The 2014 NHRA season heads into the penultimate round.
With two races to go in a 24-event campaign and a six-race Countdown to the Championship, the latter eligible for only ten drivers/riders in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, it’s definitely crunch time for anyone looking to seize a title in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
With his win at Reading, race No. 4 in the Countdown, seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher certainly looks to have his eighth title close to sewn up. He’s got 134 markers and five wins on double race-winner Doug Kalitta, who led the standings for much of the year. Schumacher has another nine points on non-winner Steve Torrence. Reigning Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon is 148 points behind The Sarge. Schumacher’s latest victory is his third in the Countdown - that’s momentum when you want and need it.
Schumacher didn’t have the best start to his year, winning two races leading into the six-contest playoffs, but he’s made up for it with consistency in his DSR dragster which was designed and constructed at the team’s Don Schumacher Racing mega workshops in Brownsburg, IN. With tuner Mike Green, who has been instrumental in the design and development of DSR’s canopy cockpit (constructed by Aerodine in Indianapolis) in charge, Schumacher has been on a mission - and it shows. With Kalitta faltering after an early momentum this year, it sure looks like this will be another Schumacher season in Top Fuel.
For much of this long coast-to-coast trek, Funny Car looked to be a John Force Racing fight: Robert Hight led early on as he collected five Wally winner’s trophies but he, too, came unglued even as father-in-law John Force surged into the lead as the Countdown began. Since winning the Funny Car portion of the Traxxas All-Star race at Indianapolis in August, the 16-time champ has been consistent toward the front but hasn’t won in the playoffs. Rather, Matt Hagan and daughter Courtney Force have been the Flopper stars leading into Las Vegas, each winning two races.
That’s left Hagan atop the standings, John Force second (both with three victories on the year), four-time winner Courtney Force third, Tommy Johnson Jr fourth (-114 points to Hagan) and Hight, with five victories 135 points behind Virginia farmer Hagan. This one could come down to “little” points awarded in each of four qualifying sessions in Las Vegas and Pomona unless one team and driver combination comes out of the gate on fire Halloween weekend in Sin City.
While every other category has between one and three drivers/riders that we can count on to be in contention, Pro Stock is its customary crap shoot. While Erica Enders-Stevens led much of the regular season standings, her two-race layoff during the July Western Swing certain hurt momentum. We’ve said before that was a tactical error on the Elite Motorsports team’s part; it’s allowed Jason Line to surge to the current lead over Enders-Stevens.
Each has four victories this year - but none in the countdown. Line holds 35 points on Enders-Stevens, while two-time Countdown winner (3 overall) Dave Connolly is only 51 points back, followed by one-time winner Shane Gray in fourth (-99 pts) and five-time winner but erratic performer Allen Johnson, the 2012 champ in fifth place, 106 points back.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
After a two-year hiatus, it looks like the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle motorcycles of points leader Andrew Hines and teammate Eddie Krawiec are en route to a two-rider fisticuff that will yield a fourth title for one of them. Only Hector Arana Jr is anywhere within sniffing distance, albeit 168 behind leader Hines, who has 25 points on Krawiec. The Harley duo have each won five races, leaving Arana Jr, Steve Johnson and Angie Smith as the sole other race winners in the two-wheel ranks.
The biggest “bogy man” in the motorcycle ranks is the red light foul because the bikes have so little leeway of going green or red at the lights. It’s easy to foul on a motorcycle - far more so than in a car - and the “red light district” could be the make-or-break for any of these top three. An early leaver could easily go home without the big Wally of a champion in Pro Stock Motorcycle this year.
The teams and drivers have another week and a half to stew about their chances for victory and a championship as they route their haulers to Sin City for the penultimate race of the year. The Vegas race - always a crapshoot in a city famous for them - should determine, if not the four titleholders for 2014, at least a clearer picture of who’s got the goods.