some point, you don't know how long that will be, but it's paying dividends right now. We're going to keep our heads down and keep working hard. Internally, we feel very confident with the teams that we have put together, and we feel very confident with ourselves, but now we just keep working hard, and hopefully the results show it.”


The column is “Things We Learned,” but saying that we learned that Austin Prock could win in Funny Car is kinda like saying we learned that the sun was going to come up tomorrow.

It was in the cards early, in preseason racing and at the Gatornationals, where he reached the final in his first official Funny Car start, and Obviously, he’s in one of the best cars in the class and fulfilling a lifelong dream of racing with his father, Jimmy, and brother, Thomas, who are tuning the car. What could go wrong?

But the young Prock earned this one, pedaling the car and fighting for control on a tricky Phoenix track that his dad had mastered the past two seasons with Robert Hight at the controls.

We all knew it was only a matter of time before he won, but the fact that he did it in his third start after it took him 16 races to win his first in Top Fuel, is a testament to the team chemistry that already exists and will only get better as the season goes on and he gets even more seat time.


With all of the young talent rising to the top of the sport – guys like Justin Ashley and Austin Prock and Dallas Glenn – this was a great weekend for the “old-timers.” John Force, who turns 75 next month, won the rain-delayed Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals final. Tony Schumacher, age 54, won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge on Saturday, and Greg Anderson, age 63, whipped Glenn decisively in the Arizona Nationals Pro Stock final for his 104th career win.

“I'm just so facing the truth in life, that, you know, time's running out," said Force. “And I'm trying to hang on. This morning I was talking about, ‘You know, maybe this is it, maybe I should just walk out the gate and go to the casino, and then all [of a] sudden you win, and your personality just changes. I was mad, mad at myself [for losing in the Mission Challenge earlier in the day], and I started saying, 'You just need to get out of the seat, you're just too old for this stuff' or 'Get out there and fight the fight.' And I did, and things went right, and I got the win, so I'm excited.”

“Certainly at my advanced age, every day is a great day behind the wheel,” said Anderson. “Sometimes you struggle, some days you don't. Today, I didn't, and everything worked out great, and I could go out there and lock horns with the 18-20-year-olds. Honestly, it feels as good as the first win. It's just so hard to win in this class anymore and to have the day I had, the weekend I had. I actually did a good job behind the wheel, so I'm really thrilled with that, but that's what it takes to win in this class anymore.”


Now that the dam has finally burst and Tony Stewart put his first couple of win lights on the scoreboard, confidence is swelling in the Direct Connection Top Fuel camp.

According to Stewart, the team has struggled to adapt their Leah Pruett-centric tune-up to Stewart’s heavier frame and didn’t make a great run during qualifying, they came to life in eliminations and reached the semifinals.

“I never thought just winning one round would take such a weight off your shoulders,” he reflected. “It’s kind of like when we made the first run at Gainesville. I kind of relaxed and settled in. It was the same way today getting through the first round, and after we did that, I started to get that rhythm again. It reminds me of going rounds with Pops [Rich McPhillips Sr.] and Richie [McPhillips Jr.] last year and that team, so it’s settling into that rhythm and mindset. Having those experiences last year definitely came into play today, so it's good for all of us as a team. We’ll just keep digging. I’m looking forward to next week.”

Stewart impressed in Gainesville with good reaction times and a solid pedal job in a losing first-round effort, and it’s only a matter of time before he and the team put all of the pieces together. He’s going to win a race this year, no doubt about it.


Five races into his comeback – two races at the end of 2023 and three races this season – Jeg Coughlin Jr. looks like he’s back in championship form. He hasn’t won a race yet to add to his previous 84, but it really feels like it’s coming.

His Scag Power Equipment Camaro is obviously quick – he qualified No. 4 in Pomona ands No. 1 in Phoenix – and even though he’s not ever going to be Dallas Glenn-quick on the Tree (he’s more .020s and .030s than .00), but he’s unflappable behind the wheel and anyone that lines up against him is just not lining up against the car but his legend.

“When I did the first burnout in Tulsa last fall, I was like, ‘Daddy’s home, boy’; it felt fantastic. 

“The car is great; about midway through low gear, the front end starts hiking up. I haven't felt that in the 25-30 runs that I've made, since I've returned late last fall, and I think we're gelling together well as a team. That's what it takes – a little bit of time and a little bit of grunt work to get things working out.”