MADISON — The top drivers from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will thunder into Gateway Motorsports Park Sept. 26-28 during the third annual Midwest Nationals. It’s also the third race of the Countdown to the Championship.
The best in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle all will compete for Wally trophies at the local track. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that once again will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Gateway qualifying begins Friday, Sept. 26, with sessions at 2:15 and 4:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. on Sept. 27. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 28.
The NHRA Midwest Nationals represent a vital stop for the teams in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. It marks the halfway point of the six-race Countdown playoff. The contenders will be separated from the pretenders as the Mello Yello Series completes its third of four straight race weekends.
Brown, the 2012 world champ, is the two-time defending winner of the Gateway event. He will be looking to arrive at the track in the thick of the championship hunt.
His Matco Tools dragster has five wins on the season and Brown has been locked in a tough points battle with Doug Kalitta. Both Brown and Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools dragster, are three-time winners at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Kalitta, the winningest Top Fuel driver to have never won a championship, has led the points for most of the season.
Seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher has two career victories at Gateway, the most recent coming in 2010. Schumacher’s U.S. Army dragster has hovered in the top five in points all season long and he plans to be a major contender for the Top Fuel championship.
Shawn Langdon, the reigning Top Fuel world champ, raced to his first win of the year at Bristol and will be chasing his first win at Gateway.
Others to watch in the Top Fuel field include: Atlanta and Topeka winner Spencer Massey, reigning Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner Brittany Force, Pomona and Sonoma winner Khalid alBalooshi, Englishtown winner Richie Crampton and Denver winner J.R. Todd.
In Funny Car, 16-time world champ Force used St. Louis as a springboard to his 2013 world championship. Force’s Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang has been one of most consistent cars so far this season. Force has three wins at the facility and a fourth could push him toward a 17th world championship.
Ron Capps, the winningest Funny Car driver to have never won a championship, also has three victories at Gateway. Capps’ NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger has maintained a top five points position for most of the season.
John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight has had one of the most dominant cars in the Funny Car field this season and he is seeking his second championship. Hight, the 2009 world champ, has five wins this season in seven final round appearances and his Auto Club Ford Mustang visited the winners circle in 2010.
Others pre-race favorites include: two-time season winner Courtney Force, 2011 world champ and last season’s runner-up Matt Hagan, two-time season winner Alexis DeJoria, Bristol winner Tommy Johnson Jr., 2012 winner Jack Beckman, 2008 winner Tim Wilkerson and two-time event winner Tony Pedregon.
In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens outran Mike Edwards to win the event last season. Enders-Stevens returns to Gateway as one of the top contenders for the Pro Stock championship in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro.
Enders-Stevens, the two-time defending race winner, has four wins on the season and has driven one of the most steady cars on the Pro Stock circuit.
Reigning Pro Stock world champ Jeg Coughlin has two wins at the facility with his most recent coming in 2009. Coughlin’s JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Dart has wins at Atlanta and Englishtown this season.
Coughlin’s Dodge teammate Allen Johnson is the 2012 world champ, but he has yet to record a victory at Gateway. Jason Line, a two-time world champ, is the current Pro Stock points leader but he also has not won at the track.
Past event winner Dave Connolly, 2004 winner Greg Anderson, Chicago winner Vincent Nobile, Shane Gray, two-time runner-up Jonathan Gray, V. Gaines and Chris McGaha are just a few of the drivers who will be looking for positive performances.
Smith proved victorious in Pro Stock Motorcycle last season en route to his second championship. Smith hasn’t visited victory lane in 2014 and will be looking to turn that fortune around in the Countdown. Smith’s wife, Angie, has the lone Matt Smith Racing win in 2014, coming at Epping, N.H., when she beat Smith in the final.