World champions Jay Payne, Kevin Helms, and Jeff Strickland were among the champions crowned during the NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello. Payne, the 1995 Top Alcohol Dragster champion, earned career win No. 45 when he drove his Peak Camaro to the Top Alcohol Funny Car title. Four-time Stock champ Helms won in Super Stock, claiming his 28th career victory, while Strickland, the 2016 champ in Stock and Top Dragster, earned the Atlanta Stock title in his COPO Camaro.
The three former champs were joined in the winner’s circle by Josh Hart (Top Alcohol Dragster), Van Puckett (Comp), Gene Quinn (Super Comp), Tommy Turner (Super Gas), Keith Mayers (Super Street), Bob Mandell Jr. (Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com), and Les Feist (Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs.com).
Thirty years after his first win at the 1998 NHRA Finals in Pomona, Payne is still going strong. With tuning help from Funny Car racer Jonnie Lindberg, Payne claimed his first win of the year by stopping Sweden’s Ulf Leanders in the Top Alcohol Funny Car final round, 5.557 to 5.645. Payne also defeated Phil Burkart Jr. and Bryan Brown. [video]
After a runner-up in Gainesville and a semifinal a week earlier in Charlotte, Hart broke through for his first win of the season in Top Alcohol Dragster. In the final round, Hart drove his Advance Auto Parts entry to a 5.313 to 5.318 victory over Charlotte winner Megan Meyer. The race was not as close as the numbers might suggest because Hart was .07-second quicker off the starting line. [video]
Puckett claimed his second career Comp win and his first since the 2011 season after Brian Browell fouled in the final round by eight-thousandths. Puckett, whose G/AA Cavalier was one of just three full-bodied cars in a field dominated by dragsters, slashed .09-second off his index during his early wins against Al Ackerman, Pat Ross, and reigning world champion David Rampy. [video]
Even though he recently accepted a position as a crew chief for the Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Factory Showdown program, Helms hasn’t forgotten how to drive and picked up the 44th win of his career after Byron Worner fouled in the Super Stock final. [video]
Strickland has now won at least one national event for each of the last six years following a win in Stock. Strickland, driving his GMPartsNow.com COPO Camaro, made a nearly perfect run in the final round with a .005 light and a 9.280 on his 9.28 dial but didn’t need it after opponent Robbie Shaw left five-thousandths ahead of the green light and fouled. Strickland now has 17 national event wins, including two in Atlanta. [video]
Quinn has been racing for nearly four decades, and he has earned six NHRA Wallys but had yet to win a national event before stopping Lauren Freer in the Super Comp final. Quinn gave up a slight six-thousandths advantage off the starting line but made up the difference to win with an 8.907 to Freer’s 8.926. [video]
Four years after winning the Top Sportsman title in Atlanta, Turner returned to the winner’s circle after a win in Super Gas. Turner was nearly perfect on the Tree in round two with a .001 light in his win over Jeremy Hancock, and he won the final with a solid performance that included a .005 light and a 9.922 to defeat Carl Watts. [video]
With Super Street contested at just a handful of NHRA events, Mayers made the trip to Atlanta from his hometown in Delaware and was rewarded with his second career national event title. In Atlanta, Mayers nailed the 10.90 index in the second round and later claimed a double-breakout win against U.S. Nationals Comp champ Brad Plourd. In the final, Mayers was safe with a 10.926 while opponent Jesse McKnight ran under the index with a 10.884. [video]
Following his runner-up finish at the 2016 Chicago event, Feist snared a long-awaited first national event win when he topped Larry Roberts in the final of Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs.com. Feist, who had one of the quickest cars in the field, won the final with a 6.085 on his 6.08 dial while Roberts missed his 6.16 dial with a 6.202. [video]
Bob Mandell Jr. and his son, Bob Mandell III, experienced triumph and tragedy en route to their win in Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com. On Saturday, Mandell III was involved in a two-car accident that resulted in the passing of fellow Top Sportsman racer Randy Alexander. Mandell III was not injured and returned to help his father earn his third national event win following an emotional final-round win over Vince Hoda. Determined to win the race as a tribute to his late friend, Mandell Jr. was almost perfect on the starting line and drove his ’55 Chevy to a 6.856 on his 6.84 dial for the victory. [video]