This much is certain as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series roars back into action this weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis; those who win titles at the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals will clearly have earned them. The current pre-entry list for NHRA’s return to action features full fields in each pro category including 18 racers in Top Fuel and Funny Car, 16 in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and an exceptionally strong contingent of 22 Pro Stock cars that includes three promising rookie drivers.
The Top Fuel field for NHRA’s first event since late February’s Arizona Nationals will include current and two-time Mello Yello champion Steve Torrence and his father, Billy. Torrence elected to sit out the Pomona season opener but quickly made up for lost time with a convincing win in Phoenix. With no Countdown to the Championship this season, the phrase “every round counts” has become a popular refrain and that will certainly be the case at Indy.
Pomona winner Doug Kalitta heads into the Indy event as the current leader in Top Fuel and he’s going to face pressure by DSR drivers Leah Pruett and Antron Brown, who are currently third and seventh, respectively. The DSR team will feature strength in numbers with the long-awaited return of eight-time champion Tony Schumacher and longtime fan favorite Cory McClanathan, who are each entered for both the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals and next week’s Lucas Oil NHRA Summernationals. Schumacher, who has not raced since the end of the 2018 season, will be racing a DSR dragster backed by Global Electronic Technology. The rest of the Top Fuel contenders include former Indy champs Terry McMillen and Shawn Langdon, Clay Millican, T.J. Zizzo, Justin Ashley, Doug Foley, and a number of local entries.
Former Mello Yello Funny Car champion Jack Beckman opened the season with a win and a runner-up in Pomona and Phoenix, so he figures to have the upper hand in Funny Car. With four months off, it likely wouldn’t be fair to describe Beckman’s Infinite Hero team as red hot, but they’ve clearly done little wrong at this point in the season. At this point, Beckman’s closest rivals are his three DSR teammates, Tommy Johnson Jr., Matt Hagan, and Ron Capps, as well as 2018 Funny Car champ J.R. Todd.
Veteran Tim Wilkerson has expanded his Levi, Ray & Shoup team to include a second entry that will be wheeled by his son, Daniel. Next week at the Lucas Oil Summernationals, Daniel will shift his role to crew chief to make way for the nitro debut of Pro Mod racer Chad Green.
Two-time Top Alcohol Funny Car champion Jonnie Lindberg, who now lives less than a mile from Lucas Oil Raceway, will return to the nitro Funny Car class as a substitute driver for Bob Tasca III, who revealed this week that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Lindberg reached three final rounds during his stint with Jim Head Racing and a fourth with the Mike Neff-led Tasca team would not be a surprise.
Head’s team will also return in Indy with new driver Blake Alexander while Alexis DeJoria will continue her comeback with her new ROKit/ABK Beer team led by Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante, while two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon continues to push forward with his Snap-on Tools Dodge.
With pro teams limited to just two qualifying passes on Saturday, there is a strong likelihood of a few raceday upsets which potentially opens the door for a first-time winner. Likely candidates for that honor could include Paul Lee, Jim Campbell, Terry Haddock, Dale Creasy Jr.,, and fellow independants Mike McIntire and Alex Miladinovich.
Conspicuous by their absence on the Top Fuel and Funny Car entry lists are the are John Force Racing team cars including John and Brittany Force and teammates Robert Hight and Austin Prock. The JFR team has elected not to compete in either of the upcoming events in Indianapolis.
Heathy and robust could be two words that best describe the talented 22-car field assembled in the Pro Stock class. Leading the way is reigning and three-time champion Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports teammates , including Jeg Coughlin Jr., Alex Laughlin, Aaron Stanfield, and television personality and Fox Sports NHRA commentator Bruno Massel. Equally as strong is the KB Racing fleet that includes Summit teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line and their stablemates Bo Butner, Deric Kramer, and Matt Hartford.
The Pro Stock field will also feature several rookie drivers making their series debuts including Troy Coughlin Jr., who will join his uncle, Jeg, under the Elite banner and second-generation racer Kyle Koretsky, who will follow his father, Kenny, in the Pro Stock class behind the wheel of a Nitro Fish Camaro using KB power.
Chris McGaha, the winner of the 2016 U.S. Nationals at Indy, will return for another shot at the title and this time, he’s bringing along his 18-year-old son, Mason, who is set to debut in the Harlow Sammons team’s second Camaro. With 22 entries and just two qualifying sessions, the battle just to make the 16-car field for Sunday’s final eliminations in Pro Stock figures to be epic.
The 2020 debut of the Pro Stock Motorcycle class was originally scheduled for Gainesville in March, but it will now take place this weekend in Indy. The Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team will return with riders Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, and Angelle Sampey, who have a combined 13 championships between them.
The Harley team figures to face their toughest challenge from two rival teams, Matt Smith Racing and Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator squad. Smith and his wife, Angie, will be joined by teammate Scotty Pollacheck, while Savoie will lead a two-bike Suzuki effort that also includes past Indy winner John Hall. A couple of other former Indy winners who bear watching include Hector Arana Jr. on his Lucas Oil EBR and Steve Johnson, who ended the 2019 season on a strong run with his Slick 50 Suzuki.
In addition to the four Mello Yello series pro categories, the 2020 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals will also feature competition in the Oakley Top Sportsman and Top Dragster series as well as the JEGS Super Quick Series, a staple of competition in the North Central Division for more than three decades.