DieHard Race Week Start-Up, Las Vegas
Thursday, October 25, 2012

It is impossible to know the number of fortunes won or lost on the Las Vegas Strip. Running from Sahara Avenue to Russell Road, the Strip is approximately 4.2 miles and home to 15 of the world’s 25 largest hotels (more than 62,000 rooms!) and more than 30 casinos, similarly among the world’s biggest. It is also a great place to simply people watch, especially on the weekend before Halloween.

But, whether it be spring or fall, I fancy The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, home to this weekend’s penultimate event of the season, the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals. But unlike the thousands of gamblers whom only the security cameras will see win or lose (sounds like I’ve done this before!), this is high-speed drama that will play out in front of our very eyes as well as the ESPN2 cameras. Every run, every point, every match will be important this weekend, and by sunset on Sunday night, we will know who has the chip lead and how many people are still sitting at the final table heading out to Pomona. Who needs the World Series of Poker when we have NHRA Full Throttle championships on the line!

First, here are the television times:

Live second-session qualifying: Friday, Oct. 26, at 6 p.m. (all times ET) on ESPN3.com
Qualifying recap: Sunday, Oct. 28, at 1:30 a.m. on ESPN2
Qualifying recap re-air: Sunday, Oct. 28, at 4 p.m. on ESPN2
Live final eliminations: Sunday, Oct. 28, at 2 p.m. on ESPN3.com
Final eliminations recap: Sunday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m. on ESPN2

And if you have the itch and the wherewithal, you can always join us! Getting tickets is as simple as picking up the phone (800-644-444 or 702-644-4444) or dialing up The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on the World Wide Web at LVMS.com. It really is that simple, and I can promise it will be worth your while, at least on the racing strip!

And what will we all be watching? Championship chases, of course. As the standings sit right now, the stars are aligning for three of the four Professional classes to have a first-time champion. I know it happened only three years ago too (Robert Hight, Mike Edwards, and Hector Arana Sr.), but it’s still pretty cool! Perhaps the guy with the biggest smile is car owner and drag race legend Don Schumacher because he is positioned to sweep the nitro categories. And with Coca-Cola and the NHRA’s recent announcement regarding next season and the change to Mello Yello, that makes the final Full Throttle Series championship trophy very highly regarded!

Here are the boiled-down scenarios.

In Top Fuel, Antron Brown and his Matco Tools team have the elapsed time record (3.701 seconds), six national event wins, and a 104-point lead over teammate Spencer Massey and the FRAM/Prestone team. That’s a six-round lead with only eight left on the table. No disrespect to Massey, Tony Schumacher, and the rest of the field, but I don’t see Antron or his crew chiefs, Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, giving this one up. They were the runner-up at both of the final two tracks to start the season, and I just don’t see this team losing early, which is what it would take to open the door for anyone else. But crazier things have happened; just ask Schumacher, who has pulled a rabbit out of the hat more than once!

Funny Car will live up to its name and more as it has for quite some time. It wasn’t that long ago that virtually all the pundits were ready to give the title to Ron Capps and the NAPA team. But if you missed the last two races, you missed a lot. Leaving Dallas, Capps enjoyed a 96-point lead, and then came St. Louis, where a second-round loss and subsequent Jack Beckman win closed that gap. Then in Reading, with the new national elapsed time record (3.986) in his back pocket, Beckman took out Capps to completely turn that deficit into a surplus as Beckman now leads by 23 points. But while all of this was going on, Mike Neff was quietly sneaking to the Reading win, which, combined with a runner-up effort to start the six-race stretch, puts him 54 points off the front. Who wants it? We are going to find out who has the mettle in Las Vegas.

The story in Pro Stock is very similar to that of Top Fuel. Allen Johnson has an 82-point lead (five rounds) over defending series champ Jason Line. Four-time winner Erica Enders is still hanging around as well, 125 points back of Johnson, but in my opinion, A.J.’s second-round loss in Reading was nothing more than an anomaly. A finalist at each of the first three races, this is a team that has not only learned how to win, but also how to handle the pressure. By keeping it simple and winning rounds, the Mopar car and crew will close out all comers and are positioned perfectly to win the whole darn thing!

What will make Pro Stock Motorcycle interesting is what will happen in the fourth session of qualifying. That is when Eddie Krawiec (seven wins) and Andrew Hines (four) will race in the rained-out final from Reading. Just 17 points separate the duo — HInes' points total includes the 20 for resetting the elapsed time record (6.728) in Reading — meaning we could see a pretty big late-season swing between the two depending on the outcome. Both are former champions, but only one can add to his total this year!

And, of course, what would a race in Las Vegas be without the NHRA Fan Fest scheduled for Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. local time at the Fremont Street Experience? More than 30 drivers will be on hand to sign autographs. The event will also feature an NHRA-themed light show at 6 and 7. If you’ve never seen it, well, you gotta see it!

See you either IN Sin City … or FROM it!