Fresh Paint, Fresh Faces at NHRA Circle K Winternationals

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Erica Enders-Stevens Camaro is ready to make a statement – again!

 

With the NHRA Circle K Winternationals weekend launching today to kick off the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello series season, many drivers and teams are showing up to this first race sporting new colors and new sponsors. The smell of fresh paint is practically wafting throughout the pits (at least until the welcome smell of race fuel takes over!) Here’s a guide to who’s gonna be part of the playing field this year, and the (for some) new liveries they’ll be sporting.

TOP FUEL

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New paint for Sarge and his crew.

Starting off in Top Fuel, the defending champions’ title belongs to Tony Schumacher and the Don Schumacher Racing U.S. Army team.  They have been Schumacher’s sponsor for all eight of his championships and we’re sure that Sarge is gunning for his ninth in 2015.

Spencer Massey has DSR affiliate Red Fuel high-tech batteries back on board and Antron Brown returns in his familiar Matco Tools dragster.

Steve Torrence continues on with his Capco Contractors Top Fueler for another fast and furious season.  This year, Torrence is aiming to be better and faster, and that’s going to make this team a dangerous foe come Sunday.

A familiar name with a different look this year is Shawn Langdon.  The Alan Johnson team had a major surprise when long-time supporter Al-Anabi and the country of Qatar pulled up their North American stakes, leaving this championship caliber team without funding for this season. They’re looking for sponsors for upcoming races and we think this would be an excellent investment for someone looking to get their name out there.

Connie Kalitta teams with nephew Doug and teammate J.R. Todd to remain strong in their bid to win the Top Fuel championship.  Doug has been close too many times not to have a golden Wally sitting on his mantle. He has renewed his contract with Mac Tools for the long term. This Top Fuel tag-team can tear up the racetrack at any moment. Either one could strike out with low elapsed time in contending for their first title since Scott Kalitta in the 90s. Teammate Todd started the Countdown in tenth and finished with a second place finish by the end of last year.

In one of the biggest off-season moves, Dave Connolly joins the Bob Vandergriff C&S Energy team with multi-champion driver Larry Dixon as his teammate.  Connolly showed lots of promise in pre-season testing and seems to be enjoying his transition.  Dixon is ready to return to the winner’s circle and this year he’s in the capable hands of a great team that can get that done for him.

U.S. Nationals champion Richie Crampton is back behind the helm of the Morgan Lucas Racing ride.  It appears GEICO has left and will be replaced with Lucas Oil.  Thank goodness, the sport has team owners like Morgan Lucas and his family to support the sport in only the way they can with full support of the sportsman series.

Leah Pritchett and the Dote Racing team are planning on making a sponsorship announcement on Friday.  This is the little team that could and she hopes to run better than ever.  Her team just needs more time to gel in order to run against some of the best in the business.  She’s not afraid to race for it and that has other teams worried about an early round upset.

Clay Millican brings with him Parts Plus as his sponsor under new ownership. The Memphis native couldn’t be any more excited about 2015.  His time is limited and knows that his operation will be his best bet to finally win his first race.

Brittany Force will be making an announcement on Friday, as well, about her new sponsor for John Force Racing’s Top Fuel side of the camp.  Everyone is tight-lipped and we’ll have to wait until Friday to find out.  She’s looking for her win as a pro and 2015 could bring it. She rocked the drag racing world clicking the clocks with a 4.69 time in Phoenix testing and appears the sport is heading that way.  How quick is quick in 2015?

The rest of the Top Fuel field for the Circle K Winternationals is Terry McMillan, Troy Buff, Steve Chrisman, and Steve Faria for a 17-car Top Fuel entry list.

FUNNY CAR

Get used to seeing John Force in blue!
Get used to seeing John Force in blue!

Just like Top Fuel, it looks like Don Schumacher racing will be the leader of the Funny Car pack and again be a thorn in John Force’s side for Funny Car supremacy.

Matt Hagan goes for his third championship with Mopar and Rocky Boots sponsorship on his side.  His teammates, Tommy Johnson, Jr. join hands with the ‘Make-A-Wish’ foundation for another competitive season.  Rock ‘n Roll Ron Capps heads into the season again as the dark horse and fan favorite of the Fuel Coupe.   As a sentimental choice to finally win their first Mello Yello Championship, this team is so capable of accomplishing that feat and again Capps and crew chief, Rahn Tobler will give it their best effort.

Teammate Jack Beckman, who didn’t make the Top 10 in the Countdown, comes into this year with a stacked deck.  Joining him is Jimmy Prock, along with John Medlen, and Chris Cunningham as crew chiefs.  This could be the surprise team of the year and get Beckman his second championship.

Now the team that is best known in NHRA Drag Racing as ‘Title Town’ is John Force Racing.  After a shakeup at the end of last year in crew personnel, Force is mightier than ever.  Championships are hard to come by and his armada of Robert Hight and his youngest daughter, Courtney Force, will be just as strong.  All have three-second runs in Phoenix testing offering the question of how quick will we see times this year?

Force debuts his Peak Anti-Freeze Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car this weekend so look for the new, blue livery this season.  Robert Hight still races for his sponsor, the Auto Club of Southern California, and Courtney will be trying to rejuvenate her winning ways.  She and dad came close last year in winning the championship and I don’t see things straying far from their target.

Alexis is sporting orange this year.
Alexis is sporting fiery orange this year.

The Kalitta Racing Funny Car teams are again major players in the Funny Car championship chase.  Alexis DeJoria had a break-out season with three wins  including the U.S. Nationals and Patron’s will be back as sponsor.  You can never count out Del Worsham’s DHL Toyota either. He will be a strong driver to beat.

The Pedregon brothers of Cruz and Tony will mount another campaign to make it back to the top.  There have been times in past seasons where Cruz looked unbeatable, turning out low elapsed times weekly only to have things go awry on Sunday.  If this Snap-on Tools team gets on a roll, they could be the third wheel into the Hagan-Force battles of recent seasons.  They have been long overdue and 2015 could be their turn-around season.

Journeyman driver Tim Wilkerson has hired Richard Hartman to take some of the load off him and letting a fresh face in his camp share the tune up.  Wilkerson and his Levi, Ray and Shoup, Inc. team have shown glimpses of competitiveness, but know they need to overhaul everything to be back as a contender for the championship.

Chad Head's new look Aeroburner car comes after teaming  up with new sponsor TaylorMade.
Chad Head’s new look Aeroburner car comes after teaming up with new sponsor TaylorMade.

Chad Head debuts TaylorMade’s AeroBurner sponsorship for a one-race deal for his Head, Inc. Toyota.  They also have shown signs of brilliance, but only reached a semi-finals appearance last year.  In preseason testing, the Head Racing Toyota team ran a pass of 4.05 seconds and will be considered an upset contender in eliminations.

Jim Dunn Racing has a fresh face behind their steering wheel in the name of John Hale and is sponsored by ALO drink.  They hope with the extra funding will bring more round wins this year.

The rest of the Pomona Funny Car field is made up of Gary Densham, Bob Bode, and Terry Haddock in making up the 18-Funny Car entry list for Pomona.

PRO STOCK

The Detroit muscle of the Pro Stock division is now tighter than ever.  Defending champion, Erica Enders-Stevens can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.  If last year was a sign of anything, this team could reign for many years.  The combination is formidable against any name out there and unless unseated, she could be headed to another championship podium at the year-end ceremonies.

Now Enders-Stevens has to go out and do it all over again and she’ll be matched against some of the best in the business.

KB Racing with Greg Anderson Jason Line and Vincent Nobile as their primary members is bringing back Jimmy Alund for the early part of the season.  The Summit racing teams came up short last year and had to struggle when Anderson had emergency open-heart surgery delaying his start in the season.  Alund won the Charlotte 4-Wide Pro Stock segment and Line was the last person attempting to take down Enders-Stevens finishing second in the standings.  Alund will be piloting a KB Racing 2011 Pontiac GXP for the first four events.  It’s the same car that took Jason Line to the championship.

Gray Motorsports has brothers Shane and Jonathan as contenders in the Pro Stock category.  Shane Gray is kind of an outside shot at the championship.  Now he could turn it around and get on a roll.  It’s definitely possible.  Jonathan started late at Gainesville last year but made the Countdown ousting Greg Anderson for the coveted No. 10 spot.

Mopar brings back Allen Johnson, but without a teammate in 2015.  Five-time champion, Jeg Coughlin suddenly decided that his ever expanding family needed to take more of his time and decided not to compete.  You can learn so much more with team cars, but AJ has been in this position before and has the championship trophies to prove it.

V Gaines has a new Dodge Dart after totaling his in Charlotte for 2015.  As a very strong and powerful team in qualifying and race day is long overdue for another win.  With a break here and there, he could get back there.

Another frustrated Pro Stock driver, Larry Morgan, is leaving Ford and coming on board with a new Chevy Camaro with Gray Racing power under his hood with FireAid as his new major sponsor.

Chris McGaha’s on track performance was disappointing in buying all of Mike Edwards’ equipment and only had moments of grandeur periodically throughout the year.  He needs lots of improvement to be considered a championship team.

Now Roger Brogdon, who had a renaissance season, will again have Elite Motorsports horsepower under his hood and late in the season showed signs if he had a better start would have been a lot higher in the standings.

Australian’s Derek Kramer will be driving for his own team with Alan Johnson Mopar power.  His rookie season was moderate and did win some rounds to get the attention of other competitors, but just wasn’t consistent.

Making up the rest of the Pro Stock Pomona field will be Matt Hartford, Joey Grose, Jeffrey Isbell and Drew Skillman to make up the 17-car entry list.

NHRA television starts on Saturday, February 7 at 10:00 pm on ESPN2 and will be followed by final round coverage on a same-day basis at 7:30 pm, Sunday, Feb. 8.

About Jay Wells 321 Articles
Jay Wells, 61, is a veteran motorsports public relations and marketing official. He spent 33 years at the track working with NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, and NHRA series' before retiring in 2009. He began writing for RacingJunk.com in September of 2013 covering the NHRA and NASCAR circuits with post race coverage along with feature and breaking news stories. Wells resides in Mooresville, North Carolina. Follow Wells on Twitter @ jaywells500.
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