Your old pal Tricky Tipster doesn’t often get emotional, but this week is different. On the eve of the final NHRA Southern Nationals, he can’t help but think of all the good times and exciting memories provided by Atlanta Dragway in the last 40 years. Sentiment aside, there are still some Wallys to be won and anyone who is lucky enough to secure one from this weekend’s event will have a truly memorable keepsake.
Racing in the thin desert air of Las Vegas presents its own set of unique challenges to Camping World NHRA Series pros, but when combined with the unpredictable nature of the four-wide format, the Denso Spark Plugs Four-Wide Nationals becomes one of the most difficult events of the year for handicappers. Another thing to factor in is the still-young 2021 season. With just one event in the books, we’ve seen just a random sampling from NHRA’s pro racers. To that end, here are Tricky Tipster’s best bets for this weekend. Coming off a solid performance at the Denso Four-Wide race in Las Vegas, where he correctly picked Steve Torrence and Erica Enders to win in Top Fuel and Pro Stock, respectively, Tipster offers up the following for the final go-round in the Peach State
We picked him to get the job done in Las Vegas and he delivered with an all-star performance. He’s also won here three times overall in Top Fuel including two of the last three races held here (2017 and 2019) so there really is no reason not to go with the Capco boys for this weekend’s event. Remember, when this car gets on a roll, it’s often hard to stop.
Monster Energy/Flavor Pak
Behind Torrence, there is a logjam for what is presumably the second-best car in the class at any given moment, and based on her performance in Las Vegas, which included a semifinal finish and low E.T. and top speed of the event, it might just be the Monster Energy team. It’s also worth noting that she was a runner-up to Torrence the last time nitro cars race in Atlanta two years ago.
A recent mid-week test session in Indianapolis likely cured whatever was ailing the Mac Tools team which honestly couldn’t have been much since they were coming off a runner-up in Las Vegas. The lesson here is that good teams take advantage of opportunities whenever they present themselves. Making a few additional runs this week likely provided enough data to give them a leg up on other teams that are still finding their way early in the 2021 season.
Speaking of fond memories from Atlanta Dragway, this guy has plenty of them with four Top Fuel wins here since 2008 and for good measure, a pair of Pro Stock Motorcycle wins here in 2001 and 2006. The bottom line here is that he knows how to find the winner’s circle at this track and given his recent performance surge, there is not a single reason to think he can’t find his way there one more time.
We’re only two races into the season so it’s almost not worth looking at the points standings. Okay, unless you happen to be ranked No. 2 and well within striking distance of the leader. That’s where the DHL crew is right now and they’ve got a golden opportunity here to establish themselves as legit championship contenders. Langdon has never been to a final round here, but he wins just about everywhere else.
Whisps Cheese Crisps
The 2018 Atlanta Top Fuel champ will have a new look this week with the addition of Whisps Cheese Crisps to her DSR entry. She enters the Atlanta event ranked No. 8 in the class, but that’s a bit misleading since she’s not even four rounds out of first place. It’s hard to imagine this car won’t get a few wins this season, so why not start early?
This hasn’t been nearly the start that the Capco team envisioned with a pair of early losses in Gainesville and Las Vegas but hey, it’s still very early in what figures to be a long season, so let’s look at the positives. For all the struggles, including a rare early red-light at the Las Vegas Four-Wide race, he’s still sitting comfortably in the No. 5 spot in the Camping World standings and needs just one “get healthy” weekend to be right back in the driver’s seat. There’s nothing going on here that a semifinal (or better) finish wouldn’t cure.
Tipster gets paid to make tough choices and this one was one of the more difficult. After winning Gainesville, he earned his spot among the Elite 8 but did so at the expense of some very competitive entries including Mike Salinas, Justin Ashley, Clay Millican, and Doug Foley. Now, it’s on him to continue earning this spot going forward.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
Sure, he won the Denso Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas but does that justify Tipster’s highest honor? In this case, it sure does. Not only did he win in Las Vegas, but he had a car that easily could have gone the distance in Gainesville. And looking back a bit further, these guys were plenty good during the abbreviated 2020 season. We’re still a long way from talking championship, but when that time comes, he’s likely to be a part of the discussion.
Followed up his Gainesville win with a tough round two loss in Las Vegas even though his 3.98 wasn’t good enough to survive a very tough quad. He’s also got a score to settle with Atlanta Dragway after losing to teammate Doug Kalitta in that amazing final round at the 2016 event. If you don’t remember, it was almost certainly the closest drag race in the history of the Top Fuel class.
Atlanta has been fairly good to the Mopar team with three final rounds in the last seven years including a win in 2016. He’s also coming off a strong runner-up finish in Las Vegas which should provide a bit of momentum heading into Atlanta and beyond. For what it’s worth, this car is also typically a threat to set low E.T. and/or top speed of the event.
Auto Club Chevy
As noted earlier, it may take a couple of races for each of the John Force Racing entries to find their footing after being inactive for the better part of a year. Now that we’re headed to the third race of the season, that time has probably arrived. He’s got a solid 3-2 record in final rounds here but hasn’t been to a final since 2014.
When it comes to Atlanta Dragway, he’s had his share of hard-hitting moments including, but not limited to, wins in two of the last three events here. It’s still fair to bring the recent crew chief change into the discussion, but that should not affect his long-term competitiveness. This is still a car that’d you’d be more than happy to get in your weekly Funny Car office pool.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
Once again, we’re just two races into the new season so we’ll try to keep the enthusiasm to a low roar but it’s also worth pointing out that the Levi, Ray & Shoup car is solidly in the Top 5 in the points standings and it has shown very well in both Gainesville and Las Vegas. He’s also got a rich history in Atlanta with a win in 2015 and runner-up finishes in 2017 and 2019, two of the last three events contested here. It’s safe to say he’s got a good read on the track.
Blue Def Chevy
Incredible stat of the week. There have been 39 previous editions of the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway and this guy has been to the final round in 15 of them. His overall record is 7-8 in those final rounds but that’s a record that no one else can even come close to. Does he have enough left for one more win here? It would certainly be a fitting way to close the curtain on this historic event
Things are definitely looking up for the two-time world champion, who recently joined the Team Kalitta cars for a test session in Indy. There’s little doubt that the Snap-on car will contend for some wins this year. The only question is when? It might be a bit early for that, but then again things change quickly in this sport. Oh, and he’s also got a win here, but it came way back in 1998.
She won in Las Vegas and that is more than enough to earn the top billing this week but it’s also worth noting that this was far from one of her most dominant performances. That’s actually a good thing because that’s what good teams do; win when they’re not supposed to. Oddly enough, she’s never won here although she does have a runner-up at the 2017 race.
KB Racing Camaro
Historically, this has been one of his better tracks with 11 final rounds dating back to 2001 including four victories that means he makes the final here roughly 50-percent of the time. He’s also the incoming points leader, although his edge is just 33-points following a disappointing showing in Las Vegas.
Get Biofuel Camaro
Beyond Enders and Anderson, it’s almost impossible to get a good read on the rest of the Pro Stock class because the competition is so darned close. It’s also been three years since the Atlanta race featured Pro Stock so there isn’t much recent data to go on. That being said, the Get BioFuel team is off to a solid start and they enter this race just five points behind Enders for second place so that’s a good place to start.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
As much as this category has evolved over the years, the bottom line is still horsepower. Without it, you don’t stand a chance. Fortunately, for the Harlow Sammons team, they have plenty of it with Exhibit A being their 206 mph top speed of the meet in Las Vegas. While that doesn’t exactly ensure a victory, it’s a decent start.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
Because of the shortened schedule, it’s still a bit difficult to grade last year’s impressive rookie class of Pro Stock drivers but it’s clear that this kid, the youngest of the group, has earned a passing grade. He got a chance to race in the final quad in Las Vegas largely because he got the clutch pedal out on time in each round.
Troy Coughlin Jr.
The Four-Wide race was not particularly kind to the JEGS team although they did perform well in qualifying. That being said, there is still a tremendous upside here and it’s just a matter of time before the yellow and black machine starts turning on a bunch of win lights. Uncle Jeg had his moments here with three Pro Stock wins (and a Comp victory) so it would not be at all out of line to think the next generation might get his first win here as well.
Total Seal Camaro
Sometimes looks can be very deceiving. For example, the Total Seal car has just one round win so far this season but we’re just two races in and one of those is the Four-Wide which has a reputation for extreme variances. That being said, no one should reasonably expect this car to be No. 8 in the Camping World standings so expect a much-improved performance this weekend. Anything less than a semifinal would be a disappointment.
Janac Motorsports Camaro
He finished less than a hundredth of a second behind Enders in the Las Vegas final which was a nice way to bounce back after a tough Gainesville outing. So far this year, he’s already had success in the Factory Stock class, and in Top Dragster so it’s fair to expect similar results in Pro Stock in the not-too-distant future.
The path to success in Pro Stock Motorcycle got a little tougher this week with the return of the Vance & Hines team but the reigning world champion is still entitled to the top spot until someone knocks him off. Yes, the Four-Wide race was not his best moment, but it’s almost impossible to argue this isn’t the best bike in the class. Oddly enough, he’s only been to one final here and that was back in 2007.
Flyin’ Ryan EBR
What if we told you that in the last 10 Pro Stock Motorcycle races dating back to the start of the shortened 2020 season, this guy has been to four final rounds and won two of them? That should be more than enough to convince anyone that his recent success is not a fluke. So far this season, he’s got a 6-1 record in elimination rounds which means he’s in it for the long haul.
Vance & Hines Buell
After missing the first two races of the season, the Vance & Hines team is back with their rebranded V-twin package. Admittedly, there isn’t much data to go on, except for a mid-week test session in Indy where both bikes cracked the 200-mph barrier. Also, he’s technically the defending champion of this race, having won here in 2019.
Vance & Hines Buell
This being the final edition of the Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals, we’ve spent a lot of time looking back at some of the tracks’ greatest moments. One of them surely came in 2009 when the future four-time world champion finally got his long-awaited first victory in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. Since then, he’s won three more times here, making it one of his better tracks.
Gainesville wasn’t bad and Las Vegas was slightly better with a semifinal finish in the Denso Four Wide Nationals. Actually, that semifinal could have or should have been even better if not for a pesky red light. The competition in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class is as good as it’s ever been right now, and this guy is one of the reasons for that.
Reed Motorsports Suzuki
He’ll have his wingman back this week with the return of teammate Joey Gladstone, who was injured recently in a testing accident. That should provide more than enough motivation following a very successful weekend in Las Vegas, where he made the final quad. There are a lot of candidates to become NHRA’s next first-time pro winner and he’s certainly in the mix, if not one of the biggest favorites.
Qualifying in Las Vegas was particularly impressive with a 6.90 that was good for the No. 2 spot behind hubby, Matt. Race day was a mixed bag with a loss in the semifinal quad. Regardless, this is a bike with the power to compete with anyone else in the class. She’s just one good race away from joining the battle at the front of the pack for the points lead.
Mission Foods Suzuki
What does it say about the strength of the Pro Stock Motorcycle class when this bike is ranked No. 8? Either the class is super-competitive, or Tipster is just plain wrong. Perhaps it’s a combination of both but with 22 bikes entered for Atlanta, nothing is a given. It’s going to take a lot just to make the field. That being said, this is an entry that’s more than capable of going the distance.
He kicked off the season with a dominating performance that included a win in Gainesville and a new elapsed time record. And, he did all of this with a brand new car that had only a few test runs on it before making its official debut. There has since been a rule change that will likely slow the ProCharger entries but will it be enough to stop the Q80 team? We’ll see but for now, he gets the top spot.
We’ve got him listed pretty high here because, well he is the two-time and reigning class champion and he’s got a reputation for making things happen even when he doesn’t have the quickest car. The supercharged engine combo should be a bit better this weekend and he’s the one guy who could easily take advantage of that. Besides, the Georgia resident would certainly like to win the final Atlanta event.
He missed the season opener in Gainesville so we don’t have a lot of data to go on but the last two times that the NHRA Pro Mod series raced in Atlanta (2017, 2019), he was the guy who left with the Wally. Winning three in a row is hard in any class, but we’d tend to think that if anyone can pull it off, it’s this crew.
Went to the final in Gainesville and looked really good doing it. It’s also worth mentioning that he was the low qualifier with a 5.63 that would have been a new record if not for Gonzalez’s 5.62 run in the opening round. Once again, the ProCharger cars have almost certainly lost a bit of performance since we last saw them, but it’s likely not enough to keep the top teams (like this one) from contending.
Smith Racing Camaro
When you think about it, Rickie Smith and Atlanta Dragway have a lot in common. For the last 40 years they’ve both been synonymous with doorslammer racing. The difference is that Atlanta is hosting its final NHRA event this weekend while Smith is still going strong and shows few signs of slowing down. If he were to win the final edition of the Southern Nationals, that would seem like a fitting end.
So, let’s get this straight. He kicked off the season by qualifying No. 2 and reaching the semifinals but he’s parked in ProCharger car in favor of a new conventional supercharged entry? That seems like a bold move but the Bahrain1 team probably wouldn’t be making it if they didn't feel like they’d be competitive, especially given the new rules package. This will be very interesting to watch.
Gray Contracting Camaro
For a guy who had never raced in the NHRA Pro Mod series (and apparently had little experience with quarter-mile racing) he sure looked good in Gainesville with a semifinal finish in his debut. Obviously, team owner Mike Janis taught him a thing or two and there is every reason to think he’s only going to get better as the season goes on.
He grew up a couple of hours South of Atlanta Dragway and knows the track like the back of his hand. In fact, he’s got three wins here in Top Sportsman and even celebrated a Top Dragster win here with his wife, Lindsay. He’s got one last chance to add another Atlanta title to his collection.