LAS VEGAS – Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Matt Smith has the most realistic shot of becoming the first 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world champion during the NHRA Toyota Nationals this weekend (Oct. 24-27) at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but even he’s not counting his chickens before they hatch.
The 2007 world champ knows better. In the crazy world of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing anything can happen, and it usually does.
In the past, many drivers have arrived at the season’s penultimate race with sizeable points leads and championship glory in their eyes, only to be disappointed and sent off to the season finale with much smaller leads, or in some cases, no leads at all.
Smith, who holds a 125-point advantage over second place Hector Arana Jr., could claim his second world championship title by increasing his lead by 26 points during the race weekend. That could be accomplished with a strong effort in qualifying and by going one round farther than Arana Jr. during eliminations.
The way Smith’s Viper Motorcycle Company Buell has been performing lately, it is certainly possible. The King, N.C. rider has advanced to the final round in the last three events, winning the last two.
However, he’s not going to fall into that trap, of mentally claiming the trophy before he actually puts in the final work and adds the finishing touches to a very strong season. If he’s successful, he will join his father Rickie Smith as NHRA world champions this season. The elder Smith already claimed the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series title.
Should Smith have a hiccup, Michael Ray, Hector Arana Sr. and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec would join Arana Jr. in the championship conversation in Pro Stock Motorcycle, as all three riders sit just a few points back of the second place rider.
“This thing’s not over yet,” Smith said. “I’m still looking at every round as just 20 points. But we’ll be strong, I guarantee you, in Vegas.”
The other three classes feature much tighter championship battles at the fifth of six playoff races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. The NHRA Toyota Nationals will be televised on ESPN2HD.
In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon holds the lead over second place Doug Kalitta and third place Spencer Massey, both trailing Langdon by more than 80 points. All three drivers are looking for their first world championship title in Top Fuel, however Langdon has led the standings for most of the season at the controls of his Al-Anabi Racing dragster.
"I am very excited, and I am very proud to be in this position with a four-round lead going into Las Vegas,” said Langdon, who has won a class-best six times this season. “But we have to keep working as hard as we can because there are still eight rounds of racing left. We’ve seen it year after year. Somebody always gets hot in the last couple of races, and a four-round lead can deteriorate quickly. The Al-Anabi team has had a really good year, and we would love nothing more than to finish it off with a Mello Yello championship."
Veteran driver Kalitta, who last flirted with a championship title in 2006, is up for the challenge ahead. Kalitta has been stout in the Countdown playoffs, posting a victory at Dallas and three semifinal finishes. With five No. 1 qualifying positions this season, his machine has been one of the quickest in the class.
"Right now I've probably got one of the better opportunities to hopefully run with Shawn and whoever else is coming up, because I think second on back, everybody is within a round of one another," said Kalitta, whose Mac Tools dragster will feature a special edition Chip Foose design this weekend. "Shawn has pulled away a little bit, but we're hoping that we can definitely gain on him, and I think we can. This is one of my better opportunities I've had in a few years to be in this position, so hopefully we can take advantage of it."
Massey, who has performed well at The Strip at LVMS in the past, feels confident about his chances and is prepared to let it all unfold on the racetrack. Massey has won four times in six final round appearances this season. However, his only Countdown playoff final came in a runner-up finish at Charlotte, N.C.
“Vegas is usually a good track for us,” Massey said. “We have a couple of wins there, a runner-up at this race last year. That's all we need to do is just go rounds and turn on win lights and everything will play out the way it's going to. We just need to do our part.”
In Funny Car, 15-time world champ John Force holds a 65-point lead over his recent rival Matt Hagan. The two have been involved in similar championship battles in recent years, with Force coming out on top in 2010 and Hagan winning his first title in 2011.
Force is trying to prove he can still hang with the kids and get the job done at age 64. Hagan is trying to rebound from a horrible 2012 season where the Virginia cattle rancher didn’t qualify for the Countdown to the Championship.
Hagan has led the standings for most of the season, clicking early with a new but proven crew chief in Dickie Venables and a young race team. Meanwhile, Force has come on strong in the Countdown and won the last two events in his Jimmy Prock-tuned Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Force joined forces with Prock near mid-season when he ordered a crew chief change with his and Robert Hight’s teams.
"We're racing with the best out there, and it's not to say that there's a couple boys back there right behind us that can't sneak up here and do this thing, too, but I really think it's turned into a two horse race here, and we just have to focus on what our car can do and not really who's beside us, as hard as that is to do with a 15-time champ out there," Hagan said. "But we can't control how he qualifies, we can't control who he runs, we can't control how many rounds he goes. We've just got to go out there and try to go four rounds on Sunday and turn four win lights on and do it two more races. I believe we can do it. I know that's a steep hill to climb, but I've never won back to back, and I sure would like to these last two races."
Force has been in similar close title battles throughout his stellar career and has proven many times that he has what it takes to get the job done.
“We got past him three years ago,” Force said of Hagan, “but, at the end of the day, he could do the same thing to us this time. He’s got a fast hot rod over there with Dickie (Venables, crew chief) and (car owner Don) Schumacher, he’s a great young driver and he’s motivated. That’s a dangerous combination. But (crew chief Jimmy) Prock has given me a good hot rod and I am ready for a fight to the finish and I know it will be tough over these next two races.”
Should Force and Hagan stumble in Las Vegas, several other drivers will be looking to take advantage and keep their championship hopes alive, including defending world champ Jack Beckman, ’09 champ Hight, Cruz Pedregon, Ron Capps and Courtney Force.
In Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin is in hot pursuit of a fifth world championship title in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger. He holds the lead over a logjam of proven drivers in second through fourth, including Mike Edwards, Jason Line and defending champ Allen Johnson.
Coughlin is 45 ahead of 2009 champ Edwards, a six-time winner this season, 50 up on two-time champ Line and 73 ahead of teammate Johnson, who won the spring Vegas race.
"I don't think the title will be decided one way or the other in Vegas, but we may leave town with a much clearer picture," Coughlin said. "You have to remember, the three guys behind us in the points are all past NHRA champions. It's going to be a thrill ride."
Fans arriving early for the penultimate race-weekend will be treated to the traditional NHRA Fremont Street Experience Fan Fest, annually one of the best-attended pre-race festivities on the circuit. The Fan Fest will be held Thursday, Oct. 24th at 5 p.m. on Fremont Street and will feature the sport’s top drivers participating in one of the biggest autograph sessions of the year and will also showcase a spectacular NHRA-themed light show over Freemont Street. Ticket giveaways and music will also be a part of this exciting kick-off event for the weekend.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family. Also in support of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Tequila Patron Funny Car/Alexis DeJoria team has partnered with Nevada Health Centers to offer free mammograms all weekend long in the Midway for female race fans over 40.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
Families can take part in a special ticket offer for children 12 and under, who will be admitted free in general admission areas with a paid adult.
The NHRA Toyota Nationals qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:15 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 25. Qualifying continues at 12:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27.
Tickets are available for the NHRA Toyota Nationals online at www.lvms.com or by calling (800) 644-4444. For complete event coverage of the 13th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, please visit www.nhra.com.
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MELLO YELLO COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE SCENARIOS
A driver in any category needs a lead of 151 points or more at the conclusion of the event to earn his or her respective NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship title at the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas. A maximum of 150 points is available at this event to one racer in each category. Only eight rounds of racing remain in the season.
Top Fuel: Shawn Langdon holds an 83 point lead over second place Doug Kalitta and 86 point lead over third place Spencer Massey. In order to clinch in Las Vegas, Langdon needs to increase his lead by 68 points (more than three rounds) over second place. There are still nine drivers mathematically in contention for the championship title in Top Fuel.
Funny Car: John Force is up by 65 points over second place Matt Hagan. In order to clinch the title in Las Vegas, Force needs to increase his lead by 86 points over second place (more than four rounds). All 10 Countdown drivers in Funny Car are still mathematically alive.
Pro Stock: Jeg Coughlin leads Mike Edwards by 45, Jason Line by 50 and Allen Johnson by 73. Coughlin needs to add 106 points over second place (more than five rounds) to secure the championship in Las Vegas. There are still nine drivers in contention.
PS Motorcycle: Matt Smith has a 125-point lead over Hector Arana Jr., and Michael Ray, Hector Arana Sr. and Eddie Krawiec are all within striking distance should Smith stumble in qualifying or lose early in eliminations. Smith needs to increase his lead by 26 points (more than one round) over second place to secure the championship in Las Vegas. Eight riders are still mathematically in contention.
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NHRA TOYOTA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 13th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the fifth of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. 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: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of Las Vegas off I-15.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 24-27
THURSDAY, Oct. 24 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Oct. 25 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 12:45 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m.
SATURDAY, Oct. 26 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2:15 p.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 4:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 2:45 p.m.
SUNDAY, Oct. 27 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Sunday, Oct. 27, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 2:30 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 27, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will re-air 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 3 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 27, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET).
SATELLITE (Digital HD feed):
Friday, Oct. 25, 9:30 - 10 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 1C
Saturday, Oct. 26, 9:30 - 10 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 1C
Sunday, Oct. 27, 9 - 9:30 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 1C
(3720 MHz, horizontal; 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: Bob Vandergriff, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Greg Anderson, PS, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4; Ron Capps, FC, 4; Andrew Hines, PSM, 3.
Top Fuel - 3.773 seconds by Tony Schumacher, Oct. ’12; 327.11 mph by Doug Kalitta, Oct., ’12
Funny Car - 4.030 seconds by Matt Hagan, Oct. ’09; 317.27 mph by Robert Hight, Oct. ’12.
Pro Stock - 6.590 seconds by Jason Line, Oct. ’12; 209.72 mph by Line, Oct. ’12.
PS Motorcycle - 6.879 sec. by Hector Arana Jr., Oct. ’11; 196.56 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. ’11
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.
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NHRA MELLO YELLO COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif.-- Point standings (top 10) following the 22nd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the fourth of six playoff races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship -
Top Fuel: 1. Shawn Langdon, 2,441; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,358; 3. Spencer Massey, 2,355; 4. Morgan Lucas, 2,316; 5. Antron Brown, 2,312; 6. Tony Schumacher, 2,302; 7. Clay Millican, 2,232; 8. Khalid alBalooshi, 2,223; 9. Bob Vandergriff, 2,187; 10. Steve Torrence, 2,125.
Funny Car: 1. John Force, 2,457; 2. Matt Hagan, 2,392; 3. Jack Beckman, 2,331; 4. Robert Hight, 2,323; 5. Cruz Pedregon, 2,307; 6. Ron Capps, 2,297; 7. Courtney Force, 2,266; 8. Johnny Gray, 2,223; 9. Del Worsham, 2,214; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,175.
Pro Stock: 1. Jeg Coughlin, 2,433; 2. Mike Edwards, 2,388; 3. Jason Line, 2,383; 4. Allen Johnson, 2,360; 5. Erica Enders-Stevens, 2,319; 6. Shane Gray, 2,313; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,260; 8. V. Gaines, 2,219; 9. Vincent Nobile, 2,215; 10. Rodger Brogdon, 2,083.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Matt Smith, 2,486; 2. Hector Arana Jr, 2,361; 3. Michael Ray, 2,359; 4. Hector Arana, 2,357; 5. Eddie Krawiec, 2,345; 6. LE Tonglet, 2,299; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,256; 8. John Hall, 2,238; 9. Adam Arana, 2,157; 10. Shawn Gann, 2,125.