The stars of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series head to Nevada for the upcoming SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, taking place Friday through Sunday, March 28 through 30 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The event will feature three of the series’ top categories: Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, which will be featured in the K&N Horsepower Challenge on Saturday.
The Pro Stock K&N Horsepower Challenge is a race-within-the-race, featuring seven of the top drivers since last year’s SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals and one fan-voted driver. Allen Johnson is the top seed for the event, which also features Jason Line, Erica Enders-Stevens, Vincent Nobile and Jeg Coughlin Jr. The winner of the fan vote was Dave Connolly, who won the event back in 2005 and was runner-up in 2004. Connolly is racing full-time for Gray Motorsports this season, after a number of seasons racing part-time and serving as Enders-Stevens crew chief at Cagnazzi Racing.
“I didn’t have the chance to earn points and get in the K&N Horsepower Challenge the way the rest of the drivers did, but I think here lately the Gray Motorsports team has shown that we do have a top eight car and can run right along with the best of them,” said Connolly. “It’s an honor to have the fan vote, and hopefully either myself or my Gray Motorsports teammate Shane Gray can go to Las Vegas and win that $50,000 and that cool trophy.”
Funny Car driver Robert Hight has four wins at LVMS, three coming in the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals. He has started the season strong, making a career-best 3.986-second pass at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, picking up a runner-up finish in Phoenix and winning the Wally at Gainesville – the 30th of his career. He credits his success to gelling with his crew chief, former driver Mike Neff, who began working with Hight in the middle of the 2013 season.
“Mike really has a great tune-up this year and we are starting to get into a really comfortable groove,” said the 2009 champ. “He is one of the best crew chiefs at the track. He will get the most out of a tune-up and track conditions, and that gives you so much confidence as a driver. I know that I just have to do my job. If I have a solid reaction time and keep it in the groove, we have a great chance of getting a win light. It is a lot of fun to drive a Funny Car that just pulls the whole way down the track and Neff will give you a race car like that.”
Hight’s teammate at John Force Racing, Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, is also coming into her own with a new crew chief. The 2013 Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner is working with Todd Smith, who spent most of the 2013 season with Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car driver Jack Beckman. So far this season, Force has set her career-best E.T. and speed at the Winternationals (3.778 seconds at 326.24 mph) and has gone to her first career final round, losing a close race to Antron Brown at Phoenix. LVMS is a familiar track to Force, who watched father John race there over the years before she competed in Sportsman and Top Fuel at the track.
“Todd Smith and the rest of the team have been working really hard since Gainesville and have fixed the bugs that plagued our Castrol EDGE Dragster during qualifying,” Force said. “I’m pumped to be heading back (to Vegas) as I got my first round Top Fuel win against (Doug) Kalitta here last year. I love the Vegas track as it’s beautiful and the Castrol EDGE team is ready to go some rounds.”
Qualifying for the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals begins Friday, March 28 at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. PT, followed by two more sessions on Saturday, March 29 at 1:10 and 4:50 p.m. PT. Final eliminations take place Sunday, March 30 beginning at 11 a.m. PT.
Sources: “Funny Car Standout Robert Hight Hopeful to Add to List of Accomplishments at SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway,” NHRA Media, March 13, 2014
“Veteran Pro Stock Racer Connolly Named Fan-Vote Winner for K&N Horsepower Challenge at Las Vegas,” NHRA Media, March 18, 2014
“Top Fuel’s Brittany Force Ready to Speed into Win column During SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway,” NHRA Media, March 20, 2014