John Force: "The Fourth of July is a family holiday weekend and I am so glad I get to spend it with my family at the race track,"
Norwalk, Ohio — The ninth annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park takes place July 2-5 and kicks off the start of the second half of the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season with five races in six weeks.
That makes for major challenges for all of NHRA’s race teams, but those are the challenges that John Force most looks forward to and it often brings out the best in the 16-time Funny Car world champion.
He has handled them all brilliantly throughout his legendary career and feels like this season he and his young team are continuing to make impressive progress. Force, currently third in points, could make a major move with a successful run during this critical stretch of the regular season as the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs loom ever closer.
I have to show them I still have the heart for the fight. I have been out here longer than some of them have been alive.
“It is starting to get hot so the tune-ups are changing,” Force said. “We ran good in the heat in Bristol and I know Robert Hight in the Auto Club Chevrolet and Courtney in the Traxxas Chevrolet are trying to get one of those last spots in the Traxxas Shootout. Every race is important but you want to show you can run in the heat. The competition is tough and there are a lot of cars out there that can win. I am just glad my brain trust is working together and we are figuring things out on these Chevy hot rods. The summer races are fun because we go all over the country starting in Norwalk and we will get to spend a lot of time on the road.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. It is the 12th event of the season and marks the halfway point of the 2015 campaign, with only six races following Norwalk until the six-race Countdown to the Championship begins.
That makes it a pivotal stop and one Force has always enjoyed making. He holds Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in high regard and gives credit to the Bader family for building considerable excitement around the race. At Norwalk, Force is scheduled to compete in his all-white Chevrolet Camaro SS.
“I have match raced with the Bader family for years and now to race at an NHRA national event with them is huge,” said Force, who picked up his 143rd career win at Epping earlier this year. “They have so much passion and they are great promoters. Bill Sr. and Bill Jr. do it right and make sure the fans have a great time. We want to put on a good show for them. I always say I am like PT Barnum and so are the Baders.”
Force has been a star attraction for decades, but with a new car and plenty of new faces on his team, there have been plenty of challenges this year. After three straight first-round losses to open the year, Force has responded in championship fashion. He has two wins and three final round appearances since then, jumping from 13th to third in points in rapid fashion.
He is firmly back in championship contention and has boasted strong runs in warm weather and quick runs in ideal conditions, including a No. 1 qualifying run of 3.978 seconds at the most recent event in Bristol. It was his first No. 1 qualifier of 2015 and another sign that everything is rounding into form.
“I have a young crew chief with Jon Schaffer and I have a whole new team of young guys running this Chevy Camaro,” Force said. “I have to show them I still have the heart for the fight. I have been out here longer than some of them have been alive. They give me energy and a great race car and I just want to give them my best.”
Force is the defending winner at Norwalk, but will once again face off against a talented list of drivers headed by points leader and reigning world champion Matt Hagan, who earned his fourth victory of the season last weekend in Bristol. Jack Beckman, Tim Wilkerson and Tony Pedregon are the only other active Funny Car drivers with Norwalk victories, but other class standouts include Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Courtney Force, Del Worsham, Alexis DeJoria, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Robert Hight.
The added element of racing during Fourth of July weekend is something Force says makes the event even more spectacular for the fans and race teams, too.
“The Fourth of July is a family holiday weekend and I am so glad I get to spend it with my family at the race track,” Force said. “I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them when they were younger because I was racing all over the country. They would come on the road in the summer but now we are all racing together. This weekend at the races is special with the huge fireworks display that Bader puts on. I love racing there because it just feels awesome to have so many kids around and families. I am excited to get this Chevrolet back in the winner’s circle.”
Brown took the Top Fuel victory last season defeating Shawn Langdon in the final, and is the current points leader on the strength of three victories at the controls of his Matco Tools dragster. Competition will be fierce and will include the likes of Richie Crampton, who has three wins this season including the most recent race at Bristol, two-time Norwalk winner Larry Dixon, Doug Kalitta, defending world champion Tony Schumacher, Leah Pritchett, Brittany Force, J.R. Todd, class newcomer Dave Connolly, Steve Torrence, Spencer Massey and Clay Millican.
Enders, the reigning world champ, has four wins to start 2015 including the most recent race to take over the points lead but red-hot Greg Anderson, who has two career Norwalk, is close behind. Vincent Nobile also has two Norwalk wins, and Jason Line, a two-time winner this season, Phoenix winner Rodger Brogdon, category newcomer Drew Skillman, Shane Gray, Allen Johnson and Chris McGaha are just a few of the drivers who will also be putting up a fierce fight for the win in the 200-mph factory hot rod class.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines is the defending race winner and currently sits second in the points standings. He leads his category with four career wins at Norwalk while his teammate, Eddie Krawiec, was the No. 1 qualifier at the event one year ago and is the current points leader. Hector Arana Sr., who is coming off a recent win in Atlanta, his son Hector Arana Jr., Gainesville winner Karen Stoffer and two-time event winner Matt Smith will all be contenders to hoist the Wally trophy on Sunday.
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 get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, July 3, with sessions at 5 and 7:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 4, at 5 and 7:45 p.m., followed by a fireworks show at 9:45 p.m.