MADISON — The fifth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will roll into Gateway Motorsports Park Sept. 23-25 and bring with it the best-of-the-best in NHRA Championship Drag Racing.
The second race in NHRA’s six race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs will feature drivers pushing themselves and their 10,000 horsepower, 330 mph vehicles to the limit as they vie for precious championship points just across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis.
Drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will battle it out in classic side-by-side NHRA Drag Racing fashion as they push to get one step closer to the championship title. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 for the first time.
Last year in Top Fuel, two-time and defending world champion Brown defeated Dave Connolly for his sixth win of the season and fourth consecutive win at the event. Last year’s victory also was his second of three consecutive wins in the Countdown that propelled him to his second Top Fuel Championship.
So far in 2016, Brown, in his Matco Tools dragster, has four wins, four runner-up finishes and is the current points leader with quite the target on his back. Rival Doug Kalitta, who will be chasing his first Top Fuel world championship, three-time 2016 winner Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, Shawn Langdon, Richie Crampton and Clay Millican will all be aiming for Brown’s top spot.
Funny Car’s Del Worsham didn’t win a race last year until he entered the Countdown and picked up victories at four of the six stops en route to claiming his first Funny Car world title. Worsham opened the Countdown with two consecutive wins, first at the NHRA Carolina Nationals and went on to defeat Matt Hagan at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.
This year, the DHL Toyota Camry pilot seems to be peaking at the perfect time once again. Worsham has raced to four runner-up finishes this year and earned his first win at the most recent event in Brainerd, Minn. Worsham, who won the Top Fuel championship in 2011 and is one of only three drivers to win world titles in both Nitro categories, sits third in points behind top contenders Courtney Force in second and first place Ron Capps, who has had one of the best seasons of his career.
Capps has sprinted to five victories in eight final appearances and has held the top position in points for the past eight consecutive races and 10 on the season. Capps and his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T clinched the Funny Car No. 1 seed after winning the postponed Seattle, Wash., final and making a semifinal finish in Brainerd. He will be competing for his first world championship and is currently the NHRA’s winningest driver without a world title.
Others who will be giving Worsham a run for his money are “Fast” Jack Beckman, who finished second in the championship last season, national record holder Matt Hagan, Robert Hight, 16-time world champion John Force, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Tim Wilkerson.
Drew Skillman earned the first Pro Stock victory of his career at Gateway Motorsports Park last year taking out then-teammate and eventual world champion Erica Enders in the final. The 2015 Rookie of the Year award winner finished fifth in the championship fight. This season, Skillman raced to the second victory of his career at the recent Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, clinching his spot in the Countdown. Skillman and his Ray Skillman Chevy Camaro are currently sixth in points.
Dominating the new era of Pro Stock, which features electronic fuel injection, a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter, flattened hoods and shortened wheelie bars, are Jason Line and Greg Anderson in their Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro’s. They have each won seven races in 2016. Recently, however, the rest of the Pro Stock field has worked to catch up: Skillman won in Brainerd, Allen Johnson picked up a win in Denver, and Vincent Nobile will race Aaron Strong in the postponed Seattle event at Indy.
Bo Butner, who is third in points, Shane Gray, Chris McGaha, back-to-back and reigning world champion Enders, who is currently ninth in points and unsure of her playoff status, and Jeg Coughlin will all duke it out with the Summit boys in pursuit of the elusive Wally trophy.
Both riding a Lucas Oil Buell, Arana Jr. defeated his father Hector Arana in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final last year in St. Louis. It was Arana Jr.’s second win of the season. Arana Jr. finished fifth in the championship and his father eighth. This year, neither Arana Jr. nor Arana have had victories and both are still waiting to earn their spots in the Countdown sitting in ninth and sixth, respectively.
On top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings are the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidsons of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines. Krawiec, first in points, has earned three victories this season and will be looking for his third St. Louis title and fourth world title. Hines, a five-time champ, has four wins this season, most recently in Brainerd, and will be competing for his third consecutive world title and second win at St. Louis.
Despite the consistency of the Harley-Davidson duo, Englishtown winner Angelle Sampey, Brainerd runner-up Jerry Savoie, Sonoma winner LE Tonglet, Matt Smith and Steve Johnson will be sure to give the pair a fight as the championship title looms just four races away.
The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand how the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
As part of NHRA’s ongoing celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Funny Car class, one legendary Funny Car driver will be honored during pre-race ceremonies.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 855-RACE-TIK (722-3845). Tickets also are available online atwww.gatewaymsp.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
Before heading to Gateway Motorsports Park, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will make stops at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Aug. 31-Sept. 5, for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and zMAX Dragway, Sept. 16-18, for the NHRA Carolina Nationals.