Brainerd: Round 16 preview

TODD AND WILL ENJOY MID-SEASON SPOTLIGHT AS "AUTO CLUB ROAD TO THE FUTURE" ROOKIE OF THE YEAR BATTLE HEATS UP BRAINERD, Minn. -- In a tale of two rookie drivers, nothing can compare to the professional debuts of Top Fuel drivers Hillary Will ...

TODD AND WILL ENJOY MID-SEASON SPOTLIGHT AS "AUTO CLUB ROAD TO THE FUTURE" ROOKIE OF THE YEAR BATTLE HEATS UP

BRAINERD, Minn. -- In a tale of two rookie drivers, nothing can compare to the professional debuts of Top Fuel drivers Hillary Will and J.R. Todd.

While Todd made a rather obscure entry into the POWERade Series professional ranks in February, Will, with her connection to the legendary Shirley Muldowney and powerhouse Kalitta Motorsports team, jumped into the spotlight immediately with her debut at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

At the track, media watched closely as Will made her first official professional run, and all of the growing pains that went with it. At the same event, fans who stopped by Todd's pit asked him where the driver was.

Fast forward six months later and all that has changed. In July, Todd -- an NHRA O'Reilly Jr. Drag Racing League alumn -- went from non-celebrity to rising star in the NHRA's fastest category when he defeated three-time and defending Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher in Denver, the first stop of the famed three-race Western Swing.

Not only did Todd earn a victory of "David and Goliath" proportions -- he also became the first African-American to win an NHRA event in Top Fuel. He defeated Schumacher again two weeks later, this time book-ending the legendary three-race, back-to-back-to-back haul with a victory in Sonoma, Calif. At the same time Will, a former financial analyst and collegiate springboard diver, is ninth in the POWERade Series point standings, with a semifinal effort at Englishtown as her best finish of the season.

Both will compete in Minnesota when the elite drivers of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series come to the land of 10,000 lakes for the 25th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at the Brainerd International Raceway and Resort, Aug. 10-13. The $1.6 million event is the 16th of 23 events in the series and a favorite with professional drivers for its scenic locations and cool temperatures that often sets the stage for incredible performances.

"(The second win) was a lot different than the first one," said Todd, pilot of the Skull Shine dragster. "I didn't expect to win (in Denver) that early in my career but after we did it, I knew we definitely could go out and win again. People really didn't know who we were at Denver, and then we started winning rounds and knocked off the Army car (Schumacher's U.S. Army dragster) in the finals. And then to do it again at Sonoma and to just outrun him like we did shows just how capable we are and how good (crew chief) Jimmy Walsh is. They definitely can't take us lightly now."

At the beginning of the season, Will was certainly the early favorite to win the coveted 2006 Auto Club Road to the Future award. Now, Todd's strong performance during the Western Swing has undoubtedly put him on even footing with Will. At the end of the season, more than 100 motorsports journalists from around the country will vote for the winner of the award which recognizes the season's top rookie.

Last season at Brainerd, Will interviewed for the professional seat she has now. She was nervous during those interviews with Kalitta and especially Muldowney, but nerves are replaced by excitement at every event.

"I am feeling very confident with our KB Racing dragster right now," said Will. "Our next race can't come soon enough for me. I know my team needs some time to get everything ready after going three races in a row. As always, they have worked very hard and I know we will be ready to win some rounds (at Brainerd).

"I'm very proud that my team has moved up in the points standings. As I have said all season, I have a great team and we are capable of great things. I hope that next year at this time, we are contending for the championship. As a driver, I try not to pay attention to the point standings because I have to drive the same whether we are in first place, 20th place, or ninth place. I do the best I can no matter what."

Also making headlines this year in Top Fuel is Melanie Troxel, who with husband and Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. are motorsports' fastest married couple. Troxel led the point standings for much of the season before conceding the top spot to Doug Kalitta in Denver. Kalitta is the defending event winner.

In Funny Car, current Funny Car point leader Ron Capps is furiously trying to defend his top spot against the likes of 13-time category world champion John Force and Tony Pedregon, who's made a charge this year with three wins in his Q Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

Minnesota teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson are leading the way at No.1 and 2 in Pro Stock, while young Dave Connolly is trying to hunt the pair down in his Skull Gear Chevrolet Cobalt.

Defending world champion Andrew Hines is making a strong showing in Pro Stock Motorcycle, while Angelle Sampey is on track to add more victories to her title of winningest female in NHRA history. Chip Ellis, who recorded the quickest pass in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle history (6.911 sec.) on his Drag Specialties S&S Buell in Sonoma, is in third place in the standings.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:30 p.m. on Aug.11, and 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. on Aug.12. Eliminations start at 11 a.m. on Aug.13.

TICKETS: For tickets, call NHRA, at (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available at Ticketmaster, ticketmaster.com or nhra.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying at 6 p.m. (ET) on Aug.12. ESPN2 will telecast NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute weekly news magazine show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET) and televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET) on Aug.13.

-credit: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Melanie Troxel , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Chip Ellis , Hillary Will , J.R. Todd , Angelle Sampey , Dave Connolly , Tommy Johnson Jr.