Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals Friday Notebook

News and notes from the opening day of the Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals, race seven of 24 on the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
05 May 2017
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Atlanta Dragway

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Mike CastellanaPRO MOD Q1 (3:30 p.m.): Mike Castellana made headlines during the first J&A Service NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series session, and it wasn’t just because he ran a 5.739 to qualify in the provisional No. 1 spot. Following the run, one of Castellana’s parachutes did not blossom, and that combined with a brakes issue, sent the points leader into the sand. Castellana was able to scrub off some speed before hitting the kitty litter, and after an initial inspection at the top end, he reported there is likely little cosmetic damage to his very quick and fast entry. [animated gif]

WEATHER UPDATE (3:40 p.m.): After a single to start the first Pro Stock Motorcycle session then three pairs, Mother Nature has interrupted the action, dropping rain on Atlanta Dragway. That put a temporary halt to the session, but we expect to be back up and running again as soon as possible.

WEATHER UPDATE (3:50 p.m.): As quickly as the wet weather moved in, it has moved out, and the NHRA Safety Safari presented by AAA is on the track, working on drying and prepping it for the continuation of Pro qualifying.

WEATHER/QUALIFYING UPDATE (4:15 p.m.): The NHRA Safety Safari presented by AAA has completed its drying and prep, and we are back to racing again, picking back up with the Pro Stock Motorcycles.

WEATHER UPDATE (4:40 p.m.): And Mother Nature is being fickle yet again -- more rain has moved into the area, again halting Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying. The plan is to wait out the weather and pick up where we left off, which is three pairs of bikes remaining.

WEATHER UPDATE (5:15 p.m.): The NHRA Safety Safari presented by AAA is back out on the track, working their magic to get the track race-ready again.

WEATHER UPDATE (5:30 p.m.): And another wave of the wet stuff has moved in (yes, that's frustration you are sensing after what has been a long day so far). We're still hoping to get this Pro session in. Stay tuned.

WEATHER UPDATE (5:45 p.m.): Guess who's back on the racetrack? If you guessed the NHRA Safety Safari presented by AAA, you are correct. They are again trying to work their magic on the Atlanta Dragway track in hopes of getting us back up and running soon.

FINAL WEATHER UPDATE (6:30 p.m.): Unfortunately, Mother Nature has won out today. A combination of persistent showers and cool temperatures forced NHRA officials to pull the plug early on today's activities. Final qualifying will take place as scheduled Saturday with two session to set the fields for Sunday.


Coming from the madness that is often associated with the once-a-year NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, there is a sense that the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will return to a more relaxed pace for the more traditional Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals at historic Atlanta Dragway. Relaxed might not be the proper description this weekend since unseasonably cool temperatures have led drivers, crew chiefs, and fans to speculate about record-breaking performances. Two qualifying runs are scheduled Friday and two more Saturday that will set the field for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Last year, teammates Doug Kalitta and J.R. Todd locked up in the closest Top Fuel race in NHRA history. Kalitta won the memorable bout by a microscopic .0000-second at the finish line. Kalitta enters this year’s event seeking his first win of the season, and with three Atlanta wins to his credit, he’s among the favorites. Don Schumacher Racing teammates Leah Pritchett, Tony Schumacher, and Antron Brown combined to win the first five events of the season, but last week, Steve Torrence bucked the trend with a hard-fought victory in Charlotte.

Earlier this season, Pritchett and Matt Hagan had a chance to accomplish a rare feat of winning three-straight events, and now it will be Ron Capps’ turn after the reigning champ drove his NAPA Dodge to wins in Houston and Charlotte. Picking a favorite in Funny Car is nearly impossible these days since there are at least a dozen cars with the potential to pull off a victory at any given time. Capps, and his DSR teammates, Hagan, Jack Beckman, and Tommy Johnson Jr. are all more than capable. Hagan and Beckman met in last year’s Atlanta final, so they’ve got that going for them as well. Last week in Charlotte, the Team Force cars of John and Courtney Force and Robert Hight qualified in the top three spots, but none of them made the final. That could easily change this weekend. Other title contenders should include last year’s Top Fuel finalist Todd, Tim Wilkerson, nitro rookie Jonnie Lindberg, and Chad Head, who is once again filling in for Alexis DeJoria.

Is it possible that the Pro Stock class will start the season with seven different winners? So far, Jason Line, Greg Anderson, Shane Gray, Tanner Gray, Bo Butner, and Chris McGaha have claimed victories, but there are still some quality cars that are winless on the young season. Should the trend continue, the most likely candidates for a win would be Elite Performance teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr., Erica Enders, Vincent Nobile, and new team member Alex Laughlin. Coughlin should easily be among the favorites after qualifying his Camaro in the No. 1 spot at the last two events. Coughlin is also a multitime winner of the Atlanta event and reached the final round in Houston. Enders is also what one might consider overdue after several strong qualifying performances this season. The two-time world champion is coming off a pair of frustrating round-one losses at the last two events and, more than ever, has something to prove in Atlanta.

LE Tonglet’s Pro Stock Motorcycle win last weekend at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte was no fluke, but the final-round losses by Harley-Davidson teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec might be considered as such. Hines and Krawiec had two of the best bikes in Charlotte but came up empty-handed in the final when they were distracted by Scotty Pollacheck’s early foul. If anyone should be looking to even the score this weekend, it’s Krawiec, who has practically owned Atlanta Dragway in his career with four wins, including his first in 2009 and last year’s race. Another rider who likely has a chip on his shoulder after a disappointing Four-Wide is reigning Mello Yello champion Jerry Savoie, who qualified No. 1 but did not advance past the first round.

Here’s a look at some stats entering this weekend:

Top Fuel
3.658 by Leah Pritchett, Feb. ‘17, Phoenix; 
332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car
3.822 by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.
335.57 mph by Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock
6.455 by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.

Pro Stock Motorcycle
6.728 by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.;
199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.

Doug Kalitta, Top Fuel; Matt Hagan, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle

Antron Brown, 4, TF; Larry Dixon 4; John Force, 7, FC; Warren Johnson, 5, PS; Dave Schultz 8 PSM

Top Fuel

3.731 by Doug Kalitta, May ’16
328.86 mph by Kalitta, May ’14

Funny Car
3.906 by Matt Hagan, May. ’16
329.02 mph by Hagan, May. ’16.

Pro Stock
6.493 by Erica Enders, March ’14
213.00 mph by Jason Line, March ’14

Pro Stock Motorcycle
6.794 sec. by Eddie Krawiec, May ’14
197.54 mph by Eddie Krawiec, May ’14