After a week off to breathe and prepare for another two rounds of NHRA Countdown to the Championship races in consecutive weeks, it’s time to revive competition in NHRA’s four top Mello Yello categories, as well as finish out the Factory Stock Showroom competition for the year.
Dallas Motorplex hosts the 21st race of NHRA’s year, the AAA Texas FallNationals on what will likely be a hot, humid weekend accented by occasional Saturday-Sunday thunderstorms, according to recent forecasts. Temps will hit the high 80s and low 90s throughout the race meeting with humidity higher than 75%. This will present challenges to all crew chief/tuners on the grounds as they try to best the car or motorcycle in the other lane.
As NHRA begins to commemorate National Breast Cancer Awareness month, both John Force Racing’s (JFR) Brittany and Courtney Force are wearing pink camouflage liveries for their Top Fuel and Funny Car John Force Racing entries; that promotion takes place this weekend and next week at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, NC.
They’ll be joined for the entire month by three-time Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Top Fuel champ Antron Brown, whose “Tools for the Cause” dragster will sport a familiar pink-and-black design. This is a program Brown’s team has embraced for at least the half-decade; the color combination has brought them luck in 2012 and 2016 when Brown won the Top Fuel event title; he also won the 1999 spring Dallas race in Pro Stock Motorcycle, his first national event win.
Brown’s successes might not matter much to Kilgore, Texas resident and points leader Steve Torrence, who also led the standings at this time in 2017, yet fell prey to a charging Brittany Force when all was said and done. He, Brown and the rest of the 10-driver Countdown field will have to contend with a rather robust 20-car field for this weekend’s race. They include Steve Torrence’s dad Billy, still celebrating his first national win at Brainerd in August.
Other part-timers on the entry list this weekend are Blake Alexander, again in Bob Vandergriff’s dragster, locals Terry Brian and Kebin Kinsley and Terry Totten, who towed from Nebraska for the event. By virtue of his seventh victory, Steve Torrence has a 70-point gap to double race-winner Clay Millican, while Texas resident Tony Schumacher, his teammates Leah Pritchett and Brown hold third-fifth-place points. it’s not “over” for anyone since there are still four Countdown races to be held, but not looking great for sixth through tenth-placed Doug Kalitta, Mike Salinas, Terry McMillen, Scott Palmer and Brittany Force.
Reigning Funny Car champion Robert Hight of JFR is in the catbird seat, leading the standings after teammate Courtney Force’s substantial regular season fell apart at the 18th contest of the year and into the Countdown. She’s fallen from first to third despite her exceptional qualifying record and four wins, while triple-race winner Hight is first, holding 30 points over four-race winner JR Todd of Kalitta Motorsports and 70 ahead of C Force. Surging Tim Wilkerson and double-race winner Ron Capps (DSR) are fourth and fifth, less than 100 points behind the leader.
An 18-car entry list for Funny Car sees the Countdown’s sixth through tenth-place runners Tommy Johnson Jr., Matt Hagan (3 wins), John Force (1), Jack Beckman (2) and Shawn Langdon lagging by less than 200 points. All ten drivers will have to contend with occasional entrants like Jack Wyatt and Terry Haddock, but also with substantial race-win contenders like Bob Tasca III and Cruz Pedregon, the former driving the sole Ford product in the class and improving by the race weekend. The “surfer”, Jeff Diehl is en route to Texas from California for this face, increasing the field by one.
As in Funny Car there are 18 cars on the entry list for the Texas race, led by points leader and departing racer Tanner Gray, who has compiled a massive six wins this season and is looking exceptionally strong to take a championship to NASCAR next year. Gray leaders triple race winner Vincent Nobile by 52 points, while teammate Drew Skillman, winless thus far in the year is 74 points back. Triple race winer Jeg Coughlin Jr and Greg Anderson round out of the five, all within 100 points of the leader.
Four of the five racers in the hunt for the factory hot rod’s championship this year – all driving Chevrolet Camaro race cars – have race wins; only seventh-place Jason Line, the 2017 winner at this race, hasn’t lifted a Wally trophy in 2018. Erica Enders (1) is sixth, reigning champ Bo Butner (1) is eighth, double race-winers Deric Kramer and Chris McGaha are ninth and tenth. 232 points separate first through tenth with four races left to run. Aussie Shane Tucker is racing this weekend and Alan Prusiensky wields the sole Dodge product in the pits.
Only 16 entries are on the list for this Texas race in Pro Stock Motorcycle, where a vicious battle for the championship ensues. While the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson team of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines looked to be headed for another boring runaway earlier this year, Matt Smith’s holeshot win on his Victory motorcycle over LE Tonglet’s WAR Racing Suzuki at Gateway, the second Countdown race, threw the standings awry.
Despite having only two wins on the year, the Georgian’s consistency – and that win – vaulted him the top, albeit with a slim 21-point lead over Tonglet. Krawiec (4 wins) is third, followed by fast-master Hector Arana Jr (2) on his EBR Buell and Hines in fifth, just 61 points behind Smith. Jerry Savoie (1 win on his Suzuki), Angie Smith (Buell), Steve Johnson and Scotty Pollacheck (both riding Suzuki motorcycles) and Angelle Sampey (Buell) round out the top 10.
V&H brought Chip Ellis to Indy for the regular season finale and he performed beautifully on a third, R&D Harley, and he did the same with the first two Countdown races. Initially, V&H intended to run him for the full Countdown, Krawiec stating “Tater” was doing in-season testing for the team as they worked toward another title for either himself or Hines. He’s not on the printed entry list for this race, which gives the class one fewer exciting racer on the grounds.
This weekend marks the seventh and final race of the season for Factory Stock Showdown, a class that’s been exciting for fans to watch and one that’s got NHRA’s rules makers bobbing and weaving with changes through the year. Despite throwing a 25-pound penalty to the Mopar Dodge Challenger, Leah Pritchett won the most recent race at Gateway and is a single point out of first place going into the class finale.
Pritchett is doing double-duty again this week as she aims to sew up one championship and improve her standing in another; she’s currently fourth in Top Fuel. She’ll have to battle two drivers, as Stephen Bell and Arthur Kohn, driving Camaros, both have a single point advantage, 328-327; she’s also got Aaron Stanfield’s Camaro breathing down her neck with 274 points, which means this title is wide open. There are 17 cars vying for spots in Sunday’s eliminations; this one should be very, very interesting.
By Anne Proffit