There are still two races remaining in the NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, this coming weekend in Las Vegas and two weeks hence at Pomona, Calif. Nothing is a given right now, especially with points-and-a-half up for grabs at the finale.
Even though Steve Torrence owns nine victories on the season and has won every single one of the four Countdown to the Championship contests held to date, his CAPCO Contractors dragster still must continue to perform over the next two events in order for the Texan to secure his initial World Championship by the end of the year. Yeah, he’s got 169 points on Clay Millican, with Tony Schumacher more than 200 points back in third. But if Torrence falters, that trio, along with Schumacher’s teammates Leah Pritchett and Antron Brown, are ready to pounce.
The stakes are even higher in Funny Car, where Robert Hight and J.R. Todd each have four victories, with the John Force Racing driver leading Kalitta Motorsports’ Todd by a scant 11 points. Don Schumacher Racing’s Ron Capps (3 wins) is making this a bigger fight with his victory at Charlotte two weeks ago, lagging Hight by 103 points, while Tim Wilkerson is only two points behind Capps. Each of these four drivers pilots a different marque: Hight drives a Chevrolet Camaro SS, Todd’s steed is a Toyota Camry, Capps pilots a Dodge Charger R/T while Wilkerson’s racecar has the Ford Shelby Mustang body atop it.
Jason Line ended a year-long drought in Charlotte, taking his Chevy Camaro to the Winner’s Circle, becoming the 10th Pro Stock driver to win during the 2018 season and earning his 48th class victory. Line beat points leader Tanner Gray – everyone vying for this title drives a Chevy Camaro – while Elite Motorsports’ Jeg Coughlin Jr moved ahead of stablemate Vincent Nobile to own a 130-point lag to the Gray Motorsports driver. It’s fair to say only these three, together with Gray’s teammate Drew Skillman, Coughlin’s teammate two-time champ Erica Enders and Line’s teammate Greg Anderson have a skeleton’s chance at this title. Line moved up to seventh and is eight points behind Anderson.
Pro Stock Motorcycle’s 16-race season has seen five winners over its first 14 events. By winning at zMAX Dragway outside Charlotte, Matt Smith (3 wins) vaulted back into the lead on his Victory motorcycle when former leader LE Tonglet (WAR Racing Suzuki) made an early departure. Smith’s 41-point advantage could easily be squandered – or complemented – depending on who has the best setups for these two upcoming races. Both Tonglet and reigning champ Eddie Krawiec on the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson have four wins on the year, while Charlotte runner-up and fourth-place resident Jerry Savoie (WAR Suzuki) has a single victory. This title will go down to the wire, as fully six riders are within 200 points of Smith, Andrew Hines (V&H H-D) and Hector Arana Jr (2 wins on his EBR Buell) still having a chance to move up.
Last year at Las Vegas’ NHRA Toyota Nationals, Terry McMillen earned his first Top Fuel national victory, an act he repeated this year at the most prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Matt Hagan of DSR, currently learning the new Dodge Hellcat Funny Car, has had an up-and-down season and despite three earlier-season victories is out of the championship chase; as last year’s winner here, he could be a factor if his Dickie Venables-led squad can find their feet. Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were the victors here last year; both are clawing up the Countdown ladder in hopes of upsetting the current rankings.
Tony Schumacher’s love for this racetrack shows through his eight Wally wins on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Although currently seventh in his Funny Car category, 16-time Funny Car champ John Force holds six victories here and could be a spoiler as his squad comes closer to a second tour victory in 2018 and his 150th career title. Anderson has won Pro Stock six times at this track while Andrew Hines, currently fifth in Pro Stock Motorcycle has five wins.
It’ll be a typically busy pre-Halloween weekend in Las Vegas for the NHRA combatants, with 18 Top Fuel entries, 19 in Funny Car, a robust 20-car gathering in Pro Stock and 22 riders in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Pro Mod ends its season with this race and has 30 cars entered, all looking to upset both Rickie Smith and Mike Janis, the two leaders in Pro Mod standings. Weather will be great for watching racing and the air show from next-door Nellis AFB, with temps in the mid-80s and low humidity all three days.