DieHard Race Week Start-Up, Indianapolis
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Are you ready for the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus???
And the crowd said “Amen!”
But I feel I need to prepare you for the weekend properly. As a television commentator, I rely on the trusty reporter pad to keep track of everything that goes on during a race, but for the Big Go, I’ve brought extras because this race is literally too big for just one. Why? How about the car counts (huge) or perhaps the legends (there) or maybe because of the story lines (too many)! That is why ESPN has dedicated 12 hours (including the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series) of programming to the biggest, oldest, richest, and most prestigious drag race in the world.
A wheel has yet to turn in any Professional category at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, and already there has been a lot of activity, and most of that took place at Wednesday’s NHRA Fan Fest at Monument Circle in downtown Indy. Without question, the biggest news is the extension of The Coca-Cola Company’s sponsorship of the NHRA Professional series through 2018. As part of that announcement, beginning in 2013, Mello Yello will take over as the title sponsor: Welcome to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series! I know it will take some getting used to, but trust me, this is excellent news!
Brandon Bernstein in Top Fuel and Funny Car rookie Courtney Force won the final fan vote/lottery starting spots for the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootouts. Saturday, Sept. 1, the Top Fuel cars will take center stage, then on Sunday, Funny Cars will race in the lucrative bonus event that will pay the winning drivers $100,000 each. It adds a lot of intrigue to a weekend that is already spilling over the top with drama and excitement! Click here for the pairings.
And finally, the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule was released, with most of the races and places in their normal slots. However, there is the one big change. Highlighting the 24-race schedule is the inaugural NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, N.H. For complete details of when and where the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series (just keep saying it, and it will get easier!) is coming your direction, just point your Internet to NHRA.com.
The first of five qualifying sessions is on Friday afternoon and can be seen on ESPN3 beginning at/around 5:30 p.m. ET. And if claiming Indy glory weren’t enough, keep in mind that this is the final event of the regular season and will set the 10-driver fields for the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. All four Professional categories have a few select spots available, and by the end of Labor Day, we will know the championship contenders.
In Top Fuel, one spot remains, and two drivers can lay claim to 10th. Bob Vandergriff Jr. sits in the final spot, but Clay Millican is only three points behind. Qualifying will be a big deal between the "little" points and final qualifying position.
Funny Car has only five drivers locked in, but the real intrigue is a four-way battle that is shaping up for the final two spots. Who? Jeff Arend (ninth), Bob Tasca III (10th), defending series champion Matt Hagan (11th), and Tim Wilkerson (12th). Why? Just two rounds separate these drivers.
The two Pro Stock categories have the same kind of logjam. Less than three rounds of racing separate Ron Krisher (sixth) and Ronnie Humphrey (12th) in Pro Stock. Sandwiched between are Shane Gray, Larry Morgan, V. Gaines, and former champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. Something has to — and will — give.
Meanwhile, on two wheels, there is room at the bottom as well, but the real question remains: Who can step up and stop the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson team’s consecutive winning streak? Eddie Krawiec (six wins) and Andrew Hines (three wins) have swept the season so far and actually have a streak that is at 11 consecutive race wins dating back to last season. But the Hectors (Arana Sr. and Jr.) have claimed the last two Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus wins and are hungry.
Add in the Pro Mods, Mopar Hemi Challenge, NHRA Factory Stock Showdown, and Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, and there will be more action than you can imagine. There will be an assortment of vintage hot rods in the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Car Corral as well as the Nitro Generation Track Walk held prior to Monday’s pre-race ceremony. Oh … and did I mention jet cars?
The easiest way to take it all in is to be there! Tickets are available at either 800-884-NHRA (6472) or NHRATix.com. It is just that simple.
The next-best option would be to strap in to the Barcalounger and lock it in on ESPN2. Here is the complete schedule:
Friday, Aug. 31: Live first-session qualifying at 5:30 p.m. (all times ET) on ESPN3
Sunday, Sept. 2: Qualifying (three hours) at 11 a.m. on ESPN2
Sunday, Sept. 2: Qualifying (two hours) at 5 p.m. on ESPN2
Monday, Sept. 3: Live eliminations (until done) at 11 a.m. on ESPN3
Monday, Sept. 3: Eliminations (six hours) at noon on ESPN2
Sunday, Sept. 9: Lucas Oil Series (one hour) at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2
What started in 1955 at an abandoned airstrip in Great Bend, Kan., has turned into the NHRA’s marquee event! It is the 58th Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus! It’s time to go … to the Big Go!