The longtime Pro Stock star is more than thrilled to experience his first race behind the wheel of his 10,000-horsepower C&J Energy Services dragster.
POMONA, Calif. — Dave Connolly is just two weeks away from making his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel debut when the 2015 season begins with the Circle K NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 5-8, at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Needless to say, the longtime Pro Stock star is more than thrilled to experience his first race behind the wheel of his 10,000-horsepower C&J Energy Services dragster at the tradition-rich season-opener at the fabled Southern California dragstrip.
“The season is right around the corner and that’s pretty exciting,” Connolly said. “I’ve been able to experience a lot, getting that first full pass and I’ve really grown to appreciate the car. These Top Fuel cars are the baddest things on the planet. There’s no way to prepare for it. These cars are so impressive. They just set you back in the seat the whole way down the track.”
This is humbling and I’m very blessed to have an opportunity like this,
Connolly will be competing against the best in Top Fuel as the NHRA’s top stars look to start the 2015 campaign in memorable fashion. Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the race that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Connolly is certainly a familiar name for NHRA fans, compiling an impressive 26 wins during a highly-successful Pro Stock career. Three of those victories came a year ago when Connolly finished third in the points standings. But when Bob Vandergriff announced his retirement after the 2014 season, he looked to Connolly to take over driving duties.
Connolly jumped at the opportunity and will be one half of what appears to be a championship-minded team with three-time champ Larry Dixon driving the team’s second car. Vandergriff will serve as the team’s owner and Connolly has already been impressed with how quickly the team, led by crew chief Kurt Elliott, has come together.
“I’ve got a lot to learn but I’ve got a lot of confidence in the team Bob has put together,” Connolly said. “Larry and I will have two great cars. A big positive is the team chemistry. It’s been great and that goes a long way. I feel like we’ve got all the right parts and pieces in place.”
Connolly also knows his first season in Top Fuel will be filled with challenges as he tackles the immense task of trying to harness the power of a 320-mph dragster. He made seven test runs in December and followed that up with another successful test session earlier this month, making his first full pass and reaching the 3.70s for the first time.
By the time the season opens in Pomona, Connolly will have more than 20 runs in the dragster. That’s enough for the comfort level to increase but Connolly admits there is still a long way to go.
“Really, until you sit in one you don’t realize the amount of ground you cover in such a short time,” Connolly said. “You have to stay ahead of the car and that’s hard to do when you’re going more than 300 mph. Hopefully after 20-30 laps it will start to slow down and it already is a little bit. It’s just going to be a work in progress.”
That work in progress means staying patient throughout the process. It may be difficult for a veteran like Connolly to accept, but he knows making small strides early could pay big dividends down the road, namely during the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
“When you’re setting goals for yourself you have to learn to walk before you run in these cars and I understood that going in,” Connolly said. “I knew there would be a learning curve and that’s the way it is.”
Top Fuel class competition
The learning curve gets a little steeper when the vast talent of the Top Fuel class is thrown into the mix. It’s led by reigning world champion Tony Schumacher, who claimed his eighth world championship in 2014. Former world champions Antron Brown, Dixon, and Shawn Langdon as well as top challengers J.R. Todd, Spencer Massey, Doug Kalitta and 2014 NHRA rookie of the year Richie Crampton will aim to prevent a ninth world title for Schumacher.
Connolly hopes to be in that mix as well, but just getting to compete in the Top Fuel ranks has brought a level of excitement that figures to remain high throughout the 2015 season.
“This is humbling and I’m very blessed to have an opportunity like this,” Connolly said. “In my opinion racing in Top Fuel is the pinnacle of NHRA drag racing. Top Fuel cars are the fastest cars on the planet and to drive and experience it, it’s pretty incredible. I’m just going to make the best of it and give it my all.”
Perennial stars in Funny Car
In Funny Car, Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan claimed his second world championship at the season-ending race last season, dethroning 16-time world champion John Force in Pomona. Hagan, who won his first championship in 2011, will try to thwart off a list of perennial stars in the loaded class, including John Force, Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon, Tommy Johnson Jr., Alexis DeJoria, Del Worsham and Tim Wilkerson.
The first female Pro Stock champion is reigning supreme
In Pro Stock, Erica Enders-Stevens reigned supreme in one of the most exciting championship battles ever, defeating Jason Line in a winner-take-all final side-by-side race of the year to claim her first world championship. Enders-Stevens, who became the first female Pro Stock champion, will be looking to add to her 12 career victories at the controls of her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, but will face stiff challenges from the likes of Line, Allen Johnson, four-time series champ Greg Anderson, Shane Gray, Jonathan Gray and Vincent Nobile.
Direct access to the teams
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.