Winner in 2007, wants another trophy
Dave Connolly has always enjoyed going to Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk. With the way his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season is taking off, the Pro Stock standout may be ready for another banner performance at his home track.
Connolly, an Elyria, Ohio native, won the inaugural Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at the facility in 2007 and his Charter Communications Chevy Camaro has improved at nearly every event, making him one of the favorite to win in Pro Stock at the 13th of 24 races during the 2014 season.
“It’s always good to go back to your home track,” Connolly said. “I pretty much grew up at Norwalk and have been going there since I was 10 years old, so it’s fun to go back there and see family and friends. I won the first race in Norwalk so we’ve definitely grown fond of that track. There is a comfortable feeling there. We've had a great car lately, and we definitely want to finish strong before we have a week off going into the Western Swing.”
Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2.
Connolly didn’t race at all in 2013 and is back to full-time driving in Pro Stock for the first time since 2009. He is thrilled to be back behind the wheel, joining a Gray Motorsports that now sports a highly-talented trio of Connolly, Shane Gray and rookie Jonathan Gray.
All three are in the top 10 in points, with Connolly’s sixth-place position leading the way. The team also continues to pick up steam, as Shane Gray was the No. 1 qualifier at Bristol and Epping, and Jonathan Gray advanced to the final at both events. Connolly beat Gray in the final round at Epping and is impressed with how the team has come together in a short time.
“It’s definitely been real exciting,” Connolly said. “We knew going into this program that there would be a learning curve. Even with being in the sport for many years, you’re still learning every day. You keep seeing the team improve and make gains, and the guys back at the shop are working to get even more horsepower. The work ethic here at Gray Motorsports is great.”
Connolly, who now has 24 career wins after the Epping victory, believes that has helped push everyone to a new level. He has advanced to the semifinals at three of the past four races in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock class and the interaction between teammates has allowed everyone to gain confidence.
“You know what’s really impressive is that everyone has big shoulders,” Connolly said. “Everyone can take constructive criticism to gain headway, and everyone is very open, whether we struggle or not. The team is still gelling, and we strive to make the best passes every time we run. We keep making improvements and that hasn’t stopped the guys back at the shop from working hard to keep improving.”
But Connolly believes that work ethic is necessary to stay competitive in Pro Stock, especially considering the talent level in 2014. The battle for the top 10 spots for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship has been impressive with everyone currently chasing points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, who has three victories in 2014.
But Connolly is also wary of the rest of the championship-caliber field that includes Greg Anderson, who has two wins in Norwalk, Vincent Nobile, who won last weekend in Chicago and also has two victories at Norwalk, reigning world champ Jeg Coughlin, Allen Johnson, Jason Line and Chris McGaha.
“You’ve got to have a good crew, a good car and a good engine,” Connolly said. “You have to have everything anymore. It’s so competitive, and it doesn’t matter how good of a driver you are or how your car runs, you have to have both those things working together.”
Khalid alBalooshi defeated Doug Kalitta in the final a year ago and started 2014 with a victory. Kalitta has been red-hot since then, advancing to six final rounds and taking over the points lead. Other top challengers in the ultra-competitive class include Spencer Massey, Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, who won last weekend in Chicago, reigning world champion Shawn Langdon, reigning Auto Club of Southern California Road the Future Award winner Brittany Force, Richie Crampton, J.R. Todd and Steve Torrence.
With Johnny Gray having retired at the end of last season, the Funny Car field is wide open in Norwalk. Points leader Robert Hight has never won at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park but is seeking a fifth win in 2014. To get it he will have to get past a talented field featuring the likes of previous Norwalk winners Jack Beckman, Tony Pedregon and Tim Wilkerson, as well as Cruz Pedregon, reigning world champion John Force, Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Chicago winner Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith is the defending race winner and the reigning champion but he is still looking for his first 2014 victory. Andrew Hines’ two victories has given him the category points lead and teammate Eddie Krawiec has one victory and is second in points. Smith’s wife Angie, who won her first career event this year, Scotty Pollacheck, Michael Ray, John Hall and Hector Arana Jr., who is the most recent event winner, will all compete for the 2014 Norwalk Wally in the two-wheel category.
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 and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, July 4, with sessions at 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 5, at 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 6.