Much like NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has the Countdown to the Championship, but instead of just one champion, the NHRA is crowning four of drag racing’s best. Last year’s championship battles in Top Fuel and Funny Car were two of the most exciting battles in motorsports, and after a season of Harley Davidson dominance in 2012, the 2013 Pro Stock Motorcycle schedule has seen anyone but Harley riders Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec in the winner’s circle. In Pro Stock, one of the pre-season championship favorites has been sidelined for much of the season with sponsorship woes, and another driver dominated qualifying through a number of events.
This week’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis wrap up the NHRA’s “regular season,” with just six races to determine the champs in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and PSM. The U.S. Nationals is a desperately-sought title unto itself, with drivers showing up hoping for just a chance to win the event. Defending Top Fuel winner Tony Schumacher, who has nine wins in 11 final round appearances at the “Big Go,” is seeking a record-setting 10th win at Indy, as he currently sits tied with Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden at the top of the all-time charts.
“It sure puts you in an elite group,” said Schumacher. “There’s only two of us now that can say that (we’ve won Indy nine times). I’m honestly not showing up to Indy to take Glidden’s record. I’m trying to win the race. If you do your job, those records will come. To have the chance right now, we’re sitting on an opportunity to win 10 U.S. Nationals. No one has ever done that before, and I think that plays into our benefit. We’re better with the pressure on. That’s when our team has been great.”
Schumacher’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps was part of last year’s Funny Car title battle, eventually losing to another DSR teammate, Jack Beckman, by just two points. Capps has finished second in points numerous times without winning the title once, and would like to see some slight changes to the Countdown format, placing more emphasis on winning national events.
“We’ve sort of not copied but gone along with what NASCAR has done so far,” said Capps. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think having a little more incentive here and there for race wins, adding some points once you get in the Countdown…I would like to see a wildcard. I’d like to see 12 cars in it. I’d like to see just more ways of adding up to your points when the Countdown starts.”
“There are guys who don’t go to every race expecting to win that race,” continued Capps. “They may be testing something, trying this or that, or they may be on the points lead and trying to coast on through sort of. I think there are a lot of teams in different mentalities going into races from Denver on that aren’t necessarily going there to try to win that race like they would if it was in the Countdown. I think that robs a little bit to the fans, but, again, NHRA throwing in the qualifying points, that fixed a lot of Saturday testing that the teams would do and just go out and smoke the tires. So anyway we can throw an emphasis on trying to be the quickest car every run and go down the track, like NHRA has done a good job of, and race wins would definitely spice things up.”
The U.S. Nationals feature five qualifying sessions for the Mello Yello Series, the first one taking place Friday, August 30 at 5:30 p.m. ET. The second and third sessions take place Saturday, August 31 at 2:30 and 6 p.m. ET, with the final two qualifying sessions on Sunday, September 1 at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ET. Final eliminations take place Monday, September 2 beginning at 11 a.m. ET.
The U.S. Nationals also feature special races-within-the-races for the two nitro classes. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel takes place Saturday, with rounds at 4, 7 and 8:30 p.m. ET. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car will be held on Sunday, with rounds at 12:30, 3:30 and 4:45 p.m. ET. The winners in each Traxxas Nitro Shootout will earn $100,000.
Sources: “Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Teleconference Transcript,” NHRA Media, August 22, 2013
“Schumacher Ready to Write More History at Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals,” NHRA Media, August 26, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers the NHRA for Examiner.com.