INDIANAPOLIS - Racing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series as a rookie can be a daunting challenge. Learning the nuances of the high-performance vehicle, establishing a relationship with a new crew chief and team and adjusting to the demands of a 24-race nationwide schedule usually proves to test the nerves of even the most seasoned freshman racers.
The intensity and excitement level for the 2013 Auto Club Road to the Future Award candidates will be raised to the highest point of the season over Labor Day weekend as they attempt to qualify for the world’s most prestigious drag race, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. The tradition-rich event, which has the power to turn an ordinary NHRA racer into a legend of the sport with a single memorable performance, will be held at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Aug. 28-Sept. 2.
It is the 18th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for 2013 and the final of 18 regular season races. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Mike Neff (Funny Car), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) raced to victories at the iconic event in 2012. Once again, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will be showcased nationwide on ESPN2 and ESPN2HD during more than 10 hours of coverage.
Rookies Brittany Force and Leah Pruett (Top Fuel), Chad Head (Funny Car) and Adam Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will be battling to make their respective fields and join the elite category of racers who have competed at the ‘Big Go’. Only five rookies have won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals: Gary Beck in Top Fuel in 1972, Bob Glidden in Pro Stock in 1973, Larry Dixon in Top Fuel in 1995, LE Tonglet in Pro Stock Motorcycle in 2010 and Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcycle in 2011.
Force carries the historic racing family name into the event, but for the first time in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series at this race, it will adorn the side of a Top Fuel dragster as well as the familiar Ford Mustang Funny Cars. Her father John has won the event four times (1993, 1996, 1998, 2002) and her sister Ashley Force-Hood claimed the coveted crown twice (2009, 2010).
Brittany will look to write a new chapter in the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals history books in her Castrol Edge Top Fuel dragster when she attempts to make the 16-car field.
“I am so excited to be competing in Indy this year in the pro ranks driving a Top Fuel dragster,” Brittany Force said. “Indy is the biggest race on the NHRA circuit and is the hub of all motorsports. Every year the Indy Nationals is packed with diehard fans from all over, rooting on their favorite teams.”
Head, driver of the Head Racing Toyota Camry, has an interesting perspective on the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals as this second-generation racer has seen the event from numerous perspectives. His father Jim is a two-time winner, taking titles in both Top Fuel (1997) and in Funny Car (1984). Chad has worked the event as a crew member, served as team manager for other teams, and also worked the event as an NHRA employee. This year he will experience the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in a new role, from the cockpit of his 8,000-horsepower Funny Car as a competitor.
“It will be different,” Head said. “It will be different from the fact that for two minutes, hopefully for nine times, I get to spend 18 minutes on the racetrack. Those 18 minutes will be the different part of it.”
Pruett grew up on the West Coast and followed the sport of NHRA and the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals as a child from her Redlands, Calif., home on television. Pruett has raced in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals twice in her career, but this will be her first start in the Dote Family Racing dragster at the event.
“When I would watch the U.S. Nationals from home it would be a huge deal, it would be bigger than the Super Bowl,” Pruett said. “We would watch it, love it, and my mom would cook buffalo wings, all of our friends would come over. That was the race to watch. That one was mind blowing and now to be able to be racing at it, I still have to pinch myself.”
Arana, another second-generation racer, enters the event eighth in Pro Stock Motorcycle points on his ProtectTheHarvest.com / MAVTV Buell. His goals coming into the event are two-fold: contend for a win and stay firmly seated in the Countdown to the Championship. His father Hector Sr., won the event in 2009 and his brother Hector Jr. raced to an Indy victory in 2011. Both are coaching the rookie racer and keeping him steady coming into the race.
“They don’t want me to over-think it and be like, ‘Oh, it’s the U.S. Nationals, I’ve got to perform,’” Arana said. “I know it’s important to do well, especially because we need to stay in the top 10. After that race, the top 10 are locked in for the Countdown, so my goal for the U.S. Nationals is to stay in the top 10, and that way I can compete for the championship. But I try not to stress myself out about future races.”
Any competitor that wins the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will have earned one of the hardest fought victories in drag racing. When eliminations start on Monday morning, each racer dreams of winning the event and becoming a racing legend.
“We always try to bring our ‘A’ game to every race and for Indy it is really everyone’s best of the best,” Pruett said. “If you win in Indy you have beaten the best at their very best. It doesn’t get any bigger or better than that. Everyone is bringing their triple throw down stuff from the first qualifier to the final round. Everybody wants to win it so bad at the end of the day.”
Force, Head and Arana have celebrated in winner’s circle with their families and now will attempt to stand atop the stage with their own Wally trophies from the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
“I remember my dad competing every year in the [Bud] Shootout and how exciting it was celebrating as a little kid in the winner’s circle,” Force said. “There have been so many great memories in Indy and I only hope to make some more this year with my Castrol Edge team.”
“It is a big race,” Head added. “It is prestigious, obviously dad won it. It would be great to have that next to your name someday. It is a long grueling race. It is a tough one.”
“I remember it being very exciting,” Arana said. “We won, and we went on to win the championship. I feel like whoever wins the U.S. Nationals has a good chance to win the championship. Winning at the U.S. Nationals would be huge. All the greats have done it.”
This year’s edition of the famed event will feature intense side-by-side racing as drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle compete for their share of the $2 million purse and battle for important world championship points as the event is the final regular season race and will establish the top 10 fields for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Teams in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Series also will compete during the weekend. In addition, the world’s fastest Super Stock cars will race for bonus bucks and bragging rights during the intense Mopar HEMI Challenge.
Fans can get a taste of the excitement on Wednesday, Aug. 28th by attending the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Fan Fest, which will feature a display of race cars, live music, a huge jumbotron and plenty of giveaways at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. The Fan Fest, which starts at 11 a.m., also will feature a premier autograph session with many of the top professional drivers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. In addition, a press conference will be held during the Fan Fest, where several news announcements will be made and the random lottery drawings for the No. 8 spots in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout will be held.
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30. Two sessions will be held on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 1 at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 2. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel will be contested Saturday, Aug. 31 with rounds at 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car will be held on Sunday, Sept. 1 for the eight qualified drivers, with rounds at 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.
ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise more than 10 hours of coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Five hours of qualifying coverage and coverage of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout will air on ESPN2 HD at 1 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 1. Eliminations for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will be featured during six hours of coverage on Monday, Sept. 2, starting at noon (ET).
Tickets are available for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Tickets are available by calling (800) 884-NHRA (6472), or online at www.NHRATIX.com.
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CHEVROLET PERFORMANCE U.S. NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 59th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, 18th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the last race in the NHRA Mello Yello Series regular season. At the conclusion of this event, the top 10 drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – will be locked in to begin the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, leading to 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Brownsburg, Ind. From I-465, exit Crawfordsville Road (Hwy. 136). Head west for four miles past downtown Clermont. The facility’s main entrance is on the left, one-half mile past Raceway Road. From I-74 go south on Ronald Reagan Parkway, exit 68 and turn south. Turn east on U.S. 136 and entrance on the track will be on the right.
COURSE: Championship dragstrip; Track elevation is 700 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.
WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 28 through Monday, Sept. 2.
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
THURSDAY, Aug. 29 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations
FRIDAY, Aug. 30 - LUCAS OIL SERIES (featuring Mopar HEMI Challenge)
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 5:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 6 p.m.
SATURDAY, Aug. 31 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2 and 5:30 p.m.
TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT (Top Fuel) rounds at 4, 7 and 8:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 2:30 and 6 p.m.
SUNDAY, Sept. 1 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2 p.m.; first round of eliminations at 5 p.m.
TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT (Funny Car) rounds at 12:30, 3:30 and 4:45 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
MONDAY, Sept. 2 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Sunday, Sept. 1, ESPN2 HD will televise five hours of qualifying coverage at 1 p.m. (ET).
Monday, Sept. 2, ESPN2 HD will televise six hours of eliminations coverage at noon (ET).
2012 EVENT WINNERS: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel; Mike Neff, Funny Car; Dave Connolly, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle;
MOST VICTORIES: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel, 9; Bob Glidden, Pro Stock, 9; Don Garlits, Top Fuel, 8; Don Prudhomme, Top Fuel and Funny Car, 7; Warren Johnson, Pro Stock, 6; Dave Schultz, Pro Stock Motorcycle, 6; Ed McCulloch, Funny Car and Top Fuel, 6; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock, 6; John Force, Funny Car, 4; Larry Dixon, Top Fuel, 4.
EVENT HISTORY: The most historic and prestigious event in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals has been contested annually since 1955. Originally known as “The Nationals” and first held at an abandoned airstrip in Great Bend, Kan., the event made stops at Kansas City, Mo., Oklahoma City and Detroit before eventually moving to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 1961. Past winners include “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, an eight-time winner in Top Fuel; Shirley Muldowney, 1982 Top Fuel winner; Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, a seven-time winner and one of a handful of drivers to win the event in both Top Fuel and Funny Car; and Bob Glidden, the legendary Pro Stock driver who dominated the race by advancing to the final round in 13 consecutive seasons from 1977-’89. The Indiana native won the event a record nine times, a mark he shares with current Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher. It is the only major motorsports event to be contested on Labor Day.
FAST FACTS: The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is the final of 18 regular season Mello Yello Series races. Following conclusion of this event the top 10 drivers in each Mello Yello Series category will qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs that begin Sept. 13-15 at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C.… The Traxxas Nitro Shootout will offer $100,000 to the winners in special bonus events for qualified Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers… Tony Schumacher is an 11-time U.S. Nationals finalist in Top Fuel (winning nine)… Schumacher’s first career NHRA start came at the U.S. Nationals in 1996 and the then rookie posted a runner-up finish to Cory McClenathan… Four-time Pro Stock world champ Greg Anderson has won the race six times in the past 12 seasons… John Force, 15-time NHRA Mello Yello Series world champion and winner of a record 135 events, has won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals four times, his last coming in 2002… Three women have earned Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victories, including Shirley Muldowney once in Top Fuel, Ashley Force Hood twice in Funny Car and Angelle Sampey twice in Pro Stock Motorcycle… Pro Stock’s Bob Glidden and Top Fuel’s Tony Schumacher are the winningest drivers in the history of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, with nine victories each… Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Jim Head and Ed McCulloch have won the race in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, while Antron Brown has also won the race in multiple classes, Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle… The event also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, featuring high-horsepower machines that accelerate to more than 250 mph.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Traxxas Nitro Shootout will offer $100,000 to the winners in special bonus events for qualified Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers… Tony Schumacher is seeking a record 10th Top Fuel victory at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals… A victory by Schumacher would break a tie with Pro Stock’s Bob Glidden for most Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victories… Four-time Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson is seeking his seventh Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victory… Two-time Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Top Fuel winner Cory McClenathan is expected to compete in the event this season in a dragster fielded by Mike Dakin… A driver from John Force Racing has earned the Funny Car victory at this event each season since 2008, including Robert Hight in ’08, Ashley Force Hood in ’09 and ’10 and Mike Neff in ’11 and ’12… Seven female drivers representing all four Mello Yello Series categories are pre-entered for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals… Several high-profile drivers are looking for their first victory in the world’s most prestigious drag race, including points leader Shawn Langdon, Morgan Lucas and two-time Indy runner-up Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel, points leader Matt Hagan, Ron Capps and Tony Pedregon in Funny Car, defending world champ Allen Johnson in Pro Stock, and three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Eddie Krawiec… Drivers in several Mello Yello Series categories who are on the bubble to make it into the top 10 in points will be trying to earn every point possible to secure their berths into the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race postseason playoffs.
TRACK HISTORY: In 1958, led by Tom Binford, Frank Dickie, Rodger Ward and Howard Fieber, 15 Indianapolis-area businessmen and racing professionals invested $5,000 each to fund the development of what would become Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The group purchased a 267-acre farm about seven miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and developed a multipurpose auto racing facility. The original intention in creating Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis was to design a 15-turn, 2.5-mile road course. Nearly as an afterthought, and as an insurance measure against economic problems, the investment group decided to incorporate a quarter-mile drag strip into the long straightaway of the 2.5-mile road course design. Constructed with assistance from the NHRA, the drag strip was the first of the three courses to be completed, with the facility’s first event held on the strip in the fall of 1960. During the 1960 U.S. Nationals in Detroit, a handshake agreement between Binford and NHRA founder Wally Parks promised that the event would move to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 1961. The historic three-year pact was signed and sealed under a tree in Detroit Dragway’s pits, and Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis eventually became the home of NHRA’s biggest annual event. The NHRA purchased the entire facility in 1979. The first major improvement came in 1983 with the construction and dedication of Parks Tower, the four-story drag strip tower. In 1998, new grandstands, suites and a tower complex on the front straightaway were completed at the oval track at a cost of nearly $2.5 million, which included the repaving of the entire oval surface as part of a three-phase facility improvement project. In 2001, NHRA and Lucas Oil Raceway constructed a new drag strip racing surface, replacing the strip with a 660-foot concrete pad and laying new asphalt on the remainder of the track and shutdown area. Prior to the 2003 race, eight new luxury suites were added along the top of the west-side grandstands of the drag strip, giving fans a unique perspective of the action on the famed track. In 2006, new soft barrier walls were added to the oval. In 2007, the track announced its first track entitlement with O’Reilly Auto Parts. In 2011, the track announced a new track entitlement with Lucas Oil Products. The track – formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park – is now known as Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. During the winter of 2008, a new main track office building was constructed near the track entrance.
DRIVER QUICK QUOTES:
Tony Schumacher, nine-time Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Top Fuel winner: “I should move to Indy. I really like that town. I’ve won Indy nine times and lost in the final twice. That’s 11 times in the final in like 14 or 15 years that I’ve been one of the last two cars running there. I love going there. I find that place very special. I wish I could figure out why we win the races there, because I would bottle it up and use it at other events. It’s simply amazing. Why can’t we win at Atlanta? We’ve won the Big Go nine times and I’m glad it’s as special as it is. I tell you if you win Atlanta nine times, nice job, but if you win the Big Go nine times, you’re something.”
Jack Beckman, defending Funny Car world champion: “Before I won the Funny Car championship I guessed it would be cool to win it, but I had no idea how cool it actually was until I finally won it. It’s like being a parent for the first time. People tell you that having kids is the greatest thing in the world, but you really don’t understand that until you have kids. The same thing applies to winning Indy for me. I haven’t won it yet, so at this point it doesn’t really mean anything. I do understand that winning the race can be a career-altering experience. We’ve seen that in so many drivers over the years. There really isn’t another place where winning one race has that kind of power to totally change a career. I really hope I can win the U.S. Nationals one day to experience that and become a part of Indy’s rich history.”
Greg Anderson, six-time Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Pro Stock winner: “Since day one, I thought it was the greatest thing on wheels, and that is how I treat it now that I race there in my Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro. I don’t go to Indy trying to act like it’s any other race – I go there like it’s the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, where it means the world to win.”
Steve Johnson, two-time Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle winner: “The mystique of the U.S. Nationals is such that it's a race like no other. It's the one we all want to win more than any other. Winning Indy can literally make your career, not just because it's the Nationals but because our fans, sponsors and the media pay more attention to what happens there than they do to any other race. The feeling you get when you win a Wally is like no other in your life, but I promise you, when you're holding the Wally from the U.S. Nationals it's like an out-of-body experience. Time seems to slow down, and you're aware of everything around you, from the fans congratulating you to the men and women you race against shaking your hand. You're just numb. It's hard to take it all in. I've had that feeling twice and man, I want to feel that way again and again.”
Top Fuel - 3.740 sec. by Shawn Langdon, Sept. ’12; 326.79 mph by Tony Schumacher, Sept. ’12.
Funny Car - 4.026 sec. by Cruz Pedregon, Sept. ’11; 317.27 mph by Courtney Force, Sept. ’12.
Pro Stock - 6.538 sec. by Jason Line, Sept. ’11; 211.13 mph by Mike Edwards, Sept. ’12.
Pro Stock Motorcycle - 6.815 sec. by Andrew Hines, Sept. ’10; 196.76 mph by Hines, Sept. ’10.
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) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available online at www.NHRATIX.com.