Decade In Review: What were the 10 best NHRA stories of the 2010s?

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As the decade comes to a close, it’s time to look back on everything that has happened in the last 10 years in NHRA drag racing.

In particular, we reflect on what we’ve chosen as the top 10 storylines of that decade, ranked in order of what we feel were the most significant stories, as well as several honorable mention entries.

Do you agree with our picks, or do you have other storylines in mind? If so, please leave us a comment.

Let’s get started:

1) Gimme a T for Texas, gimme a T for Tremendous: They like to do things bigger and better in Texas, and that’s what Lone Star State native Steve Torrence did in the 2018 season. Torrence dominated the Top Fuel ranks with a tremendous run from start to finish. Not only did he win nearly half (11) of the races in the 24-race season, the driver known for wearing a 10-gallon cowboy hat when he doesn’t have a race helmet on his head, became the first driver in NHRA history to win all six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. And for an encore, he came back to win the championship again in 2019.

Brittany Force. (Photo: John Force Racing)

2) Girl power, personified: In 2017, a driver named Force won the championship. Only this time, it wasn’t John Force, it was daughter Brittany, who became only the second female driver in history to win an NHRA Top Fuel championship. Shirley Muldowney was the first to achieve that feat, winning three titles in her NHRA career (1977, 1980 and 1982). In addition to her Top Fuel crown in 2017, Brittany Force holds the current NHRA Top Fuel speed record for a 1,000-foot dragstrip (338.17 mph), set in Las Vegas early last month, as well as the elapsed time record (3.623 seconds), set in mid-September in Reading, Pennsylvania.

3) If the “Schu” fits, wear it … and then put the pedal to the metal: Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher won his eighth and most recent Top Fuel championship in 2014. Schumacher, who turns 50 on Christmas Day, also is the winningest driver in Top Fuel history with 84 career national event wins. But he was conspicuously absent from the NHRA national event tour in 2019 when he was unable to find sponsorship for the entire season after the U.S. Army ended its two-decade support of Schumacher’s dragster after the 2018 season. Unfortunately, unless things change sponsorship-wise in the next two months of the offseason, Schumacher may face a second season on the sidelines in 2020.

4) A Force-able win, followed by a divorce after 25 years: John Force extended his own record of Funny Car championships to 15 on Nov. 14, 2010 (he’d go on to win a 16th and his most recent title in 2013). What made Force’s No. 15 unique is he became the oldest NHRA champion in history (61 years old). And then, two days after winning that championship, crew chief Austin Coil resigned after being with Force for 25 years (since 1986).

John Force celebrates after winning a milestone 150th win of his career in Seattle on August 4, 2019. Photo: NHRA.

5) John Force avoids near-economic disaster: John Force had been synonymous with Castrol Oil for nearly three decades, and with Ford for over a decade. But those sponsorships both came to a crashing halt for Force and parent company John Force Racing at the end of the 2014 season, when both Castrol and Ford decided to take their sponsorship dollars in different directions. The move was near-disastrous to JFR, prompting Force to wonder if his organization would survive. He even considered retiring if it meant the rest of the organization – including daughters Brittany and Courtney and son-in-law Robert Hight – could keep racing. But after selling himself and his organization like he never has, Force was able to gain two new sponsors late to the game, Peak Antifreeze and Lubricants and Chevrolet, and was able to continue on when the 2015 season dawned. Fast-forward to today and Force enjoyed his best season in the last four in 2019, capturing two wins, including a milestone 150th victory.

Bill Simpson

6) Safety pioneer Bill Simpson played major role in keeping drag racing safe: Earlier this week on December 16, a dark pall came over the motorsports world when one of the most innovative safety equipment developers, Bill Simpson, passed away from a stroke at the age of 79. Among products Simpson was best known for was flame-retardant clothing that reached across all forms of international motorsports and ultimately saved countless lives. In drag racing in particular, Simpson developed one of the most significant safety systems ever devised for any form of racing: the parachute system to slow down Top Fuel and Funny Cars. Simpson started by using surplus military parachutes and adapting them to dragsters and floppers until he came up with his own version of stronger and more reliable parachutes built specifically for drag racing purposes.

7) Didn’t you used to be Courtney Force? Just two weeks before the 2019 NHRA season was slated to begin, Funny Car driver Courtney Force stunned her loyal fan base by announcing she was walking away from the sport. Force was careful not to say she was permanently retiring, preferring to say she was “stepping away” and “going on hiatus.” Force missed the entire 2019 season and it appears she will be missing 2020 and potentially even further beyond that, close friend Alexis DeJoria exclusively told NBC Sports last week. Ironically, DeJoria, who also went “on hiatus” after the 2017 season, will be returning in 2020 and both driving for and owning/operating her own Funny Car t

8) Three changes to NHRA presidency in 3 ½ seasons: After several months of an absence that was due to “personal and family reasons,” Tom Compton abruptly retired as just the third president in NHRA history on July 1, 2015. Compton’s tenure lasted 15 ½ years, having ascended to the NHRA’s presidency on Jan. 1, 2000. He shepherded the sport to new heights before the economic downturn hit the sport hard in 2007 and 2008. Compton’s successor, Peter Clifford, would only stay in his position for 2 ½ years before Glen Cromwell took over on Jan. 1, 2018.

Ron Capps (Photo: NHRA)

9) A tip of the Capps to his first Funny Car crown: After nearly two decades of trying, Ron Capps finally won his first Funny Car championship in 2016. In his nearly quarter-century NHRA career, Capps has earned 63 Funny Car wins, second only to John Force’s 151, and one Top Fuel win. Ironically, even though Top Fuel is supposed to be the NHRA’s fastest and quickest class, Capps holds the all-time overall speed record for all nitro classes of 339.28 mph, set this past October at Reading, Pennsylvania.

10. From Disney stardom to drag racing stardom: Just over a decade after her and younger sister Courtney had their racing lives turned into a Disney Original Movie – “Right On Track” – Erica Enders became the first female driver to win a NHRA Pro Stock championship in 2014. But she didn’t stop there: she also won the Pro Stock title in 2015 and again in 2019, giving her three championships in the last six seasons. Enders also became the first female to ever win a Pro Stock race in 2012.


* So long ESPN, hello FS1: In 2016, FoxSports 1 took over for ESPN in televising NHRA races. The contract enters the fifth and final year of the current deal in 2020.

* Nice guys do finish first – and more than once: In 2012, one of the nicest drivers in the sport, Antron Brown, became the first African-American driver to win a NHRA Top Fuel championship. He would go on to win the Top Fuel crown three times in five years: 2012, 2015 and 2016.

* And then there were three: In 2015, Del Worsham became only the third driver in NHRA history to win both Top Fuel and Funny Car championships in their career. The other two drivers were Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi.

* Patience and Persistence should be his middle names: After struggling for a decade to find or keep full-time rides, JR Todd finally reached the pinnacle of the sport and his own career, capturing the 2018 NHRA Funny Car championship for both himself and Kalitta Motorsports. Todd dominated much of the season, with six wins, two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings. Even though he fell backward to finish seventh in 2019 (earning just one win, plus three runner-up and two other semifinal finishes), the suburban Indianapolis native is ready for a big rebound in 2020.

Bernstein on his record-setting 300-plus mph run in 1992 in Gainesville, Fla. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster

* The King calls it quits for the fourth and final time: Kenny Bernstein, the first Funny Car driver to break the 300-mph barrier, announced he was retiring from the sport on Nov. 15, 2011. In most instances, that wouldn’t be a major deal. But for Bernstein, nicknamed “The Bud King” for his more than 30-year sponsorship by Budweiser, “The King of Beers,” retirement really was a big deal because it was the FOURTH time he had retired from the sport. He initially retired as a driver after the 2002 season, only to come back midway through the 2003 campaign when son Brandon, who had succeeded his father behind the wheel of their Top Fuel dragster, broke his back. Kenny retired as a driver for the second time after his son returned for the 2004 season, but then the elder Bernstein once again returned behind the wheel of a Funny Car in 2007. He retired as a driver for the third time after the 2007 season, but would continue owning the team through 2011, when he totally liquidated everything and retired completely from the sport that he had loved and took part in for more than 40 years. These days, the 75-year-old Bernstein and wife Sheryl Johnson-Bernstein spend six months each year in Colorado and the other six months in Southern California. Bernstein won six championships in his driving career, including being the first of only three drivers to win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. He ended his career with 69 national event wins: 39 in Top Fuel and 30 in Funny Car. He earned four straight Funny Car championships from 1985-88 and two Top Fuel titles (1996 and 2001).

UPDATE: Since this story was first published, we received several emails from readers and felt compelled to add one more item that we didn’t include originally:

* Can’t you speak English(town) anymore? One of the greatest tracks on the NHRA national event circuit abruptly closed up shop on January 17, 2018, just three weeks before the NHRA season was about to begin, leaving the sanctioning body to scramble to fill E-town’s slot on the schedule. While wildly popular with drag racing fans, Englishtown had become a thorn in the sides of residents who lived nearby due to the loud noise and heavy traffic it generated. Because the track was landlocked and couldn’t expand its facility footprint, there was little it could do to appease residents — even though the track was in existence far longer than those who had moved in the area in recent years. The landlocked element also contributed to several driver deaths, the most noteworthy being Scott Kalitta, who died in a June 21, 2008 crash there when his car sailed through the sand pit and almost left the facility border. Also sadly, just two years away from celebrating its 50th anniversary of hosting the NHRA, the track shut down for good. It’s a track that will long be remembered by diehard drag racing fans and drivers alike.

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Inside IndyCar’s iRacing revolution: Oliver Askew, team take it seriously

SimMetric Labs
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No laps have been turned in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, yet rookie Oliver Askew incessantly is analyzing fresh lap data with his Arrow McLaren SP team.

For the past two weeks, Askew has turned hundreds of laps in iRacing at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park, and his support team meticulously has scoured the data in real time.

Race engineer Blair Perschbacher, assistant engineer Mike Reggio and strategist Billy Vincent are connected via all the software and timing systems that are on Askew’s real-world No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. After every run, numbers instantly are crunched, and Askew debriefs with his crew on improving the handling of his car in search of every fraction of a second as he would in real life.

WATCH: IndyCar iRacing Challenge, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN or streaming here

The only difference is Askew is sitting inside a simulation rig housed by a 45-foot trailer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while each team member is in an Indianapolis area home.

“They basically set up their own timing stands in their living rooms,” Askew told NBCSports.com. “It’s awesome.”

It’s the new reality for IndyCar, which will play host to the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN) at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

Last Saturday, Askew started and finished fifth at Watkins Glen International, where he practiced with the advisement of his team for more than 15 hours in the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs simulator. Despite a relative sim racing newbie, Askew, 23, finished only two spots behind Will Power, who has more than 1,500 starts and 150 victories on iRacing road courses.

Askew already has practiced for more than 10 hours this week in his simulator for Barber, where he hopes to make the podium against a 29-driver field that will include many champions and winners.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You can tell by the results at Watkins Glen. You know which drivers have built their sims properly. How much they’ve been practicing. Those are the guys who finish up front.

“I’m still trying to represent everyone. It’s cool we have the same paint scheme. We’re just trying to represent Arrow and our partners the best as possible. We know they’re all watching, and it seems the viewership is going up.”

The Jupiter, Florida, native has found an edge through his friendship with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which is based in nearby West Palm Beach, Florida. Askew and SimMetric CEO Greg De Giorgis met last year through mutual friends. Last year, Askew had done a few simulator sessions before winning the 2019 Indy Lights championship (and graduating to the ride with Arrow McLaren SP).

With an official simulator partnership in the Road to Indy program, SimMetric’s CXC Motion Pro II simulator travels in a trailer to racing events around the country, providing drivers with extra preparation time for the real world.

The full-motion simulator includes a motion system developed by drivers and engineers, hyrdaulic brakes and force-feedback steering system. Though at the high end for simulators available to the general public, it retails for much less than the seven-figure simulators used by auto manufacturers with race programs.

“While time in a driving simulator will never fully replace real seat time, sim seat time can go a very long way in supplementing the seat time a driver gets,” De Giorgis told NBCSports.com in an email. “With three added benefits you don’t get in the real car: Significantly lower cost per hour, no risk of bodily harm or damage to the car, and of course, no limitations on time.”

There are some limitations for how much Askew can practice, though. A schedule was set up last week so the team, Askew and De Giorgis (who helps run the simulator and maintain communications with the team) could work together while also maintaining self-isolation with their families.

RACING RETURN: Robert Wickens ‘just excited to drive’


The trailer with the simulator is parked indoors at the Riviera Beach, Florida, shop of Extreme Velocity Motorsports, which also has an unofficial affiliation with SimMetric.

“We’re practicing social distancing and making sure the trailer and everything is clean,” Askew said. “We’re taking that very seriously. It’s still a job for me, so I need to get what I can out of it.”

He’s gotten a lot from it despite a lack of experience. The team can compare simulation data from iRacing to real-world historical data from past races and test sessions.

Reggio handles fuel data, and Simpson monitors strategy and timing. While setups are fixed for the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, Perschbacher is able to work with brake bias. “He’s just trying to bend the rules as much as we can,” Askew said. “We’ve done a lot with brake bias. That’s pretty much all we can change.”

Fans also can watch Askew practicing via a YouTube channel provided by De Giorgis, who has chatted with viewers about the car’s laps in real time during the streams that are available by clicking here.

Fans will be able to find a live stream of Askew’s race Saturday by clicking here.

It’s all relatively new to Askew, who doesn’t even have a sim rig at his Indianapolis home. His previous sim experience mainly came on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“Honesty, for me personally, I’m a little late to the party,” Askew said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m young and they assumed I’ve been doing this. I’ve never even had my own iRacing account before. Guys like (McLaren driver) Lando Norris, (Watkins Glen winner) Sage (Karam), all these guys have been streaming live on Twitch and have been running iRacing for multiple years now.

“ It’s a great way to get fans engaged in the race weekend and get eSports get bigger and bigger every year. Very interesting moving forward. It’s cool that IndyCar has dipped their feet into these waters now. Even once the season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do more of these races.”

If so, he and his team have learned to keep an eye on Power, a real-world ace on road courses. During some practice races Thursday, Askew thought he’d done well by qualifying third, but Power then put a half-second on the field by winning the pole position.

“Will is unbelievably quick and does the same things in real life as well,” said Askew, who did turn the fastest lap in the practice race. “He just pulls it out somehow. That’s where the engineers and our staff in Indy come into play because they’re able to watch his on-board in real time and replay his on board to figure out what he’s doing to get the most of out of his car in the video game.

“It gets the creative juices flowing again. It’s still very different from real life, but I think we’re going to be able to start the season a little more fresh than we would have without this.”

Chris Graythen / Getty Images