Championship titles up for grabs in all four categories.
The stars of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series roll into The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Oct. 30-Nov. 2, for the penultimate race of the 2014 Countdown to the Championship at the 14th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals.
The best in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will once again battle for the coveted victory at one of the world’s most state-of-the-art dragstrips. Antron Brown (Top Fuel, in photo), John Force (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Celebrating its 14th running, the NHRA Toyota Nationals has provided high stakes action in a city with a reputation for thrills, glitz and glamour. The action on the Vegas strip is matched only by the fire and fury of two 10,000-horsepower machines launching side-by-side down The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at more than 300 mph.
The event is a critical stop for the teams in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series as they have two races left to prove they have what it takes to be a Mello Yello Series world champion.
Top Fuel pilot Brown, the 2012 world champ, is a two-time winner at Las Vegas. He picked up a victory at the third race of the Countdown in St. Louis and sitting in fifth place needs a strong weekend to keep his championship hopes alive.
Schumacher likes Las Vegas
Seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher is an eight-time winner at the Strip, including the spring event this year. Schumacher’s U.S. Army dragster made a major statement this month, taking home Wallys in the two opening races in the Countdown to the Championship and a third at the recently completed NHRA Nationals in Pennsylvania. Schumacher holds a 134-point lead over his rivals and is once again showing the form that has led him to seven world championships. He could clinch the championship in Las Vegas if he finishes the race weekend with a lead of 151 points or more.
Doug Kalitta led the points for most of the regular season but has struggled somewhat in the Countdown in his Mac Tools dragster, falling in the opening rounds at Charlotte and Dallas and the second round in St. Louis. He lost a key semifinal match to Schumacher at Reading and now Kalitta must make up major ground at Las Vegas in order to claim his first championship.
Shawn Langdon, the reigning Top Fuel world champ, sits fourth in Top Fuel points and he is looking for his first Las Vegas win. Others to watch in the Top Fuel field include Atlanta and Topeka winner Spencer Massey, reigning Auto Club of Southern California Road the Future Award winner Brittany Force, who advanced to her fourth final round of the season in Reading, Pomona and Sonoma winner Khalid alBalooshi, Englishtown and Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner Richie Crampton and Denver winner J.R. Todd.
Funny Car a tight battle
In Funny Car, Matt Hagan was explosively spectacular in moving into the series points lead with his victory at the NHRA Nationals in Reading. His Rocky Boots Dodge Charger’s engine erupted in a fireball as it crossed the finish line ahead of Tommy Johnson Jr. when he took the win at Reading last weekend. It was Hagan’s second Countdown win and he enters Vegas with a 36-point lead over John Force.
Force locked up his 16th world championship when he defeated daughter Courtney Force in the final round at this event last season. Force’s Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang has been one of best cars so far this season and he is continuing his pursuit for his 17th championship. Although he lost in the opening round at Reading, Force is a four-time winner at Las Vegas, including three during the NHRA Toyota Nationals.
Courtney Force is also a top contender for the championship, as she earned back-to-back playoff victories at Dallas and St. Louis and sits third in points in her Traxxas Mustang, 72 back of Hagan. She became the first female to post four wins in a season in Funny Car and the first woman to win back-to-back races in Funny Car. A world championship would be the icing on the cake to a dream season for Force, who claimed the 100th win by a female driver in the Mello Yello Series at Topeka and passed her sister Ashley in Sonoma for the title of winningest female Funny Car driver.
Other pre-race favorites in Funny Car include three-time season winner Alexis DeJoria, Bristol winner and title contender Johnson Jr., Robert Hight, Ron Capps, Tim Wilkerson, Del Worsham and three-time Las Vegas winner Cruz Pedregon.
Pro Stock down to five
In Pro Stock one of the most intense playoff battles is brewing between as many as five drivers. Jason Line leads the pack in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro and is followed by history-chaser Erica Enders-Stevens, a four-time winner this season who is trying to become the first female to win an NHRA world championship title in Pro Stock. Hot on her heels is Dave Connolly, Gray and Allen Johnson. All four drivers are within striking range of the leader and all will look to shake things up in Las Vegas.
Smith was victorious in Pro Stock Motorcycle last season en route to his second championship ring. Smith has not visited victory lane in 2014 and will be looking to turn that fortune around as the Countdown winds down. Smith’s wife Angie has the lone Matt Smith Racing win in 2014, coming at Epping, N.H. when she beat Matt in the final.
Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec have been the class of the Pro Stock Motorcycle field during the regular season. Both have won this event three times and Hines holds a 25-point advantage over Krawiec following the NHRA Nationals.
Hector Arana Jr. has solidly been the third best bike throughout the season but will need a win soon aboard his Lucas Oil Buell to have a chance to catch up to Hines and Krawiec. Steve Johnson reached the final rounds at both Charlotte and Dallas, and he must also make a move in order to threaten the Harley-Davidsons. Jerry Savoie, who picked up his first career victory at St. Louis and was the No. 1 qualifier at Reading, NHRA Nationals runner-up Scotty Pollacheck, Hector Arana Sr., and three-time world champ and recent returner Angelle Sampey, all have a chance to make some noise at the Strip in the two-wheeled category.