Some drivers are lucky enough to call U.S. Nationals their home race. CLERMONT, Ind. - The National Hot Rod Association was founded 51 years ago. Three years later, one of the greatest traditions in the sport was born - the U.S. Nationals. No...
Some drivers are lucky enough to call U.S. Nationals their home race.
CLERMONT, Ind. - The National Hot Rod Association was founded 51 years ago. Three years later, one of the greatest traditions in the sport was born - the U.S. Nationals.
No matter where the race is held, each national event victory is worth the same amount of points. The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, however, is about more than just points. It is by far the most prestigious event of the season because of the history attached to the race. It is the longest event of the season, spanning six days around Labor Day weekend and it has become, by far, the most sought-after win on the circuit.
For some drivers, being home for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals is one of the best advantages possible.
"It's going to be so nice being able to race near my home," Tommy Johnson Jr., driver of the Skoal Blue Chevy Camaro, said. "I moved to Indianapolis in December, so this is going to be the first time I get to have the comforts of home while I race. I grew up in Iowa and there aren't too many national events going through that state. But for the U.S. Nationals this year, I get to stay at home and sleep in my own bed. I'm looking forward to it."
Johnson will be one of more than 1,000 drivers competing for the coveted U.S. Nationals trophies at the end of the month. The 48th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals will be held Aug. 28- Sept. 2, at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Larry Dixon, Whit Bazemore, Greg Anderson and Angelle Savoie are the defending winners in their respective pro categories at the $2.2 million race, the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. It is the 11th of 14 events for Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors.
Dixon, driver of the Miller Lite dragster, moved to Indianapolis in 1999. The moved allowed him to be home more often, spending additional time with his family. When he lived in Southern California, he was home 90 days a year. When he moved to Indy, that number increased to 190 days a year. Plus, he says, he has the advantage of staying near the track of his favorite event.
"It is the biggest drag racing event of the year and I live only a few miles away from the track," Dixon said. "There is a comfortable feeling living that close to the biggest race, the biggest race ever since I was a kid. We take a motor home to all of the races for (wife) Ali and (son) Donovan, so that makes traveling better, but it is really nice being in your own bed and not having to travel at all. We don't have distractions from that standpoint and it is important to not have distractions when you are talking about the grand-daddy of them all."
Indianapolis provides more than just the site of the big event. It is also home to several professional NHRA teams.
"When I was a crew guy, I used to be in Indy every summer from 1988 to 1997," Dixon said. "I really liked the town. For being on the NHRA tour, it makes perfect sense to be in Indy, just as Charlotte is for NASCAR. We are in Indy for all of the same reasons most NASCAR teams are in Charlotte."
Bazemore moved to Indianapolis in 1994 because he wanted the team shop to be in the most convenient location possible. "When I moved there and I had Rob Flynn as my crew chief, we looked around Indy first as far as where to put the shop," Bazemore said. "Indy offers a lot for a race team, that's why so many teams are based there. The location is good, the people are big into racing there and technically, and there is an advantage to being there. Personnel wise, you have carbon shops there, machine shops and the ability to get everything done easily in that one area."
The comforts of home are nice, but being in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals winner's circle would be better. Just ask the defending champions.
"Repeating (as the Top Fuel winner) would mean the most to me," Dixon said. "It is a very hard race to win. Dick LaHaie, in all of his years as a tuner and a driver, never won until last year. Then we have Don Prudhomme who has won that race seven times. When those guys started racing, there wasn't 23 events on the schedule. There was just The Nationals. It brought everyone across the country and even the world together. If you could win that race, you could say you were the best in all of drag racing."
Bazemore has two trophies from the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, from 1997 and 2001. Back-to-back titles have eluded him so far, but don't count the Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird team out from accomplishing the feat.
"I'm looking forward to being competitive there again this year," Bazemore said. "Last year was a dream race. We recorded the fastest speed ever in a Funny Car, set the record, was runner-up in the Bud Shootout and won the race. The only way to top that would be to win both the race and the Bud Shootout.
"That certainly is our goal. We have proved that we are capable of doing that. It would be a dream come true to win two in a row. But that is looking down the road. We just need to go there and take it one run at a time and see what happens."
So what's the only drawback to racing in your hometown?
"All of my friends keep calling up and telling me they are going to the race," Johnson said. "And they all say, 'So I have a place to stay, right? Your house.' Everyone is coming over. I'm going to need a lot of floor space. But that is fine with me. I just want to be part of that race.
"This is the big one. Everyone who wins this race can put it as the highlight of his or her career. We've had a lot of success there in qualifying, but we have struggled in eliminations. Last year was a heart breaker. It looked like we had the car to beat and come Monday, the tires smoked as soon as I hit the throttle. It was very frustrating. So I will be looking forward to going back and getting some revenge from that run."