It’s that time of year again, when the Circle K NHRA Winternationals comes roaring back to the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. We’re in store for some of the best competition ever in 2017, especially in the Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks with incredible side-by-side racing. The four professional drag racing categories are set to take the green on the 24-race tour this Sunday, and here are my preseason picks for the NHRA Mello Yello Season.
- Doug Kalitta – 4-time runner-up (2003-04, 06, 16) finally breaks through with his first Top Fuel championship.
- Tony Schumacher – A resurgent Sarge will march to the front in comeback season; you can’t be the most prolific Top Fuel driver (with 76 victories and 8 championships) without knowing how to win.
- Antron Brown – Brown continues great runs throughout the year; point contender for sure; can he keep championship momentum?
- Steve Torrence – Never count out Alan Johnson horsepower; Texas swagger runs strong and deep in the heart of this camp.
- Brittany Force – Never stopping for a moment, running on Monster Energy, and will be one of the names battling for the championship.
- Leah Pritchett – This businesswoman is one of the fans’ favorite drivers; can she produce in the Countdown? Starting the season off right in preseason testing running quickest TF time ever – 3.65 seconds.
- Troy Coughlin, Jr. – Rookie candidate living the dream; slow and steady at first to produce great runs by season’s end.
- Clay Millican – Still looking for first Top Fuel win; should be another Top 10 finish setting some quick times.
- Terry McMillen – Should finally make his first Countdown appearance.
- Shawn Langdon – Has all the components to be champion; just needs to build back to become effective leader in the category. Team parked until sponsorship is secured.
Scott Palmer – Could upset more than a couple of top contenders this year; always runs well.
Dom Lagana – Part-time campaigner who runs well and has a top-notch crew.
- Tommy Johnson, Jr. – Has best three-year average in Funny Car points standings; will win his first title and continues to “Make-A-Wish” dreams come true.
- Ron Capps – Last year’s champion will be back with his ‘NAPA-Know How’ to go for two in a row.
- Matt Hagan – Humble Virginian is the quickest and fastest Funny Car in the land and we can see lower ET’s in his future.
- Robert Hight – Long overdue team with veteran driver will be a thorn to many teams’ sides and will contend for title.
- J.R. Todd – First time Funny Car racer will have a Top 5 finish in final standings; car and team are very good, yes that good!
- John Force – NHRA’s favorite driver at 67 will continue to win again and again and again; best interview in motorsports. The fun never stops at JFR.
- Courtney Force – After lackluster 2016, you can bet this lady will be back in point contention; won’t be denied. Ran unofficial quickest time in class – 3.80 seconds.
- Jack Beckman – New crew chiefs on his team will keep him viable all year.
- Alexis DeJoria – Recovering from hard-hitting crashes late last year finds her more than ready and anxious to climb back in the cockpit and get back to racing.
- Cruz Pedregon – Missed NHRA Countdown in 2016; won’t in 2017.
Del Worsham – Family run team in their initial outing; just needs more financial backing to become proven consistent winner. Acquired sponsorship from Lucas Oil for 6 races.
Tim Wilkerson – Longtime racer needs to look at improvement in 2017; new look and new attitude takes the team to the next step.
Jonnie Lindberg – Swedish driver finally getting his big break to drive a nitro Funny Car for Jim Head Racing; workaholic driver will bring instant results.
- Jason Line – The battle for championship title will again go through Ken Black Racing after winning 8 races last year and third championship.
- Greg Anderson – Along with KB Racing teammate, Line, Anderson won 8 times and lost the championship by 3 points; what improvements will we see in Pro Stock?
- Jeg Coughlin – 5-Time Pro Stock champion is back with Chevrolet under the Elite Motorsports umbrella and could be a major surprise to combat KB Racing.
- Bo Butner – Another KB Racing Chevy product; driver will be better in 2017 after running so strong last year.
- Erica Enders – Like her teammate, Jeg Coughlin, she will resuscitate her career with her new Chevy Camaro; the lady has sheer determination.
- Vincent Nobile – Part of the Chevrolet Bowtie Brigade looking ahead to be more of a points player this season with more wins.
- Drew Skillman – With a quick draw, this Indy native is deadly on the starting line and becomes bigger name and player in the sport.
- Chris McGaha – Texan plans big season after winning Indy to turnaround his season.
- Allen Johnson – This lovable Tennessean will again struggle until he figures out how to make more horsepower from his Mopar motor.
- Tanner Gray – 17-year driving prodigy will have a big learning curve in 2017 but will be a top frontrunner before season’s end.
Alex Laughlin – Second year driver will again pilot the Gas Monkey Garage; won at St. Louis; could win any Sunday.
Deric Kramer – Australian raider hopes to see more improvements in 2017.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
- Andrew Hines – Most prolific rider will again bring Harley-Davidson another title, as he’s my pick to win it all to add to his five previous championships.
- LE Tonglet – 2010 champion with White Alligator Racing backing will be another name to contend for championship.
- Eddie Krawiec – Harley rider who has hovered around the top three titlists in recent years and will again be in the mix at the season’s end on his Screamin’ Eagle.
- Jerry Savoie – Can he repeat as champion? Brings new teammate to White Alligator Racing in the form of proven winner LE Tonglet.
- Angelle Sampey – Former 3-time champ returned to the winner’s circle last year and you can expect more in 2017; joining Cory Reed’s racing operation.
- Hector Arana, Jr. – Dependable low ET in the hot summer months; needs to muster more power to be a steady contender.
- Hector Arana – The patriarch of the Arana clan has one championship to his credit; will continue to be a regular competitor with a few low ET’s this year.
- Steve Johnson – Affable rider who just needs some financial support to produce a top-notch bike.
- Matt Smith – Switching motorcycle brand and could find difficulties getting things worked out.
- Cory Reed – After Victory motorcycles closed that leaves this young driver searching for a new brand to ride in 2017.
Karen Stoffer – Consistent rider and will again see a few season highlights.
Angie Smith – Riding a Buell in 2017 and will have her husband’s team giving her a first-class ride.
Scotty Pollancheck – Good rider in search of a good team.