CONCORD, N.C. – The regular season in 2017 has looked far different for Jason Line than his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship season a year ago. But the Pro Stock standout can still replicate the start to the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, which would go a long way in helping Line contend for a second straight world title.
Line is the defending winner of this weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals at state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway, the first of six playoff races, and a repeat win could jumpstart what has been a dramatically different regular season. Line, who is currently fifth in points, won the season-opening race in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro but has been winless since. That’s vastly different from the seven regular-season races he won a year ago, meaning the talented Line has a challenging road ahead in the Countdown to the Championship.
“I’ll have my work cut out for me if I’m going to defend the championship,” Line said. “I certainly have to get my car a little better, and I’m going to have to drive better. There are a lot of things that have to happen, but all of those things are very doable because we have a great team and great folks behind us at Summit Racing. We’ll just have to do what we’ve done in the past and pull it together right now. Now is the time, that’s when it matters. The moment is here.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Line (Pro Stock) and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 17. It is the 19th of 24 races in the 2017 NHRA season and Line starts the playoffs 50 points back of leader and KB Racing teammate Bo Butner. Also ahead of is teammate Greg Anderson, as well as rookie Tanner Gray and Drew Skillman, who each have four wins and have combined to win the last five events.
That makes it an uphill climb for Line, who hasn’t been to a final round since his season-opening win in Pomona. But the good news is the veteran has enjoyed plenty of success in Charlotte, sweeping both races a year ago and winning three times overall. That’s comforting knowledge, but Line knows he must raise his performance heading into the Countdown to the Championship.
“It always seems like there is a lot more going on when you have a race at home, but it’s nice to have my family there and get to sleep in my own bed,” said Line, who has 46 career wins. “Throughout history, I’ve somehow managed to have some pretty good races at zMAX Dragway. Of course, (winning is) always the goal – especially for the first race of the Countdown.”
A good start would certainly erase any struggles and Line is confident his car is headed in that direction. He’s advanced to four semifinals in the past seven races and felt good about his performance in Indy, despite a second-round loss. Of course, finishing the job and picking up victories in the Countdown to the Championship will be critical for success, but Line believes he and his team are ready to take the next step after overcoming a multitude of issues this season.“I think we made some strides with my Summit Racing Camaro (in Indy), for sure,” Line said. “We have a great team, and that’s one of the most important things to have when you’re fighting for a championship. I think we’re going the right way, and now is the time to do that.”
Indy and seven-time Top Fuel winner this season Steve Torrence starts with the points lead, but will have to fight off back-to-back world champ Brown, Leah Pritchett and Tony Schumacher.
Ron Capps will again take the Funny Car points lead into Charlotte, looking to repeat last year’s title run, while defending event winner Force will look for a late-season surge.
Ellis’ Pro Stock Motorcycle win help spur a fifth-place finish for the veteran a year ago, but everyone is chasing former world champ LE Tonglet, who has five victories in 2017.The NHRA Carolina Nationals also features thrilling competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch spectacular jet cars. Larsen Motorsports’ four jet dragsters sponsored by Florida Tech, Matrix System Automotive Finishes, Halo Technology, and the American Dream, will make exhibition passes. As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also available at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For info about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.NHRA Carolina Nationals Fact Sheet
WHAT: 10th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, the 19th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the first of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: zMAX Dragway- Track is located on Hwy 29 off I-85 at exit 49 (Speedway Blvd.) in the Concord, N.C. area.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 630 feet above sea level.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Sept. 15-17SCHEDULE:
FRIDAY, Sept. 15 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2:and 4:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, Sept. 16 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at noon; first round of eliminations at 2:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m.
SUNDAY, Sept. 17 – Pre-race ceremonies, 11 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at noonTELEVISION:
Friday, Sept. 15, FS1 will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 17, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 2 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 17, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. (ET).2016 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; John Force, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock; Chip Ellis, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Top Fuel – 3.713 seconds by J.R. Todd, Mar. ’15; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12.
Funny Car – 3.851 seconds by Courtney Force, April ’17; 333.91 mph by Robert Hight, April ’17.
Pro Stock – 6.455 seconds by Jason Line, Mar. ’15; 215.48 mph by Greg Anderson, Mar. ’15.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.792 seconds by Eddie Krawiec, April ’17; 199.88 mph by Arana Jr., Mar. ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.640 sec. by Leah Pritchett, Aug. ‘17, Brainerd; 333.66 mph by Brittany Force, May ‘17, Topeka, Kan.
Funny Car – 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. ’17 Brainerd; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 455-FANS. Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com.
Photos courtesy of NHRA