As MLB Hall of Famer Yogi Berra once famously noted, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” and for newly crowned NHRA Super Stock world champion Wyatt Wagner, it wasn’t over until the final race of the 2023 NHRA season at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.
Wagner has been a champion in the making for the last several seasons, including a fourth-place finish last year, but the young phenom put all the pieces together with a late-season rally to seal the title.
“This year, everything sort of fell into place for us,” said Wagner. “This is my sixth season, and I’d never run a full season until last year, and we finished fourth. I wouldn’t say we started this year racing for the championship, but our goal was to hit it hard and see where we stacked up. We refined our program a bit and used what we learned last year. I thought we might be able to do better than last year, but that’s a lot to ask.”
Wagner and his father, Scott, ventured west to start their season at the Division 7 opener in Phoenix, and that trip paid off nicely with a final-round win against Mike Cotten, setting the tone for their championship season.
Wagner’s season began in almost the best way possible when he ventured west from his home in Kansas to attend the Division 7 doubleheader in Phoenix. He came away with a victory in the second race, and from that point forward, he was never far from first place.
His home state was kind to Wagner as he followed a runner-up finish at the Division 5 event in Topeka with a quarterfinal at the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor.
“We’d never started the season out west, but it worked for us when we went to Phoenix and won the divisional race,” said Wagner. “I came home and had a bit of a slump in the summer, but then things turned around.”
Several months before he clinched the world championship, Wyatt Wagner captured an equally important prize when he drove to victory at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals.
Wagner wasn’t convinced that he was a title contender until after Labor Day when he won the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals. A week later, he doubled down with a win at the Division 5 race in Earlville, Iowa.
“Winning Indy did take the pressure off,” said Wagner. “Then we went to Earlville and won, and that helped us make the decision to chase it until the end. We were just trying to win rounds, but no matter what, some other guys seemed to go further.”
In the final weeks of the season, former champ Bryan Worner was the leader in the clubhouse, but the real battle figured to take place between Wagner, Stock leader Kyle Rizzoli, two-time world champ Brad Burton, and Division 2 racer Tyler Caheely.
Late in the season, Wagner scored a clutch victory at the Division 7 event in Las Vegas, where he defeated Jody Lang in the final.
Wagner lost ground with an early loss at the NHRA Nevada Nationals, especially after Rizzoli and Burton raced in the final. Wagner then took the upper hand a week later by winning the Division 7 finale. He sealed the title with a round-two bye at the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals and then went on to win the race, closing the season with 13 straight round-wins.
“That bye run [to clinch the title] was probably the most stressful round I’ve ever run,” Wagner said. “The night before, I was nervous and didn’t sleep for two minutes. We just had to make sure that everything was right and the car would start. I think my dad even had a jump box on his scooter.
“We didn’t think about it until after the banquet, but to come out west and win two races in a row and leave with the championship is crazy,” Wagner said.
Wagner’s end result was a massive 743-point score, matching the third-highest total ever for a Sportsman racer. Only Peter Biondo, who has scores of 792, 765, and 743, has ever scored more points in a single season.
“Every time I hear that [743 points], it’s hard to believe, and I had no idea about any of that,” said Wagner. “When I was going rounds in Pomona, I heard I’d passed 700, and I knew that was a big score. Then, before the final, Jeffrey Miller texted me and said, ‘Let’s get 743.’ That’s incredible, but to think that Peter had 50 more points in a season is even more incredible.”
Wagner’s SS/GA ’68 Camaro is perhaps one of the cleanest examples of an NHRA Super Stock car, it’s also a rolling advertisement for the family business, Wagner’s Classic Cars, which is run by his father, Scott, and grandfather, Willie. Wagner also shares the credit for his success with Double Trouble Properties, Gary Stinnett, the Emmons brothers, Jeff and Cody Lane, and Jeffrey Miller.
Wagner is also a part of the JCM Racing Development Driver program launched by Top Fuel team owner Joe Maynard and his family.
“It’s great to be associated with the Maynard family,” said Wagner. “They have a plan to get young kids who are involved in the sport and help them move up. My ultimate goal is to run Pro Stock, but Super Stock will always be my passion. No matter where I go, I plan to always do this. As for next year, we’ll try to do it again.”
|2023 TRACK RECORD, 743 points
|Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park (Div. 7)
|Heartland Motorsports Park (Div. 5)
|Menards NHRA Nationals
|Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals
|Tri-State Raceway (Div. 5)
|World Wide Technology Raceway (Div. 3)
|The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Div. 7)
|In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip
This article originally appeared in the Year in Review issue of National Dragster.