Defending NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock world champion Allen Johnson is riding high after a recent victory at the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals. It was the first time the Tennessee native won the tradition-rich Florida event, and he’s hoping that his team’s success there will provide early-season momentum as he prepares to defend his SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals title in two weeks at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The heart-pounding action of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns to Sin City April 5-7 for the first of two scheduled stops at the famed multipurpose motorsports facility in 2013.
After getting off to a bit of a sluggish start at the new season’s first two races, Johnson seems to have eased back into the winning groove that saw him dominate the 200-mph factory hot rod category during the second half of last season. After welcoming a new teammate in four-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., Johnson seems comfortable in his role as one of the elite drivers in the category.
“Our goal for each race is to qualify No. 1 and win the race,” Johnson said. “I think we’re one of the premier teams in Pro Stock now, and I think anyone would tell you that. We’ve got a crew that makes great decisions based on scientific methods and data, and we keep improving those decision-making tools. We’ll be right there again [for the championship].”
Johnson won the Gainesville race from the second spot behind Mike Edwards, who has qualified No. 1 at all three races this season. Last year in Las Vegas, Johnson won the race from the No. 3 spot. He is confident that no matter where he qualifies, come race day, he will be a contender for the victory.
“We don’t have the fastest car right now,” Johnson said. “But we have a very consistent car, and you can win a lot of races like that.”
Drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock will battle all weekend in Las Vegas for the most coveted trophy in all of drag racing, the Wally. Along with Johnson, the defending race winners are Spencer Massey (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) at the fan-favorite event that will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD.
To defend his Las Vegas title, Johnson will face tough competitors, including ultra-quick Edwards; young gun Vincent Nobile, who won the season-opening O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries; and Gatornationals runner-up Coughlin. Phoenix winner Erica Enders-Stevens and the Summit Racing tandem of Greg Anderson and Jason Line, who are always tough at their team owner Ken Black's home track, also will be in the hunt for victory.
Teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr., left, and Allen Johnson
Two of those drivers – Coughlin and Nobile – are teammates with Johnson, which makes the task of beating them a little more complicated for the driver of the Team Mopar Dodge Avenger.
“Everybody asks me why I hired my two assassins, two of the best drivers in the class,” Johnson said. “I said that they make me better. Last year, at the last six races, I ran Vincent every race and beat him in all six. I beat him because he challenges me and makes me better. That makes me better as a driver overall. Same thing with Jeggie; I knew that I would have to do my ultimate best to beat him. I hope we can all go head to head a bunch.”
In Top Fuel, 2012 world champion Antron Brown leads the series standings after winning at the Gatornationals in his Matco Tools dragster, but fellow teammate and U.S. Army dragster pilot Tony Schumacher, who has six victories at LVMS, is close behind. Defending event winner Massey, Winternationals winner Shawn Langdon, Brandon Bernstein, Doug Kalitta, and Auto Club Road to the Future Award rookie candidate Brittany Force are among the pre-race favorites in the 8,000-horsepower category.
The competition is just as tough in the Funny Car category. Auto Club Ford Mustang driver Hight hopes to defend his event title, but teammate Courtney Force and her Traxxas Ford Mustang team are on the hunt for win No. 2 in 2013. High-profile drivers Ron Capps, 2012 Funny Car world champion “Fast Jack” Beckman, Gatornationals winner Johnny Gray, Matt Hagan, and Alexis DeJoria are also hungry for a win at The Strip.
Fans will have the opportunity to meet many of the sport’s superstars at the NHRA Fan Fest on Thursday, April 4, at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino. Schumacher, Brown, Anderson, and Line, along with several other drivers, will sign autographs and take part in a question-and-answer session at the Staten Island Room near the Sporting House Bar & Grill.
As always, fans also will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service the high-horsepower race cars between rounds. While visiting the pits, the interactive NHRA Nitro Alley and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway are two popular areas that fans won’t want to miss. Children 12 and younger will receive free general-admission tickets with a paid adult.
To kick off Championship Sunday’s pre-race festivities, fans will have the chance to see their favorite racers during driver introductions. The Jersey Boys cast member Graham Fenton, who plays Frankie Valli (now playing at the Paris Las Vegas), will perform the national anthem.
SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals qualifying sessions will be held at 2:30 and 5 p.m. on Friday, April 5. The first round of eliminations for the lucrative race-within-a-race K&N Horsepower Challenge for qualified Pro Stock teams will take to the track on Saturday, April 6, at 12:30 p.m., followed by the third and fourth qualifying sessions at 12:40 and 2:20 p.m. The final round of the K&N Horsepower Challenge, which will pay the winner $50,000, is scheduled for 3:25 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 7.
For tickets, call Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 800-644-4444, or log on to www.LVMS.com.