Reaching the Summit

Summit Racing Series national champions Dan Caissie, Derrick Jackson, Garreth Sheppeard, and Nick Smith, flanked by Summit Racing representatives, at the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil. (Photo: Auto Imagery)

The NHRA Summit Racing Series championship battle took place last weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where bracket racing’s cream of the crop in each of NHRA’s seven divisions stepped onto the national stage with proven equipment and firm intentions of claiming the prestigious trophy.

Drivers in Super Pro, Pro, Sportsman, and Super Pro Motorcycle fought their way through three rounds of eliminations on Sunday during the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil. Ultimately, Nick Smith, Dan Caissie, Derrick Jackson, and Garreth Sheppeard came out on top. Here’s a look at their respective paths to victory.

Nick Smith, Super Pro winner (Photo: Auto Imagery)

Super Pro – Nick Smith
Altus, Oklahoma, racer Smith got his start in the Jr. Drag Racing League when he was just eight years old. The decorated bracket racer and Division 4 Super Pro champion was out of the gate with a .003-second reaction time and drove his 2019 Kasey Lane Race Cars dragster to a 7.256 on his 7.23 dial to defeat Joseph Bagwell’s .013 and 7.943 on a 7.91.

Smith got the nod over a red-lighting Mike Brundage in round one then survived a double-breakout in the semifinals with a .006 and 7.259 (7.27) to Todd Piper’s .034 and 7.413 (7.43) to earn his ticket to the final.

“I had a lot of luck,” said Smith with a grin.

Pro ET winner Dan Caissie (Photo: Auto Imagery)

Pro ET – Dan Caissie
Dan Caissie made Thompson, Connecticut — and Division 1 — proud with his triumph over Brandon Schmall in the Pro ET final. Caissie, in his second appearance at the Summit Series championship run-off, wheeled his ’85 Capri off the starting line with a brilliant .001-second reaction time in the final and followed up with a 9.460 on his 9.44 to seal the deal. Schmall was a respectable .035 and ran 9.530 on his 9.52.

“This is amazing,” said Caissie in disbelief, holding the shining championship trophy above his head. “I didn’t really believe I could do it, but my girlfriend, Megan, knew I could this whole time. This is great.”

Caissie’s road to the final included a .023 light and 9.504 (9.45) win over Chris Wingert’s .100 reaction time and 10.516 (10.55). In the semis, Caissie’s move forward was assured when Jeff Riedel went red by -.012.

Sportsman winner Derrick Jackson (Photo: Auto Imagery)

Sportsman – Derrick Jackson
The ’70 El Camino that Derrick Jackson drove to victory in Las Vegas was deadly accurate in the Sportsman final. Jackson, of La Center, Washington, clocked a .018-second reaction time to get the immediate advantage, and his 12.182 on a 12.18 gave him the win over Gary Hairfield’s .025 and 12.213 (12.18).

In a car that he borrowed from his brother, Jackson first wheeled his way to a double-breakout win over Ryan Montford with a .026 light and 12.150 (12.18) to an .011 and 11.790 (11.84). His semifinals match with Michael Mocney was decided when his opponent broke out by .013 to his .056-over 12.16.

“This feels great,” said Jackson. “I guess fifth time’s the charm — finally got it done.”

Jackson also earned the right to battle for the Summit Racing Series championship in 2000, 2006, 2008, and 2012. In 2006, he was runner-up.

Motorcycle winner Garreth Sheppeard (Photo: Auto Imagery)

Motorcycle – Garreth Sheppeard
Springfield, Ohio, sent Garreth Sheppeard to claim the trophy in Las Vegas. Former Jr. racer and Division 3 titlist Sheppeard rode his 2012 Suzuki Hayabusa to a final-round defeat of Erik Crosby, 8.221 (8.20) to 9.418 (9.42). Crosby had the better reaction time with a .027-second offering, but Sheppeard worked hard and recovered from his worst light of the day, a .049, to get the win light.

“I got lucky in the final round there, but sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good,” said Sheppeard.

In the opening round, the three-time track champion cut a .013 light to Wes Wells’ .003 and advanced on a well-played 8.260 on his 8.25 target. Wells was a too-quick 9.738 (9.89). In the semifinals, Sheppeard was the benefactor when David Baugh went red by .031, allowing a .018 and 8.205 (8.24) to take the win.

For more information on the Summit Racing Series, click here.

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