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Brown, Capps and M. Smith Repeat at Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals; Hartford Claims First Indy Win

Antron Brown and Ron Capps swept the 69th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals for the second straight year, winning in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively, on Sunday at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Matt Hartford (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won the 15th of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. Smith won for the second straight year as well, as the three standouts won the world’s biggest race in back-to-back seasons.

Brown, who qualified in the No. 15 spot, went 3.779-seconds at 328.54 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Matco Tools/Toyota dragster to defeat Steve Torrence in the final round, winning his second straight race this season and the 74th in his career. He beat Brittany Force, Clay Millican and points leader Justin Ashley to reach the finals before driving past Torrence.

Just getting to that point was a massive challenge, as Brown and his team struggled throughout qualifying. But the team persevered in the final qualifying session just to make the field and then took full advantage on Monday to get another incredible Indy win.

“It’s one of those weekends where we never quit and that’s what you have to do to win the U.S. Nationals,” Brown said. “We went through all the trials and tribulations and that’s what makes this win so special. We were coming off that win in Brainerd and we got thrown a curveball. But we got this one done and we’re going to remember this win for a long time.

“This is one that was a getting-dirty win. We went through all the pain, all the stuff all the way through qualifying and we found a way as a team. We never stopped believing. You’ve got to have faith. I love this team so much. They never quit, never stopped working and all the credit goes to this team. They worked so, so hard and to win this two years in a row, it’s amazing.”

Torrence, who was the No. 1 qualifier, defeated Will Smith, Shawn Langdon and Doug Kalitta to advance to the final round for the fourth time in 2023 and 85th time in his career. Ashley will open the Countdown to the Championship in the points lead.

In Funny Car, Capps won his second straight race this year as well, going 3.986 at 323.27 in his 11,000-horsepower Hot Wheels/NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra to get around J.R. Todd in the championship round. He defeated Dale Creasy Jr., Matt Hagan and Robert Hight to reach the finals, taking over the points lead in the process, before picking up his 76th career win and second straight at The Big Go.

Sporting a special Don Prudhomme Hot Wheels throwback this weekend, Capps reveled in the magical moment as Prudhomme was in attendance all weekend to witness the victory. Capps drove for the legendary Prudhomme early in his career and to honor one of the sport’s icons and end up in the winner’s circle at the world’s biggest drag race had a historic meaning for the back-to-back Funny Car world champion.

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“You can’t dream this big. I mean, you could hope and you can put all this stuff together and we did it to have some fun to do something cool for Indy,” Capps said. “This just doesn’t happen. You just put this together and hope that it’s going to have some success and you end up winning.

“This is an unbelievable thing. To win here, to win Indy with my brother Antron (Brown) again is massive. This whole week has just been a blast and we earned every bit of it today. It was very cool.”

“It’s just amazing,” added Prudhomme. “When he first sent me the paint scheme it brought a tear to my eye. I thought, ‘This thing’s beautiful.’ It’s just this is something I’m going to remember for a long time.”

Todd reached his fourth final round in 2023 on the strength of round wins against Blake Alexander, Bob Tasca III and Cruz Pedregon. It’s also the 45th career final round for Todd.

Matt Hartford can now say he’s a U.S. Nationals winner in Pro Stock, finishing off a dominant weekend in style by going 6.624 at 206.57 in his Total Seal/GETTRX Chevrolet Camaro to defeat Fernando Cuadra Jr. in the championship round. Hartford was the driver to beat all weekend, qualifying No. 1 and ending up with his second win of the season and the seventh in his career. It’s the first time Hartford has won more than one race in a season and he’ll head into the playoffs second in points and a huge threat to win his first championship.

Hartford knocked off Mason McGaha, Camrie Caruso and defending world champion Erica Enders to reach the final round before rolling to the victory in a final round he will always remember.

“I let the clutch out, I pulled second gear and never saw him, put it in fifth gear and I’m still deaf from my crew chief screaming in my ear,” Hartford said. “When I got to the other end and realized I’d just won Indy, I just sat in the car for a few moments to take it all in.

“We came in here Friday night and our goal was to qualify No. 1 Friday night. If we could do that, we felt it could stick and we would have four really good test runs. What we ran in the final was what we tested in one of the qualifying runs. The track conditions became basically what that was, so being able to be on the pole and have that test data played a huge role in the final.”

Cuadra Jr. reached the final round for the first time in his career, getting past Bo Butner, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Kyle Koretsky. Dallas Glenn will take the points lead into the Countdown to the Championship.

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A challenging year got a whole lot better for Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle, as the defending world champion won for the second straight year at The Big Go, clinching the victory when Hector Arana Jr. went red. Smith put together a run of 6.864 at 198.20 on his Denso Auto Parts Suzuki, handing the veteran his first win this season and the 37th in his career. His raceday included victories against John Hall, rookie Chase Van Sant and points leader Gaige Herrera before his triumph in the final round, as Smith won the U.S. Nationals for the third time in his career.

It’s been a challenging year for Smith, but he’ll now enter the Countdown to the Championship second in points and with plenty of momentum as he looks for a record seventh Pro Stock Motorcycle championship and fourth in a row.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Smith said. “I’ve got good power. This is our second year with the Suzuki program and we’ve got great power. The problem is that I can’t figure out how to make the clutch work. I need the parts to test because we’re not getting our 60-foot times where we need them. I think a 1.09 was my best and that’s not good enough. I’ve always said you need to be good at the last six races to win a championship so now it’s time to turn it up.”

Arana Jr. knocked off Chris Bostick, Kelly Clontz and Angie Smith to reach the finals for the second time in 2023 and 32nd time overall. Herrera will open the playoffs as the points leader.

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series opens its Countdown to the Championship playoffs with the 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals on Sept. 14-17 at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Penn.

This story was originally published on September 4, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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