Struggles in previous years at tracks have turned into wins in both of Alex Laughlin’s Pro Stock victories. The rising star hopes a similar scenario plays out at Route 66 Raceway, the site of this weekend’s 20th annual Fallen Patriots NHRA Route 66 Nationals presented by K&N Filters.
Laughlin has only raced once at the state-of-the-art facility, losing in the first round a year ago. But he turned prior first-round defeats into wins in St. Louis in 2016 and then two races ago in Bristol in his Gas Monkey Garage Chevrolet Camaro, and Laughlin wouldn’t mind repeating the process a third time this weekend at a track he immediately enjoyed, even with the early loss last season.
“Chicago was just awesome, and I loved everything about the facility there,” said Laughlin, who only has 35 career Pro Stock races under his belt. “We did not run well there last year, but hopefully the same thing can happen like it did with Bristol and St. Louis. It’s a cool place and there’s a lot of race fans there, and I’m super excited about this weekend.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 3 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 9.
It is the 13th of 24 events in the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season and the fifth Pro Stock race this year for Laughlin. Not surprisingly, the limited schedule has translated to up-and-down performances, as evidenced by the thrilling win in Bristol and a frustrating first-round loss just a week later in Norwalk. Laughlin had hoped to build on the Bristol victory, which included a final-round win against current Pro Stock points leader Bo Butner, in Norwalk, but that progress will have to wait until this weekend at Route 66 Raceway. That has Laughlin anxious for the event in Chicago, where he’ll look to put those recent struggles quickly behind him.
“You go from the ultimate high to the ultimate low,” Laughlin said. “All that being said, we found some stuff that could have been better in Norwalk, and we’re confident going into this weekend. We ran horrible [in Norwalk], and that’s what we’ve had to live on the last couple weeks. You have to have a short-term memory in this sport. It really all came together in Bristol. One thing led to another and the car kept getting better and better. We were pumped going to Norwalk. I was so bummed after that, but we think we can have a good weekend in Chicago.”
Laughlin is confident in that, even while racing against talented drivers like defending event winner Anderson and rookie Tanner Gay, who each have two wins in 2017; reigning champ Jason Line; Chris McGaha; as well as his Elite Motorsports teammates Erica Enders, who became the first female Pro Stock winner after her 2012 Chicago victory, five-time event winner and world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Vincent Nobile. Joining that team this season has already paid huge dividends for Laughlin, as his own driving skills continue to improve at a rapid rate.
“With Elite, not only do you have the support of some of the best drivers in the class, with those guys it’s like a family,” Laughlin said. “We all hang out together and even if you run bad, you can go home from a race saying you had a great time. As far as driving, I feel completely comfortable now. I feel like I’ve come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. There’s so many different things that you learn over laps and laps with what you like and what feels comfortable.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. on Friday, July 7, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 8, at 3:15 and 6 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, July 9.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 888-629-RACE (7223) or 815-722-5500. Tickets also are available online at www.route66raceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult.