For the first time since 2019, the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series will be racing at Route 66 Raceway, with the 23rd annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by PEAK Performance set to take place May 19-21.
With 100 days remaining before the NHRA stars return to deliver non-stop, 330-mph excitement at the fan-favorite facility, here’s a look at some of the record-breaking runs, historical performances and memorable moments that have taken place at Route 66 Raceway since the track opened in 1998.
FORCE MAKES HISTORY: It was 2000 and John Force was on the cusp of history. He rolled into Chicago tied with Bob Glidden for career victories (85) and in the midst of his dominant Funny Car championship run. He thrilled the Chicago fans that day, knocking off Jerry Toliver in a great side-by-side race in the final round, giving the legendary Force his 86th win. He’s now at 155 victories and 16 world titles and when the iconic driver returns to Chicago in 2023, he’ll be seeking his fourth victory at his sponsor’s race.
BERNSTEIN CRUSHES RECORDS: A year later, another legend made a strong impression on the Chicago faithful, as Kenny Bernstein swept both events at Route 66 Raceway. Along the way, he made the quickest run in Top Fuel history with a blast of 4.477-seconds at 330.88 mph. That led to a win at the May race and he followed with another Chicago victory later in the year, setting a record-breaking theme at Route 66 Raceway.
The quickest side-by-side run in Funny Car history also happened that year and Whit Bazemore set both ends of the Funny Car record in 2001. Records continued to fall over the next several years in the nitro classes, including Doug Kalitta going 333.00 in 2003, Brandon Bernstein topping it a year later with a run of 333.41 in 2004. The 2004 race in Funny Car also marked the quickest qualifying bump in class history at the time.
ERICA BREAKS THROUGH: In a magical weekend, Erica Enders made her own history at Chicago in 2012. It will remain one of the lasting moments in Chicago history, with Enders racing to her first career victory – becoming the first female to ever win in Pro Stock – by defeating Greg Anderson in the final round with a run of 6.627 at 207.40. That it came against class standout Anderson made it that much sweeter for Enders, whose career took off in a major way following that victory. She’s since won five world titles and 42 more races since that event, including a dominant 10-win performance in 2022 en route to the championship. With the Pro Stock All-Star Callout taking place in Chicago in 2023, Enders will aim for another big weekend at Route 66 Raceway this year.
SCHUMACHER’S EXPLOSIVE VICTORY: A Chicago-area native, winning at Route 66 Raceway always meant a little more for eight-time Top Fuel world champ Tony Schumacher. He did it often, too, posting five victories at the facility, but his 2013 triumph over Clay Millican was one of his most memorable. He had a spectacular engine explosion at the finish line in the championship round, barely hanging on with a run of 3.930 at 269.29. Two years later, Schumacher won for the fifth time in Chicago, which ties him for a share of the lead at the facility.
Jeg Coughlin Jr. won five times in Pro Stock at Chicago, while Antron Brown has five between his three in Top Fuel and two in Pro Stock Motorcycle. His first victory in the two-wheeled category at Route 66 Raceway came in 2000, the same year Force made history, and Brown could become the first six-time event winner in 2023 if takes the victory over what’s sure to be a stout Top Fuel field.
LEGENDS LOVE CHICAGO: From the likes of Force, Bernstein, Coughlin and Schumacher, it’s been an incredible list of standouts who have celebrated in the winner’s circle at Route 66 Raceway. Along with that foursome, legends like Warren Johnson, Kurt Johnson, Anderson, Enders, Brown and Gary Scelzi have all won at the facility. Recent stars and world champs like Ron Capps, Robert Hight, Matt Smith and Steve Torrence also have triumphed in Chicago, setting the stage for what should be an incredible return event in 2023.
Torrence (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) and Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all won the most recent race in 2019 and this year’s race will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).
Along with Torrence, Kramer and Smith looking to pick up where they left off four years ago, fans will also be treated to the Pro Stock All-Star Callout on Saturday, as well as the #2Fast2Tasty Mission NHRA Challenge in both nitro classes and Pro Stock Motorcycle. That leads into eliminations on Sunday, where stars in all four professional categories will look to earn an early-season victory at the sixth of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
To purchase tickets to the 23rd annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by PEAK Performance, fans can visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. All children 12 and under will be admitted free in the general admission area with a paid adult. For more information about NHRA, visit www.NHRA.com.