It’s been more than four months since the Covid-19 pandemic halted the 2020 NHRA season but the wheels are once again turning for Mello Yello Series pros with this weekend’s E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis. The first two events in Pomona and Phoenix featured few surprises with solid favorites visiting the winner’s circle in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock including past or current world champions such as Steve Torrence, Jack Beckman, Erica Enders, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. claiming early season wins. A lot can, and has changed in the last four months, but that won’t prevent us from picking Doug Kalitta, Jack Backman, Erica Enders, and Matt Smith as the favorites.
A win in Pomona, a runner-up in Phoenix, and a solid history in Indianapolis that includes a win at last year’s U.S. Nationals makes him the favorite this week. When it comes to Lucas Oil Raceway, team Kalitta is more than able to hold their own. Connie Kalitta also won here, in a memorable final against Eddie Hill.
Sitting out the Pomona opener didn’t really impact the performance of the two-time champion Capco team. Missing Pomona might have presented a challenge to crew chief Richard Hogan, but you’d never have known it based on their convincing win in Phoenix. Torrence has a pair of wins here in Top Fuel (2017) and Top Alcohol Dragster (2005) and a third could certainly be in the near future.
So far this season, this car has cranked out 3.6-second runs like a Pez dispenser. A pair of 3.68 runs in qualifying for Pomona and Phoenix were followed by four more 3.6s during eliminations. A holeshot loss in the Phoenix semifinals was a bit of a momentum killer, but that’s hardly an indicator of future potential. Those sort of runs might be a bit tough during the summer heat in Indy, but clearly this car won’t go much longer without reaching a final round.
Say what you want about “Dem Capco boys” but the intramural scrimmages between the Torrence family have been some of the best side-by-side runs of the past few years including their 3.698 to 3.699 match-up in Phoenix. In his 50th career start in Top Fuel, Billy has an excellent shot here to grab career win No. 6, but he might consider qualifying on the opposite side of the ladder from world champ, Steve.
He’s spent the last several months wheeling his bracket dragster in a high stakes events across the country so there shouldn’t be any rust to shake off from a driving standpoint. As for his 2020 switch from Funny Car to Top Fuel, that won’t be an issue either for one of the sport’s most versatile drivers. There are about 8-10 cars that could win this event and this is certainly one of them.
Amalie Motor Oil
Remember the feel-good moment of the 2018 U.S. Nationals when this guy turned on the win light in the Top Fuel final? That wasn’t a fluke and it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see the Amalie team win again at Indy. On their best days, they can run with anyone else in the field and there are so many unknowns after a four month layoff, nothing seems impossible.
On most Wednesday nights, the three-time Top Fuel champion can be found at Lucas Oil Raceway running Jr. Dragsters with his kids so he knows the historic facility like the back of his hand. In fact, he’s also got three U.S. Nationals Wallys on his shelf including one in Top Fuel and two on a Pro Stock Motorcycle. It’s been a while since AB visited the winner’s circle, but remember this team got a strong upgrade this season with the return of Brian Corradi.
Global Electronic Technologies
It’s been a while since we’ve been able to include the eight-time champion in Tricky Tipster but his return is far from a publicity stunt. He’s here to win and given the depth of the DSR team and his incredible success in Indy (10 wins in 16 years from 2000-2016) is there anyone who thinks he can’t get the job done?
Infinite Hero Dodge
It’s hard to bet against any team that won seven of eight rounds to start the season even after a four-month layoff. It’s not supposed to be easy to dominate in the Funny Car class these days. (In fact, it’s just about impossible) but it’s hard to find fault with anything this crew has done so far this season. As an added bonus, he also won the U.S. Nationals in 2015.
Speaking of disappointing starts, it’s hard to imagine the frustration these guys must be feeling after qualifying No. 1 at the first two races and leaving the West Coast with just two round wins. They certainly deserve better and it won’t be long before they get it. Again, just a reminder of how competitive the 2020 Funny Car class is. You can do a lot of soul searching in four months, so expect to see this team much more focused going forward.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge
It’s been a while but we’re not sure how many people realize just how impressive his win in Phoenix was. When you talk about consistency, the MD Anderson Cancer Center Dodge had it to spare. After qualifying with a 3.86, they made four runs in eliminations between 3.86 and 3.88 to win the whole darn thing. Maybe time to moonlight at a few big E.T. bracket events.
The DHL team did not have the start to the year they’d wanted but they’ve had plenty of time to make changes ahead of NHRA’s return at Indy. The fact that Todd won back-to-back Indy Funny Car titles in 2017-2018 has boosted their stock significantly. Expect to see a whole different outlook from this crew.
The last time the NAPA Dodge raced in Phoenix, the result was a narrow semifinal loss to teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. giving Capps 750 career round wins as a pro. The NAPA team heads into NHRA’s return ranked fourth in the championship battle so there is a big opportunity here to gain some ground on the leaders.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
So far, the Levi, Ray, & Shoup team is off to a solid start with a pair of quarterfinal finishes to open the season. That might not sound like much, but given the level of competition, its plenty impressive. He also figures to arrive in Indy with additional data thanks to a second team car run by his son, Daniel.
Rokit Phones, ABK Beer Toyota
After sitting out for two full seasons, there probably isn’t any group more anxious for the season to resume than the Rockit crew and with good reason. Their first two events back on the tour went fairly well and there is every reason to think the best is yet to come.
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
A tough deal here with team owner/driver Bob Tasca III sidelined due to a positive Covid-19 diagnosis but Lindberg is a more than capable fill-in driver who should quickly be able to fit in with the Motorcraft team. Lindberg went to three final rounds during his stint with Jim Head and this should provide an opportunity to appear in another money round.
When you give her the best car in the field (or anything even remotely close to it) she’s going to more often than not find a way to get the job done which is exactly what happened in Phoenix a few months ago. Defending a championship is supposedly the hardest thing in sports, but earlier this season, the Elite team was making it look easy.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
This will be race No. 450 of his Hall of Fame career and he comes in with an excellent shot to win it after qualifying on the pole at the first two races and posting a win in Pomona. The entire Coughlin family has a long history of success at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis and this provides an opportunity to add to that legacy.
Butner Auto/Strutmasters Camaro
Indiana native bounced back from a tough Pomona with a runner-up finish in Phoenix and he looked pretty good in the process. At first glance, the KB team cars would appear to be a tick behind the two leading Elite cars, but this is NHRA Pro Stock and things can change quite a bit after four months away from the track.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
For all of his success in the Pro Stock class, Indy has not been his best track with just one final round appearance in 2011. If you want to discuss the here and now, he’s got early-season momentum to build on after a final in Pomona and a semi in Phoenix. That’s a far cry from his early struggles last season.
JCM Racing Camaro
In the world of NHRA Pro Stock, you’ve got nothing if you don’t have horsepower and guess what? The last time we raced, he had horsepower. Delco started the season with serious horsepower and he’s got the results to show for it by qualifying No. 4 in both Pomona and Phoenix.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
After Pomona and Phoenix, we’d already seen enough to know that the (mostly) single car Harlow Sammons team will be able to keep the leaders well within range, at least for the foreseeable future. This is now a two-car effort with the addition of 18-year old Mason McGaha, who is scheduled to make his NHRA pro debut this weekend.
Following fairly impressive showing in Phoenix, where he reached the semifinals and ran a very solid 6.54 in the process. He could certainly benefit from a top-half qualifying run, just to avoid the top cars in the early rounds but otherwise, there’s no cause to panic here.
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro
In both Pomona and Phoenix, he drew Chris McGaha in the first round and both times, he wasn’t able to get down the track. If there’s anyone in this field who likely benefitted from a lengthy break, its’ the four-time world champion. On the bright side, he has six wins at Indy.
The fact that he missed out on the championship last year is somewhat irrelevant because this is currently the best bike in the class and he’s likely to set the pace in qualifying. Occasionally, he has trouble making four good runs on Sunday, but as long as his luck holds out, there’s an excellent chance to open the long-awaited 2020 season with a victory.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Last season, he came out of the gate one fire and won the opener in Gainesville, and several others en route to a sixth world championship. Hard to imagine that he’s not capable of a similar start this season. And then there is that not-so-small matter of the final spot in the Denso 200-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle club, where he’s also one of the favorites.
White Alligator Suzuki
The last time the Pro Stock Motorcycle class raced at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis, this guy was the last man standing. After a strong finish in 2019, he’s committed to a full season this year, which figures to be bad news for the rest of the class.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
One thing that we should all be able to agree on; he will not go winless again this season. There’s simply too much talent here for that to happen. The questions is, where and when will his next win come? He’s had past success at Indy, which also happens to be his homes track so this would be as good a place as any to get started.
Hector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR
Another rider who has had some past success at Lucas Oil Raceway Indy with a victory here in 2011. No matter how long it’s been delayed, the best thing about the first race of the season is that it shows who did their homework during the off-season. Odds are the Lucas Oil team made some gains. Also, worth noting that dad, Hector Sr. is not entered, fueling rumors that he’s on the verge of retirement.
Slick 50 Suzuki
Over the last few months, the drag racing world has rallied around Johnson’s longtime crew member Ervin “Jock” Allen in his tough battle against Covid-19. Now, it’s time to go racing and if one remembers, this bike was very quick in the second half of the 2019 season. A win here would be well received by the entire PSM fratiernity.
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson
Now in year two with the Vance & Hines factory Harley-Davidson team, she’s now made plenty of runs on their FXDR entry so there’s no reason to think she won’t be competitive. She’s also in the best shape of her career and more determined than ever to return to championship forum. She is also a two-time winner at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Flyin’ Ryan EBR
Is this NHRA’s next first-time Pro winner? He certainly could be, but obviously he’s going to have to find a way to get past a talented line-up in order to get it. Clearly, this team’s best days are ahead of it and if he happened to make the final here, or even pull off a victory, no one should really be that surprised.