Austin Prock, Cruz Pedregon, Greg Anderson and Angie Smith wrapped up an incredible 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season on an exciting final day of the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Three other Camping World Champions were crowned on the final day of the season, with Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) clinching the season titles, although none of them finished in the winning circle.
Prock’s early season struggles were erased with a season-ending win in the Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist dragster as the team won two of the final six events on the tour to cap their Auto Club NHRA Finals win with a finals win over Antron Brown . The win is the third of Prock’s young career.
“I think it just showed our determination,” he said. “Even when we were beaten up, we still strived to get the success we needed. It was tough until mid-season, I didn’t even enjoy being on track just because it was painful. I mean, we could have rolled in eighth or ninth here [in points] in the countdown and probably won this deal [the championship], so it speaks volumes for how hard everyone worked. And when we fixed it, they knew we were here. And I enjoyed this countdown so much. It was so much fun doing laps.”
Prock, who finished second in the season opener in Pomona and again in Dallas, qualified in 5th place and defeated Shawn Langdon, Leah Pruett and in the semifinals his World Champion teammate Brittany Force in the fastest side-by-side in history, 3.642 to 3,676.
The race was also Prock’s last with legendary crew chief Rahn Tobler, who is retiring after this event.
“I’m really happy for Rahn Tobler,” said Prock. “I had a great time working with him this year. He’s an absolute legend in the sport and riding his last race like he did tonight speaks volumes for what he’s done for the sport…that [3.64] was the fastest run he’s ever done in history and it was also the last so it’s just a great way to finish with him.”
Brown rode through to the final, the 130th of his career, and he started his race day on a big note as his first-lap victory over Justin Ashely earned Force the world championship. He followed with wins over underdog Ron August Jr. and a narrow holeshot win by less than 0.001 seconds over Josh Hart. Brown’s great Sunday took him from fourth to second in the final standings.
Pedregon, who hasn’t been in the semifinals at this track since the season opener months ago this year, went there and more at the season finale, propelling his snap-on to his first win in more than a year since last fall’s event in Las Vegas.
Pedregon’s final lap sprint of 3.839 was another career-best pass on a weekend in which he repeatedly ran under his incoming career best and put a minor damper on Ron Capps’ championship season. Capps had mathematically won his third world title the previous round, but had to play the final without a centerline or protective wall violation. He did, but his 3.85 behind Pedregon over the victory streak. The win is the 38th in Pedregon’s Funny Car career.
“I don’t use that cliché very often, but it fits with how this weekend feels surreal to me,” he said. “I’ve had some really good cars in my career, but this is by far the best race car I’ve driven. It says a lot for the team and I would like to point out that we added Lee [Beard] to the team as an advisor, but I want to give JC [John Collins] and the team i had that has been taking the credit from me for two years.
“I was a little embarrassed with how we did this year. . We really underperformed, I would say we never got on track, you know what I mean? Like you don’t have people to tell them to give them a group we never got any kind of groove to date or this weekend we had a pretty good groove.I’ve been left and right to by family friends congratulates the four consecutive 3.84 [in qualifying]but I was like, you know what, if we ever shit this, don’t win [the race], we’re gonna look like we’re looking like idiots. The fact that we can close the deal today is just great.”
Pedregon, on his John Collins-tuned Snap-on Tools Dodge, worked past Jason Rupert, John Force and Alexis DeJoria to reach his 81st career final, while No. 1 qualifier Capps, Jeff Arend, Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III defeated to reach it the last round.
Greg Anderson ended one of the most successful partnerships in NHRA championship drag racing history when he retired KB Racing team owner Ken Black with his 101st Pro Stock win. Anderson won the Auto Club NHRA Finals title via holeshot when he stopped newly crowned world champion Erica Enders 6.516 to 6.515. Anderson walked off the start line first in a .020 light and never looked back as he also advanced to second in the Camping World standings.
“It was obviously emotional after 20 years with Ken Black,” Anderson said. “We had a hell of a ride together. He made all my hopes and dreams come true and he is like a second father to me. Honestly, I feel like a lottery winner. Going into that race I knew we weren’t going to win the championship but I figured the only way I could thank him was to win that race and give him one last wally.
“I think I did a good job driving and my race car was fast so this was the best story I could write. It was like Indy when I won my 100th race. Honestly, those are the two biggest wins of my career. Just two fantastic races. Beating Erica is always fantastic. I don’t win many on holeshots, but somehow I found a way to get it done. When I handed this Wally to Ken, he was speechless. It was just a wonderful moment and a great way to repay him. I have to thank Ken and [wife] Judy and [son] Kenny Jr. and the entire KB team. It wasn’t a bad year, but this is the way to end it.”
Anderson was dominant in 2021 as he won his fifth championship but has struggled intermittently this season. He celebrated his landmark 100th US Nationals win but failed to beat Enders during the countdown to the championship. After a second place finish at the Las Vegas event, Anderson was rock solid at Pomona with a 6.509 in qualifying, which is good for second place and round wins over Chris McGaha, Bo Butner and Fernando Cuadra Sr.
Enders didn’t get her 11th win of the season, but did achieve her primary goal by winning her fifth championship in the Pro Stock class. The elite rider posted an amazing 55-9 elimination record this year, including her three Pomona wins over Mason McGaha, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Aaron Stanfield.
“I’m really disappointed in myself,” Enders said. “It’s just the way I let go of the clutch pedal. I did the same in the first round. We won the championship but I’m still mad at myself.”
Matt Smith grabbed the most headlines this season by winning his sixth NHRA Pro Stock Championship, but it’s also hard to overlook the progress made by his wife, Angie, who had one of the best seasons of her career aboard her Denso Buell. Mrs. Smith ended the season by winning her third NHRA Wally in dramatic fashion with a holeshot win over Joey Gladstone. Smith went first with .017 to .029 and won by just under 0.002 seconds with 6.749 to Gladstone’s 6.739.
The win also cemented a career-best third-place finish for Smith.
“It’s just a relief. I really wanted to win a race this year,” said Smith. “I’ve had a good year, but that’s just the icing on the cake. I owe that to the entire Denso team. You got my back through all the ups and downs. This is for my dad, I know he’s watching from above.”
“Coming here I knew I had to qualify well and then put on some victory lights on Sunday and we did exactly the right thing,” said Smith. “We’ve been sneaking up on this for a while, I had a really good bike today. I had to compete against Jerry [Savoie], which was a thorn in my side this year and I finally got hold of it. I knew I had to put on a decent run. Then I got a single run when Steve Johnson broke and the bike shook the tire a bit like that [Matt] made a tune-up call. The last thing my boys said to me before the final was ‘You got that’ and I did my job. Winning a holeshot is epic.”
Smith opened the season with a second-place finish at Gainesville, the same event where she ran a career-best 6.72 at the time. Smith entered the countdown to the Championship as No. 7 but improved her stock with another second place finish at Reading. She also reached a semifinal at the last event in Las Vegas.
At Pomona, Smith qualified fourth with a 6.734 and clocked a streak of 6.7 seconds in their victories over Fred Camarena, Jerry Savoie and Steve Johnson. Smith ended the season with a solid 24-14 record in the elimination rounds.
Gladstone may have missed his chance to win the Camping World NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Championship, but he left Pomona feeling optimistic after a season that included the first two wins of his career. Gladstone’s biggest win Pomona came in the semifinals when he slowed down Matt Smith, who claimed his sixth world title earlier in the day. In an epic side-by-side race, Gladstone and Smith both ran 6.757s, but Gladstone had a slight advantage off the start line.