Girl power on display at O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals in Houston
Thursday, April 17, 2014
With many exciting storylines ongoing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in 2014, one of the most prominent has been the girl power theme as the world’s fastest motorsport heads to the Lone Star State for the 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals, April 25-27, at Royal Purple Raceway.
The best in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock will duel it out at one of the circuit’s quickest and fastest tracks, located just minutes east of downtown Houston. Bob Vandergriff Jr. (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2.
The O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries has provided high-speed action to residents of Southeast Texas for 27 years. Royal Purple Raceway is only one of two venues in the state where fans can see 8,000-horsepower race cars battle it out during intense three-second runs at more than 300 mph for a chance at winning the coveted Wally trophy.
Long regarded as being the most diverse series in all of motorsports, the NHRA Mello Yello Series circuit has once again seen a female charge in each of its pro classes in 2014. Alexis DeJoria, Brittany Force and Erica Enders-Stevens have all made headlines in the early part of the season and drivers Courtney Force and Leah Pritchett are very close to making some noise of their own in the nitro ranks.
Houston has seen female success before in Funny Car with Ashley Force Hood taking the victory in 2009. Pro Stock Motorcycle racers Angelle Sampey and Karen Stoffer are both multi-time winners of the event. Force Hood is the only female driver to win a nitro class event at Royal Purple Raceway but there is a strong field of women in Funny Car ready to add their name to that win list.
DeJoria has made history with her powerful start to the 2014 season. The Patron XO Cafe Toyota Camry driver rocketed to her first career win in Phoenix, becoming the fourth female to win a Funny Car event and the 14th female to win a Mello Yello Series event, and added a second win Las Vegas. In the season-opener at Pomona, DeJoria became the first female driver and only the ninth driver in Funny Car history to run a sub-four-second pass (3.997 seconds). DeJoria would love nothing more than to add a third win to her résumé in Houston.
Force Hood’s younger sister Courtney Force has three career victories in Funny Car, but will be looking for her first Houston win. The driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang reached her first semifinal of the season in Gainesville and is looking for her first win since Epping, N.H., last June.
Brittany Force has proven she has what it takes to climb the mountain in Top Fuel, reaching her first career final at Phoenix. Force, the first Top Fuel driver in John Force Racing history, reached the final round in only the second start of her second full-time season, sending a strong message that the middle child of Funny Car legend John Force is ready to compete for the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship.
Force is not the only female driver making headway in Top Fuel. Dote Family Racing’s Leah Pritchett has been fast early, posting career-bests for elapsed time and speed during her first two races of the season. Securing Houston-based Gumout Additives as a primary sponsor has been a major boost for Pritchett as she tries to become the next female driver to reach a final round and earn a victory.
Enders-Stevens, the current points leader, has quite the history in the Pro Stock category with seven career wins, becoming the first female in category history to win an event (2012 Chicago) and has raced on from there. She made history earlier this year in Gainesville, setting the Pro Stock national speed record with her 214.69 mph pass in qualifying. The Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro driver channeled that performance into a final round appearance at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals and a spectacular weekend in Las Vegas, where she won the K&N Horsepower Challenge and the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals. Enders-Stevens, a Houston native, won her first career NHRA national event at Houston in Super Gas competition in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and will be gunning to add a Mello Yello Series victory at her home track to her résumé.
NHRA's female racers also are chasing an historic milestone 100th win in national event competition. The mark currently stands at 98.
In Top Fuel, Vandergriff secured his third career win in Houston last season, defeating eventual world champ Shawn Langdon. The driver of the C&J Energy Services dragster will face a tough field as he attempts to defend his win.
Langdon may have fallen to Vandergriff in the Top Fuel final, but he rebounded to take the 2013 Top Fuel world championship. The Al-Anabi Racing driver won seven races during his title campaign but would love to add a victory in Houston. Royal Purple Raceway may be just the place Langdon needs to turn his slow start to 2014 around.
Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel’s most decorated driver, has two wins in Houston. A third win here would tie him with the King of Speed Kenny Bernstein as the winningest driver in Top Fuel history at the track.
Brown hasn’t won in Houston since 2008, but his start to the season may be an indication that he is ready to lift the Wally once again in the Royal Purple Raceway winner’s circle. The Matco Tools dragster driver has piloted his Don Schumacher Racing machine to wins in Phoenix and Charlotte and a runner-up appearance in Gainesville. Early momentum is a must for Brown, the first African-American driver to win a major U.S. auto racing championship, if he wants to win a second Mello Yello Series title.
Points leader Doug Kalitta has perhaps been the most consistent driver to start the season. A win in Gainesville, runner-ups in Pomona and Las Vegas, a semifinal showing in Phoenix, and two No. 1 qualifying efforts has the driver of the Mac Tools dragster positioned firmly as a favorite to win his first championship. The 2003 Houston winner would love to add a second win this early in the season and prove himself as the driver to beat. Others to watch in the field will be Kalitta Motorsports teammate J.R. Todd, Steve Torrence, Spencer Massey, 2014 rookie Richie Crampton and Winternationals winner Khalid alBalooshi.
The 16-time Funny Car world champ, John Force, has seven wins in Houston, the most for any driver in a pro category. The driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang hasn’t won at Houston since 2002 however, and will be looking to end the 12-year drought. Defending race winner Pedregon has three wins at the facility and would love to get his season going. Brother Tony Pedregon has four career Houston wins and would relish the opportunity to edge closer to Force’s record seven.
DSR teammates Ron Capps and Matt Hagan have had success at Royal Purple Raceway, with Capps winning twice and Hagan once in 2010. JFR’s Robert Hight – who won recently at Gainesville and Charlotte and leads the points – won the event in 2005 and his crew chief Mike Neff took the victory in 2012. That’s a good combination as Hight looks for his second win on the season and to move past Kenny Bernstein on the career Funny Car victories list. The two are currently tied with 30 wins apiece.
Kalitta Motorsports’ Del Worsham took the 2011 Top Fuel title here and will be looking to become the first driver to win at this event in both nitro classes. Jack Beckman, last year’s runner-up Tim Wilkerson, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Bob Tasca III are a few of the other Funny Car competitors who are expected to compete for the victory.
In Pro Stock, Line is the defending Houston winner and is looking to regain momentum following two early race exits in Phoenix and Gainesville. The KB Racing driver won the season-opening Circle K NHRA Winternationals in Pomona and a win in Texas would be a good way to get the two-time Pro Stock world champ’s season back on track.
Mopar drivers Allen Johnson and Jeg Coughlin Jr. introduced their new Dodge Darts in Gainesville with Johnson taking the win. Coughlin has four wins at Royal Purple Raceway while Johnson is still searching for his first. Both are expected to be among the title challengers in Houston.
Vincent Nobile is a two-time winner at this event and hopes his past history here helps him secure his first win of the season. Odessa, Texas native Chris McGaha was the No. 1 qualifier for the first time in his career in Phoenix and will have added pressure as he races in his home state. Dave Connolly, Shane Gray, Charlotte winner Jimmy Alund and V Gaines will be a few of the Pro Stock drivers who figure to be in the title mix in Houston.
The NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series will make its second stop of the 2014 season at Royal Purple Raceway. New Yorker Mike Castellana stormed to victory at the season-opener in Gainesville and is looking to make it two in a row to open the season. Defending champion Rickie Smith reached the Pro Mod finals in Florida and a win at Houston could propel him toward a second consecutive championship crown. Defending event winner Clint Satterfield and 2012 champ Troy Coughlin will also be among those gunning for victory in the thrilling 250 mph doorslammer category.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, April 25, with sessions at 4 and 6:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, April 26, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 28. Pro Mod qualifying is set for Friday, April 25 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, April 26 at 2 and 4:30 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for Sunday at 9:45 a.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, log on to www.royalpurpleraceway.com or call Royal Purple Raceway at 281-383-RACE (7223). Tickets for children 13 and younger are free in reserved sections on spectator side with paid adult tickets.