The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series kicks off its six-race playoffs, the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, with a return to state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway for the NHRA Carolina Nationals, Sept. 15-17.
It is the 19th of 24 races during the 2017 season and, more importantly, the first of six stops during the Countdown to the Championship, where the top 10 drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle will be vying for a world championship. After thrilling fans with its unique and one-of-a-kind NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in the spring at the facility known as the "Bellagio of Dragstrips," the NHRA’s pulsating, 10,000-horsepower action goes back to its traditional two-lane format for the critical playoff opener in Charlotte.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Chip Ellis (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 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 17.
It was another impressive start to the Countdown to the Championship in Top Fuel for Brown, who used the momentum from the Charlotte win to capture a second straight world title. Brown won three of the first four playoff races to win his third Top Fuel crown, and he will look to make it three straight championships this season. Standing in his way is a loaded class, including seven-time 2017 winner and points leader Steve Torrence; eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher; Leah Pritchett, who has four wins this season; Clay Millican; Doug Kalitta; and Brittany Force.
Force won the fall race in Funny Car at zMAX Dragway for the first time in 2016, though it wasn’t enough to claim a world championship. After a season that has only seen one win thus far, the 16-time world champion will look to get hot in the playoffs. Current points leader Ron Capps has been incredible in his title defense, winning six times this season, but there will be an abundance of challengers standing in his way, including Don Schumacher Racing teammates Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman, as well as Robert Hight, Courtney Force, and J.R. Todd.
Line’s last of eight victories during the 2016 Pro Stock season came in Charlotte, and it allowed him to keep the points lead en route to his third world championship. He won the season opener in Pomona, making him one of nine different Pro Stock winners this season, but he’s trying to track down points leader and No. 1 seed in the playoffs Bo Butner, rookie Tanner Gray and Drew Skillman. Others to watch include Line’s longtime teammate, Greg Anderson; two-time world champ Erica Enders; Jeg Coughlin Jr., a five-time champ; and Chris McGaha.
Ellis grabbed his first Pro Stock Motorcycle win since 2008 by winning the Countdown opener, and his fifth-place finish was the veteran’s best since 2007. But Jerry Savoie ended up with his first world championship last year, and he’ll look to get hot during the playoffs. He’s chasing teammate LE Tonglet, who boasts an impressive five victories this season, while other marquee talents includes Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, Matt Smith, and Hector Arana Jr.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, Sept. 17.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.