Story By: NHRA – TOPEKA, KS – Alex Laughlin fulfilled a lifelong dream last month, making his Top Fuel debut in Denver. It was the latest class for the Pro Stock and Pro Mod veteran, and Laughlin won’t have to wait long to get his second crack at a 11,000-horsepower, 330-mph nitro breathing machine in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.
He’ll make his second start in the class with Scott Palmer Racing at this weekend’s 32nd annual Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor at Heartland Motorsports Park.
It’s close to home for Palmer, who has been vital in Laughlin’s quick progress. The fan-favorite driver made a strong first impression in Denver, furthering the notion the former U.S. Nationals winner and four-time event champ is capable of driving just about anything. Handling the 11,000-horsepower Powerbuilt Tools dragster remains a huge challenge this early in Laughlin’s Top Fuel career, but he’s looking forward to getting back behind the wheel.
“The goal for this weekend is to make this feel more normal,” Laughlin said. “This came together really fast, but now we’ve been to a race and made some good runs. I’ve driven just about everything, but this is just so far beyond anything I’ve ever done. I’m really looking forward to this weekend, being able to get more laps and keep learning. That’s the first goal and the second goal is, I want to turn on a win light. I’d love to be able to get that first round win in Top Fuel.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) won the most recent race at Topeka in 2019. This year, eliminations will be televised on Fox Sports 1 and FOX, including a broadcast of eliminations beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET on FOX. It is the 11th of 20 races during the 2021 NHRA campaign, with the stop at Heartland Motorsports Park kicking off the second half of the season.
Laughlin qualified well in Denver, making a 300-mph run in qualifying before falling in the first round of eliminations. He’ll have his work cut out for him in Topeka, facing off against a star-studded Top Fuel class led by reigning event winner and three-time defending world champ Torrence, who has six wins in 2021. Other names to watch include Pomona winner Leah Pruett, Brittany Force, Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican, Justin Ashley and Shawn Langdon. Laughlin, though, has praised the work of Palmer for taking him under his wing and helping this Top Fuel dream come to life.
“Scott has been unbelievable,” Laughlin said. “He’s been extremely accommodating, helping me get my license and all that. There’s been so many moving parts, but being part of something where you can get that help, it’s really refreshing. It helps me focus on driving the car. When you can’t do that, it can really affect you. Scott helped give me a lot of confidence, even more than I had in myself. He knew I could handle this and that really gave me a lot of confidence.”
In Funny Car, there’s nobody performing better than Ron Capps, who took over the points lead in the class with his victory in Pomona. His 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat has been consistent all year, but Capps took a major step last weekend, picking up his first victory of the year. That makes him one of the favorites heading to Topeka, where he has four career victories.
He’ll have a chance for a fifth this weekend at Heartland Motorsports Park, but Capps will be tested by the likes of Bob Tasca III, John Force, Hight, defending world champ Matt Hagan, four-time race winner Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson, J.R. Todd and Alexis DeJoria. Capps, though, is feeling good after breaking through for the victory. It had felt like a long time coming, but continuing to rack up consistent performances will make Capps a strong contender to become a world champ for the second time.
“I was thinking I should stop saying, ‘a win’s coming,’ because I felt like maybe I was jinxing it but I truly felt like our team was like Pac-Man,” Capps said. “You know, we were just chomping through these Camping World Drag Racing Series points — semifinal after semifinal, a final in Houston. We’ve been consistent, and I really think we can have the regular-season point lead going into the Countdown, we just need to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Pro Stock will make its first appearance at the track since 2018 and Deric Kramer will look to grab his second straight win at the facility. He won at Topeka in 2018, a victory that marked his first career win in Pro Stock. Looking to stop him will be points leader Greg Anderson, Aaron Stanfield, who has two wins in the last three events this year, Troy Coughlin Jr., defending champ Erica Enders and rookie Dallas Glenn.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series and the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown class.
As always, fans are granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans a chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 7:30 p.m. CT on Friday, Aug. 13 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Aug. 14 at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. CT on Sunday, Aug. 15. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday and then eliminations action at 3 p.m. on FOX on Sunday.
To purchase general admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult.