The old adage “In order to be the champ, you’ve got to beat the champ” is one of the most over-used clichés in sports, but it just happens to perfectly describe Pete D’Agnolo’s 2022 season and his drive to the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Super Stock world championship.
Looking back, it is almost impossible to imagine that reigning and five-time champ Greg Stanfield would score 691 points and not win another title, but D’Agnolo stood in his way with a season for the ages. Following an epic late-season slugfest that included a dramatic head-to-head battle in Las Vegas, D’Agnolo emerged as the champion with a robust 699-point score.
“This [championship] is not something I had ever planned on,” said D’Agnolo, who has been a consistent E.T. bracket winner for years and came into the 2022 season with wins in Super Stock and Comp eliminator. “Even when I started doing well and after I won Gainesville and Indy, I just looked at Greg, and he had won the first five races he went to. Really, when you looked at what Greg was doing, I didn’t think we had a chance.”
D’Agnolo got off to a fast start by winning the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. As a bonus, he defeated his good friend Billy Ryan in the final round. D’Agnolo followed his Gainesville win with several late-round finishes at Lucas Oil Series divisional events, but at that point, he wasn’t convinced that a semifinal finish was helpful when it came to chasing a championship.
“To win the first race in Gainesville was not a bad start,” D’Agnolo said. “Then I went to a few more [divisional] races and won some rounds, but we sort of fell off the radar at midseason. My friends kept telling me to pursue it, and I remember saying that nothing short of a miracle win in Indy would change my mind. Then, what happened? I went out and won Indy.”
In addition to winning a championship, the other big thing on any racer’s to-do list is a win at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals, and D’Agnolo also checked that box this season when he outlasted nearly 150 other Super Stock contenders, including veteran James Caro in the final to win drag racing’s most prestigious event. True to his promise, D’Agnolo was then committed to seeing the championship fight to the bitter end, so he made the long trip from his home in New York to St. Louis and then headed west to finish his season in Las Vegas.
The tension of the points battle came to a head during the NHRA Nevada Nationals in Las Vegas, where D’Agnolo and Stanfield traded round-wins until their inevitable meeting in the quarterfinal round. Stanfield got the win and went on to a runner-up finish in the event to take over the championship lead. At that point, D’Agnolo was admittedly deflated and couldn’t help but feel an impending sense of doom.
“First off, I wasn’t even going to Las Vegas, but [Comp racer] Frank Affronti helped me out and took my car out there,” said D’Agnolo. “I’ve never raced in Vegas, but everything I’d heard was true; that it’s a tough place because of the wind. We got a lot of that. Finally, I had to race Greg, and I’m thinking it’s probably [a] do or die round. We had a great race; I was just on the wrong end of it. I hated it, but at least I had my fate in my own hands. I just didn’t get it done.”
D’Agnolo quickly got up, dusted himself off, and drove to a solid quarterfinal finish the following weekend at the Division 7 finale in Las Vegas to push his score to 699 points, which was enough to retake the lead. Even then, the championship was not secured. Stanfield could win with a semifinal in Pomona.
Billy Ryan’s wedding was scheduled for Pomona weekend, so D’Agnolo was not in California when the title was decided. Instead, the wedding party watched all the action unfold on NHRA.tv, including the deciding round, where Stanfield slipped up against Tim Seymour.
“There were maybe 10 of us watching, and it was pretty intense,” D’Agnolo recalled. “You could hear a pin drop when Greg ran. I was just hoping to see a good race, but the whole place erupted when [Seymour’s] win light came on. Everything that happened after that was an adventure. We left the wedding at 5 a.m. to make a 12-hour drive home and booked a last-minute flight to California for the banquet. I got home, packed, and went straight to the airport. Then I had to get fitted for a tux and get to the banquet. I was worn out by the time I got there, but it was so worth it. The whole experience was incredible.”
D’Agnolo gets a lot of support from his family, including his parents, Sam and Nancy, and his sister, Julie, as well as his uncle, Tony, Comp racer Frank Affronti, Bernie, Ken Minhinnett, Mower, and the crew at S&R Automotive.