SONOMA, Calif. – When compared to his impressive 2011 season and his championship 2012 campaign, the current NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season may seem like a minor letdown for Top Fuel superstar Antron Brown.
After winning twice early in the year, Brown and his Matco Tools team have fallen on difficult times, losing in the first round at four of the past five events, including last weekend in Denver.
But you will hear nothing negative from the upbeat and always energetic Brown, who is sensing a swift turnaround just in time for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.
In fact, Brown thinks it could happen this weekend as he heads to Sonoma Raceway, July 26-28 for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. He is the defending champion at the event and Brown has his sights set on a repeat affair in his 8,000-horsepower Matco Tools dragster.
Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the other defending winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, the second of three consecutive weekends of racing known on the circuit as the Western Swing. The race will be televised on ESPN HD (qualifying Saturday, 7 p.m. ET) and ESPN2 HD (eliminations, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET).
As for Brown, there’s not much on the NHRA scene that gets him as excited as heading to Sonoma, and he hopes those good vibes translate to other strong performance to officially end his team’s recent mishaps.
“The fans that come to the track are die-hard NHRA race fans,” Brown said. “Just the aura around it, you can feel the energy at the track. It gets you amped up and pumped up, and that really sets the tone the minute you walk in the gate.
“When we go to a place like Sonoma, it’s a place where we can really make some power and I think that’s going to be a big awakening for our Matco Tools team. We’ve been growing each and every race. We haven’t had the run we’ve wanted lately, but we’re smart enough to know that there’s going to be growing pains. We just have to keep staying focused and our goal in the next few races is to get into that race mode. I think we’re real close to being there.”
A vast number of changes to Brown’s dragster, and particularly the clutch discs, have led to some recent bumps in the road, including a first-round loss to Top Fuel points leader Shawn Langdon last weekend in Denver and an opening-round defeat the race prior in Norwalk to eventual winner Khalid alBalooshi.
But Brown’s performance in recent weeks has improved despite the losses and he’s been impressed with the strides the team has made in the midst of a grueling stretch that includes seven races over eight weeks. It doesn’t allow for vast changes or ample time for adjustments, but as Brown indicated, making the western trek to from the high-altitude challenges of Denver to Sonoma might be the perfect remedy for the team.
“To go from Denver to Sonoma, it’s a big change, but we like that,” Brown said. “We’ve done well there and it’s a record-setting type track. When you get to Sonoma, it’s like you’re letting the animal out of the cage and the car is ready to go into beast mode. That’s the cool thing and it’s a really, really high-level race track. The car definitely goes into a totally different mode in Sonoma.”
Like every team going from Denver to Sonoma, Brown and his Matco Tools group will have to completely overhaul the car. But that’s a challenge Brown has always enjoyed, and it has brought out some of the best performances in his career.
He swept the Western Swing in 2009, and although that won’t happen in 2013, Brown certainly feels good about where things are headed as crunch time approaches.
“Last year and the year prior, we had great years of racing but we pretty much had the same stuff in our car,” Brown said. “This year, we’re just going through the clutch-disc blues, but it’s a good time that we’re going through it now because we don’t want to miss any P’s and Q’s when we get to the Countdown (to the Championship).”
Brown is also chasing a host of top stars in Top Fuel, including Langdon, seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher, a two-time Sonoma winner, and Spencer Massey, who is the track record holder and picked up his third win of the season in Denver. Other challengers include five-time Sonoma winner Doug Kalitta, Bob Vandergriff, Clay Millican, Morgan Lucas and alBalooshi.
In Funny Car, 2011 world champion Matt Hagan is back in championship form as the series points leader, but the Virginia cattle rancher has yet to visit the winner’s circle in Wine Country and he has plenty of tough competition bearing down on him. That includes two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon, who won last weekend in Denver and has three victories in 2013, and Gray, who has picked up a class-best four victories in 2013. Other pre-race favorites include seven-time Sonoma winner John Force, 2008 winner Hight, three-time winner Ron Capps, two-time winner in 2013 Courtney Force and defending world champion Jack Beckman.
In Pro Stock, reigning world champ Johnson will be looking to repeat while his new teammate, Jeg Coughlin, returns to Sonoma in pursuit of his third win there. Johnson is also red-hot, picking up his fourth victory of the season last weekend in Denver. Meanwhile, Mike Edwards hopes to build on his No. 1 spot in the points and bring home his first career win at Sonoma. Former Sonoma champs including Jason Line and Greg Anderson as well as notable young guns Vincent Nobile and Shane Gray will provide plenty of competition, giving fans plenty of thrilling side-by-side racing in the process.
Series points leader Hector Arana Jr. is a three-time winner this season in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but he will have plenty of challengers in the two-wheel category including defending world champ Krawiec, two-time Sonoma winner Andrew Hines, rising star Scotty Pollacheck, 2009 champ Hector Arana Sr. and recent winners Michael Ray, Shawn Gann and John Hall.
Set amid the beautiful rolling hills and vineyards just north of San Francisco, Sonoma Raceway is already one of the most popular ‘destination’ races for NHRA fans from around the country so this year’s race – featuring family-fun festivities throughout the weekend, and the annual Eric Medlen Ice Cream Social on Sunday – will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for NHRA fans.
Sonoma Raceway will also host the fan-favorite Sunday morning Starting Line Party featuring many of NHRA’s leading ladies. Fans with Starting Line Party passes will have the opportunity to meet some of their favorite drivers, get autographs and celebrate during pre-race festivities down on the starting line. Party packages start at $77 and include a reserved seat, VIP track access pass for pre-race Q&A, track walk and all-day access to Thunder Alley. For more details, contact Sonoma Raceway.
Another unique experience offered to fans during the NHRA Sonoma Nationals is the Don Schumacher Racing Fan Hospitality Package. The DSR Hospitality Package includes a seat in the Main Grandstand for Friday, July 26th, access to DSR hospitality area Friday, a chef prepared meal, DSR driver appearances and autograph opportunities as well as the chance to see how the crew of a Top Fuel dragster or nitro Funny Car tune and rebuild their machines between rounds. Packages are available while supplies last.
As always, every ticket purchased for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals is a pit pass, which offers an extraordinary look behind the scenes in the world of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series as race teams service their high-horsepower machines between rounds. Fans also will want to check out NHRA Nitro Alley and the popular NHRA Manufacturers Midway. In addition, fans should definitely plan to visit the Blast on the Grass, a celebration of American muscle cars, which features many classic machines in the popular car show set in turn 11 of the facility. There will also be some exhibition racing featured during the NHRA Sonoma Nationals with two Jet Dragsters and eight Pro Mod cars scheduled to make runs.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins on Friday, July 26 with the first session at 4:15 p.m., followed by another session at 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 27, at 12:15 and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 28.
Adult tickets start as low as $39 and fans are encouraged to buy early and save. Make it a family-fun weekend when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series arrives in Sonoma and take advantage of a special ticket promotion: Children 12 and younger will receive free general admission with a paid adult on Saturday. Fans can also bring an empty 20-oz. Mello Yello® bottle to the Sonoma Raceway box office and SAVE $8 on one adult single day NHRA race ticket, Friday – Sunday.
To purchase tickets for the 26th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals, please call Sonoma Raceway Box Office at (800) 870-RACE (7223) or visit www.racesonoma.com. For more information about NHRA, please visit www.NHRA.com.
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NHRA SONOMA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 26th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals, the 15th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, Calif. The track is located at the intersection of Highways 37 and 121
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, July 26-28.
FRIDAY, July 26 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:15 and 6:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, July 27 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 2:15 p.m.
SUNDAY, July 28 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, July 27, ESPN and ESPNHD will televise two hours and 30 minutes of qualifying highlights at 7 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, July 28, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET).
SATELLITE (Digital HD feed):
Friday, July 26, 11:30 p.m. - Midnight (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 24C
Saturday, July 27, 9:30 - 10 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 24C
Sunday, July 28, 9 - 9:30 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 24C
(4180 MHz, vertical; Data Rate: 40.46147055 Mbp; Symbol Rate: 29.27 Ms; FEC: ¾; Bandwidth: 36 Mhz)
Video news release contains race action highlights each day and winners’ interviews on Sunday.
2012 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Johnny Gray, Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, 7, FC; Doug Kalitta, 5, TF; Greg Anderson, 4, PS; Warren Johnson, 3, PS; Jim Yates, 3, PS; Darrell Alderman, 3, PS; Ron Capps, 3, FC.
Top Fuel – 3.777 seconds by Spencer Massey, July ‘12; 328.62 mph by Massey, July ‘12
Funny Car – 4.028 seconds by Cruz Pedregon, July ’12; 317.57 mph by Ron Capps, July ’12.
Pro Stock – 6.512 seconds by Erica Enders-Stevens, July ’12; 212.46 mph by Allen Johnson, July ’12.
PS Motorcycle – 6.785 seconds by Eddie Krawiec, July ’12; 198.35 mph by Krawiec, July ’12.
Top Fuel - 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Charlotte, N.C.
Funny Car - 3.986 sec. by Jack Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 320.58 mph by Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
Pro Stock - 6.471 sec. by Mike Edwards, April ’13, Charlotte, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Jason Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
PS Motorcycle - 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 870-RACE (7223). Tickets may also be purchased online at http://www.racesonoma.com/tickets.
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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif. -- Point standings (top 10) following the 14th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series -
Top Fuel: 1. Shawn Langdon, 1,093; 2. Tony Schumacher, 1,074; 3. Spencer Massey, 1,034; 4. Doug Kalitta, 867; 5. Antron Brown, 831; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 809; 7. Clay Millican, 735; 8. Bob Vandergriff, 692; 9. Morgan Lucas, 670; 10. Steve Torrence, 647.
Funny Car: 1. Matt Hagan, 991; 2. Cruz Pedregon, 951; 3. Johnny Gray, 893; 4. Ron Capps, 887; 5. John Force, 860; 6. Jack Beckman, 851; 7. Courtney Force, 837; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 770; 9. Del Worsham, 768; 10. Bob Tasca III, 743.
Pro Stock: 1. Mike Edwards, 1,271; 2. Allen Johnson, 1,192; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 1,054; 4. Shane Gray, 883; 5.Jason Line, 870; 6. Vincent Nobile, 804; 7. Greg Anderson, 746; 8. Erica Enders-Stevens, 743; 9. V. Gaines, 688; 10. Rodger Brogdon, 628.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.Hector Arana Jr, 671; 2. Michael Ray, 559; 3. Matt Smith, 543; 4. John Hall, 503; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, 492; 6. Hector Arana, 473; 7. Adam Arana, 427; 8. Eddie Krawiec, 412; 9. Shawn Gann, 397; 10. Steve Johnson, 392.