Don’t change that dial! The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series is officially at the “Go hard or go home” portion of the season. There is barely enough time to catch our breath from the mile-high altitude or try to cool off from the intense temperatures this series has seen in its last three races. "Why?" you may be asking? Just a little silver celebration we like to call the 25th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
At least when it comes to oxygen, we will all be able to fill our lungs as the elevation change is pretty dramatic — from 5,800 feet above sea level in Denver to just under 100 feet. The return of oxygen will be welcome. Perhaps they could change this race to the “Sonoma Mile Lower Than Denver Nationals.” I’m just saying …
Another welcome change is a weather forecast that is not only favorable for race car performance, but also for those in attendance. From the triple digits at our last three stops, the highest high I have seen forecasted for Sonoma is in the mid-80s. Still, the Wine Country is one of those places that requires a sweater or light jacket for the mornings and evenings thanks to a little thing called advection fog. That is the technical term for the type of fog created when warm, moist air from the Pacific Ocean blows across the cold waters of the California Current. Thanks to air pressures and dew points, the net result is a cool, moist wind (thanks, Wikipedia!) in the lower 50-degree range.
It’s all good then, right? Ask the drivers floating at or around the No. 10 spot in the points standings of the four Professional categories. For these racers, there is intense NHRA heat that metaphorically speaking has them gasping for a breath. Only four races remain in NHRA’s regular season, and if you don’t have a top 10 points position after the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus, then you won’t be able to run in the Countdown to the Championship.
Let’s focus first on the seven racers who have already clinched the opportunity to run for the championship: Spencer Massey in Top Fuel; Robert Hight in Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Greg Anderson, and Jason Line in Pro Stock; and the Harley riders, Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines, in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
According to NHRA, 10 more drivers can punch their tickets into the Countdown this weekend, and that should be more than enough of a reason to shove everything else into a corner and head to Sonoma, a beautiful multipurpose racetrack that has plenty of great angles to watch this race from and many different ticket packages. Just dial them up at 800-870-RACE (7223) or visit them at RaceSonoma.com/NHRA. It’s just that simple.
The ESPN family of networks is the next-best step in checking out the action from the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. And we have plenty of options (all times ET):
Live second-session qualifying: Friday, July 27, at 9 p.m. on ESPN3
Full qualifying recap: Saturday, July 28, at 7 p.m. on ESPN
Live final eliminations: Sunday, July 29, at 2 p.m. on ESPN3
Eliminations recap: Sunday, July 29, at 7 p.m. on ESPN2
By the time you read this, the Full Throttle circus will be set up nearly 1,200 miles down the road from Denver, and, of course, we will be keeping extremely close tabs on the drivers who are eligible to sweep the Western Swing.
Antron Brown is your candidate in Top Fuel. The Denver champ won a very close race over new father Brandon Bernstein and can now set his sights on becoming the first racer to pull off the trifecta twice. Of the seven times it has been done in the three Professional categories that race the Swing, it has been accomplished five times in Top Fuel. The defending event champion pulled off his sweep in 2009, which also means that he’s trying for his third Sonoma Wally in the last four years. It is also worth noting that Mark Oswald, Brown’s co-crew chief with Brian Corradi, won the Funny Car title at the first NHRA national event in Sonoma. Another to keep an eye on is Doug Kalitta, who has won this race an amazing five times.
In Funny Car, if “Fast Jack” Beckman can continue living up to his moniker, he could add his name next to John Force's as the only two to go three for three. The No. 1 qualifier went the distance on the Mountain but had to overcome a couple of obstacles (throttle-cable and computer issues), but he positioned himself for not only the Swing, but also perhaps an even bigger picture, the Funny Car world championship. Beckman’s teammate Ron Capps has won this race the last two years, and Force (10th in the points) is the class leader in Sonoma wins with seven.
Don’t look now, but there is a new points leader in Pro Stock, and he is the Man of the Mopar Mountain (Yes, a reference to the song by Rainbow and Ronnie James Dio!) Allen Johnson. His fourth win in the last six races in Denver (all finals) has put him in front, and if his father, Roy, continues to give A.J. the power and Allen keeps from making any mistakes, they could add up to the ones to beat for the championship.
And on two wheels, it has been a long time (nine races dating back to last season) since the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidsons have been beat. In the all-Harley final in Denver, Eddie Krawiec took the victory against teammate Andrew Hines, giving him his fourth win in as many finals and the seventh consecutive for the duo/manufacturer this season. The Hectors (as Bob Frey calls them … LOL) are closing the gap, and it could be really interesting come title time.
See you this weekend from Sonoma!