It’s the biggest weekend of the year coming up for the NHRA, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, and there are a number of storylines to follow. First, this weekend is the final race of the regular season. After the U.S. Nationals, the Countdown fields for the four professional classes will be locked in and point totals reset before the first race of the playoffs, the Carolina Nationals in two weeks.
While most of the spots are already clinched, there are still some battles to be settled, particularly as Leah Pritchett and Terry McMillen go to Indy tied for the final Top Fuel spot. Alexis DeJoria returns just in time to have some input on whether or not she makes the Funny Car field. Alex Laughlin, who sits 11th, is likely to be making one more run at the Pro Stock field. Steve Johnson will be trying to defend the 10th spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle from some tight competition from behind. No, these Countdown fields are not yet set.
The race within a race that is the Traxxas Nitro Shootout will also be on the slate this weekend. The all-star event for Top Fuel and Funny Car features the first seven drivers from each class to post wins this season as well as an eighth and final spot determined by fan vote and lottery. Clay Millican (43 percent) and John Force (63 percent) won the fan vote, giving them the most chances in the lottery pull. The results of the fan vote determine how many lottery balls each driver gets for the random drawing, with more votes translating to more balls and better odds. For Force, it paid off, but Millican’s advantage did not work out and Terry McMillen won the lottery.
And of course, unless you are living under a rock or don’t follow drag racing at all, you know the buzz is all over about Street Outlaws star Justin “Big Chief” Shearer making his debut in the Pro Mod class driving his Crowmod race car from the show. Shearer will have an uphill battle to make the field and he knows it. His car is underpowered compared to his competition, and given times posted for runs he made so far since the car was put into NHRA Pro Mod trim, he’s been a good but off the 5.9s that generally comprise the bump spot for this class.
Still, it’s already a win for both Shearer and NHRA if what they really wanted was to generate talk and interest. Shearer has said that was his main goal with this attempt, hopefully enough attention to parlay it into a more serious run at it next year. He makes no bones about his dreams of being a professional racer and his intention to seize every opportunity to make that happen. For NHRA, the U.S. Nationals might be “The Big Go” but you have to admit there has been more talk about the race than perhaps other years. A win’s a win.
* After missing two races while recovering from a cracked pelvis suffered during a crash in Sonoma, Alexis DeJoria returns this weekend to the seat of the Patrón Funny Car. DeJoria was medically cleared to race on August 29th.
“I’m so excited to finally get back in the seat on Friday,” said DeJoria. “I’ve really been missing my guys, my Kalitta teammates and my fans. Not to mention the 10,000-plus horsepower machine I’m fortunate enough to drive 24 races a year. I missed two of them this season, but I’m back now, and man, what a race to come back to-Indy, “the Big Go.”
Driver Profile: J.R. Todd
Category: Top Fuel
Hometown: Lawrenceburg, IN
Date of birth: December 16, 1981
2016 car: SealMaster dragster
Crew chief: Connie Kalitta/Rob Flynn
Team Owner: Connie Kalitta
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 9/8
Best points finish: 2nd in 2014
Career best ET: 3.698, Seattle, 2016
Career best speed: 331.61, Pomona 2, 2015
2015 – Won at Seattle; two-time No. 1 qualifier
2014 – Joined Kalitta Motorsports at third race of the season in Las Vegas; won once (Denver) and posted two runner-up finishes; finished second in points.
2012 – 2013 – Ran part time, qualifying for five of six events entered in 2013, and all seven entered in 2012.
2010-2011 – Did not compete
2007 – Two wins in three final round appearances; earned a spot in the Countdown to the Championship.
2006 – Ran limited 19 race schedule; earned first career victory at Denver, becoming first African-American to win a NHRA Top Fuel race; earned three wins and a runner-up finish; Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner.
Follow J.R.: @J_R_Todd on Twitter, J.R. Todd on Facebook, J_R_Todd on Instagram
Some Things Most People Don’t Know About J.R.: His father raced motorcycles and J.R. enjoys them too but ended up in drag racing because his parents thought a Junior dragster would be safer than riding a motorcycle. Competed in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League from 1993-1998 along with future champions Shawn Langdon and Erica Enders-Stevens. J.R. hopes to add his name to the list of Jr. drivers who went on to championships.
Hey Y’All, Watch This!
Driver profile featured driver J.R. Todd talks about his first win. All good things are worth working hard for and Todd absolutely had to do that to get his first Top Fuel win.
Also this week, Ron Capps has a suggestion for NHRA and FOX Sports when he talks about the one thing he’d like to change about the sport. Capps might have a good point. There aren’t many things more exciting than 8-foot flames.
Word of the Week: Turbocharger
Power adder system that is similar to a supercharger except that it takes in air from the car’s exhaust. That air spins a turbine that creates the increased air pressure in the engine that boosts horsepower. Turbochargers are one of the power adders allowed in Pro Mod.
NHRA on TV:
Program Date/Time Channel 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)
LAST CHANCE! Enter to win! Frontstretch Countdown to the Countdown
Click here for more information and to enter. Deadline to enter is 9 PM ET Monday, September 5, 2016.