Entering the final qualifying race at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, only four drivers — Jason Line, Mike Edwards, Greg Anderson, and Allen Johnson — had earned one of the seven guaranteed starting positions for this year’s 28th annual K&N Horsepower Challenge, which will take place on July 7 during the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk. Not surprisingly, they accounted for 22 of the 23 No. 1 qualifying performances included in the standings. With their place in the three-round $50,000 shootout secure, Pro Stock’s version of the Fab Four answered a few questions about this year’s event.
K&N Horsepower Challenge appearances: Eight
Hometown: Mooresville, N.C.
Race car: Summit Racing Equipment Camaro SS
No. 1 qualifiers: 10
Average starting position: 2.22
Q: What does it mean to you and the team to be the No. 1 qualifier for the K&N Horsepower Challenge?
JL: This is the second consecutive year that we have been the No. 1 qualifier for the K&N Horsepower Challenge, which is a source of pride to me and everyone on this Summit Racing team. Certainly, racing is about winning, but to me, it is also about going quicker and faster than everyone else, and the fact that we are the top qualifier shows that we were better than our competition for an entire year. That’s a big deal.
Q: In the 27-year history of the K&N Horsepower Challenge, Camaros have won three times, most recently in 1998. What would it be like to return the legendary muscle car to the K&N winner’s circle?
JL: It will be way cool. I’ve never won the Challenge before, so we’re definitely due. I say that every year, and for some reason, it has so far eluded me, but this year, I feel I will have as good a chance as ever to win it. I will probably have the best race car that I’ve had in this Summit Racing Camaro, and I’m looking for really big things from it. We’re not going to let the off brands beat us — this year, we’re going to make it happen.
Q: Obviously, your performance has allowed you to benefit tremendously from K&N’s bonus program even before the Challenge; what does their involvement mean to you?
JL: We’ve put up some crazy numbers in the last year, allowing us to collect $30,000 in bonus money, for which I am very grateful to K&N, and I will be proud to represent them and Summit in this year’s Challenge. They are not only the greatest event and associate sponsor out there, but they also make some really cool products. Whether you’re racing a Pro Stock Camaro or driving the production model on the street, they make a part to improve its performance. Everyone out there knows who K&N is, and they associate them with power, so it’s very appropriate that they sponsor the K&N Horsepower Challenge, and we are glad they do.
K&N Horsepower Challenge appearances: Nine
Hometown: Broken Arrow, Okla.
Race car: Penhall/K&N Filters/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP
No. 1 qualifiers: Four
Average starting position: 3.35
Q: What does it mean to you and your team to qualify for the K&N Horsepower Challenge?
ME: Every year, one of our goals is to make the K&N Horsepower Challenge, and it’s quite an honor and a privilege to qualify for this year’s event. We’re fortunate to have a great company like K&N with Steve Williams and all his fine people support our class and every Pro Stock team out there. They give us a lot to race for, and it’s something we certainly want to do every year.
Q: Is there any extra pressure at this event being the flagship for K&N Filters?
ME: I don’t feel any extra pressure as far as K&N is concerned — they are totally supportive of us. The only real pressure comes from racing for all that cash. Anytime you’re racing for $50,000 in one day, you’re going to put enough pressure on yourself as it is just trying to win. I’ve been the runner-up there several times, and I’d sure like to seal the deal. It’s a great honor, and I’m glad our Penhall/K&N Filters/Interstate Batteries team made it again this year.
Q: In your previous eight appearances in the K&N Horsepower Challenge, you have four runner-up finishes, including each of the last two years. What will it take to break through for that first win?
ME: Maybe if Anderson stays home? [laughs] We’ve been close before, doing a lot of things right, but the last couple years, Greg just happened to do them a little better. It’s tough because every car in the K&N Horsepower Challenge is so good with a great team behind them. We’re just going to go there with the same attitude we always have, trying to make the right decisions and best choices that we can, and hopefully this year we’ll make it to the final round again and win it this time.
K&N Horsepower Challenge appearances: Nine
Hometown: Greeneville, Tenn.
Race car: Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger
No. 1 qualifiers: Six
Average starting position: 4.22
Q: You come into this year’s K&N Horsepower Challenge on quite a hot streak — how much confidence does that give you going into the event?
AJ: We are very confident right now, whether we are going to the first qualifying round in Chicago or the K&N Horsepower Challenge. We feel really good, and we’ll make sure everything is as optimum as we can make it. I am confident when we go up there the Mopar/J&J Racing team will be a factor.
Q: In 2008, you used a perfect reaction time in the final to earn your first K&N Horsepower Challenge victory. What will it take to get your second win in 2012?
AJ: It will probably take about the same thing as in 2008 to win again. Everyone is going to have their big guns out. Everywhere we go right now, Pro Stock is really tough and close. You have to be perfect.
Q: What does K&N and its involvement in the K&N Horsepower Challenge mean to Pro Stock?
AJ: The K&N Horsepower Challenge is the best thing that ever happened to Pro Stock. They are a huge supporter, and we absolutely love all of the people at K&N. We always look forward to the K&N Horsepower Challenge, and everyone involved does such a great job with the event.
K&N Horsepower Challenge appearances: 10
Hometown: Mooresville, N.C.
Race car: Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS
No. 1 qualifiers: Two
Average starting position: 4.00
Q: What will be the biggest challenge in trying to three-peat?
GA: It’s obviously going to be a huge challenge. This event is one that you roll into realizing you are racing the very best of the best. The first round is tough at any event, but in the Horsepower Challenge, it’s like being in the second round of a normal race, plus you have the eight best cars in the category.
Sometimes at a regular event, you may have a few surprise players in the second round, but at the K&N Horsepower Challenge, you have nothing but thoroughbreds, making every round like a final. You can’t allow yourself to think you’re a favorite because there is no such thing. All eight cars are very capable of winning, and it takes perfect execution and a lot of good fortune to come out on top.
Q: You often refer to the K&N Horsepower Challenge as the most fun race of the year. You are racing in a high-dollar shootout as part of your sponsor’s race at your sponsor’s track — how is that fun?
GA: That’s a good question. I think the reason I keep saying it’s a fun race is because if you lose, you don’t worry about how many points you’re going to lose. I know we say that we don’t try to points race and that we go to every event just trying to win, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit at the end of the event that we wonder how we did in the points. That’s how racing has become — it’s all about the points championship. But in the K&N Horsepower Challenge, you get to relax, have fun, and go after that $50,000 first prize. That and being able to race for a lucky fan, giving them a potentially life-changing moment, is fun for me.