A class-best five wins during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season showed the type of performance Pro Stock Motorcycle’s LE Tonglet is capable of this year. It’s also why Tonglet won’t let a slow start to the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship get him down heading to this weekend’s Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
Tonglet lost in the second round in Charlotte to teammate and reigning world champ Jerry Savoie, also dropping the points lead to event winner Eddie Krawiec. But pointing back to the type of performances he had repeatedly on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki, Tonglet fully expects to be back in prime form at the second stop of the NHRA’s six-race playoffs.
“It’s just getting back on track,” said Tonglet, who trails Krawiec by 48 points. “Every weekend in the Countdown is a very important one and we go into every race with the same mentality, and that’s to go rounds and try to win the race. We’re hungrier than ever and we’re going to give it our best shot. We’ve got two bikes capable of winning every race and the championship.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Krawiec (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 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 24. The stop at Maple Grove Raceway is the middle race in a string of three straight events to open the Countdown to the Championship, and Tonglet is ready to get back on track.
He was incredible throughout the regular season, winning five times in a seven-race span, and taking the points lead into the playoffs. But he wasn’t pleased with qualifying sixth in Charlotte and even more disappointed in having to race his teammate in the second round. A defeat to Savoie opened the door further for Krawiec, and Tonglet, who has 15 career wins, knows it is important to stop that momentum at Maple Grove Raceway. Krawiec has back-to-back wins, leading Hector Arana Jr. by 52 points, teammate Andrew Hines by 58 points and Savoie by 61.
“We didn’t qualify to the best of our abilities and you never want to meet your teammate in the second round,” said Tonglet, the 2010 PSM world champion. “That’s good for our competition and bad for us. I know Andrew and Eddie were happy to see us meet up. They’ve really turned the corner, but I know we can beat them. It’s a matter of getting our ducks in a row. I feel like we can outrun them and we just have to focus on making good, clean passes.”
Teaming up with Savoie has been beneficial for both riders, bringing two proven talents together. Both Tonglet and Savoie won championships as part of a one-bike team, and their success as a tandem this year ensures they will be in the title conversation until the end. But for Tonglet to return to the top spot, he needs to impress this weekend at the Dodge NHRA Nationals.
“I have all the confidence in the world in (crew chief) Tim (Kulungian) and everyone on the team,” Tonglet said. “They are great at what they do and Tim’s a hell of a tuner. I go to every race and feel confident, and that’s huge as a rider. Anytime you can take any jobs or stresses away from the rider, it can really help. Jerry and I bring out the best in each other.”
Back-to-back Top Fuel world champ Brown looks to rebound after an early Charlotte loss, chasing seven-time 2017 winner Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta, the Charlotte winner and points leader.
Robert Hight took the Funny Car points lead with a win in Charlotte, and will look to hold off reigning world champ Ron Capps and defending event winner Johnson.
In Pro Stock, everyone is chasing red-hot rookie Tanner Gray, who took the points lead with his Charlotte win to open the Countdown to the Championship.
The event features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Hanna Motorsports First Strike and Top Secret Eastern Raider Jet Funny Cars. They are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with pre-run flame shows.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 22, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 610-856-9200. Tickets also are available online at www.maplegroveraceway.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.