The next event on the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule is the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals, taking place April 25 through 27 at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas, near Houston. John Force Racing has been strong throughout the early part of the 2014 season, and visiting Royal Purple Raceway will only strengthen the team in the Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks.
In just her second season in the competitive Top Fuel ranks, Brittany Force has advanced to her first final-round appearance at Phoenix and advanced past the first round in her second attempt at the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway. She’ll be one of a handful of women attempting to earn the 100th female victory in the Mello Yello Series at the SpringNationals; the number currently sits at 98.
Another woman looking for a win at Royal Purple Raceway is the youngest Force daughter, Courtney, who’s in her third year in Funny Car. There has only been one female winner in the nitro classes at Royal Purple Raceway – the third Force sister, Ashley Force Hood, who recently renewed her Funny Car license but is not yet set for a return to the track. Force Hood won the SpringNationals in 2009.
The men of John Force Racing can’t be left out of this conversation. Patriarch John Force, the 16-time and defending NHRA Funny Car champ, leads all drivers in victories at Royal Purple Raceway with seven, his last win coming 12 years ago. Force had a strong start to the season, setting a new national e.t. record at Pomona and winning the season-opening WinterNationals; he’s also been runner-up twice in this season’s first five races. Both times, Force was runner-up to his son-in-law Robert Hight, who has the points lead going into this weekend; he’s won twice and been runner-up twice in the first five races.
Among the drivers to watch outside of the Force family is Top Fuel driver Bob Vandergriff Jr., who won in Top Fuel last season. Royal Purple Raceway is the home track for Vandergriff’s sponsor, C&J Energy Services, which made last year’s victory that much sweeter.
“Last year was a huge curveball because of the huge amount of rain they had and what it did to the track,” said Vandergriff. “I knew it was going to be one of those races where just going down the track was going to be a challenge. We didn’t make it down fully until the final round but they gave us enough chances and we ended up winning the race.”
Jason Line, last year’s winner in Pro Stock, already has a win (Pomona) and runner-up finish (Las Vegas) this season, but he’s chasing another woman with a chance at a victory, Houston native Erica Enders-Stevens, who is the first female ever to lead Pro Stock points. Enders-Stevens won her first NHRA national event in Super Gas competition at the track, and would like to add to her seven career Pro Stock wins.
Qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals kicks off Friday, April 25 at 4 and 6:30 p.m. CT, continuing Saturday, April 26 at 12:30 and 3 p.m. CT. Eliminations get underway Sunday, April 27 at 11 a.m. CT.
Sources: “Top Fuel Standout Bob Vandergriff Aiming for the Stars at O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway,” NHRA Media, April 10, 2014
“Girl Power on Display at O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals in April,” NHRA Media