In the NHRA, like with any other motorsport, you've always got to keep an eye on your competition. Now, it's not always the veteran drivers who win time and time again that are always the most dangerous on the drag strip. The young guns can pose just as much of a threat.
This crop of talent is constantly taking notes and learning from the more experienced drivers. They're not striving to be just as good, but working at becoming better than the last legendary driver. Before you know it, you've got a young kid with more talent than a majority of the field. If the vets stay too comfortable and don't watch their backs, the next fresh-faced challenger could easily overtake them.
There are plenty of promising young drivers in the NHRA today, but here, we'll just be looking at four drivers in particular who have the potential to make big breakouts during the 2022 NHRA season.
4 NHRA Drivers to Watch in 2022
Born in Upland, California and currently residing in Pittsboro, Indiana, Krista Baldwin is the only third-generation Top Fuel driver in the NHRA. With her father Bobby Baldwin and grandfather Chris Karamesines, she certainly has plenty of experience in her corner to help guide her towards victory.
The 28-year old racer completely invested herself in the drag racing lifestyle from an early age. She was racing by the age of 18 in a 7-second front engine dragster, and made a name for herself rather quickly. Before she even turned professional, she even owned her own Top Fuel Dragster operation. This played a part in her being named SEMA Businesswomen's Network Athena Rising Star in 2017.
In recent years, she's become the creative director for McLeod Racing/FTI Performance as well as the general manager for Paul Lee Racing's Funny Car class. To say she stays busy is an understatement.
Why She Has Star Potential
Baldwin may still be in the early stages of her professional racing career, but she brings a lot to the table.
After earning her Top Fuel license in 2019, she made her debut in the 2020 season at the season-opening Gatornationals. In 2021, she qualified for her first eliminations. During Charlotte's four-wide event, she made her way into the semi-finals after taking down Leah Pruett. Despite losing her rear wing during the race, she really showed promising capabilities.
Krista was eligible for 2021 Rookie of the Year in NHRA, and although she didn't get the award, trust me when I say this is only the beginning for what we'll see from her.
Starting in Junior Drag Racing at the age of 15, Jasmine Salinas is another racer to keep an eye on. She's the daughter of Top Fuel racer Mike Salinas, who anyone in the know will tell you is quite the mentor. On top of that, she's got her sister Jianna, who competes in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, to look to for motivation.
Jasmine herself competes in the Top Alcohol Dragster class and recently proved her toughness after a wicked crash in Florida during the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, where her car flipped during the pass. Despite a hospital visit, she made a quick recovery.
Prior to moving into a driving position, she was a crew member for Scrappers Racing team. Salinas was also featured in a video documentary titled Five Foot 280 which received much praise. Now, she's on a mission to prove she has what it takes to compete in the big leagues.
Why She Has Star Potential
During the 2021 race season, Salinas scored her first big win in Ohio during the Lucas Oil Series Division 3 Regional Event in Top Alcohol Dragster at National Trail Raceway.
She qualified in the top half of the field during her rookie debut in Top Alcohol Dragster, qualified at No. 2 during her seventh race in the rookie season, and finally finished her rookie season sitting in 15th for points in the Lucas Oil Series.
There's no telling what she'll accomplish in 2022, but be prepared to be amazed.
One look at Bobby Bode's career so far, and it's not hard to see why he made this list. The Chicago native also has his father, NHRA veteran and Bode Motorsports team owner Bob Bode, on his side giving him useful pointers.
Bode has proven to be extremely versatile. He has a Super Comp license, and he's also had experience behind the wheel of a Top Alcohol dragster. Interestingly enough, he made quite the leap when he essentially went from Junior Drag Racing straight to a nitro-powered funny car. He attained the car from his father, and the more seat time he gets, the more promising he becomes.
On top of that, Funny Car contender Tim Wilkerson has been in Bode's corner giving him tons of advice. Like I said before, it always helps to learn from the vets.
Why He Has Star Potential
In Bode's very first Funny Car race, he qualified 7th out of 16 drivers. This marked the best qualifying position for Bode Motorsports in 15 years. As for the 2021 season, he managed to qualify for all five of the races that he entered.
Do keep in mind that he's also the youngest Funny Car driver ever. You don't make your way into that seat by failing. This kid has serious potential.
He's had a long, but successful career in the Junior Drag Racing series, and it appears he's ready to step up to larger territory as he enters his 20s. We'll see what he's able to do in the Funny Car class in the upcoming 2022 season.
Last but definitely not least, we've got Joey Haas. Of course, being a talented driver is beneficial, but also being part of a skilled team such as Totten Motorsports can make all the difference.
Joey Haas has quickly been making a name for himself as a NHRA Top Fuel driver, despite being so early on in his career. His father Joe Haas can be attributed at least a portion of that success. Joey made his Top Fuel debut in 2020 during the U.S. Nationals, and managed to run at a speed over 300 MPH. He had a first-round loss to Tony Schumacher, but as a contender for 2021's Rookie of the Year, he's still on many a racer's radar.
Why He Has Star Potential
During his fourth start in the 2021 season at Denver, Haas received a lot of praise after making it all the way to the final round. To get there, he fended off tough competitors such as Alex Laughlin, Leah Pruett, and Clay Millican.
It's not just his talent behind the wheel that makes him so impressive, but also the way he implements his team's strategy. Denver was a perfect example of this. Watching him race, it's almost hard to believe he's coming off a rookie season.
If this is what he's capable of during his first full year in Top Fuel, just imagine what he'll bring in the next season. Trust me, Haas will be making more headlines soon enough.
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