Sportsman Racers Looking for Luck in Las Vegas

Welcome to Sin City. Pull up your lucky socks and let’s get to work!

The Sportsman categories are full of skilled drivers who can’t help but lean into the Las Vegas dream. Something odd happens in Vegas. You’ll catch perfectly capable folks blowing on dice and talking to their racecars and the Lord above about another shot at victory before the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series season is complete.

Whether they need it or not, everyone wants luck to fall their way at the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil, and the collective vibe is electric in a way that can only be found at a drag strip on the outskirts of this larger-than-life neon city of dreams.

Enough hyperbole. Let’s race.

Factory Stock Finale
This weekend’s race is the season-finale for the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown crowd, and although the championship has been decided – Aaron Stanfield sealed it up in St. Louis – the remaining drivers have their fists up and are poised to duke it out for position in these final moments.

Stanfield, as the most recent winner in the Showdown, is the target of the $1,000 Constant Aviation bounty. The first driver to defeat him in elimination rounds will score bragging rights and the cool, hard cash.

Joe Welch and his 2015 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak. Photo: Auto Imagery

Whether they’ve come to the ring with a Dodge Challenger Drag Pak, Chevrolet COPO Camaro, or Ford Cobra Jet, these are some of the fiercest competitors, and the first one to prove it this weekend was Joe Welch. The Longboat Key, Florida-based driver powered his Drag Pak to a blazing 7.873-second pass at 176.70 mph to move into the No. 1 spot. Buckle up, we’re about to have some fun.

Alky Newbies
Two drivers made their Top Alcohol Dragster debut in the first qualifying session, but to be totally truthful, both were already fairly accustomed to go-fast rails. Mike Coughlin and Taylor Vetter came up from Top Dragster to compete in the one-second-quicker alcohol class.

The Rich McPhillps-owned Top Alcohol Dragster. This weekend, it’s Mike Coughlin making his debut behind the wheel. Photo: Auto Imagery

Coughlin made his first Top Alcohol Dragster run down the dragstrip in a borrowed ride, and it’s one that is proven worthy of win lights. His green dragster is the one owned by Rich McPhillips, and it’s been in the winner’s circle with both Rich McPhillips Jr. and Matt Cummings (multiple times) this season. Coughlin made good use of his time on the quarter-mile to lay down the best pass of the session, a 5.242 at 271.95, and claim the provisional pole.

Vetter was in the other lane, and after a big ol’ smoky burnout, she launched effectively but found her Plan B Motorsports dragster to be out of shape early. Vetter, the only female in the country driving a blown alcohol dragster with a clutch pedal after Christine Chambless-Foster’s recent transition to alcohol Funny Car, handled the challenge.

Veteran alcohol racer Dennis Taylor was keen on Vetter’s first pass and stated, “She did a really good job, held the rpm up right where she needed to. When the car got in trouble, she didn’t try to save it and did the smart thing. Good job.”

Taylor Vetter does her first burnout in Top Alcohol Dragster competition. Photo: Plan B Motorsports

Getting it Right
The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is cut into the desert some 2,100 feet above sea level, making it one of several tracks on the NHRA circuit considered high altitude. An Altitude Correction Factor is multiplied into the index time for the Super classes – Super Comp is adjusted to a 9.05 index from the typical 8.90, Super Gas is 10.05 instead of 9.90, and Super Street is 11.05 rather than 10.90. That can make it tricky to “get it right” for racers who don’t commonly compete at altitude, which makes it all the more rewarding when they can hit their target dead-on.

This year, the Right Trailers Right on the Number program has been awarding any Sportsman racer who runs right on the index or their dial-in during a winning round of competition during an NHRA national event. There is a $1,000 cash prize up for grabs, and if more than one racer should run right on the index or their dial, the prize will be split. If no one runs right on the index or their dial-in, the prize money rolls over to the next event.

Eliminations for the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series competitors will begin later this evening, and we’re eager to see who can close the deal on this not-so-simple goal – and who is running the sticker on their car so they can cash in.

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again
West Coast racer Ryan Herem is back in the FTI/Moser Engineering 1969 Camaro at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. Herem has trophies earned in all three of the Super classes (Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street), incliuding a victory claimed in Super Comp at The Strip at the spring race in 2017.

Herem, who resides in Huntington Beach, California with his wife, Whitney, won with this car at Sonoma in 2019. It was his most recent victory at an NHRA national.

Ryan Herem in the FTI/Moser Engineering Super Street 1969 Camaro. Photo: Auto Imagery

It’s a family thing for Herem, whose father-in-law, Top Alcohol Dragster mainstay Duane Shields, is also running Super Street this weekend in a 1973 Chevy Vega Wagon. Highly irregular, but also quite cool. Not to get too far ahead, but has there ever been a Super Street and Top Alcohol Dragster double-up? Now thaaaat would be a story.

Speaking of potential doubles, if it’s gonna happen, odds are in favor of it happening at The Strip.

Double Down to Double Up

That’s Edmond Richardson, who has more double-up wins at the national event level than any driver ever in the history of ever. Photo: Auto Imagery

Why not? It’s Vegas! So, here’s a fun fact: there have been 42 national event doubles in the history of NHRA, and 27 different drivers have accomplished the feat. Seven racers have done it twice, David Rampy did it four times, and Sir Edmond Richardson is a five-time double trophy winner.

Since 2011, there has been at least one national event double every season, but so far in 2021, not a one. The most recent was at Houston in 2020 – Aaron Stanfield won both Pro Stock and Factory Stock Showdown – which means that we’ve got two races to get it done and keep that streak alive.

If a driver is going to win twice in one event, they’re more likely to do it at Vegas than anywhere else on the national event tour. To date, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway has hosted six double-up wins. Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix is the second-most likely place to go for the two-in-one; it has happened there four times.

Here are the badasses – er, pardon, drivers – who played the odds successfully at The Strip, doubling down to double up:

David Rampy, Comp and Super Stock, 2005 (fall race)
Jody Lang, Stock and Super Stock, 2009 (spring)
Bo Butner, Comp and Stock Eliminator, 2012 (fall)
Peter Biondo, Stock and Super Stock, 2014 (spring)
Jimmy DeFrank, Stock and Super Stock, 2015 (spring)
Justin Lamb, Stock and Super Stock, 2018 (spring)

That’s it from here for now. Don’t forget! You can find detailed results all weekend long at DragRace Central.

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