Two months ago, Greg Anderson likely wouldn’t have considered himself much of a threat to defend his world championship in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. But the longtime star has made a swift turnaround in recent weeks, vaulting back into title contention as the Countdown to the Championship playoffs open this weekend at the 37th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
Anderson, a five-time world champ in Pro Stock, picked up his 100th victory at the most recent race at Indy, continuing a recent hot streak that has included three straight No. 1 qualifiers in his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro as well as final round appearances in three of the past four races.
Points leader Erica Enders remains the favorite in the class thanks to a dominant season that’s included six victories and eight final rounds, but Anderson is coming on strong and he can’t wait for the six-race playoffs to begin this weekend in Reading.
“Everybody worries me in this class, but the bigger news is we should be worrying them right now,” said Anderson, who will open the playoffs in third. “We were not a worry to them two months ago and we were an afterthought and not even a concern to (Elite Motorsports). It was their year, it was Erica’s year and deservedly so. They did a great job over the winter, and they made big gains. I’m very proud of the recovery we’ve made. As we’re shuffling the deck, they know we’re here and we know they’re not going away. It’s going to be a dogfight.”
Billy Torrence (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Anderson (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won last year’s race in Reading. This year’s playoff opener will be broadcast on both the FOX broadcast network and Fox Sports 1 (FS1) in 2022 and will also serve as the NFL adjacent broadcast on FOX, putting the NHRA on a huge platform to open its 2022 playoffs. It’s also the first of six playoff races and Anderson will look to defend his event win at Maple Grove Raceway.
Last year, his victory put him in a tie with Warren Johnson for the most wins in Pro Stock history. He’s shot past that, and, at Indy, Anderson became only the second driver in NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series history to reach 100 wins.
It was a long time coming for Anderson, who struggled during the early part of the season as Enders and Elite Motorsports racked up victories. They have 10 wins among Enders, Aaron Stanfield, who is second in points and Troy Coughlin Jr., but Anderson and the KB Racing team, which also includes Gainesville winner Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky and Matt Hartford, are coming on strong. Anderson’s team has found power in recent weeks, but he knows the class is loaded with talent and nothing is going to come easy in the Countdown to the Championship.
“Of your top 10 cars, I can’t really pick a favorite. It’s great for Pro Stock,” Anderson said. “But I’m so proud of my guys and the job they’ve done, and the recovery they’ve made this year. It’s a new fight and it’s absolutely going to be an exciting playoff because of what everybody on this KB Racing team has done.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending world champ Matt Smith jumped into the points lead with his victory in Indy. But a sixth world title won’t come easy against a field that includes Joey Gladstone, Steve Johnson, Angelle Sampey and Eddie Krawiec.
Sampey, a three-time world champ, will start from the fourth spot on her Mission Foods/Vance and Hines Suzuki knowing she will need to rack up wins to contend for a title. But she’s much more focused on the small victories at the moment, knowing full well those will lead to big wins down the road.
“I’m just comfortable with where I am and a big part of that is being back on a Suzuki,” Sampey said. “I think that’s where I belong. I’m going to give it all I have, and I want it all. How I try to handle the Countdown is just trying to win each round and the points will come, and that can put me in a position to win a championship. If you do that, win each round, and win the race, the points will come. I’ve learned over my 26 years thinking way ahead of yourself is very dangerous in this sport.”
Top Fuel’s Brittany Force starts with the points lead in Reading, but she’ll be challenged by the likes of four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence, Indy winner Antron Brown, Justin Ashley, and Mike Salinas, who has four wins this season.
In Funny Car, Robert Hight’s six wins in the regular season gives him the points lead to open the playoffs but staying there will be tough against a loaded lineup that includes Indy winner Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, John Force ,and Cruz Pedregon.
The Pep Boys NHRA Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown category. On Friday, fans can witness all the thrills of a jet car exhibition after nitro qualifying. The race also features the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League Shootout, with eight young drivers competing for the win. The final round will take place on Sunday and will be featured during the FOX broadcast. On Saturday, fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds.
Top Fuel Motorcycle star Larry “Spiderman” McBride will be in action at Reading as part of the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals. McBride went an incredible 268.38-mph in Virginia to make the fastest motorcycle pass in drag racing history and the veteran will make exhibition passes in Reading, attempting to go even faster at a track where several record-breaking performances have taken place over the years.
Race fans at Maple Grove Raceway 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 Pep Boys NHRA Nationals event winners.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Reading. This unique opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family. The new Pep Boys midway display will include tire change challenges, oil change challenges, a slot car track, and much more, adding even more excitement to the midway.