The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ annual stop at Heartland Park Topeka for the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties, which takes place May 18-20, means a hectic time for Scott Palmer when it comes to ticket requests and taking care of family and friends. But for the longtime Top Fuel driver, it also presents an opportunity to reflect on just how far he has come in his racing career.
The veteran advanced to his first Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship a year ago, competing in all 24 events for the first time. Palmer already has his first career final-round appearance in 2018 and the Cassville, Mo., resident knows what getting his first career Top Fuel win at a track close to home would mean, and the celebration that would ensue.
“We want to go there and win, and if we did that it would be crazy,” Palmer said. “We’ve raced all around there over the years, racing at these little tracks. All these areas I’ve raced, people have followed it and know our story. The way it all happened for our team, it would be no fun if we couldn’t share it with the ones who have been there from the start. It’s exciting to see that support, and the people around here just following us and cheering us on, it’s mind-blowing.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including a live broadcast of finals on Sunday, May 20 at 2 p.m. (ET). It is the eighth of 24 races during the 2018 season and Palmer’s focus is finishing in the top 10 again, while hopefully picking up his first career win in the process.
He nearly got it at Phoenix in his 10,000-horsepower CatSpot/Tommy Thompson Motorsports dragster, falling to points leader Steve Torrence in the final round, but Palmer has been solid all season. He has qualified in the middle of the pack and been consistently in the 3.70s, all marks of progress in a Top Fuel class loaded with talent. With temperatures starting to heat up, Palmer believes his team can take advantage and move up the point standings.
“We’re still learning how to do this at this level and there’s a lot that goes into it,” Palmer said. “We’re 10th in points and we’ve missed a couple of opportunities, but then again we’re still learning. It’s up to us to make it happen and make sure we’re doing our homework, and I’m confident we will. It’s a great team and a great group of guys working their butts off.”
Palmer has been impressed with the constant improvements his team has made. But he knows there will need to be more to compete against the likes of Torrence, who has three wins in 2018, eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher, defending event winner Brown, Atlanta champ Leah Pritchett, Pomona winner Doug Kalitta, Gainesville winner Richie Crampton and defending world champ Brittany Force. The team continues to get acclimated with the new changes to the car this year, and Palmer believes the team took big strides during testing after the most recent race in Charlotte. The journey has been a tremendous thrill, and Palmer plans to keep enjoying the ride.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Palmer said. “This is it, this is the Super Bowl. Hell yeah, it’s a challenge and we feel it. But we’re here to prove that we can do it. We missed a golden opportunity (losing in the first round in Charlotte), but luckily we didn’t lose anything in the points. But we need to move up and make sure we leave ourselves a chance to move up. It’s been a crazy deal, but we’re bound and determined to do the right thing and keep moving forward.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 18 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 19, at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 20.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. 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.