It’s possible to win a race or two through sheer luck, but to win a season championship, no matter which class or association, requires something more. To earn the right to be called a world champion and carry a No. 1 designation requires a lot of effort, determination, and yes, at times a bit of good fortune.
The sustained level of excellence needed to win a grueling season-long drag racing points battle is hard to achieve, and in most cases even harder to maintain. The price is steep and the sacrifices are many, but the final payoff is so worthwhile.
Coming off a 2020 season that was severely interrupted by COVID-19, there was a return to normalcy in 2021 as nearly every major drag racing series was able to complete a full schedule and crown proper champions.
In the NHRA Camping World Series, Steve Torrence, Ron Capps, Greg Anderson, and Matt Smith emerged as champions. And what do they have in common?
None of them are first-timers. Torrence has now won the last four titles in Top Fuel, while Capps is now a two-time champion in Funny Car. Anderson won his fifth Pro Stock title, but his first in a decade and Smith joins motorcycle racing’s all-time greats with his fifth Pro Stock Motorcycle crown.
Love or hate the NHRA countdown playoffs (and there are plenty on both sides of that debate) there is no denying that it brings drama and excitement to the end of the season. This year was no different, as all four professional titles were decided at the final weekend in Pomona.
Admittedly, Torrence had a massive lead heading into the season finale and needed only to win the first round in order to freeze out rival Brittany Force. Torrence didn’t just win his fourth title; he dominated with 11 wins in 14 final rounds during the 20-race season. He also managed a remarkable 60-9 record in elimination rounds and made it to the semifinals at all but two races. The competition in Top Fuel continues to get tougher with the arrival of young guns like Justin Ashley and Josh Hart, but Torrence is the king of NHRA’s premiere class until someone says otherwise. And with the strength of his Capco team, it might be a while before someone dethrones the Texan.
The Funny Car battle was far more competitive with 10 different winners in 20 races. There were also five drivers, including John Force, Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, J.R. Todd, and Bob Tasca III, who held the points lead at some point during the 2020 season. But as we know, the points lead matters most when the sun set at the World Finals and in the end, that honor went to Capps. The popular SoCal driver used a late-season win in Dallas and a runner-up in Bristol to pass teammate Hagan with one race remaining, making for a dramatic end of the 2021 season.
In fact, Hagan had a shot to reclaim the lead from Capps at the NHRA Finals in Pomona, and for a while, it appeared as though he might just do that when he defeated Capps in a head-to-head battle in the second round. Hagan still needed one more win to take the top spot but he didn’t get it, as Alexis DeJoria stopped Hagan, sealing the title for Capps and his NAPA team.
To say the battle for the Pro Stock title was fierce would be an understatement. For starters, it’s hardly a secret that the KB and Elite teams don’t care much for each other.
And the tension between the rival factions only intensified during the late stages of the Countdown, particularly the next-to-last race in Las Vegas, which featured its fair share of shenanigans.
Anderson won in Reading and Dallas to give himself a sizable lead heading to Las Vegas, but the Elite team wasn’t about to go down without a fight. Elite drivers Troy Coughlin Jr., Cristian Cuadra and Aaron Stanfield each shut off early in qualifying in an effort to pair with Anderson in round one. That strategy worked to perfection as Coughlin landed a race against Anderson, and handed the HendrickCars.com driver his only round one loss of the season. Few were surprised to see Coughlin shut off early in the semifinals when he was paired with Enders, who went on to lose the final to Rookie of the Year Dallas Glenn.
And with that, Enders had a very realistic shot to win the championship when she arrived in Pomona, but Anderson responded with a world-class performance that resulted in his 99th career win. The title was settled in the semifinal round when Enders shook the tires, allowing Anderson to officially put the wraps on his long-awaited fifth title.
As for Matt Smith, he simply did what he does best, in winning five Pro Stock Motorcycle races on his way to a fifth championship. He rode flawlessly on his Denso Buell and even took matters into his own hands by defeating rival
Angelle Sampey on a holeshot in Pomona to officially lock down the No. 1 plate for another season.
In terms of drama, it was hard to top the battle for the Top Alcohol Dragster title, which was settled in a winner-take-all final round between Rachel Meyer and Jackie Fricke in Las Vegas. Meyer, the younger sister of two-time champ Megan Meyer, gave the family it’s third title with a convincing 5.19 to 5.26 win over Fricke.
Also noteworthy on the NHRA side is the amazing performance turned in by Super Gas champ Luke Bogacki. In winning his third title, Bogacki racked up 734 points, the fifth highest total for an NHRA Sportsman driver. And one other driver who had an amazing season is Sean Bellemeur, who not only captured his third NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car title, but also claimed the top spot in the Midwest Drag Racing Series, which features eighth-mile racing. Bellemeur, driving Tony Barone’s Hussey Performance Camaro, won 10 NHRA races alone as he held off last year’s champion, Doug Gordon.
Another driver who nearly equaled Bellemeur’s feat is New York’s Eric Bardekoff, who captured the NMCA Xtreme Street title with his supercharged Mustang and barely missed winning in the NMRA Renegade class. Bardekoff finished second to Joel Greathouse by just five points in one of the closest finishes of the year, regardless of association. And while there are many notable racers who had fantastic seasons across the globe, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give mention to former DRE feature-car owner Andy Warren, who claimed his 10th NMCA title, winning the Nostalgia Muscle class crown with his 9-second, small-block 1971 Chevy Caprice.