Dave Connolly has always enjoyed going to Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk. With the way his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season is taking off, the Pro Stock standout may be ready for another banner performance at his home track.
Connolly, an Elyria, Ohio native, won the inaugural Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at the facility in 2007, and his Charter Communications Chevy Camaro has improved at nearly every event, making him one of the favorites to win in Pro Stock at the 13th of 24 races during the 2014 season.
“It’s always good to go back to your home track,” Connolly said. “I pretty much grew up at Norwalk and have been going there since I was 10 years old, so it’s fun to go back and see family and friends. I won the first race in Norwalk, so we’ve definitely grown fond of that track. There is a comfortable feeling there. We've had a great car lately, and we definitely want to finish strong before we have a week off going into the Western Swing.”
Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will again be televised on ESPN2.
Connolly didn’t race at all in 2013 and is back to full-time driving in Pro Stock for the first time since 2009. He is thrilled to be back behind the wheel, joining a Gray Motorsports team that now sports a highly talented trio of Connolly, Shane Gray, and rookie Jonathan Gray.
All three are in the top 10 in points, with Connolly’s sixth-place position leading the way. The team also is continuing to pick up steam; Shane was the No. 1 qualifier in Bristol and Epping, and Jonathan advanced to the final at both events. Connolly beat Jonathan in the final round in Epping and is impressed with how the team has come together in a short time.
“It’s definitely been real exciting,” Connolly said. “We knew going into this program that there would be a learning curve. Even with being in the sport for many years, you’re still learning every day. You keep seeing the team improve and make gains, and the guys back at the shop are working to get even more horsepower. The work ethic here at Gray Motorsports is great.”
Connolly, who has 24 wins after the Epping victory, believes that has helped push everyone to a new level. He has advanced to the semifinals at three of the past four races in the ultracompetitive Pro Stock class, and the interaction between teammates has allowed everyone to gain confidence.
“You know what’s really impressive is that everyone has big shoulders,” Connolly said. “Everyone can take constructive criticism to gain headway, and everyone is very open, whether we struggle or not. The team is still jelling, and we strive to make the best passes every time we run. We keep making improvements, and that hasn’t stopped the guys back at the shop from working hard to keep improving.”
But Connolly believes that work ethic is necessary to stay competitive in Pro Stock, especially considering the talent level in 2014. The battle for the top 10 spots for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship has been impressive, with everyone chasing points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, who has three victories in 2014.
But Connolly is also wary of the rest of the championship-caliber field that includes Greg Anderson, who has two wins in Norwalk, Vincent Nobile, who won last weekend in Chicago and also has two victories in Norwalk, reigning world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., Allen Johnson, Jason Line, and Chris McGaha.
“You’ve got to have a good crew, a good car, and a good engine,” Connolly said. “You have to have everything anymore. It’s so competitive, and it doesn’t matter how good of a driver you are or how your car runs, you have to have both those things working together.”
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 cherished face time with 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.
The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, July 4, with sessions at 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 5, at 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, July 6.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, 419-668-5555, or visit www.summitmotorsportspark.com.