NHRA’s 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is a virtual orgy of speed that lasts nearly a full week. There’s Lucas Oil Sportsman and Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competition, and a plethora of special events to spice up an already ultra-hot event. Add to that the fact that this event is the finale of NHRA’s Mello Yello “regular” season before the six-race Countdown to the Championship begins, and you’ve got a lot on the line.
In Pro Stock, class points leader – since season start – Bo Butner is starting to look a wee bit human. In the recent, Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., Butner was gone after the quarter-finals, having bowed to Seattle winner Matt Hartford. His teammates, Greg Anderson and Jason Line have finally gotten their tuneups in hand and earned two of three Western Swing titles (Anderson) and their Brainerd, Minn. home stand, Line’s first win of the season.
These KB Racing charges, together with Elite Motorsports’ Alex Laughlin making his own march towards his first win and maybe even title, have changed the direction of Pro Stock in 2019. Yes, all the leaders are driving Chevrolet Camaro racecars, due to a dearth of support from either Dodge or Ford, but the competition between the top drivers has been fierce, as ever.
There are nine qualified drivers for NHRA’s Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs that commence following next weekend’s U.S. Nationals outside Indianapolis. The 65th running of drag racing’s biggest racing get-together takes nearly a week to complete and features pro categories’ five, rather than four qualifying attempts. Those qualifying points could be make-or-break for drivers vying for the final Countdown spot.
Already qualified are (in order) Butner, Anderson, Laughlin, Line, Hartford, Deric Kramer, Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Chris McGaha. The order of this group could and likely will change as the U.S. Nationals unfold, starting with next Friday’s initial qualifying. With five rounds of “little points” available for the taking and a small 293 points between first and ninth, just about anything can happen.
On the outside looking in are Kenny Delco, currently in 10th place with Mexican national Fernando Cuadra just three points behind the New Yorker. Delco’s teammate Val Smeland holds 12th place points and is just 12 behind Delco. Even though he’s missed a bunch of races, Rodger Brogdon, who initially drove an Elite Motorsports Camaro with the intention of running much or all of the season’s 18 contests in Pro Stock, is 43 points behind behind Delco, definitely an achievable amount to overcome for a driver with the talent of Brogdon. It remains to be seen if he’ll try, as he’d have to commit for those final six races.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle Countdown crowd is a lot thinner than any of the others. Only four riders have qualified, led by five-time champ Andrew Hines and his teammate Eddie Krawiec, both riding on Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson FXDR bikes. Reigning champ Matt Smith and constant threat Hector Arana Jr. hold third and fourth places, respectively, both riding Buell EBR motorcycles.
The balance of the 10-rider cast is up for grabs and there’s a 588-point gap from first to Suzuki rider and former champ Jerry Savoie, currently holding tenth place despite not competing in every race this year. Pro Stock Motorcycle holds 16 contests beginning in Gainesville each March. Behind Savoie, the field is still pretty darn tight, with Scotty Pollacheck in 11th, 120 points behind the alligator farmer and Joey Gladstone a scant 12 points behind him, both on EBR motorcycles. Suffice to say there aren’t many other riders that could be considered capable of making this 10-rider field.
Fifth through tenth places are held by Karen Stoffer, who this year is riding with Savoie’s WAR Racing Suzuki team for the first time; she’s more than 100 points behind Arana Jr. Angie Smith currently holds sixth place on her EBR, followed by Ryan Oehler, Hector Arana and Angelle Sampey, all but Sampey riding EBR Buell motorcycles while the three-time champ holds onto the third Vance & Hines FXDR’s handlebars.
Given the length of the U.S. Nationals and tightness of the competition in both Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, it’s fair to say these two categories should show lots of movement during the Big Go. It’s go or go home time for many who will be on the grounds. Who will make it into the Countdown?