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NHRA Toyota Nationals Friday Notebook

26 Oct 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Las Vegas

Preview | Features | Results | Photos

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q1 (11:55 a.m.): Hector Arana Jr. made a big move in the right direction on his Lucas Oil TV EBR. He earned three bonus points with a 6.863-second blast, a full .014 second better than Eddie Krawiec and one of only two 6.80s. Andrew Hines rounded out the top three (6.911) – there’s plenty left on the table in the two-wheel category. Neither of the Harley-Davidson riders made great moves to 60-foot which almost certainly bit the 1,320 time. Ryan Oehler is on the bump spot with a 7.032. He’s chased by Freddie Camarena, who is pulling double-duty this weekend by working on Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator Racing machine. 

PRO STOCK Q1 (12:23 p.m.): Greg Anderson got his weekend off to a flying start with a 6.638-second burst, bettering No. 2 qualifying Matt Hartford by .003 second. The next seven qualifiers were all in the 6.40s, underscoring just how tight the Pro Stock field is as the 2018 season nears its completion. Steve Graham holds the bump with a 6.742, and Pro Stock leader Tanner Gray didn’t fair much better with a 6.674. That’s only one spot behind Bo Butner but it’s a full two hundredths of a second slower than the defending champion. Gray Motorsports has work to do on its frontrunning Camaro. 

FUNNY CAR Q1 (1 p.m.): Jack Beckman had the quickest of seven cars to bust into the three-second zone, piloting the Infinite Hero Dodge to a 3.922, a few ticks better than the 3.926 and 3.927 of John Force Racing teammates Courtney Force and points leader Robert Hight. Hight’s run, the third-best of the session and earned him one bonus point, increasing ever so slightly his lead over J.R. Todd to 12 points. In a rare miscue for the DHL team, Todd’s car ran just 4.389. Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.947), Tim Wilkerson (3.961), Shawn Langdon (3.969), and Bob Tasca III (3.970) also ran in the threes.

TOP FUEL Q1 (1:30 p.m.): Antron Brown had the best run of the opening session with a 3.766 from his special-edition Matco Tools Maximus 3.0 entry but the bigger news was points leader Steve Torrence adding two points to his ledger with a next-best 3.772 while second-place Clay Millican got no points after a disappointing 3.850 (eighth quickest). Leah Pritchett gathered up a bonus point in her chromed-out entry with a 3.783. Billy Torrence and a surprising Troy Buff also looked good with matching runs of 3.804.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (2:29 p.m.): Eddie Krawiec found the cure for what ailed him: Three bonus points. He earned those little points with a 6.859-second hit, .004 second quicker than the run that now has Hector Arana Jr. sitting second. Arana’s Lucas Oil TV EBR bogged right off the starting line, which kept the rider from earning any more bonus points in the second round. His father, Hector Arana Sr., made a terrific run to get two bonus points and move his bike into the No. 3 position. There weren’t many other big movers in the second session despite similar (albeit warmer) conditions. Ryan Oehler jumped off the bump with a 6.99. That put Katie Sullivan on the bump with a 7-second flat run. 

PRO STOCK Q2 (2:52 p.m.): Erica Enders scored three bonus points by making a 6.642-second pass, a .002-second improvement, but that wasn’t good enough to pass Greg Anderson. Anderson leads the Pro Stock sheet after the first day of qualifying on the back of his 6.638 run from the first qualifying session. The quick half of the field is backed by Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.648) and filled with six other racers in the 6.64-second zone. Vincent Nobile, Bo Butner and Tanner Gray are noticeably absent from that list – but that’s what we have Saturday qualifying for. Steve Graham holds the bump spot with a 6.742. 

FUNNY CAR Q2 (3:25 p.m.): Courtney Force may have lost the points lead with which she started the Countdown, but the second-gen phenom still knows how to get down the track quick, as her Brian Corradi-tuned Advance Auto Parts Camaro ran its second straight 3.926. In the first session it was only good for second-best behind Jack Beckman’s 3.922, but this 3.926 was the quickest of the round yet not quick enough to get past Beckman for the provisional pole. Tommy Johnson Jr. was right behind her with a 3.928 and Courtney’s father John, was third with a 3.939. Nine drivers qualified in the threes on the opening day.

TOP FUEL Q2 (3:55 p.m.): The good news for Clay Millican and crew chief Dave Grubnic is that they earned three bonus points as the session’s No. 1 qualifier with a blower-banging 3.699; the bad news is that the man they are chasing in points, Steve Torrence, was second best and earned two bonus points for the second straight session to give him four for the day to Millican’s three. Torrence’s 3.738 improved on his earlier 3.772 and Brittany Force rounded out the session with a 3.747 good for third of the session and for the day.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER EDDIE KRAWIEC: "It’s great to come off the truck with a good, solid run and collect some little points. I’ve won and lost championships by single digits before, so getting those five points today is a big deal for me. I need to get every point that I can get. This championship battle has been so exciting for the fans because the racing has been so good. We’ve got great races and it’s just been really competitive all around. 

"It’s a little weird coming to Las Vegas and seeing four lanes, so I’m really looking forward to coming back here in April and going four-wide for the first time at this facility. Obviously anytime you go to a track owned by Bruton Smith you expect the best facilities and they delivered here for sure. The track surface is very smooth and a big step in the right direction."

PRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER GREG ANDERSON: "There’s still a lot to race for. We go into every race to bring home a win. I know that you’re supposed to be focused on the big picture, but for us we definitely look at every race as an opportunity to win. We love coming to this race track. We qualified No. 1 here earlier this year, we won at this race track last year and we’re looking to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Summit Racing Equipment in a positive way. 

"Pro Stock is a tough game right now. There are a lot of great cars and a lot of great drivers. You have to be perfect every time you get out here. It’s tough to race that way but it’s also a lot of fun. That’s just what the price of poker is in Pro Stock and it’s good for the class."

FUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER JACK BECKMAN: “I’m not sure that run is going to hold up tomorrow, depending on the conditions, of course. Once the crew chiefs get the data and release that maybe they didn’t push it in certain areas, they can run an aggregate better time. You can’t push it overall out there, but I don’t think it will hold. 

“I’ve never been a good predictor of Funny Car e.t.s., but, to be honest, the green [low qualifier] hats are more for the crew chiefs. As a driver I want the yellow [winner] hat. Qualifying No. 1 just gives you a few more points and, of course, if they’re awarding them, we want them. I do think that this run puts us in the position to push [for more performance] tomorrow to try to do something you might not normally do.”

TOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER CLAY MILLICAN: “On the first run today we were trying to go around a 3.75 but it put a cylinder out and ran 3.85 and threw the [blower] belt off. To tell you the truth I was not expecting a 3.69 – I was thinking 3.73, 3.74 – on the run tonight but I knew about 330 feet into the run that this was not a 3.73 or .74. Obviously we had a pretty big boom right at the finish line; we’ll get it fixed and be ready for tomorrow.

“Will it stay No. 1 tomorrow? It’s hard to say, because if we did it, other people can do it, too. We run about the same time tomorrow so I wouldn’t expect it to stay, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we went quicker, too.”
 

FEATURES
 

Even from second place, the scenario does not look good for Clay Millican and crew chief Dave Grubnic. With an unprecedented four straight Countdown runs, Steve Torrence and the Capco team are running away with the championship race and don’t have to do much this weekend to secure the crown.

Millican and Grubnic, however, are not going down without a fight. They’re going to go for every bonus point in each of the four qualifying runs and do everything they can to cut into Torrence’s lead while it’s still mathematically within reach.

“We’re going to attack; we’re not laying up,” said Grubnic. “We’re giving up nothing. Stevie can have a mechanical problem; anything can still happen and we need to be ready if it does.”

Breakage has been the Doug Stringer-owned team’s Achilles Heel the last two events, causing them to lose momentum in their hammer and tong fight with the Texans.

“We broke a lockup lever [in the clutch] in the semifinals in Dallas, then had more clutch problems in Charlotte that forced us to go to the backup clutch before we wanted to,” explained Grubnic. “Then I just [screwed] up in E1 in Charlotte and misread the starting line. I was worried about too much wheelspeed and it shook the tires and dropped two cylinder and it cost us an engine. We’d never had a fire like that. Second round we went a 3.72 but ‘Zippy’ [crew chief for Tony Schumacher] went 3.71.”

“We’ve made good runs in eliminations – we’ve only smoked the tires once – so we feel we have a good combination, so I have to believe still in what we’re doing and that nothing changes. If we get maximum points here and Steve stumbles, then we’re back in it with points and a half in Pomona. We want every bonus point here. I’m going to go up there and look at the racetrack and run what I think is 96 percent of what it can handle. Having that one extra bonus point in Pomona is as good as having 1,000, so we want everything we can get.”

None of that is to say that he doesn’t have huge admiration for the Capco team and especially for crew chief Richard Hogan, who actually was Grubnic’s crew chief for his first Top Fuel ride, in John Mitchell’s Montana Express, and both he and Hogan are residents of Montana, Hogan in Ennis and Grubnic in Bozeman.

“Credit to Steve and ‘Hoagie’ for what they’ve done. Four straight wins? Are you [kidding] me? The car is good and Stevie is driving great. The planets have all just lined up for them. You’d better not get in his way because he’s going to kill you, especially after what happened to that team last year. But we’re not giving up.”


Greg Carrillo is carrying a special new logo on his Mobil Delvac/TA Truck Service dragster saluting Folds of Honor, which provides scholarships to the families of fallen or disabled veterans.

For every Mobil Delvac oil change at a TA Truck Service station, $5 will be donated to Folds of Honor, with a bonus Mobil Delvac hat thrown in. The companies all got behind it and made a great promotion video, complete with simulated tri-color tire smoke.

Carrillo is making just his third appearance of the season, having run previously in Phoenix, where he won his first round, and in Denver. In addition to Glenn Mikres, he’s added another veteran tuner, Johnny West, to the team, replacing Tommy DeLago, who recently joined Cruz Pedregon’s team.

“We ran good in Denver, ran 287 throwing the belt off then some 300-mph passes,” said Carrillo, who’s also looking for his first three-second of his young Top Fuel career. “Honestly, I’d like to skip the 3.90s altogether and go straight to the 3.80s.”

 

Troy Buff and team owner Bill Miller had one of the best runs of the opening qualifying session, a 3.804 that tied Billy Torrence for the round's fourth best pass and would have been even better had not the supercharger burst panels let loose at 3.5 seconds. Not bad with an engine that sports 4-year-old cylinder heads.

The event is just the fourth for the Carson City, Nev.-based team after competing in Phoenix, the four-wide here in Las Vegas, and in Seattle as the famed connecting-rod manufacturer and team owner is choosing to stay closer to home as a payback to wife Virgie after years of hauling here across the country.

Business also is booming at Bill Miller Enterprises, whose connecting rods are carrying the load for Funny Car points leaders Robert Hight and J.R. Todd and for the scores of Pro Mod-style engine for which he also supplies the vital link between crankshaft and piston.

“I’m just trying to keep up with the John Force and Connie Kalitta teams,” he said. “They’re putting in new stuff for every run because they’re in a fistfight for the championship; honestly they could make three or four runs but they’re not taking any chances. We’ve been working overtime the last two weeks to keep up.”

Buff, who’s been driving for Miller for a decade now, is excited to be back out after a long layoff since the Seattle event, but just hopes that his return to Las Vegas doesn’t go as badly as it did at the four-wide, where his first-round quad was a murderer’s row: Steve Torrence, Billy Torrence, and Clay Millican.

“I don’t want to look over and see any of them in the first round this Sunday,” he admitted.

 

After a first-round loss at the last event in Charlotte, Tommy Johnson Jr. knows that his odds of a first career championship has dimmed significantly. He sits fifth, 149 points behind leader Robert Hight, but there are still incentives for the veteran driver. 

“We still have a chance, but we’d have to crush it and hope that the other guys go out early, but I think I can go to third really easily,” said Johnson, who is just 40 points back of his third-place Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps. “I’d be happy with that because as the highest-ranked Schumacher Funny Car driver.”

Not only would that give him and crew chiefs John Collins and Rip Reynolds bragging rights in the shop, it would also reward T.J. with a bonus being offered by Dodge to the team’s top-finishing driver: use of a new Dodge Hellcat for a year.

“I could use that,” he said with a grin. “When we lost in the first round in Charlotte and Capps went on to win, the championship and the Hellcat were both on my mind.”

Ironically, it also was Capps who edged Johnson out for the championship in 2016, where Capps won by just 52 points.

The team’s Make-A-Wish Charger grabbed its first No. 1 of the season two events ago in Dallas and was surprised that their normally smoke-free machine smoked the tires in the opening round in Charlotte.

“We’d been going down the track on every run, with good runs, too,” he said. “I’ve already earned more qualifying bonus points [19] in the Countdown than I did all year. We went to the at lest the semifinals at six of the last seven races, and I really thought we had the car to run for the championship, but you just can’t lose in the first round anymore.”

 

Matt Hagan and team pulled to the starting line for the opening qualifying session with their Funny Car body under wraps and once the crew took it off, it was obvious why. Their Dodge Charger Hellcat body is covered in a simulated chrome wrap that probably would have blinded drivers on nearby Interstate 15 had it been towed through the staging lanes. Top Fuel teammate Leah Pritchett has a similar paint scheme on her dragster.

The race is the start of a long week for Hagan in Vegas, the car an appropriate bit of bling for the city where Hagan is spending more than a week. 

“I’m going to be in here for eight days. I came in early and I’m staying after for the SEMA show,” said Hagan, the defending event champ. “A lot going on but, it’s exciting. We’re running this new Pennzoil scheme this weekend. It’s bright, it’s shiny, and we’re looking forward to fans catching their first glimpse of it..

The Countdown has not gone anywhere near according to plan for Hagan and crew chief Dickie Venables. They entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed, hot off of a runner-up at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, then have tumbled down the points to eighth with just one round-win in the first four events.

“We’re pretty far out of the championship hunt at this point, but [teammate Ron] Capps is in it and we really want to take out some of our competitors to help our teammate and put him in a better position to win the championship,” Hagan said. “But, it’s drag racing, it’s fuel Funny Car. You never know what’s going to happen. That’s why we race on Sunday. Nothing is a sure thing out here. It’ll be a fight to the end, and our goal is to win these next two races. We want to pull down a trophy or two before it’s all said and done. That’s what we’re here to do.”
 

 

As Richard Townsend gets ready to wrap up his rookie season in the Funny Car class with the final two races of the year, the Oakdale, Calif., racer looks back with extreme satisfaction. He and partner Dustin Davis qualified at all six races they attended with their Lance Larsen-tuned Nitroholic Toyota and even won a round early in the year in Phoenix, but even more important than that has been the praise heaped upon them by their peers.

“It’s been very humbling,” he admitted. “We’ve had people come up and tell that we’re one of the best new teams they’ve seen in years. At one of the earlier races, [Jack] Beckman came down and told our crew, ‘We heard you guys fire it up; you were like the third car to fire up after the turnaround [between runs]. That’s impressive. Even Don Schumacher came up to me and told me that what we were doing with impressive. I was like, ‘Holy [crap], Don Schumacher just came up and talk to be.  It’s that kind of recognition that means so much to us.”

The team has some lofty goals to close out the season, including adding some more win lights and their first three-second run.

“We’d like to get in the threes and win some more,” said Townsend, whose career-best pass, a 4.02, came in Houston and was followed by a 4.04 at their last outing, in Seattle in early August. 

“We want to come out and get a good run on the board, like a mid-4.0, and then push it, even if it means hazing the tires at halftrack,” he said. “The program is solid enough now and Lance has the confidence, so it’s time. I’m ready. We never dreamed we’d be able to come out and be as consistent as we have been from testing on. The car has just been running great. We’ve been tinkering with all kinds of things and we feel like before qualifying is over we’ll be in the mid-3.90s.”

Townsend and Davis also are already looking forward to next year and maybe an increased schedule.

“We’ve got a few people talking about helping us next year; nothing huge, but if we could come out again next year and run our sox or eight races or maybe 10 or 12 just to do more than we did this year, I’d like to keep it going,” he said. “It’s hard, because you can’t hock the house to do this and both of our businesses have been hopping. Life’s good, work’s good and that’s good for this program, too.”
 


 


Jason Line may not be officially eliminated from championship contention (Bo Butner, currently in eighth place, is the highest-placed eliminated racer), but his chances of taking home a third title remain a longshot. Still, his victory at the NHRA Carolina Nationals kept a long streak of at least one win a season alive, and the overall performance of his Chevy Camaro can provide some salve to a disappointing season.

“We’ve gone backwards with (teammate Greg Anderson’s car) and forwards with mine,” said Line. “We’ve just struggled really hard with this ever since we switched to the new tire. So, I really couldn’t tell you what the problem is. I think it’s a compilation of a lot of different things that got us to where we are with my car, and now I’m doing my best to keep it in that happy place.”

Line boasts the second-best elapsed time average during the Countdown (6.558 seconds). The only quicker racer is Erica Enders, who averages hits of 6.555 through the first four Countdown racers. That suggests things are going well for the blue K.B. Racing Camaro as of late. The opposite is true for his teammate: Anderson is averaging passes of 6.575 second, a full two hundredths behind the leader.

Neither of the K.B. Racing flagship cars did well at the home of team owner Ken Black during the Denso Spark Plugs NRHA Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas in April. Anderson lost in the second round of racing, while Line dropped out in the first. Line believes that data, and not the data from the “old track” at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is what the team can use this weekend.

“That old data is basically not useful at all,” said Line. “They did a very good job with the track here. Of all the tracks, they did the best job here – and usually I can’t say that, but you can definitely say that about this place.”

The season ends with three-straight races at tracks the NHRA Drag Racing tour visited earlier in the year. Racers already competed in Charlotte and wrap up competition here in Las Vegas before completing the season back in Pomona. Line is skeptical that returning to the scene of the crime(s?) offers much help to race teams.

“It seems everywhere you go it’s a new chess match,” he said. “Obviously, you see trends that suggest what you should do, but it doesn’t always work out. Things don’t always behave the same way, because if one or two things change it can mess the entire thing up.”



Bo Butner and fiancé Randy Lyn Shipp are no strangers to the annual Pro Stock Halloween party that descends on the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas. Butner and company represented “Smokey and the Bandit” in 2017 and will once again rep a classic movie car at The Strip in Las Vegas – this time taking on the 1980s. 


The time-traveling DeLorean won’t give Butner a shot at going back in time to fix his 2018 Pro Stock title chances, but he’ll certainly look good as he chases his second Wally of the season. Custom hero cards are available at Butner’s trailer (pictured below), and you’ll want to check out the faux-DeLorean going much, much quicker than 88 mph on the drag strip at least four times this weekend. 


The idea came from Shipp, who has been the mastermind behind most of the best Halloween ideas in Las Vegas the past two seasons. We won’t spoil all the surprises (you’ll want to tune in Saturday for that), but trust us when we say she didn’t phone it in this season. 

It’s not over for Vincent Nobile, but his chances of winning a Pro Stock title in 2018 are incredibly slim entering the NHRA Toyota Nationals. He trails Tanner Gray by 136 points with two races to go and needs to combine a great weekend in Las Vegas with a terrible outing from the second-year Pro Stock racer. Then Nobile needs to wash, rinse and repeat that at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona. 

“I’m looking at the big picture,” said Nobile. “Personally, I could almost care less about winning the race, I’m here to win the championship. The season has obviously gone great. We’ve been a top five car all year and we’ve won races. I can’t really complain, but you know at the end of the day we’re all here to hold up that big trophy. It doesn’t how many little ones you get along the way.” 

It’s a fair, if slightly harsh, assessment. Nobile has one of the most consistent cars in the Pro Stock paddock, boasts the third-best reaction time through the four Countdown races run so far and has yet to get a win during the postseason. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. 

“You come out here and you’re racing for a championship and that’s my goal,” Nobile continued. “I don’t race for second place. Who wants to come out and say they came in second? Nobody remembers that guy. We had our ups and downs throughout the year and that made it tough. I’m not having a bad Countdown, that’s for sure. I think any other year we’d be right up there with Jeggy, but Tanner’s just having a great Countdown.”

Nobile’s average e.t. is a hundredth slower than Gray’s and his average reaction time is only thousandths of a second behind the leader. Those numbers, combined with some bad luck, has been enough to put the Mountain View Tire team behind the eight ball. There’s still time for Nobile to rebound, but it’s going to take many consecutive perfect shots. 


 


Ryan Oehler now claims 11 runs on his EBR-bodied Pro Stock Motorcycle and he feels he’s moving in the right direction. That’s both figurative and literal in the case of the Auto Club Road to the Future candidate. Oehler struggled with keeping the bike straight on his first handful of runs but feels he has that problem under control entering the NHRA Toyota Nationals. 

“The Arana guys came over and said they didn’t want to mess with my program, which I thought was nice of them to say (laughs), but offered to help me out,” said Oehler. “What we found is that I was kind of over correcting and making big adjustments when I just needed to tap at it a little bit. So, that’s kind of what we’re doing now.” 

Some of those adjustments are in the 60-foot area, which is half the battle in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. That’s not a battle Oehler has won in his rookie campaign. He averages a 1.086-second hit to the 60-foot clock, which is the worst in the class among full-time competitors. Getting that number competitive will cure much of what ails his burgeoning program. 

“I’m not the only rookie in the team, we’re all rookies,” said Oehler. “I’m the crew chief, I’m the tuner and I’m the rider. Once you get to this level, you’ve really got to have more help. Next year, my dad is going to be sticking back in the shop and working full time on building the engines for us. It’s all about putting people in the positions they’re best in.”

Oehler is qualified No. 16 after the first session. His bike was sluggish off the starting line and posted a 1.117-second 60-foot. There’s still plenty of work to do for the young team, but Oehler is in the team for now and he’s got another three cracks at the track. 

And you thought racing for a Pro Stock Motorcycle championship was stressful. LE Tonglet’s already done that. The 2010 world champion will become a first-time father as soon as this weekend as his wife, Kayla, is set to give birth to the couple’s first child. It takes a lot to get to the coolest (cool like calm and relaxed, though we guess he’s got some Han Solo in him), but Tonglet readily admitted this is a stressful deal. 

He trails leader Matt Smith by 41 points and sits qualified fifth with a 6.933-second hit. That would get him a matchup with Mark Paquette if nothing changes before the first round of eliminations Sunday. One of the things that might change: Kayla going into labor. Tonglet says he’s “playing things by ear” right now, but it seems he’ll fly back to Louisiana immediately if his wife goes into labor. 

Impact on the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship chase notwithstanding, the message is simple: family comes first. Before you suggest the NHRA Toyota Nationals provides a welcome distraction from the stress of welcoming a child into the world… well, don’t. 

“It’s a huge stress. Honestly, I wish I was there with her,” said Tonglet. “Hopefully I’ll be able to keep my mind right when I’m on the bike. We’ll see how it goes.” 

Hector Arana Jr. enters the NHRA Toyota Nationals as a longshot to win a Pro Stock Motorcycle championship. He trails Matt Smith by 138 points after struggling throughout the first four races of the Countdown to the Championship. His average e.t. (6.873) hasn’t been the problem: It’s how frequently he’s achieved it (76.2 success rate).

That’s well below top title contenders Matt Smith (86.2), Eddie Krawiec (92) and LE Tonglet (85.2). His average reaction times have also not been up to snuff (.042), especially compared to the .033 he averaged during the regular season. Arana rebounded a bit with a great pass in the first qualifying session (6.863) to earn three bonus points and (hopefully) get his program back on track.

“We’ve struggled quite a bit, but that run felt really good,” said Arana following his run to the top of the field. 
It put him .014 second ahead of Krawiec with a three chances to improve. Perhaps more impressive is the gulf between 
Arana and the No. 3 qualifier, Andrew Hines. He’s got a nearly .05 second gap there, giving the Lucas Oil TV racer room to experiment as qualifying continues Friday evening. 

PHOTOS


Race weekend in Las Vegas kicked off with the traditional Fanfest at the Fremont Street Experience where the stars of the NHRA Mello Yello Series took part in the largest autograph session of the season.


Among those taking part were, from left, Pro Stock racers Deric Kramer, Erica Enders, and Alex Laughlin, as well as Funny Car points leader Robert Hight.


The event is always host to a car-themed costume contest, especially in the Pro Stock ranks. Bo Butner’s Back to the Future-inspired machine, complete with removable rear-deck prop, was an eyecatcher.


Deric Kramer, the year’s newest superhero in the class, looked in fine fashion with his Batmobile-themed entry.


Alan Prusiensky also got in one the fun with an Adam’s Family-themed Dodge. All of the Pro Stock teams will have costumed crew members to add to the fun on Saturday.


Tom Huggins is back in action in Pro Stock for the first time since last year’s Sonoma event.


Leah Pritchett and Funny Car teammate Matt Hagan are both sporting dazzling faux-chrome Pennzoil paint schemes on their machines this weekend.


Jet dragsters closed out the opening day of qualifying with crowd-pleasing burner pops and flame-throwing passes.

PREVIEW

Steve Torrence enters the event on an unprecedented streak of Top Fuel Countdown wins, having won all four of the opening quartet of playoff events with his Capco Contractors dragster. He has the largest lead of any of the four points leaders and is probably the only driver with a chance to clinch a championship this weekend. He can’t do it in qualifying but the chances are strong for Sunday. Clay Millican and crew sit second and surely won’t be throwing in the towel, but it’s going to take some good fortune and a clean sweep to get them back into contention.

Funny Car is the polar opposite of its nitro-burning brothers as the points battle is the tightest of the four, with just 11 points separating leader Robert Hight and second-place J.R. Todd. With a maximum of 12 bonus points available to qualifying, you can bet that both teams will be gunning for best-of-session passes to change that number to their advantage. If Hight can get nine more points than Todd his lead will be more than a round while Todd would love to get ahead or even before eliminations begin Sunday.

Tanner Gray can clinch his first Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series Pro Stock world championship at the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas – the same place he got his first victory. He can help his cause tremendously by qualifying well and earning the eighth victory of his young career. Gray lost in the second round of the inaugural Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in the spring and hopes to continue his Countdown success with his fourth career playoff win in Sin City. 

Veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Smith is longer in the tooth than Gray and conventional wisdom suggests he brings some cagy, veteran experience. All Smith cares about is bringing a Wally back to North Carolina just in time to bury the ultra-competitive pack chasing him in Las Vegas. Smith boasts two Countdown wins; three finals and this sucker is still going all the way to the Auto Club NHRA Finals. That’s great for fans of the class – but not great for the ulcers appearing in Smith’s stomach.