CHICAGO (May 20, 2023) --- During the final day of qualifying for the Gerber Collision & Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster team took another win in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge outrunning Antron Brown and Austin Prock in rematch races with his Winternationals foes. For his efforts Ashley collected another $10,000 payday and equally as important as the cash was an additional three Camping World championship points.
“It's very exciting. Winning these specialty events means a lot to our team,” said Ashley, who became the first two-time Mission Foods Challenge winner. “I am so grateful to Mission Foods and how they’re committed to NHRA drag racing. Anytime there is an additional opportunity to race and collect bonus points along the way, I think it's significant. This was a great day.”
Ashley will head into race day as the No. 4 qualifier and a first round race with Jacob McNeal. For Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team making two quality runs set them up hopefully for another successful race day. The last time Ashley took the Mission Foods Challenge win, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year won his second consecutive Winternationals the next day.
“We did a good job of running well and setting the tone for ourselves going into tomorrow,” said Ashley, a seven-time Top Fuel national event winner. “Tomorrow's a new day, but today and everyday I am proud to be able to represent our Phillips Connect Toyota racing team. In round one you always get those butterflies and I had them in Q2 today. It helps from a driver's perspective to experience that before Sunday.”
The win was a perfect conclusion to a big news day for Ashley and his team. Between rounds Ashley announced the creation of Maynard Ashley Racing, a new union between his racing operation and JCM Racing.
“I feel very blessed to be in the position that we're in now, to be able to announce today the formation of our new partnership, Maynard Ashley Racing,” said Ashley. “We are so appreciative of the Maynard family, Jim Epler “Mr. 300” and Dustin Davis. This new team shows growth, it shows strength, it shows stability, and we want to be out here doing this for a very long time because this is what we love to do and it's a business on and off the racetrack and that's where our focus is.”
Ron Capps closed out qualifying at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals by powering to victory in the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Funny Car challenge on Saturday evening. Capps clocked a winning run of 3.941 seconds at 328.30 MPH aboard the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota GR Supra to defeat Terry Haddock, who suffered a mechanical malfunction on the starting line and was unable to make the run. By clinching his first #2Fast2Tasty win, the twice defending NHRA Camping World Series Funny Car world champion earned the $10,000 purse in addition to three bonus points which will be added to his tally when the points reset for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs in September.
“Since NHRA came around to talk to the owners and drivers last year about the possibility of running a program like this, I can tell you that everyone I’ve talked to was pumped because it took a Saturday of qualifying and made it insane,” said Capps. “When we saw the first #2Fast2Tasty Challenge race in Phoenix and we weren’t in it, we were bummed, so I’m so glad we got a chance to be a part of this specialty race this weekend. We’ve always concentrated on racing on Sunday, and this #2Fast2Tasty Challenge completely flipped everything upside down in a great way, so thank you, Mission Foods for doing this. Such a great program, and so excited we won it today.”
Capps earned a spot in the Route 66 NHRA Nationals specialty race when he advanced to the final round at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. earlier this season. During the first round of the #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, Capps squared off against his semifinal opponent from the “WinterNats,” going toe-to-toe with Bob Tasca during Q2. Like many of their competitors, both Capps and Tasca struggled to get down the track, but Capps’ woes occurred further down, allowing him to capture the win with a 4.127 E.T. versus Tasca’s 4.996-second effort.
When Capps and the NAPA team pulled up for the third qualifying session and their final round match-up versus Haddock, they hadn’t yet completed a full pull down the Route 66 Raceway track, but crew chief Dean ‘Guido’ Antonelli had the winning combination dialed in and sent the NAPA Supra rocketing down the 1,000-foot stretch.
“We haven’t raced here in a long time. The fans packed this place, so, thank you to them for showing up, and thank you for being so patient with all of the teams. These crew chiefs are battling a track that hasn’t been run on in four years. NHRA has been putting in long hours to get this track prepped for us, so it wasn’t for lack of effort, it’s just a tricky track. But, the rubber got better, and we were last pair to run in Q3, so the conditions got better and better by the time it was our turn to run,“ Capps explained of the challenges crew chiefs faced throughout qualifying.
Capps’ 3.941-second Q3/#2Fast2Tasty final round run propelled him up to the No. 6 seed and set up a #2Fast2Tasty final round rematch with Capps slated to line up against Haddock once again on Sunday morning.
“I love what he does,” said the two-time Route 66 Raceway winner about Haddock, a part-time racer. “I would bet 99% of the fans were cheering for him today, and I would be too if I was sitting up in the grandstands. He grinds to get out here. They’re true racers, they do whatever it takes to come out here and compete, and it takes me back to when I was a kid. They’re out here grinding because they love it, and I love that about them. I’m glad we won, of course, but I wish we could’ve raced them in that final round.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, what else can be said other than Gaige Herrera?
Herrera probably couldn’t have had a better day, winning his sponsor’s event and running his string of 2023 win lights to nine as the winner of the Gatornationals and Charlotte Four-Wide Nationals won both of his rounds Saturday aboard the Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki to become the first Pro Stock winner in Mission Challenge history with a 6.672 to 6.785 final-round victory over class rookie Chase Van Sant on the Trick Tools entry. Herrera’s pass was the second quickest in class history behind Karen Stoffer’s 6.665 national-record run in Gainesville in 2022. It also was pretty much a hometown race for Herrera, who lives just about an hour away from Route 66 Raceway in DeMotte, Ind.
“It means a lot, obviously,” said Herrera. “Mission is a big sponsor for us, and for Mission to put this on and to be part of it is just a big deal alone but to be able to get the win means a lot to the whole team and myself to be able to do that for Mission.
“We knew the conditions were there. I was more worried about the wind. We were all concerned about the wind because it was coming and going across the bleachers. I didn't think I was going to go faster than my Q1 and Q2 passes because I was all over the bike. It was going left, it was going right so for it to be able to run that I was definitely surprised. But Andrew's got that thing on rails and it's the baddest bike out here. It's showing. They're flexing their horsepower, for sure.”
In the opening round of Pro Stock Motorcycle, Herrera defeated Jianna Evaristo in a repeat of their Gainesville semifinal, powering to a stunning 6.677 – the third-quickest pass in class history – to win easily after Evaristo had to roll back the throttle early to an 8.92. The other half of the semifinal battle flipped the results of the Gainesville outcome with Van Sant defeating Angie Smith, 6.80 to 6.83.
Ashley and Capps each pocketed $10,000 while Herrera netted $3,300. Each challenge winner also earned three bonus points that will be added to their point total to begin the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. The runner-ups (Prock, Haddock, and Van Sant) got two points and the quickest losing semifinalist — Brown in Top Fuel, Hagan in Funny Car, and Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle — earned one point.
The Gerber Collision & Glass Route 66 Nationals presented by PEAK Performance at Route 66 Raceway continues with eliminations Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Television coverage will continue with a second qualifying show Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1 (FS1). Eliminations are slated to air Sunday at 10:00 p.m. ET on FS1.
See the recap from Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor:
Saturday's photo gallery from NHRA National Dragster staff:
Content: Werner Communication | ABM Communications | NHRA
Photo's: NHRA | Werner Communications (Gary Nastase/Auto Imagery) | ABM Communications (Auto Imagery)