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Nitro Shots: Does Experience Trump Youth and Enthusiasm?

Voting is underway to determine the 2015 Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner in NHRA, aka the Rookie of the Year, as noted in our Pace Laps column the other day. One of our readers made an interesting observation about the six rookie drivers under consideration for the award.

The nominees are John Bojec, age 50, Funny Car, Bo Butner, age 41, Pro Stock, Jenna Haddock, age 31, Top Fuel, John Hale, age 50, Funny Car, Alex Laughlin, age 27, Pro Stock, Alan Prusiensky, age 42, Pro Stock, and Drew Skillman, age 29, Pro Stock. Taken as a group, the average age of the contenders is 38.5. In other racing series like NASCAR or IndyCar, rookies tend to be lucky if they are allowed to drink the champagne in Victory Lane.

What is it about NHRA drag racing that’s different? It would seem that racing is a young man’s game everywhere else. Consider that Jeff Gordon is retiring after this season and he’s 44, younger than two of the NHRA rookies, and just a hair older than two of the others. I asked 66-year-old John Force why NHRA seems to favor older drivers and he did point out that drivers only run for a few seconds, not for hours on end as they do in other forms of racing.

Combined with that observation, you have experience. Most of these drivers have honed their skills, reaction times and such, in the sportsman ranks for years before making it to this level. While youth and enthusiasm rule other forms of motorsports, it appears to be experience that is king in NHRA.

Or is it? Rumor has it that Skillman, the youngest driver nominated at 29 years of age (still old for a rookie contender in other series however) is the favorite to win it.

What’s News?

  • The race hauler carrying Brittany Force‘s Top Fuel dragster to Las Vegas was involved in an accident just outside of Kansas City en route to this weekend’s race. The driver of the hauler was sore but uninjured, and a backup hauler was sent out to pick up the racing equipment to finish the trip to Vegas. There are reports that the driver swerved to avoid another vehicle that had crossed the median.
  • If you are a female race fan over the age of 40 attending the NHRA Toyota Nationals this weekend in Las Vegas, be sure to stop by the Kalitta Motorsports pit area. Alexis DeJoria has once again teamed up with the Nevada Health Centers to bring the mammovan to the track on Friday and Saturday to offer fans free mammography screenings. This will be the third year for the partnership. “I really want to thank the Patron Spirits Company and Toyota for their support, as well as Kalitta Motorsports, everyone who bought items on our eBay fundraising page, purchased our pink Fight Like a Girl bracelets and made donations,” said DeJoria. “It all goes toward this very wonderful life-saving cause and we would nt be able to provide this service to our fans without their support.” DeJoria is also running the hot pink Patrón XO Cafe Incendio Toyota Camry for this weekend’s race.
  • A massive field of 30 Pro Stock Motorcycles is expected for the NHRA Toyota Nationals this weekend in Las Vegas, the first time that many bikes have been on hand since the 2004 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. A field of that size could have big championship implications. While 30 bikes will try to qualify, only 16 will make the cut and run in eliminations on Sunday. The top three drivers are separated by only 31 points. If they, or anyone else in the Countdown for that matter, fails to qualify, something that is not at all out of the realm of possibility with that many bikes, it could mean a massive points hit.
  • Pro Stock driver Laughlin has been added to the list of candidates for the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Fugure award for NHRA’s top rookie. Laughlin competed in his fifth event of the year at the last race in Dallas and declared that 2015 would be his rookie year.

Driver Profile: Vincent Nobile

Category: Pro Stock
Hometown: Melville, N.Y.
Date of birth: November 6, 1991
2015 car: Mountain View Tire Chevrolet Camaro
Crew chief: Nick Mitsos, John Nobile
Team Owner: Nick Mitsos

Career Highlights:
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 9/7
Best points finish: 3rd in 2012
Career best ET: 6.479, Reading, 2014
Career best speed: 214.25, Charlotte1, 2015

2014 – Won at Chicago; No. 1 qualifier at Pomona 1 and Topeka.

2013 – Won three races; No. 1 qualifier at Brainerd.

2012 – Won two races; No. 1 qualifier at Charlotte 2; won the K&N Horsepower Challenge, the youngest driver to ever do so.

2011 – Scored first career Pro Stock win at Houston; Won three races all together.

2010 – Made first career start at Brainerd.

Some things most people don’t know about Vincent: Racing is a family sport for Vincent, as it is for many other NHRA racers. His father, John, is also a veteran of the Pro Stock category. Vincent also enjoys baseball and played varsity ball all through high school. He also graduated from Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y. Vincent’s sister, Nicole, is engaged to Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Jr.

Tech Facts

Odds are that we’ll see sunny, warmweather in Las Vegas this weekend, but teams have dealt with some crazy conditions at other recent stops on the schedule recently. Funny Car driver Robert Hight talks a little bit about how weather can affect his car in this edition of Tech Facts.

NHRA 101

Someone asked me just last week to explain how bracket racing works. Since I explained it once, why not twice? The four categories that make up the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series run heads up races, not bracket races, but several of the sportsman classes you would see on a race weekend run bracket style. To back up, heads up means you line up and race the other driver and whoever hits the finish line first without fouling wins. Bracket racing means you are primarily racing the clock to beat the other driver. Bracket racers must set an index time, a time they feel their car can run consistently through the rounds. This is primarily what they are trying to do in their qualifying rounds. Once they have that index, the idea for them is to run as close to that time as they can without going faster than that time. Going faster is a foul known as breaking out. The driver that runs closest to their index time is the winner of the matchup.

Number of the Week: 8

Number of wins at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by the winningest driver at the track, Tony Schumacher. He’ll need another one of those if he has any hope to catch teammate Antron Brown for the Top Fuel championship. Ron Capps has the most wins at the track in Funny Car (5), Greg Anderson leads Pro Stock drivers with seven, and Andrew Hines is tops in Pro Stock Motorcycle with four.

Where to Watch

Back in action for the penultimate event of the season, the NHRA Toyota Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway! Tune in on Sunday evening. It’s possible some championships may be decided this weekend.

ProgramDate/TimeChannel
AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS
QualifyingFriday, November 10, 6:30 PM ETFS1 (Live)
QualifyingSaturday, November 11, 6:00 PM ETFS1 (Live)
EliminationsSunday, November 12, 4:00 PM ETFS1 (Live)

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J. Smith

You would think youth would have an advantage with reaction times but who knows. It’d be interesting to know what the historical data shows. I will always give most of the credit to crew chiefs and teams over the driver. Lately look at Antron or Beckman, good drivers as always but their teams are on a technical role. There are always exceptions such as Erica consistently beating the hell out of Anderson with hole shot wins.
Beckman’s header angle advantage and all the head scratching going on was cool to watch. It was right in front of everyone to see but it took a while for everyone to figure out. That’s what a great crew chief can do for a driver.

Toni Montgomery

I had the same initial thoughts about youth and reaction times but in this case it seems that the years spent sharpening skills, especially hitting that tree, pay off and gain the advantage over the usually quicker reflexes of the young.

No offense to Beckman and his driving ability but his resurgence is absolutely a product of Prock and Medlen and company. Most of the Nitro guys, particularly the Funny Car drivers, will be the first to admit that. They’ll tell you they have just one job and that job is not to screw it up.

I do think Erica is proof though that sometimes, just sometimes it IS the driver–an in her case, she practices on that tree relentlessly–and it shows. Much to Anderson’s dismay. Many times the car carries the driver, but sometimes the driver carries the car.

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