NHRA is working to make its Mello Yello Drag Racing Series even more enticing in 2015 - for entrants and fans alike. NHRA announced it will televise five eliminations live on either ESPN or ESPN2 through the 24-race 2015 schedule. The live action starts early in the season with the Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, NC on March 29, airing from 2-5PM ET. When the series goes to Royal Purple Raceway outside Houston on April 26 (same time schedule), to the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway on June 21 from 3-6PM ET, for the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, OH July 5th (1-4PM ET) and at Chicago’s Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, scheduled for 12 and airing 2-5PM ET, viewers can watch eliminations live.
Three of those live races - Charlotte, Bristol and Norwalk - air on ESPN with the balance on ESPN2. All are available in HD. Fans can enjoy the information and banter offered by host Dave Rieff and analyst Mike Dunn, together with pit reporters Gary Gerould and John Kernan. In addition, NHRA has moved to make the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals even more points-worthy for its Mello Yello competitors in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle by increasing points for the biggest race of the year, traditionally held on the Labor Day weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis.
At the race where NHRA sets its 10-person Countdown to the Championship, points are truly important. Winners in each of the four Pro classes at the U.S. Nationals will claim 150 points, while runners-up earn 120 points. Semifinal finishers claim 90 points apiece, second round finishers earn 60 points each and first round finishers all claim 30 points. NHRA is richening the pot for qualifiers, too, awarding 15 points to each driver making at least one qualifying attempt, adding the 20-point bonus for setting a national record, eight points for earning the No. 1 qualifying position and a maximum total of 15 points for earning 3 qualifying bonus points in each of five qualifying sessions, making for a maximum of 208 points available at this event to a single racer.
“With more points up for grabs,” said Graham Light, NHRA senior vice president of racing operations, “we certainly expect to see a lot of movement throughout the top 10s in each class on the final day of the regular season.” With the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals being “one of the most pressure-packed events on the circuit, we expect that level of excitement to increase significantly with this points increase.” NHRA customarily awards winners with 100 points at its other 23 races, gives runners-up 80, 60 points to semifinalists, quarterfinalists are rewarded with 40 points and first round finishers with 20 points. Drivers/riders earn 10 points for one qualifying attempt, while national E.T. records earn 20, unchanged for this race. The 61st edition of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is scheduled for September 2-7; this huge event also features the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel and Funny Car. ESPN and ESPN2 devote 10 hours of coverage for NHRA’s biggest race of the year.
Spencer Massey says his favorite off-season activity is racing. Following a two-month hiatus from the seat of his Red Fuel Powered by Schumacher dragster, the former NHRA Road to the Future award winner didn't miss a beat leading the Top Fuel field in the opening day of the PRO Winter Warm-up at Palm Beach International Raceway.
Massey, who won three races last season with crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler, powered his Red Fuel rail to the quickest lap of the PRO-backed event at 3.723-seconds at 332.26 mph. It was the fastest lap ever recorded at Palm Beach International Raceway. The Red Fuel dragster went 3.851 on Friday's opening PRO Winter Warm-up pass. The Red Fuel team also made test passes on Tuesday and Wednesday. Massey's DSR Top Fuel stable mates also made two laps in the PRO-backed event as Tony Schumacher, who is flying the No. 1 on his U.S. Army dragster for the eighth time, clocked a run of 3.793, while 2012 NHRA champion Antron Brown, who won a category-best six races last season, posted a 3.844. Both have made laps in the low 3.7-second range this week.
"That was an awesome lap," Massey said. "The conditions are awesome and Todd (Okuhara) said we'll give it everything we can and it went 3.72. I got to the finish line and hit the button for the parachutes and looked up and saw the scoreboard and saw the 332 mph come up and I was excited. "I had no idea what it ran for ET and the guys said it ran 3.72. That makes me so excited to have a good hot rod. This thing has wanted to run low 3.70s since we got here and it's like a bracket car. This is awesome and hopefully we can continue that on into Pomona." While most Funny Cars have struggled mightily to maneuver the PBIR strip, veteran tuner Rahn Tobler and assistant Eric Lane used data from a December test session here in South Florida to power Capps to the quickest pass of the week at 4.023-seconds at 321.42 mph.
Capps' teammate and defending NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car champion Matt Hagan raced his new 2015 Dodge Charger R/T to a 4.058 at 320.05, while teammates Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. look to improve on Saturday afternoon at the Jupiter, Fla. track. All four DSR Funny Car teams are utilizing the 2015 Dodge Charger R/T body.
"(Rahn) Tobler learned a lot last month when they came down here with our car and Tommy (Johnson Jr.) drove it," Capps said after the 4.023-second pass on Friday evening at PBIR. "Tommy had some input on how the car steered and drove and the coolest thing with a teammate like Tommy is that we learned some things after he drove our car and it's great to have a teammate give his professional input to make our car better. "The new body is unbelievable," Capps added after making his first passes in the new 2015 Dodge Charger R/T body. "With the old body it probably would have gone 317 maybe 318 mph and with that 2015 Charger body, it went 321 mph pretty easily and drove really nice down there at the top end. I cannot stress how much easier it is to steer and drive this new Charger. It's really a dream and I'm looking forward to going to Pomona to start the season off with the new body."
The effervescent Force, who has 16 Funny Car titles on his resume and has won 141 races leading up to this 2015 season, made the announcement on a conference call. All three of the John Force Racing (JFR) Funny Car entries, for Force, Hight and daughter Courtney will be Chevrolet Camaro floppers. “This was an opportunity to go back to my roots,” bellowed Force, whose first 60 starts were behind the wheel of a Chevrolet product. From 1978-80 he raced a Corvette before switching to a Chevrolet Citation (1981-2), Camaro (1983-4), Corvette for 1985 and then a Cavalier the following year. He won the 1994 NHRA Funny Car title with a Chevrolet Lumina, posting a 50-8 record in 11 final rounds, with 10 victories and 12 No. 1 qualifiers.
Campbell, Chevrolet’s vice president for performance vehicles and motorsports said he’d been talking with the team for a while and interest grew within General Motors. He remarked that Force is “a a racer’s racer and a legend on and off the track. He’s a fierce competitor and we’re proud to welcome him back to Chevrolet.” Force had been working with Ford and Castrol for a long period of time but knew two years ago that the two long-time partners would be leaving. He announced the addition of Peak products at Las Vegas, the penultimate race on the schedule and revealed Lucas Oil as his lubricant partner during the Pomona finale. “These days you can’t race without a manufacturer,” Force stated. “We needed a major sponsor and people kept asking where we were going with a manufacturer. Everybody wanted me to stay with Detroit and GM was where I wanted to land,” he emphasized. “It’s a change and this change is good.”
The deal with Chevrolet was Force’s best holiday gift as the contract was signed just before Christmas. “My heart was with Detroit because John Force Racing is American-made. We build 90 percent of our cars here and this new relationship is right for us,” Force said. Despite rumors to the contrary, Force had no discussions with Dodge but he did talk with Toyota because he’s got friends in that company. “They have a big group of teams and drivers and we did have conversations but nothing was in writing or on the table. This is where I wanted to land,” he said. “The key is that we have Chevrolet to ourselves in Funny Car. The key is we’ve got an exclusive.”
When Ford announced its departure from NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, all of the emphasis went to John Force Racing’s three-car Funny Car team, along with Bob Tasca III and Tim Wilkerson, who also race in the flopper class. After all, nitro-burners have all the glamour in drag racing, helped along by their crazy body styles and flaming exits from the start line, together with a propensity to blow up at the top end, heaving those crazy bodies to the sky. Little notice went to the Pro Stock class, arguably the most competitive in NHRA’s four-wheeled competition. Where the nitro cars all run pretty much the same equipment, in Pro Stock it’s every competitor for themselves and the secrets start long before the firewall of the car. While you can usually see other category members visiting their peers, the Pro Stock paddock is truly insular, with hardly anyone wandering into their competitors’ pit areas.
Larry Morgan changed from running a Dodge to being a Ford man several years ago. This swap was made easier by the efforts of Mose Nowland, who had been a key member of Ford’s engineering staff since the 1960s and who was spearheading Ford’s return to the Pro Stock wars. The duo got along famously and Larry assisted Ford in developing the program as they brought the Ford Mustang back to Pro Stock with the intent of returning to the glory days of Bob Glidden and other Ford Pro Stock heroes. He turned out to be the singular full-time competitor for the Ford Mustang through its current tenure; it was lonely for Morgan and his crew, particularly when Nowland was forced into retirement.
So when Ford announced it would be leaving - again - after the 2014 season, Larry Morgan had a quandary. He’d put lots of money into Ford parts and Ford ideology, as had his sponsors Lucas Oil and Streamlight. They’d done all they could to get to the top of the heap, but with only a one-car team competing against multiple-car squads and a budget that paled in comparison to his competitors, Morgan’s efforts got him into eliminations most of the time but rarely past the first or second rounds.