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2014 NHRA: Racers Vying For Final Countdown To The Championship Spots
Posted by: newsla on Aug 22, 2014 - 04:26 PM
NHRA
2014 NHRA: Racers Vying For Final Countdown To The Championship Spots At Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals


Jack Beckman is in uncharted territory heading into the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, which takes place Aug. 27-Sept. 1 at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. But a strong performance in his 10,000-horsepower Valvoline Max Life/MTS Dodge Charger at the world’s most prestigious drag race would be just the turnaround his 2014 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season needs.

 

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Beckman is currently in 11th place in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and is on the verge of missing the Countdown for the first time in his career as a full-time driver. He trails Tim Wilkerson by 16 points for the final playoff spot, making an already huge event even bigger for the 2012 Funny Car world champion.

It is also one of the must-see storylines heading into the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, as NHRA competitors in all professional classes will be looking to stay in the top 10 or move into the top 10 with a memorable showing at the last race of the regular season.

“We've painted ourselves into a corner,” said Beckman, who won the Traxxas Shootout in Funny Car at Indy a year ago. “We've put ourselves into a position where we have to be (darn) near flawless at Indy to get in there. Now that's just the battle. But that's the only thing I can think about right now is Indy. Our goal is to run for the championship, which it isn't possible if we're not in the Countdown. If we can't get this Valvoline car into the Countdown, I'd be devastated, but it means that we didn't earn it.”

Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and John Hall (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of an event that will once again be televised on ESPN2 in more than 10 hours of coverage.

The Funny Car battle between Wilkerson and Beckman is the tightest race for 10th place in any of the four professional categories, but Wilkerson, who has finished in the top 10 in each of the past six seasons, won’t let that affect his approach.

“There’s not really any added pressure, just the same sort of pressure we feel at every race, where we put it on ourselves to do our sponsors proud and do ourselves proud,” Wilkerson said. “I try to not let it affect the way we tune the car or the way I drive.”

As for paying attention to what Beckman does during the weekend, Wilkerson, who trails Del Worsham by 52 points for the ninth position, is only worried about his own performance. That is, unless he sees Beckman or Worsham next to his Levi Ray and Shoup Ford Mustang in the opposite lane during eliminations. Eight-place Cruz Pedregon has also not secured his berth into the Countdown and will also be racing to get into the playoffs as well.

“We definitely pay attention, but the bottom line is that the way we approach each run down the track doesn't really have anything to do with what other people are doing,” Wilkerson said. “If we line up in eliminations against Jack Beckman or Del Worsham, then you can scoreboard watch because all you want to see is the win light. Other than that, we're all too busy to be spectating. If we just win rounds, we don't have anything to worry about.”

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson is a six-time winner of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals but the four-time world champion needs another strong performance this year in Indy to secure his spot in the Countdown to the Championship.

He leads rookie Jonathan Gray by 32 points and certainly understands what is on the line.

“Sure, there is a little bit of pressure,” Anderson said. “First of all, I love going to Indy. It's a magical place for me. I love that particular race, but this has been a different year for me. It's been challenging, but it's also been very rewarding. I feel very fortunate to be where I'm at, but I want to make the Countdown. If I don't, I might need therapy. I guess there is pressure, but I like that. In the past, I think I've done some of my best work under pressure. I'm going to Indy with a positive mindset and hopefully I can make it happen.

Anderson, though, does not want to simply squeak into the Countdown. A strong performance from his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro, coupled with his first victory since 2012, would be the ideal start to a championship chase.

“Right now, I'm thinking about winning races,” Anderson said. “I keep saying that as important as it is for me to get qualified for the Countdown and make up more points than Jonathan Gray, it's not nearly as important to me as winning a race. If I can't win a race, I don't know if I'm worthy enough to win a championship. I have to prove to myself that I can win again. I'm not going to worry about trying to survive an extra round. I'm going to Indy to win that race.”

Gray, meanwhile, is simply excited for the opportunity to compete against one of the most successful Pro Stock drivers in NHRA history for a shot at a Countdown berth in his first Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals appearance.

“I don't feel any pressure,” Gray said. “There is no sense in putting any pressure on myself because it's not going to do any good. It is what it is. I can only go out there and do what I can do. My mindset going into Indy is that we have to get qualified good, and we have to go a minimum of two more rounds than Greg. We have to qualify as good as he does, if not better, to start. I'm excited to go to Indy and have one last shot at trying to get in the Countdown. This is it.”

Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Adam Arana fully admits there is pressure on him. He trails Steve Johnson by 66 points for the final Countdown spot, meaning the rider of the ProtectTheHarvest.com/MAVTV Buell will need a spectacular performance in the two-wheeled category. Arana hopes that will bring out the best in him throughout the weekend.

“That's why we race all year, to be able to compete for the championship, and if I don't make it into the top 10, then you don't get that opportunity,” Arana said. "I need to try to stay calm and consistent because if you think too much on the starting line, it can create mistakes. I just want to stay calm. I've been doing a pretty good job of that all year, so if we have a fast bike, I hope to be able to go rounds."

In Top Fuel, Bob Vandergriff needs a banner weekend to move into the top 10. He trails J.R. Todd by 130 points heading into the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and must have a near-perfect weekend to unseat Todd, who recently won at Denver.

Bonus bucks and bragging rights will also be on the line at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for qualified drivers in Top Fuel and Funny Car as they battle in the lucrative Traxxas Nitro Shootout. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel will be held on Saturday evening, while the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car is contested Sunday afternoon. The winners in each Traxxas Nitro Shootout will earn $100,000.

Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Series will look to become winners of the prestigious event during the weekend. The fastest Super Stock cars will challenge for the ultimate bragging rights and a bonus purse during the popular Mopar HEMI Challenge as well.

NHRA will also conduct official presentations to honor six of the most iconic moments in the history of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in the Hot Rod Junction Friday-Sunday of the weekend. On Sunday of race weekend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits will reenact his famous beard shaving scene that followed his triumphant 1967 victory and the “Indy’s Winningest Drivers” presentation, a ceremony honoring Schumacher, Bob Glidden and Garlits, also will take place; on Saturday Kenny Bernstein will be honored for becoming the first double-up winner at Indy, Shirley Muldowney will look back at her Indy memories including her 1982 victory, one she called the greatest victory of her outstanding Top Fuel career, and the 1978 Funny Car final where Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen defeated Don “The Snake” Prudhomme will be remembered; on Friday the harrowing 1970 Top Fuel final between Jim Nicoll and Prudhomme will be revisited.

A special Monday edition of the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk also will take place prior to final eliminations, where many of the sport’s most celebrated drivers will walk alongside fans down the historic dragstrip. Fan-favorite Cacklefests and vintage racecars on display in the Hot Rod Junction, along with several autograph sessions featuring the legends of the sport as well as today’s biggest stars will be featured throughout each day of the event. On Friday, a special fireworks show will close out the day’s racing.

The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 29. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Aug. 31 at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 1.

The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel will be contested Saturday, Aug. 30 with rounds at 4 p.m., 5:25 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car takes place on Sunday, Aug. 31 for the eight qualified drivers, with rounds at 12:30 p.m., 1:55 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.

ESPN2 will televise more than 10 hours of coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Five hours of qualifying coverage and coverage of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout will air on ESPN2 at 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (ET) and 5-7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31. Monday’s (Sept. 1) eliminations for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will be featured in six hours of coverage starting at noon (ET).

To purchase tickets for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, fans can contact NHRA’s Ticket Sales Center at (800) 884-NHRA (6472), or get their tickets online at www.NHRATIX.com.

* * *

CHEVROLET PERFORMANCE U.S. NATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT: 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, 18th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the last race in the NHRA Mello Yello Series regular season. At the conclusion of this event, the top 10 drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – will be locked in to begin the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, leading to 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.

WHERE: Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Brownsburg, Ind. From I-465, exit Crawfordsville Road (Hwy. 136). Head west for four miles past downtown Clermont. The facility’s main entrance is on the left, one-half mile past Raceway Road. From I-74 go south on Ronald Reagan Parkway, exit 68 and turn south. Turn east on U.S. 136 and entrance on the track will be on the right.

COURSE: Championship dragstrip; Track elevation is 700 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.

WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 27 through Monday, Sept. 1.

SCHEDULE:
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 27 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

THURSDAY, Aug. 28 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations

FRIDAY, Aug. 29 - LUCAS OIL SERIES (featuring Mopar HEMI Challenge)
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 5:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 6 p.m.

SATURDAY, Aug. 30 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2 and 5:30 p.m.
TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT (Top Fuel) rounds at 4, 5:25 and 7:45 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11a.m. and 6 p.m.

SUNDAY, Aug. 31 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 10:30 A.m.; first round of eliminations at 2 p.m.
TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT (Funny Car) rounds at 12:30, 1:55 and 4:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

MONDAY, Sept. 1 - Pre-race ceremonies, 9:45 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION:
Sunday, Aug. 31, ESPN2 will televise four hours of qualifying coverage at 11 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Aug. 31, ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 5 p.m. (ET).
Monday, Sept. 1, ESPN2 will televise six hours of eliminations coverage at noon (ET).

SATELLITE (Digital HD feed):
Friday, Aug. 29, 8:30 - 9 p.m. (ET), AMC 9 / Transponder 23C
Saturday, Aug. 30, 9 - 9:30 p.m. (ET), AMC 9 / Transponder 23C
Sunday, Aug. 31, 8 - 8:30 p.m. (ET), AMC 9 / Transponder 23C
Monday, Sept. 1, 7:30 - 8 p.m. (ET), AMC 9 / Transponder 23C
(4160 MHz, horizontal; Data Rate: 40.46147055 Mbp; Symbol Rate: 29.27 Ms; FEC: ¾; Bandwidth: 36 Mhz)
Video news release contains race action highlights each day and winners’ interviews on Sunday.

2013 EVENT WINNERS: Shawn Langdon, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Mike Edwards, Pro Stock; John Hall, Pro Stock Motorcycle

MOST VICTORIES: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel, 9; Bob Glidden, Pro Stock, 9; Don Garlits, Top Fuel, 8; Don Prudhomme, Top Fuel and Funny Car, 7; Warren Johnson, Pro Stock, 6; Dave Schultz, Pro Stock Motorcycle, 6; Ed McCulloch, Funny Car and Top Fuel, 6;Greg Anderson, Pro Stock, 6; John Force, Funny Car, 4; Larry Dixon, Top Fuel, 4.

EVENT HISTORY: The most historic and prestigious event in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals has been contested annually since 1955. Originally known as “The Nationals” and first held at an abandoned airstrip in Great Bend, Kan., the event made stops at Kansas City, Mo., Oklahoma City and Detroit before eventually moving to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 1961. Past winners include “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, an eight-time winner in Top Fuel; Shirley Muldowney, 1982 Top Fuel winner; Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, a seven-time winner and one of a handful of drivers to win the event in both Top Fuel and Funny Car; and Bob Glidden, the legendary Pro Stock driver who dominated the race by advancing to the final round in 13 consecutive seasons from 1977-’89. The Indiana native won the event a record nine times, a mark he shares with current Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher. It is the only major motorsports event to be contested on Labor Day.

FAST FACTS: The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is the final of 18 regular season Mello Yello Series races. Following conclusion of this event the top 10 drivers in each Mello Yello Series category will qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs that begin Sept. 12-14 at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C.… The Traxxas Nitro Shootout will offer $100,000 to the winners in special bonus events for qualified Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers… Tony Schumacher is an 11-time U.S. Nationals finalist in Top Fuel (winning nine)… Schumacher’s first career NHRA start came at the U.S. Nationals in 1996 and the then rookie posted a runner-up finish to Cory McClenathan… John Force, 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Series world champion and winner of a record 141 events, has won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals four times, his last coming in 2002… Three women have earned Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victories, including Shirley Muldowney once in Top Fuel, Ashley Force Hood twice in Funny Car and Angelle Sampey twice in Pro Stock Motorcycle… Pro Stock’s Bob Glidden and Top Fuel’s Tony Schumacher are the winningest drivers in the history of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, with nine victories each… Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Jim Head and Ed McCulloch have won the race in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, while Antron Brown has also won the race in multiple MYDRS classes, Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle… The event also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, featuring high-horsepower machines that accelerate to more than 250 mph.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Traxxas Nitro Shootout will offer $100,000 to the winners in special bonus events for qualified Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers… Tony Schumacher is seeking a record 10th Top Fuel victory at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals… A victory by Schumacher would break a tie with Pro Stock’s Bob Glidden for most Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victories… Four-time Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson is seeking his seventh Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victory… A driver from John Force Racing has earned the Funny Car victory at this event each season since 2008, including Robert Hight last season and in ’08, Ashley Force Hood in ’09 and ’10 and Mike Neff in ’11 and ’12… Seven female drivers representing all four Mello Yello Series categories are pre-entered for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals… Several high-profile drivers are looking for their first victory in the world’s most prestigious drag race, including two-time Indy runner-up and current series points leader Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel, Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman and Tony Pedregon in Funny Car, defending world champ Allen Johnson in Pro Stock, and three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Eddie Krawiec… Drivers in several Mello Yello Series categories who are on the bubble to make it into the top 10 in points, including J.R. Todd, Bob Vandergriff in Top Fuel, Cruz Pedregon, Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson and Jack Beckman in Funny Car, Greg Anderson and Jonathan Gray in Pro Stock and Angie Smith, Steve Johnson, Adam Arana, Jerry Savoie and Chaz Kennedy among others in Pro Stock Motorcycle, will be trying to earn every point possible to secure their berths into the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race postseason playoffs.

TRACK HISTORY: In 1958, led by Tom Binford, Frank Dickie, Rodger Ward and Howard Fieber, 15 Indianapolis-area businessmen and racing professionals invested $5,000 each to fund the development of what would become Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The group purchased a 267-acre farm about seven miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and developed a multipurpose auto racing facility. The original intention in creating Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis was to design a 15-turn, 2.5-mile road course. Nearly as an afterthought, and as an insurance measure against economic problems, the investment group decided to incorporate a quarter-mile drag strip into the long straightaway of the 2.5-mile road course design. Constructed with assistance from the NHRA, the drag strip was the first of the three courses to be completed, with the facility’s first event held on the strip in the fall of 1960. During the 1960 U.S. Nationals in Detroit, a handshake agreement between Binford and NHRA founder Wally Parks promised that the event would move to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 1961. The historic three-year pact was signed and sealed under a tree in Detroit Dragway’s pits, and Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis eventually became the home of NHRA’s biggest annual event. The NHRA purchased the entire facility in 1979. The first major improvement came in 1983 with the construction and dedication of Parks Tower, the four-story drag strip tower. In 1998, new grandstands, suites and a tower complex on the front straightaway were completed at the oval track at a cost of nearly $2.5 million, which included the repaving of the entire oval surface as part of a three-phase facility improvement project. In 2001, NHRA and Lucas Oil Raceway constructed a new drag strip racing surface, replacing the strip with a 660-foot concrete pad and laying new asphalt on the remainder of the track and shutdown area. Prior to the 2003 race, eight new luxury suites were added along the top of the west-side grandstands of the drag strip, giving fans a unique perspective of the action on the famed track. In 2006, new soft barrier walls were added to the oval. In 2007, the track announced its first track entitlement with O’Reilly Auto Parts. In 2011, the track announced a new track entitlement with Lucas Oil Products. The track – formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park – is now known as Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. During the winter of 2008, a new main track office building was constructed near the track entrance.

DRIVER QUICK QUOTES:

Shawn Langdon, defending U.S. Nationals Top Fuel winner and Traxxas Nitro Shootout winner: “That was a dream weekend (at Indy last season) for the Al-Anabi racing team. My first time in the Traxxas Shootout and we got the victory there and then doubled it up. It is such a special place to race. You always get up that little bit extra for it. You get that energy going when you come to Indy. It is the biggest race of the year, the last one before the Countdown. There is a lot riding on that. You've got to dig a little extra for that one. It is always a great accomplishment when you can put your name up against the likes of (Don) Garlits, (Shirley) Muldowney, (Don) Prudhomme, and (Kenny) Bernstein and all those guys. I’m fortunate enough to have a victory there in a sportsman class and fortunate enough to get a victory in the Top Fuel class. A win at Indy is just as sweet no matter what you win.”

Matt Hagan, 2013 U.S. Nationals No. 1 qualifier and holds both ends of the track record in Funny Car: “Everybody wants to get that trophy because that is the biggest race of the year and every driver wants to put that trophy on their shelf. You don’t want to walk away from your career and say, ‘I never won Indy.’”

Erica Enders-Stevens, 2012 U.S. Nationals Pro Stock runner-up: “It's the Super Bowl of drag racing and on the top of everybody's goal list to win. We're no different. I had one stolen from me in 2012 and I'm anxious to go back and take it. Indy's been an important part of my life since 1994 when they held the inaugural Jr. Dragster Nationals there. I finished second at that first race. It's a place I've been going to since I was 10 years old, and it's always been huge. I'm excited to go.”

Hector Arana Jr., 2011 U.S. Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle winner: “It was very special (to win in 2011). If you ask any racer, no matter how many championships they've won, until they win that race, their career isn't complete. I was able to do that in my rookie year, my very first time at the race. It was also my first win ever, and on top of that, it's our home track. To me, that was the ultimate race to win. To win for the very first time was special. I set very high standards for myself, so from now on whenever I go there, if I don't leave with the Wally, I'm not satisfied.”

TRACK RECORDS:
Top Fuel - 3.740 sec. by Shawn Langdon, Sept. ’13; 328.38 mph by Steve Torrence, Sept. ’13.
Funny Car - 4.007 sec. by Matt Hagan, Sept. ’13; 319.22 mph by Hagan, Sept. ’13.
Pro Stock - 6.538 sec. by Jason Line, Sept. ’11; 211.13 mph by Mike Edwards, Sept. ’12.
Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.815 sec. by Andrew Hines, Sept. ’10; 196.76 mph by Hines, Sept. ’10.

NATIONAL RECORD:
Top Fuel - 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ‘12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Charlotte, N.C.
Funny Car - 3.965 sec. and 324.12 mph by John Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.
Pro Stock - 6.464 sec. and 215.55 mph by Erica Enders-Stevens, May ‘14, Englishtown, N.J.
PS Motorcycle - 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

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