No matter the outcome, Vincent Nobile will have plenty to celebrate in Pomona as the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series concludes at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Nov. 8-11. The driver of the Mountain View Tire Dodge Pro Stocker will celebrate his 21st birthday just a couple of days before the kickoff of the season closer, and Nobile is all but guaranteed a points finish equal to or better than the No. 5 procurement of his 2011 debut.
Adding to the excitement is the fact that Mopar teammate and engine supplier Allen Johnson is about half an inch from sealing the deal on his first Pro Stock world championship.
"This year has definitely been awesome," said second-generation driver Nobile, whose father, John, is a veteran Pro Stock competitor and an absolute fixture on the team. "We've superseded what we did last year points-wise; it looks like we're going to finish fourth, and we may even be able to finish third. We won two races [Houston and Norwalk], qualified No. 1 at the fall race in Charlotte, and we also won the K&N Horsepower Challenge. Definitely no complaints, and I'm pretty sure I can speak for the whole team on that."
For Nobile, the weekend of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk was an unforgettable experience and one that will forever highlight his 2012 season – and, quite possibly, his career.
On Saturday in Norwalk, Nobile became the youngest driver in the history of the event to win the K&N Horsepower Challenge, the prestigious annual Pro Stock bonus race that pits eight drivers in the category against one another for a $50,000 prize and, more important, bragging rights in a class where finding and harnessing every possible bit of horsepower is critical to success.
Nobile defeated Johnson and Mike Edwards on the way to the final, where he ousted defending Pro Stock world champ Jason Line on a holeshot for the trophy, and the next day, the well-armed young driver again knocked out Line in the final round for the NHRA event title and a $25,000 double-up bonus.
"It was simply amazing," he said. "We qualified for the K&N Horsepower Challenge based on pure performance, not the fan vote [for the eighth spot], and we were happy about that. Honestly, I wanted to win that race more than anything. That was our best weekend ever, and I don't know if we'll ever be able to top it. The only thing left is to win the championship."
Following the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas, Nobile's teammate Johnson was leading the Pro Stock points by an almost insurmountable margin over Line with just one race to go before the title decision. For Nobile, the success of his engine supplier (Johnson's father, Roy, is the engine builder) has been a thrill – and a motivator.
"It's been great, and it's been cool because we've been able to help him along the way by beating a few people throughout the season," said Nobile. "He has always supplied us with great horsepower, and we have no complaints. A.J. drove his butt off all year, and he hasn't won it yet, but it sure looks like he's going to – to see him in that position is really awesome because he definitely deserves it. He's been doing this a long time.
"This is only my second year driving, but I know in my future I'll be able to do exactly what he's done this year. There is no doubt about it."
The recent Las Vegas final was an all-Mopar affair pitting the J&J Racing-powered Nobile against Johnson, and although Nobile had a slight edge at the starting line with a .017-second reaction to Johnson's also-quick .020 and kept the lead to the eighth-mile mark, a broken lash cap on the No. 5 intake valve caused the car to nose over. Fearing that the engine had dropped a valve and was in danger of catastrophic damage, Nobile pushed the clutch in and could only watch as Johnson drove around him for the victory.
"That was a bummer," said Nobile, who entered the money round fresh off of a semifinal victory over Line, Johnson's last-standing challenger for the season title. "I cut a good light, and I really wanted to win, but I didn't want to wreck the engine – I didn't know it was a [broken] lash cap. But we have a strong race car, and I'm looking forward to Pomona. Hopefully, we can take that Wally home."
The final event of the season is a homecoming for Southern California-based team owner/crew chief Nick Mitsos, his wife, Irene, and their family, who all take an active role in the Mountain View Tire team. For Melville, N.Y., resident Nobile, a return to Pomona means an increased level of support that enhances the racing experience.
"It's always really cool to race in Pomona with all of those people there to back you up, and we're going out there to see if we can match the three wins of last year," said Nobile. "We want to go one round more than Erica Enders and move up to that No. 3 spot in the points, and that's what we'll be striving to do. We're going to try our best.
"I have to thank the Mitsos family and my parents, John and Susan, for allowing me to have this opportunity once again. This year has been another dream year for us, and it's only our second year out. We checked a lot of things off our list, and hopefully we can continue our success. You can bet I'm looking forward to next year."
For tickets for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, log on to NHRATix.com or call the NHRA Ticket Sales Center, 800-884-NHRA (6472).