Seven rookie drivers representing the four NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories, Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, were announced by officials from NHRA and Automobile Club of Southern California as the eligible candidates for the 2017 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award.
The award, which recognizes the top rookie competitor in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and offers a $20,000 prize and traditional trophy to the winner, will be presented during NHRA’s annual championship awards ceremony on Monday, Nov. 13 at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood, Calif. The nation’s leading auto racing journalists will select the winner through a voting system based on the following criteria: number of events competed in, performance on and off the racetrack, participation in NHRA promotions and relationships with fans, sponsors and media.
The candidates for the prestigious award are, in alphabetical order: Troy Coughlin Jr. (Top Fuel), Joey Gladstone (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), Jonnie Lindberg (Funny Car), Andie Rawlings (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Shawn Reed (Top Fuel) and Mike Salinas (Top Fuel).
“Since 1900, the Automobile Club of Southern California has been an integral part of the communities we serve, helping to improve traffic safety and provide service with integrity, commitment and professionalism,” said John Boyle, President and CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California. “The Road to the Future Award, honoring up-and-coming racers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, has come to represent these same attributes in motorsports. The nominees this season have demonstrated competitiveness on the track and a commitment to the racing community off the track. They show exceptional potential for the future. On behalf of the Auto Club’s employees and members, I congratulate all of the candidates for this year’s award and look forward to see how they achieve great things in the future.”
Coughlin Jr. raced at 17 events in the 2017 season with Kalitta Motorsports as the SealMaster dragster pilot. With four quarterfinal finishes, Coughlin was 10th in points following his final Top Fuel race of the season in Brainerd, Minn. Early in the season, Coughlin raced to his career best time, 3.696-seconds, and speed, 328.86 mph, at the NHRA Arizona Nationals and NHRA Gatornationals, respectively.
Gladstone, in his first full season at the helm of San Marino Excavating Inc. Suzuki, made one semi-final appearance at the Pro Stock Motorcycle season opener in Gainesville, Fla., and has five quarterfinals finishes. He qualified for the Countdown to the Championship and entered the six race playoff eighth in points. Gladstone raced to his career-best time, 6.793 seconds, and speed, 198.35 mph, at the Gatornationals. Following the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Gladstone is 10th in points.
Gray, son of Pro Stock veteran Shane Gray, became the NHRA’s youngest national event winner when he earned the Wally at the spring Las Vegas event. Racing a full schedule, Gray has a category-best five event wins through the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. He qualified for the Countdown to the Championship tied for the No. 2 spot in points and raced to a career best time, 6.501, in Epping, N.H. and speed, 213.37, at the Gatornationals. Gray is currently fourth following 22 of 24 races in the season.
Lindberg, a Swedish native racing the Head Racing Toyota Camry Funny Car, participated in all but four events through 22 of 24 races. He had three runner-up appearances, including back-to-back second-place finishes at his first two starts of the season, the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., and the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas. Lindberg’s career-best time, 3.865, came at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, while he earned his career-best speed, 331.53, at the Dodge NHRA Nationals.
Rawlings, rider of the Fast Andie Racing Suzuki, qualified for her first Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations at the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, Penn., after seven previous attempts. She raced to her career-best time of 7.611 seconds at the event in Chicago and her career best speed of 174.14 mph at the race in St. Louis.
Reed, who races the Hughes Oilfield Transportation dragster, had a semifinal finish at the second race of the season in Phoenix, defeating Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence before falling to Leah Pritchett. He has a handful of first-round defeats and raced a career-best time of 3.815 second at the Winternationals and his career-best speed of 320.43 mph at the Houston event. After a first round loss to Antron Brown at the most recent event in Dallas, Reed is 15th in points.
Salinas, pilot of the Scrappers Racing dragster, has two quarterfinal finishes, at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, where he defeated Kebin Kinsley, and NHRA Northwest Nationals, where he bettered Shawn Langdon. He recorded his career-best time, 3.779-seconds, and speed, 324.67 mph, at the Sonoma event.
In 2002 the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award and the NHRA Rookie of the Year Award were combined to create one award recognizing the future stars of the sport. Past winners of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award have developed into some of NHRA’s biggest stars, including Tony Pedregon (1996, Funny Car), Ron Capps (1997, Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (1998, Top Fuel), Antron Brown (1999, Pro Stock Motorcycle), Melanie Troxel (2000, Top Fuel), GT Tonglet (2001, Pro Stock Motorcycle), Gene Wilson (2002, Pro Stock); Brandon Bernstein (2003, Top Fuel); Jason Line (2004, Pro Stock); Robert Hight (2005, Funny Car); J.R. Todd (2006, Top Fuel); Ashley Force Hood (2007, Funny Car); Mike Neff (2008, Funny Car); Spencer Massey (2009, Top Fuel); L.E. Tonglet (2010, Pro Stock Motorcycle); Hector Arana Jr. (2011, Pro Stock Motorcycle); Courtney Force (2012, Funny Car); Brittany Force (2013, Top Fuel); Richie Crampton (2014, Top Fuel); Drew Skillman (2015, Pro Stock) and Cory Reed (2016, Pro Stock Motorcycle).
NHRA Rookie of the Year winners prior to the merger of the two awards included the late Darrell Russell (2001, Top Fuel), Don Lampus (2000, Top Fuel), Scotty Cannon (1999, Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (1998, Pro Stock), Gary Scelzi (1997, Top Fuel) and co-winners in 1996, Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Matt Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
In addition to the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, the company is the title sponsor for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Nov. 9-12 at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The company also is a major sponsor for John Force Racing, providing primary sponsorship for the Chevy Camaro SS driven by Hight, as well as associate sponsorship for the Camaros driven by John and Courtney Force. In addition, the company is the presenting sponsor for the California Hot Rod Reunion presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, as well as the presenting sponsor for the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.