The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season is finally upon us! There were a number of uncertainties at the end of 2015, not the least of which was sponsorship for a few teams and drivers. That’s also not really anything new, in NHRA or in motorsports as a whole. This era hasn’t been one where corporate money has been easy to come by. Motorsports costs continue to rise while the companies who provide sponsorship are tightening belts, making reasonable return on investment a rare bird.
And yet, there were a number of sponsorship announcements over the offseason, both new relationships and expanded ones. J.R. Todd and SealMaster will partner for the entire 2016 season in Top Fuel. Ditto for John Force and PEAK Antifreeze making their relationship a full time deal in Funny Car for 2016.
Even Pro Stock, the previously unsellable series, saw some companies step up to the plate. Allen Johnson, who watched his support from Mopar go to rival Elite Motorsports at the end of last season, expressed uncertainty about his future in Pomona last fall, but showed up sporting the colors of Marathon Petroleum last week and is running the entire 2016 season. Shane Gray’s usually white Camaro carried Valvoline, a season long deal for 2016.
I would put forth that these deals are due to something I like to call the FOX factor. More exposure, at better times, particularly on network television, has closed that return on investment gap, at least for the time being. Just a thought, but NHRA is looking at getting the same kind of exposure as NASCAR, though it comes with a lower price tag.
All that being said, that doesn’t mean the sponsorship story has become entirely positive. I didn’t see a Top Fuel entry from Alan Johnson Racing in Pomona because there isn’t one. I also didn’t see Pro Stock veteran Larry Morgan in the lineup because Morgan found out his sponsor would not be returning on Feb. 3. Things are certainly better, but whether they have improved enough that we’ll see Morgan on track again soon remains to be seen.
* Since this is the first column of 2016, the better question might be “What’s new?” Quite a few things but here are some of the big bullet points.
– As noted, the television package with FOX Sports made its big debut in Pomona. Reviews are a bit mixed with the first broadcast, and there are some rough spots to be worked out, particularly with graphics, like which ones to show and when to show them. Reaction times really need to be shown all the time. It was great that the announcers reacted when Jason Line hit a good .003 light but we had no idea why they reacted until they told us. It also wasn’t clear that Jeg Coughlin redlighted until it was said. No reaction times were being shown, or at least they were being flashed up on an inconsistent basis. Win light graphics were also lacking or inconsistent. The staging graphic and the green light graphics worked well, but were also inconsistent. Is there a way to keep that up when the camera angle changes?
Longtime fans might get impatient with the growing pains, but it was nice that some concepts, like holeshots, were explained in case there were new viewers.
Some viewers expressed concerns over the pacing of the show, with the first two rounds running rapid fire, no features, no burnouts, just passes and then the final rounds having loads of downtime. That’s the live broadcast, folks. The opening rounds are being recorded and shown AFTER the live action has started, with the track and the broadcast attempting to time it to meet up at the third round and jump in live.
It’s fair to say a little of the grumbling might be a resistance to change from fans, but there were a lot of valid points raised as well. Hopefully FOX and NHRA will work together to sort it out before the next race.
– NHRA announced over the offseason that it will no longer require a one-percent backup run in order to certify new national record performances in the NHRA Mello Yello Series, J&A Service Pro Mod Series and Lucas Oil Series Alcohol categories starting in 2016. Any team that posts an elapsed time or speed that are quicker or faster than the existing record at any time during a national event will be declared the new record holder. Additionally, points will no longer be awarded for elapsed time records.
“The one-percent policy was adopted during the early development states of the timing system and wasn’t as reliable as the technology that we are fortunate to have in race control today,” said Graham Light, NHRA senior vice president of racing operations. “We will still examine every national record run to make sure the incremental numbers support the performance, in addition to inspecting every vehicle for compliance with class requirements.”
– The Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) era for the Pro Stock class is officially underway. Drivers are still getting used to the new combination, particularly relearning how to do a burnout and stage the car, the most challenging part according to several, and fans are getting used to not seeing hood scoops, but with a few competitors already running in the high 6.50s, it doesn’t look like it will take long for them to get up to speed, so to speak.
Driver Profile: Ron Capps
Category: Funny Car
Hometown: San Luis Obispo, CA
Date of birth: June 20, 1965
2016 car: NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: Rahn Tobler
Team Owner: Don Schumacher
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 46/45
Best points finish: 2nd, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2012
Career best ET: 3.885, Pomona 2, 2015
Career best speed: 327.19, St. Louis, 2015
2015 – Became second winningest Funny Car driver in history after posting wins in Gainesville and Houston.
2012 – Finished second in points for the fourth time in his career; five wins.
2009 – Won five races in seven final round appearances; led points for first ten events of the season.
2006 – Five wins in eight final round appearances; opened the season with three wins, two runner-ups, and a semifinal appearance in first six events; led points after 17 of first 19 events.
2005 – Finished runner-up in Funny Car points, just eight points behind champion Gary Scelzi.
1998 – First runner up points finish; won NHRA Showdown in first career start in the bonu event.
1997 – First season in Funny Car; won twice in three final round appearances; Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner.
Some things most people don’t know about Ron: Made his first start in Top Fuel in 1995 at Phoenix. Ron is not just a race car driver but he’s a racing fan as well. When he’s not racing, he’s usually watching other racing. He will watch any kind of racing.
Hey Y’all, Watch This!
The racing on Sunday was great, but the highlight reel video of the weekend happened during third round qualifying on Saturday. Gary Densham made a great run at 4.050, 307.70, but suffered a parachute failure and ended up in the nets at the end of the track when he couldn’t get the car stopped. Densham was not injured, but his car was not as lucky. His result was good enough to start 11th on Sunday, but Densham did not have a backup car and the team was not able to repair this one so he was forced to miss the show.
Word of the Week: Parachute
These are the main braking system on a Top Fuel or Funny Car. Believe it or not, those chutes are what really slows down a 300 mph monster, not brakes. Drivers go from positive to negative G-forces when the chutes deploy, but they’ll all tell you that the feeling of being pulled back by the chutes is the best thing in the world. When chutes don’t deploy, it can be nearly impossible to get the car to stop, as was the case for Gary Densham above. The relatively short shutdown area at Pomona and some other tracks, particularly older ones built long before anyone reached anything near the speeds of today, makes it even more challenging. Catch nets are the final line of defense.
NHRA on TV
NHRA will take the week off and let NASCAR have the spotlight this weekend, but will return to action in two weeks for the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals from Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix, Arizona.
|AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS|
|Qualifying||Friday, November 10, 6:30 PM ET||FS1 (Live)|
|Qualifying||Saturday, November 11, 6:00 PM ET||FS1 (Live)|
|Eliminations||Sunday, November 12, 4:00 PM ET||FS1 (Live)|