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The latest update as of January 19, 2022

Changes to the Championship in Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car

The 2021 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series season was a virtual patchwork quilt of rescheduled, moved, and cancelled events that concluded with 24 regional and 15 national events. This year's schedule - at least on paper - lists 27 regionals and 15 nationals. Hopefully it won't turn into a "work in progress" as last season was, but we still haven't opened the gates to the first race of the year; that's still four weeks away.

NHRA has made some changes to the points formula for the Top Alcohol competitors, with racers allowed to claim points at the first ten national and six regional events that they attend. From those races, they can claim their best six national and four regional events. This differs from the best seven of ten nationals and best three of five regionals that has been the standard since the 2012 season.

One other, somewhat subtle, but significant change is the "waiving" of points at events. In previous seasons, a racer could waive their points following the conclusion of a race. Obviously, if a racer failed to qualify or lost in an early round, they would routinely waive points from that event. This year, the waiver must be made before "prior to the first pair of cars starting for the first qualifying session if they elect to not claim the event points". That pretty much eliminates that option for the races, unless they have a catastrophic parts failure while warming up for the first qualifying session.

This change to the waiving option may not have much effect on the points chases, but racers wishing to contend for a championship may carefully choose the events they attend, taking into consideration the level of competition they may face. On the other hand, choosing to face their toughest challengers at a certain event may become a strategic decision. In any case, it will be an interesting year of following the championship chases in the Top Alcohol categories.

Top Fuel competition in 2022

While last season saw some new competitors come on the scene, notably Josh Hart and secondarily, Alex Laughlin, and to a lesser extent, Joey Haas (runnerup at the Mile-High Nationals), this year may see a number of returning and upgrading races in the championship fight. Besides the "usual suspects" (the Top Ten racers in 2021), the number of racers capable of competitive, ie. 3.70 - 3.90 elapsed times grew substantially in 2021. From Cameron Ferre - who VERY nearly upset the world champion in the semi-finals at the Auto Club Finals - to Tripp Tatum III who showed up literally out of nowhere at the U.S. Nationals and instantly ran 3.80's, before nearly dropping into the 3.60's at his next race.

Other racers that could make 2022 a season of full and overflowing competitive fields are Tony Schumacher finally back on a full-time basis for the first time since 2018, now with serious long-term sponsorhsip after making eight appearances in the abbreviated 12-race 2020 season. Other possible returnees are Austin Prock (still just a rumour that funding will arrive to put him back in a John Force Racing car), and Doug Foley who's making an all-out effort with a trailer full of new parts, and Aaron Brooks tuning.

Then there's a bunch of racers that will make at least a partial schedule, and could expand to a full tour if sponsorhips allow. In that group are Alex Laughlin in a Scott Palmer car, the previously mentioned Cameron Ferre, and less well-known racers like Greg Carillo (best in 2021 of 3.76 - 321 mph), and Jim Maroney (3.87 - 302 mph), Kyle Wurtzel (3.85 - 313 mph).

One racer that fans would love to see compete more often, T.J. Zizzo, who carded career bests of 3.75 - 329 mph last year in a very abbreviated two race schedule, hopes to be out more often this season. Another racer that could shake things up on the west coast is Brandon Welch who made some waves at the Auto Club Finals with best numbers of 3.84 - 309 mph. And there's a number of others seemingly on the cusp of making it happen, including third-generation TF racer, Krista Baldwin, and half a dozen others with 3-second clockings to their credit.

With the formation of the new TSR team (Tony Stewart Racing), that has Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan competing, the team owner Stewart has earned his Top Fuel license and may compete at a few events close to their Indianapolis base. He would obviously be completely competitive instantly with the team he's assembled backing him. Another racer that could come back after sitting out last season is senior citizen Pat Dakin who has career best numbers of 3.71 - 324.98 mph to his credit and can always be counted on to be competitive. Finally, another fan favourite of previous seasons, Terry "The Insta-Gator" McMillen is coming back, at least on a part-time basis, following today's announcement of a partnership with Canadian TF racer Dan Mercier (whos's got 3.89 - 318 mph numbers to his credit from the 2019 season.

We still haven't seen the entry list for the Winternationals, but it's almost a certainty to be an over-subscribed field as quite a few racers want to hit the ground running as the season schedule returns to a normal event rotation.