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Nitro Shots: Rough Day at the Office

Our NASCAR friends have likely written much this week about the rough day in the office drivers in the Sprint Cup Series had at Talladega, but it turns out that some of the drivers in the NHRA Mello Yello and J&A Services Pro Mod Series had their share of misfortune last weekend as well.

If you are one of “those” people who watch racing for the crashes, then drag racing is probably not high on your list because they just don’t happen all that often. When they do, however, it tends to be big.

NHRA 2016 Pro Mod Jonathan Gray courtesy NHRA
Pro Mod racer Jonathan Gray (Photo courtesy NHRA).

First up was Jonathan Gray, formerly of the Pro Stock ranks and now driving in Pro Mod. He blew a left rear tire, an absolute oddity in drag racing. Let’s just put out there that Pro Mods run in the neighborhood of 250 mph so when a slick blows at that speed, there is a lot of shrapnel. For Gray, in addition to shredding most of the rear quarter of the car, it meant a trip into the right side wall where he brought the car to rest. Thankfully he was unharmed, although he was forced to miss the rest of the event.

Then there was Sidnei Frigo, also of the Pro Mod ranks, who lost control after the finish line on a Friday qualifying run. Frigo’s turbocharged Corvette zigged right toward the centerline and then took a hard left into the wall before going over and pirouetting through the grass and landing upside down. Frigo was airlifted to the hospital but fortunately suffered only a broken arm. After Saturday surgery, he was back at the track on Sunday.

NHRA 2016 Pro Mod Sidnei Frigo courtesy NHRA
Pro Mod racer Sidnei Frigo had the scariest ride of the weekend when he lost control of his Corvette. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

To cap off the weekend, Terry McMillen suffered a huge engine explosion during the first round of eliminations on Sunday. Top Fuel superchargers are tethered to the car in an effort to keep them from flying loose of the car in an explosion. They generally work, but the force of McMillen’s explosion broke the tethers and sent his supercharger flying onto the track. McMillen was fine but it ended his day in fiery fashion and will put a pretty good dent in his wallet for repairs.

What’s News?

* An interesting fact: both of the Nitro division points leaders, Top Fuel and Funny Car, are female and they are sisters, Brittany Force (TF) and Courtney Force (FC). Courtney Force is currently tied with Tim Wilkerson for the lead in Funny Car, also a story for the immensely popular Wilkerson because it’s the first time he’s been in the lead since 2008.

* The field for the Traxxas Nitro Shootout is just a little more than half full, with five drivers qualified for each class. In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence, Leah Pritchett, Brittany Force, Antron Brown, and Doug Kalitta have made their way into the field by winning races this year. In Funny Car, Ron Capps, Tim Wilkerson, Robert Hight, Alexis DeJoria, and Courtney Force have qualified. Two more spots remain in each class for event winners and one will go to a fan vote winner.

* Leah Pritchett will be on track for the next event in Atlanta, this time behind the wheel of a Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel car with support from FireAde. For now, Pritchett is confirmed in the DSR car for two races, Atlanta and the U.S. Nationals, but she and Schumacher are continuing to pursue marketing partners to run as much as the full schedule as possible. Schumacher felt the timing was right with this opportunity to expand to a four car Top Fuel operation, making for eight cars total when added to the four Funny Cars the team also campaigns.

Pritchett has some history with DSR. She drove one of their cars in testing to earn her NHRA nitro Funny Car license eight years ago.

“I am thrilled to finally have Leah in the seat of a DSR racecar,” said Schumacher. “She showed me a lot when she tested with us and earned her NHRA license.”

Crew chiefs Mike Guger and Joe Barlam, Pritchett’s tuners from former team Bob Vandergriff Racing, will join her in Atlanta along with other members of her BVR team.

“When the door shut on all of us it was not a fend-for-yourself moment,” said Pritchett. “Our goal was to continue to race together and because of that we were able to go to Atlanta.”

Driver Profile: Courtney Force

NHRA 2016 Courtney Force head shot courtesy NHRA

Category: Funny Car
Hometown: Yorba Linda, CA
Date of birth: June 20, 1988
2016 car: Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS
Crew chief: Danny Hood
Team Owner: John Force

Career Highlights:
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 8/7
Best points finish: 4th in 2014
Career best ET: 3.893, Gainesville, 2016
Career best speed: 329.34, Pomona 1, 2016

2015 – Two-time No. 1 qualifier; won fan vote lottery into the Traxxas Nitro Shootout.

2014 – Earned 100th victory by a female pro driver at the NHRA Kansas Nationals in Topeka. Four victories in 2014 is the most by a female Funny Car driver in one season.

2012- In tandem with Pro Stock’s Erica Enders-Stevens, win at Seattle marked the first time female drivers won in two pro categories at the same event.

Follow Courtney: @CourtneyForce on Twitter, Courtney Force (Official Fan Page) on Facebook, @courtneyforce on Instagram

Let’s have a video double feature today! In last week’s Nitro Shots Brittany Force talked about looking forward to winning again and promptly did. Her sister Courtney Force talked about not getting a winner’s medal for her previous wins and how much she wanted one and a week later she got one. So who else wants to do a Frontstretch video talking about what they’d like to win?

Hey Y’all, Watch This!

Here is the video of the aforementioned Sidnei Frigo Pro Mod crash. Scary stuff and truly amazing that he only suffered what amounts to a fairly minor injury. That’s a real testament to the safety features in these cars. In true racer fashion, he was back at the track on Sunday and already planning to rebuild and come back.

Word of the Week: Safety Safari

Ok that’s technically two words, but it seemed fitting to give these guys a shout out since they did such a great job of handling a really crazy event weekend in Houston last week. So what is the Safety Safari?

Originally a four-man crew called the Drag Safari in the 1950s, they were formed to educate racers at drag strips across the country and traveled in a station wagon pulling a trailer with all the gear they needed to stage a race. Things have changed a bit since then. Today’s Safety Safari, considered one of the best crews in the business, travels with a fleet of tractor trailers to all NHRA Mello Yello Series events. They bring track maintenance equipment, electronic equipment, firefighting and safety equipment, and a track dryer with them. Once on site, they serve both to prep the track and provide the best possible racing surface and to act as part of the team of first responders for on-track incidents.

The team arrives on the Monday before a race weekend and spends all week grooming the track surface for the race. During race weekend, the Safety Safari works in tandem with local EMTs and medical personnel to respond to accidents, unlike IndyCar’s Holmatro Safety Team which brings its own medical personnel. But having a crew like the Safety Safari on hand, responding with lightning speed to accidents on track and familiar with the cars and safety equipment, is of great comfort to Mello Yello Series drivers.

NHRA on TV:

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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About Toni Montgomery

Toni Montgomery
A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning former writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni works in web design and freelances with writing in North Carolina.

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2 comments

  1. NHRA in person is AWESOME. Not in the watered down overused way that millennia’s use it, but in the old school jaw dropping way. As my interest in NASCAR wanes, I have been trying to attend and support other forms of racing and this time I went to Baytown for Friday night qualifying. Nothing I’ve ever seen compares. It amazes me how they can control all of that power in a straight line. I’ll be back. AWESOME.

    • Toni

      Many many competitors express the sentiment that the trick for NHRA is to get people to come out and see it because it’s like nothing else on earth–as you say–AMAZING. I agree 100%. Television cannot do it justice–you can’t FEEL the cars at home. It’s hard to see it in person and not be impressed.