Robert hight
Robert Hight/ (NHRA photo)

NHRA Notes: The Leadup To The U.S. Nationals

Drag racers and NHRA fans are gearing up for the biggest race weekend in the sport, the 68th annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.

With more than 925 entries set to make an appearance at IRP over Labor Day weekend, spots in Monday’s elimination rounds will be at a premium.

For drivers competing in the professional classes, a victory in the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals could bolster championship hopes to the emerging winners as the regular season concludes with The Big Go and the Countdown to the Championship begins.

The drumroll to Friday night’s first round of qualifying starts now.

Largest Top Fuel Lineup Since 2013

There are currently 25 entries in the Top Fuel class, making it the largest Top Fuel field at an NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event since 2013.

Despite having five opportunities to qualify and secure a place in the finale, four-time Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence believes the stacked lineup will increase the pressure for drivers to perform from day one.

“I like to pull up to the staging lanes and see it full of Top Fuel cars and know that you’ve really got to work for it,” Torrence said. “You can’t just struggle around and be in the back of the pack, because so many other cars are there battling it out.”

Torrence is bringing considerable momentum with him, having won the most recent NHRA event at Minnesota’s Brainerd Int’l Raceway two weeks ago.

However, Top Fuel points leader Brittany Force will lead the 25-car field into IRP, and she’s armed with a career-best four victories this season. Force is also looking for redemption after losing to Torrence in the final round of last year’s U.S. Nationals.

“We came close last year, but Steve got us,” Force said. This year, she wants more. “A win is on every driver, every team’s bucket list. Everyone wants to win Indy.”

Dejoria Sonoma
Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria is ready for the Pep Boys All-Star Callout. (NHRA photo)

The Callout: A Race Within A Race

The leading drivers in Top Fuel and Funny Car have another thing to worry about at the U.S. Nationals — the Pep Boys NHRA All-Star Callout.

Four Top Fuel drivers and eight Funny Car drivers will take part in the callout, within their respective classes, for a chance to claim an $80,000 winner’s check and extra momentum before Monday’s eliminations.

Funny Car points leader Robert Hight is in position to make the first callout and select his opponent for the opening matchup of the specialty race.

“Any of these eight cars can win any given weekend, any race, and that’s what’s going to make it fun for the fans,” Hight said. “And we’re going to have a little fun with it as well.”

Defending champion Ron Capps and three-time champion Matt Hagan might be next in line to choose their rival, but even the drivers on the receiving end of the challenge are looking forward to the All-Star event.

Alexis DeJoria, who sits in seventh place, has made it known she’s ready and willing to go first.

“As a team, we can throw some curveballs out there,” DeJoria said. “You never know what you’re going to get with me. Don’t count us out.”

DeJoria, Hight, Capps and Hagan will be joined by Cruz Pedregon, John Force, Bob Tasca III and Tim Wilkerson in the Pep Boys Funny Car All-Star Callout.

The Top Fuel participants are Torrence, Brittany Force, Mike Salinas and Justin Ashley.

Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders drives for the Elite Motorsports team. (NHRA photo)

Crew Chiefs ‘Give Everything They’ve Got’ For Indy

It’s not just the talent behind the wheel that feels the pressure rolling into the U.S. Nationals.

With five qualifying runs to gear up for, opposed to the normal three qualifying rounds, it means more data to analyze and more decisions for teams to make during the weekend.

The crew chiefs at Elite Motorsports, which fields cars for Pro Stock point leader Erica Enders and Troy Coughlin Jr., both realize what’s at stake this weekend and have devoted extra attention to their preparations.

“Everyone wants to win Indy a little more than any other race. You really have to make sure you have all your ducks in a row,” Mark Ingersoll said.

Ingersoll and fellow crew chief Tim Freeman are keeping an eye on the weather to determine the optimal setup for the cars in their care. The tires, the gears and engine tune-up are all factors that will be adjusted based on the conditions.

In regard to qualifying, Ingersoll expects Friday night’s session will be the best one for the team. With so many cars on the drag strip at Indy, it’s likely that the starting line will continue to lose grip over the weekend.

“We have to be ready to make a really good run right out of the box,” Freeman added. “It’s Indy. You’ve got to give it everything you’ve got!”

Hagan Pre Season
Tony Stewart Racing fields Matt Hagan’s Funny Car. (NHRA photo)

Legends On Track & In The Booth

While the current stars of drag racing will take their places on the starting line, three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will take a seat in the broadcast booth.

Stewart will join Brian Lohnes and Tony Pedregon on the FOX broadcast for the “Big Go.”

Stewart recently became a team owner in NHRA with the addition of Tony Stewart Racing to the drag strip at the beginning of the season, fielding a Top Fuel car for Leah Pruett and a Funny Car for Matt Hagan.

“It’s a great opportunity to have a motorsports icon and a new NHRA owner like Tony to join the NHRA on FOX broadcast during the U.S. Nationals,” said Steve Reintjes, vice president of broadcast at NHRA. “It’s a natural fit for Indy, our highest-profile NHRA event.”

This will be the eighth NHRA race to be broadcast on the FOX network this season, with one more down the line at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals on Sept. 15-18.

Last weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd registered 813,000 viewers on FOX.