Photo by Diane Cox
NHRA action from 2014 at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison.
There’s speed, smoke and sizzle coming to Gateway Motorsports Park this weekend. You can also count on some thunder at the Madison track.
The fourth annual National Hot Rod Association Midwest Nationals are returning to the familiar facility. The NHRA Drag Racing Series will set up shop at Gateway Friday through Sunday.
It’s the second of six playoff races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and will feature drivers attempting to continue their momentum from the opening race of the Countdown. Drivers will compete for their share of the $1.2 million purse and vital series points.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel); Courtney Force (Funny Car); Dave Connolly (Pro Stock); and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2. Brown owns three consecutive victories in the Midwest Nationals victories.
“I like this track and racing in St. Louis,” said Brown, the 2012 Top Fuel world champ. “It seems like we are in a good zone here and it fits our style. St. Louis also has been a good turning point for us.”
Courtney Force, daughter of NHRA legend John Force, 66, and a 16-time Funny Car champion, claimed her first Gateway victory last year. She finished fourth overall.
However, she’s battling hard to break into the top 10 spots this year. So the Midwest Nationals are a key stop for her.
The same could be said of sister Brittany Force, driving in Top Fuel. The third-year pro is sitting fifth in the point chase and looking to move up in the standings and Gateway could serve as the perfect springboard for her. She made it to the semifinals in the recent U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.
“Indy is the biggest race of the season, and to have some success feels really good,” said Force, the NHRA’s top rookie in 2013. “This race launches the Countdown, and we are leaving on a pretty good note, racing all the way to the semifinals. It just boosts our confidence that much more and gives us that momentum going into the Countdown. We are going to chase after it for these last six races.”
Force added, “This Monster Energy team has been great all season. I can’t say enough about all my guys. Since Monster Energy came on board, we have really stepped up our performance. I have an awesome team behind me and I am so proud of every single one of them. I know how hard they have worked.”
It’s all about consistency, she noted.
“I want to keep running well in qualifying and also the key is going rounds on Sunday,” Force said. “I have so much confidence in my crew chiefs Todd Smith and Ronnie Thompson. They have given me a great race car and every race I feel more and more comfortable.”
Other drivers to watch in Top Fuel include: eight-time and defending world champ Tony Schumacher, four-time season winner Richie Crampton, veteran racer and three-time world champ Larry Dixon and former Gateway winner Doug Kalitta.
In Funny Car, the list is as long as ever for top contenders including red-hot Jack Beckman, two-time season winner Tommy Johnson Jr., two-time and defending world champ Matt Hagan, Del Worsham, Ron Capps, Springfield’s Tim Wilkerson and John Force, among others. Force is fifth in the points competition.
“I think we’re a bit of a sleeping giant heading into the Countdown,” Wilkerson said. “We’ve been winning some rounds and making some great laps, but with everyone focused on Jack Beckman and his car, we’re just kind of hiding in the weeds, a little.”
Pro Stock will feature an intense lineup of championship contenders including defending world champ Erica Enders, four-time world champ Greg Anderson, 2014 event finalist Jason Line, two-time season winner Chris McGaha, plus veteran racers Allen Johnson and Larry Morgan.
Jerry Savoie, a Louisiana alligator farmer, is the defending winner of this event in Pro Stock Motorcycle. He expects quality competition from four-time and defending world champ Andrew Hines. Points leader Eddie Krawiec, two-time season winner Karen Stoffer, Hector Arana Jr., Jim Underdahl, Steve Johnson and three-time world champ Angelle Sampey also should vie for Gateway honors.
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