INDIANAPOLIS – Two-time Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Steve Johnson heads to the world’s most prestigious drag race this weekend with trusty calculator in hand.
He says that any racer who admits they aren’t aware of where they stand in the points might be understating the truth just a little bit.
Johnson says he is always on top of that area of his racing program and this weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis at the Big Go he will be even more vigilant in his computations. In fact, he’s running exotic spreadsheets, crunching the numbers with an abacus, even calling in some assistance from the math experts at MIT.
He wants to make sure he doesn’t leave any stone unturned as he tries to qualify for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs that begins in two weeks in Charlotte, N.C.
“For the first time ever I have laid out all the scenarios and I am looking at the points and the all of the possibilities,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a game plan in place and now I will just need to get out there and get as many points as possible and try to make the Countdown.”
Johnson is holding down the 10th spot going into the final race of the 18-event NHRA Mello Yello Series Regular Season. He is 29 points ahead of 11th place LE Tonglet and 43 points ahead of 12th place defending race winner Hines. There is also room for Johnson to move forward. He is only four points behind ninth place Shawn Gann and he’s 38 points back of rookie Adam Arana in eighth place. Only the top 10 drivers in each of the four Mello Yello Series classes qualify for the Countdown to the Championship.
In a single event, NHRA teams can earn from 1 to 8 points for qualifying position, 1-3 bonus points during each of the five qualifying sessions, 20 points for each eliminations round win on Monday and there’s also a 20 point bonus on the table should a rider set a national E.T. record. All totaled, there’s a max of 153 points available to a single racer at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Johnson has his sights set on that number.
“Everybody has things they want and all I want is to make the Countdown,” Johnson said. “I feel like I have 25 years invested in this race. While everyone wants to win Indy, for me, I really want to be in the playoffs. There’s nothing more important for me than that this weekend.”
Johnson can focus more on the Countdown playoffs and trying to earn his first world championship title because he’s already won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. He’s won the race two times in fact, in 2005 and 2008.
His first Indy win was very memorable, but not for the reasons one might think.
“We won the U.S. Nationals in 2005 – but didn’t find out for sure until a few days later,” Johnson said. “An unfortunate finish-line-timer malfunction initially awarded the race to the guy in the other lane, and believe me, I was crushed because I thought I’d won. Well, the NHRA straightened things out, but for a few days there I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t think – until I got the call telling me I’d won. Three years later we got lucky again, and won it for the second time, and it was all good. Our winner’s circle celebration was over the top – at least what I can remember of it. I was so excited at having won drag racing’s ultimate event, the U.S. Nationals, I don't think I really took it all in. Even now it’s a blur.”
Johnson says when he looks at his two Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals trophies sitting on a shelf in his office, he still can’t believe his name is there permanently in the NHRA history book alongside some of his drag racing heroes who’ve won Indy: Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Bob Glidden, Dave Schultz and John Myers.
“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,” Johnson said. “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.”
He’ll have a similar spiritual experience if he’s able to hang on to a top 10 spot this weekend on his 197-mph Steve Johnson Racing Suzuki. He’s got two former world champs trailing and trying to pass him in the standings. Who needs more drama and excitement than that?
“I think having the U.S. Nationals be the final race of the regular season is one of the all-time great decisions by NHRA,” Johnson said. “It’s such a tremendous race already and when you add all the Countdown element into the mix it just takes it up to even another level. It’s just a great way to finish the regular season for the racers and for the fans.”
Oh, and should Johnson be fortunate enough to race to a third Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victory this weekend while he’s focused on advancing to the Countdown, he’ll certainly take it.
“Winning it again this year would be oh-so-special for us,” Johnson said. “Man, I’ve got goose bumps just thinking about it.”
Other riders to watch in the highly competitive two-wheel category include season-long points leader Hector Arana Jr., a former Indy winner with four victories this season on his Lucas Oil Buell, breakout performer Michael Ray, past Indy winner and former world champ Matt Smith, veteran rider Hector Arana Sr., and series newcomers John Hall and Scotty Pollacheck.
In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher will be looking to make history as the first 10-time winner in the history of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. To do it he will need to hold off series points leader Shawn Langdon, a four-time season winner, along with another four-time season winner, teammate Spencer Massey. Defending world champion Antron Brown, ultra-quick Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican, Morgan Lucas and Khalid alBalooshi are also among those to watch in the 8,000-horsepower category. Steve Torrence, Bob Vandergriff and David Grubnic will not only be looking for a race victory, but the trio also will be in the hunt to secure a post-season playoff position.
Matt Hagan is seeking his fifth victory of the season and is the Funny Car points leader, while Ron Capps has won two of the last three races and will be a force in his NAPA Dodge Charger. Those two drivers lead a strong group who are trying to win the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for the first time, a list that includes four-time season winner Johnny Gray, Courtney Force and defending world champ Jack Beckman. John Force, Cruz Pedregon and Tim Wilkerson will be among a group of drivers trying to return to Indy’s winner’s circle. Bob Tasca III, Robert Hight and Del Worsham will be focused on earning one of the two final spots in the Countdown.
Pro Stock points leader Mike Edwards only has one victory at Indy, but is riding the season momentum from five victories in his I Am Second Chevy Camaro. Defending world champ Allen Johnson, three-time Indy winner Jeg Coughlin, Vincent Nobile, six-time Indy winner Greg Anderson and fellow Chevy Camaro driver Shane Gray are also among the pre-race favorites.
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.
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).
SATELLITE (Digital HD feed):
Friday, Aug. 30, 8:30 - 9 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 14C
Saturday, Aug. 31, 9 - 9:30 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 14C
Sunday, Sept. 1, 6:30 - 7 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 14C
Monday, Sept. 2, 6:30 - 7 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 14C
(3980 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 Monday.
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.
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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif. -- Point standings (top 10) following the 17th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series -
Top Fuel: 1. Shawn Langdon, 1,370; 2. Spencer Massey, 1,249; 3. Tony Schumacher, 1,199; 4. Doug Kalitta, 1,009; 5. Khalid alBalooshi, 1,002; 6. Antron Brown, 994; 7. Clay Millican, 928; 8. Morgan Lucas, 917; 9. Steve Torrence, 794; 10. Bob Vandergriff, 789.
Funny Car: 1. Matt Hagan, 1,253; 2. Ron Capps, 1,129; 3. (tie) Johnny Gray, 1,066; Cruz Pedregon, 1,066; 5.John Force, 1,054; 6. Courtney Force, 1,039; 7. Jack Beckman, 1,015; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 952; 9. Bob Tasca III, 906; 10. Robert Hight, 902.
Pro Stock: 1. Mike Edwards, 1,540; 2. Allen Johnson, 1,390; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 1,275; 4. Vincent Nobile, 1,113; 5. Shane Gray, 1,031; 6. Jason Line, 1,008; 7. Greg Anderson, 977; 8. V. Gaines, 879; 9. Erica Enders-Stevens, 779; 10. Rodger Brogdon, 724.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Hector Arana Jr, 795; 2. Matt Smith, 646; 3. Michael Ray, 599; 4. Hector Arana, 553; 5. John Hall, 534; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 523; 7. Eddie Krawiec, 465; 8. Adam Arana, 462; 9. Shawn Gann, 428; 10. Steve Johnson, 424.