NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


News and notes from the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at Indy

Cleaning out the reporter's notebook on the final day of the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis.
12 Jul 2020
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor

Between Friday’s test session and Sunday’s final eliminations, team owner Jim Head changed bodies twice on his Head Contractors and Engineers Mustang Funny Car. Driver Blake Alexander made several runs on Friday with a blue Mustang body but qualified the car with the green body that they ran earlier this season. Head explained that he simply hadn’t had time to run the new body through tech inspection, which is necessary to verify dimensions. That process was completed on Saturday so Alexander ran the new body on Sunday during his round one win over Paul Lee, who nicked a timing block.

Speaking of changes, former Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Jerry Savoie made a drastic move late Saturday when he parked his White Alligator Suzuki and elected to ride a back-up bike on Sunday. Savoie was unhappy with his performance after qualifying in the No. 11 spot, so he changed to the Big St. Charles Suzuki that is normally ridden by teammate Karen Stoffer. This week, Stoffer announced that she was most likely not going to race this year so Savoie had readily available spare.

As if his long-awaited return wasn’t newsworthy enough, eight-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher made the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals even more memorable when he proposed to his longtime girlfriend Summer Penland, who is the sister of former Top Alcohol Funny Car national champion Joe Penland. And, if you were wondering just how much Schumacher missed racing in Top Fuel, he was quick to point out that it had been "exactly one year, seven months, and 29 days" since his last run in a nitro car.

Cory McClenathan is on the verge of wrapping up his impressive Top Fuel career but he’s well aware that he has a chance to make history before hanging up his helmet for good. McClenathan currently has 34 national event wins to his credit, one less than NHRA icon “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, who retired with 35 victories. “Oh, that would be amazing,” said McClenathan. “Anytime you can be included in the same conversation as Garlits, that says something. If that happens, maybe I can finally walk away.”

Looking ahead to next weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, expect to see Bo Butner in action even though the Pro Stock class is not scheduled to be run. Butner will try his hand at Pro Mod racing behind the wheel of Rickie Smith’s Strutmasters Camaro. Butner had the opportunity to sub for Smith while the three-time Pro Mod champ recovers from recent back surgery. Jonathan Gray is also scheduled to race one of Smith’s nitrous-fed Camaro entries.

Finally, a bit of Indy trivia. The last time Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis held a national event that wasn’t the U.S. Nationals? You’d have to go back to 1984 when the historic facility hosted the NHRA SPORTSnationals. Among the winners at that event were Darrell Gwynn, who captured the Top Alcohol Dragster title one year before his move to Top Fuel and Brad Anderson, who dominated the Top Alcohol Funny Car class with a final round win over the late Vern Moats. For the record, Indy also hosted the final eliminations of the rain-delayed Seattle event in 2016, and event that is remembered for Aaron Strong’s upset win in Pro Stock.

With his semifinal win over Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta became just the second Top Fuel driver to eclipse 700 round wins joining eight-time champion Tony Schumacher. Kalitta's career record heading into the final round is 700-460. Although he lost in the final, Kalitta holds a massive lead in the Top Fuel standings base on his three final round appearances. He has 310 points while Steve and Billy Torrence are second and third with 199 and 190 respectively.

The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals featured competition in the Oakley Motorsports Top Dragster and Top Sportsman series as well as the JEGS Super Quick Series, which is exclusive to the North Central Division. Zach Sackman was crowned the winner in Top Dragster after he stopped reigning national champion Danny Nelson in the final round. Jon Steldt wheeled his Cobalt to the win in Top Sportsman  thanks to a final round win against Chris Osborn and Tony Pranger picked up the Wally in the Super Quick class after downing Brian Garner in the final round.

As a reminder, next weekend's Lucas Oil NHRA Summernationals, also held at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis, will not feature the Pro Stock or Pro Stock Motorcycle classes. Instead, it will mark the season debut of the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod series as well as the SAM Tech.edu Factory Stock Series and the continuation of the Mickey Thompson Top Fuel Harley series. There will also be a full compliment of E.T. Bracket Racing action.