The 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season launches in just about a month at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, and there are a lot of milestones and firsts that could be reached this season. Here’s a look at nine possible/probable moments to look forward to.
JOHN FORCE'S 150TH WIN
Drag racing’s all-time winningest driver crept one victory closer to yet another milestone in 2018, snagging No. 149 in Denver. Although he reached the semifinals only once this season after that, his team is too good not to add to least one more score in 2019. In 39 seasons, he’s only gone winless eight times -– most of them early in his career before he ran full schedules –- and only once (in 2009) in the last 32 seasons.
GREG ANDERSON DUAL MILESTONES
Pro Stock’s six-time champion is sitting on 91 wins but only added one last year -– curiously, just like Force, in Denver –- but with Tanner Gray, who scored eight wins last season, and few other contenders moving on, Anderson’s win total could zoom again and it’s possible he could get nine to reach 100. If he can get six wins, he’ll tie Warren Johnson as the class’ most prolific winner and would become numero uno with seven wins.
STEVE TORRENCE RECORD WIN STREAK
Steve-o finished out 2018 with a Countdown sweep of the final six events to rack up 24 straight round wins. The class record is 31, set by Tony Schumacher in 2008, meaning “them Capco boys” would need to win the Winternationals and reach the final of the Arizona Nationals to tie that mark. Completely conceivable. The record for most consecutive round wins regardless of class is 35 by Pro Stock icon Bob Glidden, spanning mid-1978 to mid-1979.
FIRST FEMALE FUNNY CAR CHAMP
Well, we’ve been saying this for a few years but after Courtney Force appeared to so effortlessly dominate the regular season this year, we’re underlining and bolding it for 2019. A solid Countdown run might get her there.
NEXT TO 50 WINS
Jason Line became the 50th NHRA driver to reach 50 wins with his victory last season at the fall Charlotte event. Andrew Hines is sitting on 48 but Pro Stock Motorcycle’s all-time wins leader went winless last season and had only one win in 2017. Hines’ teammate, Eddie Krawiec, is just one behind him at 47 and coming off a four-win season his odds of getting to 50 before Hines are good. Robert Hight would need five wins to reach 50 career Funny Car victories, but it’s a feat he’s pulled off just twice in the last eight seasons. Top Fuel hero Doug Kalitta needs six scores to reach 50 but the once-prolific winner has had back-to-back one-win seasons so six would be asking a lot; he’s had two five-win seasons, in 2005 and ’06.
Sportsman star Edmond Richardson is also at 48 but not as active as he once was and, consequently, remains winless since 2014. Another Sportsman ace, Jeff Taylor, won the Auto Club NHRA Finals to reach 46 wins while Top Alcohol veteran Jay Payne is at 45 after winning in Atlanta last season.
ALL THREE-SECOND FUNNY CAR FIELD
Two years ago at the Auto Club NHRA Finals, John Bojec set the record bump for a Funny Car field at 4.029, but we haven’t come close lately. The 2018 Winternationals had Jeff Diehl and Jim Campbell in No. 15 and 16, both at 4.059, but neither has run a three in their current cars, but outside the field behind them were Gary Densham and Bob Bode, both of whom have. The changes to track prep didn’t help after that, but it may be possible in 2019.
CLOSING OUT THE DENSO 200-MPH CLUB
Hector Arana Jr., Eddie Krawiec, and Matt Smith became the first three members of the Denso Spark Plugs 200-mph Club for Pro Stock Motorcycles, and only one spot remains open. A trio of former world champs – Angelle Sampey (199.76), Andrew Hines (199.55), and Hector Arana Sr. (199.35) -- have all gotten close and should be the favorites to next reach the double-century mark on two wheels.
FATHER-SON MELLO YELLO CHAMPIONSHIP DUOS
Hector Arana Jr. had another great year in 2018 and his new EBR was flying. He finished third for the third time and was second in 2011, but if he could win the championship next year it would mark the first time that a father and son won Mello Yello championships; Hector Sr. won the crown in 2009. We’ve had a few close calls –- Warren Johnson won six Pro Stock championships and son Kurt finished second four times –- and, of course, John and Brittany Force became the first father-daughter combo when she won the Top Fuel crown in 2017, but no fathers and sons yet outside of Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and Rickie Smith (Pro Mod).
FLETCHER OR RAMPY MOVE TO SECOND ALL-TIME
No one will ever catch John Force’s sport-leading 149 wins, but second-place Frank Manzo’s 105 is definitely in jeopardy since the Alcohol Funny Car kingpin retired a few years ago. Dan Fletcher is at 104 after a pair of wins last season and David Rampy reached 100 in Pomona. Both are still super competitive in their fields.