As the first race of the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries has always played a key role in deciding season champions. In the past three seasons, eight of the 12 winners of the Countdown opener at zMAX Dragway have gone on to win championships.
Robert Hight currently sits second in the Funny Car standings. In 2009, he won both the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals and the Funny Car championship. He stresses the importance of gaining momentum to start the playoffs.
“It’s huge because I believe that racetrack is good, the conditions should be good, and that’s exactly what this Auto Club Ford likes,” said Hight. “We hope to be good under all conditions -- when it’s hot, when it’s cool -- but I believe our strong point is when it’s cool. We have to get the momentum started at zMAX because you go to Dallas, and it’s hot, that racetrack’s tricky, so it’s nice to get the momentum going, and it’s the start of four races in a row. That is huge if you can carry that momentum right into the next week.”
Top Fuel driver Antron Brown, who has never won an NHRA Top Fuel championship, currently sits atop the points standings. In 2011, he won the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals before losing the championship to Del Worsham.
“It’s crucial to get off to a good start there and get those points in the beginning because it’s a lot harder to make up points than it is to have the points lead,” said Brown. “When you come out of Charlotte with the points lead, people are playing catch-up, and they are doing things to try to catch you. If you can just maintain that pace, that momentum just drives you where you just keep on gravitating toward those round-wins.”
Funny Car driver John Force certainly knows how to win a championship, with 15 titles under his belt, but the veteran has only one win at zMAX Dragway.
“It is critical to the Countdown, if you’re going to win the championship, that you start winning now, right there at Charlotte,” said Force. “And that really is the key. You’ve got to come out of the box and put it at the top, and if you don’t, that could be a crucial race.”
Greg Anderson is a four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion. He is also the winningest Pro driver at zMAX Dragway. In 2010, he won both the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at zMAX Dragway and the Pro Stock championship.
“As important as it is to get off to a great start and win it, it’s even more important not to have a bad weekend there,” said Anderson. “You honestly can’t win the championship, you can’t win the Countdown in that first race, but you could lose it. An early exit there, like I had last year, is tough to recover from. There’s just too much competition in this class, so to get off on a strong foot, a win, at least a final-round showing, that gives you a lot of momentum going forward, and it’s a short period of time.”
Top Fuel driver Spencer Massey knows that it’s important to gain all the points possible to get the right start in the Countdown. He is the most recent Top Fuel winner at zMAX Dragway, with a victory at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.
“Well, it’s extremely important to get a good start, to get round-wins, and if you win the race, that makes it that much better for the points lead going for that championship later down the road,” said Massey. “If you can win at zMAX for the start of the Countdown, that means you’re doing well, No. 1 in points.”
Fans can purchase two tickets for $60 for any day and choose an upgrade of two hot dogs and two soft drinks or two beer vouchers. Children 13 and younger are admitted for free every day of the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, but they must have a ticket. Every ticket is a pit pass.
Tickets and camping are still available for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, Sept. 14-16 at zMAX Dragway, by calling the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office, 800-455-FANS (3267).