A diverse field of 23rookie drivers representing the four NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories, Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, were announced by NHRA officials and the Automobile Club of Southern California as the eligible candidates for the 2018 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award.
The award, which is presented during the NHRA’s annual championship awards ceremony on Monday, Nov. 12 at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood, Calif., 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. The nation’s leading auto racing journalists 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 in 2018 are, in alphabetical order: Kelly Clontz (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Steve Graham (Pro Stock), Kebin Kinsley (Top Fuel), Bill Litton (Top Fuel), Jim Maroney (Top Fuel), Ryan Oehler (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Mark Paquette (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Wally Stroupe (Pro Stock), Ron Tornow (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Terry Totten (Top Fuel), Richard Townsend (Funny Car) and Audrey Worm (Top Fuel).
“For more than a century, the Automobile Club of Southern California has served our members’ communities, committed to improving traffic and driver safety and providing member services with integrity and professionalism,” said John Boyle, President and CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California. “Similarly, the Road to the Future Award which honors the newest 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.”
Clontz has entered 15 events during the 2018 season on her Steamfitter Local 602 motorcycle, earning her first career round win this season in Dallas. Clontz has career-bests of 6.914-seconds at 195.22 mph.
Graham raced his Reliant Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro at eight NHRA Pro Stock events in 2018, qualifying a career-best 12th at the season-opening race in Pomona. Graham posted a career-best E.T. of 6.620 in Sonoma this year.
Kinsley, who pilots the Road Rage Fuel booster dragster in Top Fuel, made five appearances during the 2018 campaign, qualifying a season-best eighth in Dallas. A year ago, Kinsley, who has two Top Alcohol Funny Car wins in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, advanced to the finals at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Kinsley’s career-best performances are 3.757 at 322.96.
In Top Fuel, Litton raced in 13 events during the 2018 season in his Litton Financial dragster, defeating the likes of Tony Schumacher, Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett along the way. Litton has three round wins on the year, powering to a career-best time of 3.901 in Atlanta and a career-best speed of 318.17 in Dallas.
Maroney made his Top Fuel debut during the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season at Epping. He competed in five events and had a solo round victory at Denver. His career best elapsed time and speed were 3.879-seconds at 302.96 mph during Sonoma.
Oehler has competed in 15 events in Pro Stock Motorcycle during the 2018 season on his Flyin’ Ryan Racing/B&K Cylinder Heads bike. He has earned two rounds wins along the way, racing to a career best time and speed of 6.875 at 196.53 during the fall race at Charlotte.
Paquette entered 10 events on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series 2018 calendar. He had two round victories, at Brainerd and Indianapolis. Paquette’s highest qualifying position of the season was at Brainerd in the No. 6 spot.
Stroupe has made seven appearances during the 2018 Pro Stock season in his Grainger Commercial Grading Chevrolet Camaro. He qualified a season-best No. 13 at the fall race in Charlotte, racing to a career-best pass of 6.708 at 206.01 that same weekend.
Tornow has entered seven races during the 2018 season in Pro Stock Motorcycle, qualifying a season-best No. 14 at Maple Grove Raceway.
Totten made 10 Top Fuel appearances in his Lone Star dragster in 2018, recording a career-best time and speed of 4.139 at 278.10 mph at the four-wide race in Las Vegas.
In Funny Car, Townsend raced seven times during the 2018 season, upsetting Jack Beckman at his debut race in Phoenix. Later this season, Townsend raced to a career-best showing of 4.026 at 308.99 in Houston.
Worm, who pilots the OutRun PD dragster in Top Fuel, has competed at eight events during the 2018 season. Worm earned her first career round win at the four-wide race in Charlotte, also posting a career-best pass of 4.004 at Maple Grove Raceway.
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 in 2002. 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), Cory Reed (2016, Pro Stock Motorcycle) and Tanner Gray (2017, Pro Stock), who is also the current points leader in the class.
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. 8-11 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, the defending world champion and current points leader, 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.