Event No. 12 of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season for 2014 is the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, taking place Thursday through Sunday, June 26 through 29 at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois. While the event marks the halfway point of the entire season, its completion means there are only six races left to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, the NHRA’s “post-season” title playoff.
Defending winners in the 17th annual event are Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle). Schumacher has four wins at his home track, while Coughlin Jr.’s 2013 win was his fifth at the track.
Coughlin Jr., a five-time Pro Stock champ with his last title coming last season, has a long-standing relationship with Route 66 Raceway, a track he used to race at as part of NHRA Division 3 in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
“Something most pros probably don’t think about much but for me it’s very real is the fact that Chicago is in our division,” said Coughlin Jr. “I grew up racing (NHRA Division 3) and when I’m at the track there are always a bunch of people, friends and fellow sportsman racers that stop by and wish us well. Again, there’s this sense of pride you feel in representing your home area. It’s hard to say why you do well at some tracks more so than others. For me, I think it’s just a comfort thing, and that only grows every time you go back and have another great race.”
“I vividly remember pulling in there for the first time and just being blown away by the stadium,” he continued. “It really signaled the beginning of a new era of professional drag racing where we reached this new level of professionalism and esteem. It still seems brand new and it’s as nice as it was the day it opened. Route 66 definitely elevated our sport as a whole.”
In Top Fuel, Schumacher’s teammate at Don Schumacher Racing, Antron Brown, has three wins at Route 66 Raceway – once in Top Fuel and twice in Pro Stock Motorcycle. The 2012 champ is excited to get back to Chicago.
“I’m always excited and I always enjoy going to Chicago,” said Brown. “It has always been a really good racetrack, especially since you’re racing there in the summer. If the air gets right, the track can get really tight there and you get really excited.”
With two qualifying sessions under the lights- perfect for fast times and high speeds – and midday heat on Sunday for eliminations, crew chiefs and drivers need to be ready for all conditions in Chicago.
“Our team likes those kind of conditions,” said Brown. “We do well in those conditions and our team seems to adapt well when situations like that come up. We’re in a good place right now as a team where we can really grow and get ourselves in tip-top shape for the Countdown (to the Championship).”
Qualifying sessions for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries take place Friday at 4:30 and 7:15 p.m. CT and Saturday at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. CT; eliminations get underway Sunday at 11 a.m. CT.
Source: “Pro Stock Standout Jeg Coughlin Aims to Deliver More Success at O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway,” NHRA Media, June 12, 2014
“Top Fuel Standout Antron Brown Enjoys Fast Times, Extreme Action at O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway,” NHRA Media, June 19, 2014