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Top seeds look to battle back as Countdown to the Championship battles resume

World Wide Technology Raceway outside of St. Louis will host the second of six stops on the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship schedule this weekend. The fan-favorite stop on the NHRA circuit takes place early in the playoffs, giving world title contenders an ideal opportunity to make a championship impression.
24 Sep 2019
Posted by NHRA.com staff
News
St. Louis

With the stars of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series looking to make an early step to a world championship, World Wide Technology Raceway will come alive with the sights and unmistakable sounds of 11,000-horsepower, 300-mph action during the eighth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, Sept. 27-29. 

The highly-anticipated race just outside of St. Louis is the second of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and 20th of 24 races during the 2019 season. The fan-favorite stop on the NHRA circuit takes place early in the playoffs, giving world title contenders an ideal opportunity to make a championship impression. All the top stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle will battle for critical championship points during the event, which starts with the new NHRA Prime Time qualifying during the second session on Friday. During Prime Time, drivers perform a burnout to their favorite songs played by an on-site DJ. The thrilling evening show, complete with a pyrotechnics display, is a perfect start to what will be another memorable weekend in St. Louis. Also on Friday, one lucky student will receive a $20,000 scholarship through the Folds of Honor program. 

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 29. Winning St. Louis proved pivotal for three of the winners, as Torrence, Gray, and Smith all won world titles.
 
Steve Torrence rolled in the Countdown to the Championship a year ago, winning in St. Louis and claiming victories at all six playoff races. It was the first world title for Torrence, who is determined to repeat. He was the points leader on the strength of eight regular-season wins, but had an early exit at the Countdown opener in Reading, so the road to a second title won’t be easy. Doug Kalitta won Indy and was runner-up in Reading to take his lead early in the Countdown, while others to watch include 2017 world champ Brittany Force, three-time world champ Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, Richie Crampton, Clay Millican, Austin Prock, Mike Salinas, and Billy Torrence.

Robert Hight won in dramatic fashion a year ago in Funny Car at St. Louis as his car exploded just past the finish line in the final round. Hight crashed and broke his collarbone, but he returned by the next race to compete for a championship. He fell just short to J.R. Todd, who claimed his first world title, but Hight entered the playoffs this year as the points leader aiming for his third title. Like Torrence, Hight also faltered in Reading, allowing event winner Jack Beckman and his own teammate, John Force, who won in Indy, to drop him to third. Todd, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Shawn Langdon, Bob Tasca III, Matt Hagan, and Tim Wilkerson also are in the hunt for the championship.

Alex Laughlin’s first career Pro Stock win came at St. Louis in 2016, and now the rising star will try to claim his first world title. He earned his first Countdown to the Championship berth this year and after winning at Indy, Laughlin has high hopes, but so do nine other championship contenders in the class, including points leader Jason Line, 2017 world champ Bo Butner, four-time world champion Greg Anderson, two-time world champ Erica Enders, Deric Kramer, five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., Matt Hartford, Val Smeland, and Chris McGaha.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, everyone spent the season chasing Andrew Hines heading into the Countdown to the Championship. The five-time world champ dominated the regular season to the tune of seven wins in 10 regular-season events, but back-to-back wins by Jerry Savoie dropped Hines to second place and there are a number of other two-wheeled standouts out to stop them both,  including defending world champ and race winner Matt Smith, Eddie Krawiec, three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, Angie Smith, Karen Stoffer, Hector Arana Jr., Hector Arana, and Ryan Oehler. 
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The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, which will have its 10th of 12 races in 2019. The series will be presented by Mr. Race Oil in St. Louis, and the defending event winner is current points leader Stevie “Fast” Jackson. The event includes the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as well, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.

Along with the exciting on-track action, the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will honor first responders with NHRA’s “Salute to First Responders” celebration. 

NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock Motorcycle School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. World Wide Technology Raceway will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
       
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
 
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
  
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:15 and 6:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 28, at 1:45 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (618) 215-8888. Tickets also are available online at www.wwtraceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult.