Drag Racing Action

Images: David Smith,Diane Kubicke, and Phil Hutchison

It’s awards season. The Golden Globes, The Emmys, and the Critics ’s Choice celebrate movies and TV. But there is another season that is in full swing. The NHRA Lucas Oil Divisional Awards.

After the NHRA Lucas World Champions are crowned following the In-N-Out World Finals in California, the action shifts to the divisional and regional level. Each division celebrates the 2023 season and crowns their champs.

Certification honcho, Larry Wiggins Jr is the newest member of the NED Hall of Fame

January 6, the NHRA Northeast Division had their annual banquet at the Kalahari Resorts and Convention Center in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. After years of having the annual party in Hershey PA., NED division director Craig Curdie and his group decided to move the action north to the Poconos.

“After having the banquet in Hershey for years, we made the decision to change it up for 2024. Hershey was fine but there wasn’t a whole lot of things for the racers and their families to do during the weekend,” Curdie said. “Other than an indoor pool, that was it for the kids. Hershey Park was closed for the winter and with moving to the Kalahari, the options for the racers and their families opened up. The resort features lots more things for families including nearby skiing and more restaurant choices.”

Winning the Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Dragster championship for the East Region was Pompano Beach Fla. racer Matt Cummings. Cummings, driving the Rich McPhillips A/FD, won three regional events, Reading, Lebanon Valley, and the region final at VMP to distance himself from defending champion Jackie Fricke who finished 2023 in second place with New Jersey racer Karen Stalba in third.

Cummings and the McPhillips team are joined by NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart in the Maple Grove winner’s circle 

“The McPhillips race team is from the East Region and my family. A got a lot of family in Jersey,” Cummings said.  “Jackie had a win streak in the East the past three years. When I raced in Lebanon Valley this year, I saw John Finke wearing his East region champion jacket and I wanted one more than the National crown at that moment.”

Cummings continues, “They are a tough team to beat along with so many other racers. It came down to a head-to-head race against Jackie in Virginia for the title. I was very uptight before our race but forgot any emotion once the engine fired. I remember Rich Jr cheering for me at the finish line as I went by at 280 mph. Mission accomplished.”

In addition to his Regional title, Matt was #4 in the Lucas Top Alcohol Dragster World Championship. In all, three McPhilllips tuned cars were in the 2023 NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster Top 10.

East Region Alcohol Funny Car champ  Matt Gill,racing out of West Bridgewater Massachusetts, got off. on the right foot winning the Regional opener at the “Baby” Gators in March in Gainesville following that win with victories at both Maple Grove events to take the East title over Wayne Morris and defending 2022 champ DJ Cox.

After his championship Gill said, “My Moduline Cabinet funny car was on point all year long thanks to my dad who tunes the car and my crew who busts their butts to make sure the car is safe and fast.”

Gill added, “It felt good to win the championship and finish 5th in the country, we know we have a car that can win any race we enter.”

NED director Craig Curdie congratulates Comp champ Don Eckel III with his second D1 Wally

2023 NED Lucas Oil Competition champ Don Eckel III from Piscataway NJ used wins at Epping and Richmond along with good showings at the other divisional events which included a side trip to Rockingham NC, to win his second Lucas Oil title.

“To be honest, winning the D1 Comp title seemed like it was taking some time to really sink in,” Eckel said. “Considering the quality of cars and drivers here, it’s never easy to come away with a win, let alone the championship.”

Eckel throws out the laundry in his Pro Start built C/DA

Eckel who won the division in 2015  adds, “Obviously, I was happy we had locked it up when we left the Rockingham D2 event, but I didn’t really process the profoundness of doing it for a second time. But when they handed me that big shiny Wally and the jacket at the awards banquet, it truly made me realize what type of company I am among and how fortunate I am to be there.”

“I’m blessed to be able to do this with my father, who will be 80 and in his 50th year of drag racing next year, as well as having the full support and positive energy from my mother, wife, son, and so many great friends. They are all the cherry on this sundae!”

“After Virginia, we did make the decision to travel out of division to the Rockingham Division 2 event. We had a pretty good lead, but it was still possible that Kevin Houghtaling and Steve Szupka could catch us. At Rockingham anyone who could move up in points was there. In round one I was sitting two pairs back, I watched Steve spin the tires and I knew the title was sealed. In the end, we were runner up and improved our score as well.”

NED Super Stock champ Bryan Worner had a great year behind the wheel of his GT/JA Camaro. The 2020 Lucas World Champ started his drive to the division title with a semifinal finish at the D2 “Baby Gators’ in March and with wins at Lebanon Valley and the season ending race at VMP took the title back to Duncannon Pa. for the 4th time. A unique statistic.

As Bryan tells it, “I had no idea only Pete Biondo has won more than four D1 Super Stock Championships.”

“And only two others have won four.  Dan Fletcher and Joe Santangelo. It wasn’t until my name was called at the banquet; I was aware of it.”

Division Stock champ Allison Doll didn’t get out of the gate at the beginning of the season like the 2019 Lucas Oil World Champ would have preferred. After some early round exits, by the time summer rolled around, the Massachusetts driver got her Portatree A/SA Firebird to the finals at the Numidia divisional. Combined with some late round finishes and an out of division trip to the October Lucas race at Madison, a race that Doll won, put her in the D1 Stock lead.

When asked about the late season trip out of division, Doll said, “We made the drive to St. Louis because we liked the idea of competing in 3 races for one tow. I knew there was a chance that I could take the points lead on the trip, but I also knew that simply passing the leader would not be enough to secure the championship.”

Doug and Allison celebrate her win at  Madison

“When I won the second Divisional, I was extremely happy. Although the championship was far from over, I had done everything that I could and had put up a good points total. The waiting game is hard, and it was a long wait to find out if the total was good enough”

Winning the Madison Lucas race made all the difference in Allison’s season

The waiting game was for real as John Gray, who was right behind Doll in Lucas Oil points, took his AA/SA Camaro out West for the D7 Lucas race in Vegas to add to his total. A total that fell an oh so close 11 points behind Doll. As Gray tells it, “I lost in the 5th round to Jerry Emmons at the Vegas divisional. One more round I would have tied Allison. If I made the final, I would have won the division.”  Talk about a tight race for the Championship.

“Winning the 2023 D1 Stock Eliminator Championship is an absolute honor,” Doll said.

“Championships are difficult. A lot must go right to win. I’m lucky to have a great support team, which made this championship possible.”

2023 Super Comp champ TC Smith joined a rare club, well, not too rare, of winning the title without winning a single race during the season. The points structure rewards consistency and if nothing else Smith was consistent in 2023.

Smith made it to the finals at Numida, Atco/Maple Grove divisional, and runner ups at Bowling Green and Madison to take the division over travelling Sportsman Pro Jason Kenny by a tic over 20 points.

Smith, who admittedly has made a career being a bridesmaid said, “I made it to 4 more finals this year and yup, came up short again, I am 0-11 in finals.”

Smith, who calls Hughestown PA home, also competes in Super Gas with his Corvette said,” With help from my best friends, Jack and Katie Sepanek, I was able to do great with both cars in the two classes.” Smith just missed the Top 10 in Super Gas finishing #11 in 2023.

2023 D1 Super Gas champion Rich Price joined TC Smith in the “No Wins but Took the Championship” club as the Royersford Pa. driver took his Corvette roadster deep in rounds which ended in a three way tie with fellow racers Rich Stroud and Tom Stalba.Again, with no season wins.

All with 288 points. The tie breaker was total number of round wins which Price had the most.

“Winning the Super Gas title and the Jeg’s All-Stars spot for D1 was unexpected. Price said, “At the beginning of the season I was just happy to be in my race car at Cecil County only 9 days out of the hospital for surgery. I concentrated on winning rounds and even though I had a broken transmission in the semi’s and a blown motor a couple weeks before the next race, in the end winning rounds is what did it!

“Checking 3 things off a non-existent list was what topped off the year. # 1 D1 Super Gas Jegs All-Star #2 D1 Super Gas Champion and #3. Being Cancer Free.”

“The days, we have left in life are not guaranteed and like Jimmy V said.  ‘Don’t Give Up Don’t You Ever Give Up’.”

2023 Super Street champ Jay Neville broke the mold for the 0.90 class champs. The Franklinville NJ racer actually won a race in 2023 in his Camaro. Neville took the Memorial Day weekend race at Maple Grove and with good finishes at the other Lucas races, claimed the NED Wally by nearly two rounds over #2 finisher Darren Wood.

“I have a high level of respect for the Super Street drivers,” said Neville. “Every round is tough, and I have learned to never let down my guard.”

“My wife, Dee, who is everything to me, said just before the season started, not to worry about the costs involved with competing and just go out and win every round that I could.”

“Surrounding myself with smart racers that believed in me and my teammate and partner, Joe DeGuara, was my driving force in 2023.”

“Reaching the Div 1 Championship and the Jegs Allstars have been the most exciting experiences in my racing career.”

The 2023 Northeast Division Lucas Oil Champions

For more images from the banquet, go to: