When it comes to her favorite NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tracks and events, the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, July 31-Aug. 2 at scenic Sonoma Raceway, would be on Alexis DeJoria’s short list.
That excitement would be even greater should DeJoria’s first win at the track and in the 2015 season come during the 28th edition of the race, which is the second stop of NHRA’s famed Western Swing.
Sitting ninth in points in Funny Car, the fast and popular track could also mark the perfect opportunity for DeJoria’s 10,000-horsepower Patron XO Café Incendio Toyota Camry to pick up steam as the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship approaches.
“We accomplished a lot last year and this year we’re trying to get that consistency back,” said DeJoria, who posted three wins in 2014. “I love coming back to a track like Sonoma where I know we’ve done well in the past. We’ve been to the semis there a couple of times. We’ve never been to a final round there, but hopefully that’ll change this year because we certainly need to add some more final round appearances to the board. Anytime I get to race in California is a blessing. I moved to Texas a few years back but I’m from California, and I always welcome a chance to come back.”
Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the event. ESPN2 will provide television coverage of qualifying and eliminations at the event. It is the 15th of 24 events during the 2015 season and only three events follow the NHRA Sonoma Nationals before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin.
That’s an important fact for DeJoria, who holds a slim 28-point lead over 10th place Tim Wilkerson for the final spot in the star-studded Funny Car class. To clinch a berth, DeJoria knows she needs to replicate the consistency her Kalitta Motorsports team displayed in 2014.
She advanced to one final round appearance in Englishtown, but DeJoria knows the team is capable of more as the key stretch of the regular season approaches. But as the second race in the three-week Western Swing, DeJoria enjoys the challenges of one of the busiest parts of the year.
“When you have back-to-back races, it keeps you on your game,” DeJoria said. “When you have a week or two off, it sort of slows the pace. You get that fire underneath you when you have back-to-backs. Believe it or not, I actually prefer having back-to-backs, especially if you don’t do that well one week, you can get back out there and make it up that very next weekend. I personally love the Western Swing.”
But there is a huge adjustment coming from the high-altitude challenges of Denver to the normally fast conditions in Sonoma, which sits near sea level. It makes for a major turnaround but it’s another challenge that DeJoria, who also has two semifinal appearances this season, enjoys.
“It’s like night and day,” DeJoria said. “It can really be kind of an exciting change going from Denver to Sonoma. I usually fly up to Denver the day before so I can get used to the elevation, but I certainly don’t need to do that for Sonoma. I love coming out to Sonoma, it’s a good time and we always seem to do really well there.”
DeJoria’s confidence comes from an experienced team led by crew chief Tommy DeLago and co-crew chief Glen Huszar, who have thrived this year in getting DeJoria’s Camry to run quickly in ideal conditions.
It included three-second runs in Topeka earlier this season, but she will have to face off against a host of contenders in Sonoma, including points leader and reigning world champion Matt Hagan, seven-time Sonoma winner John Force, four-time winner Ron Capps, Denver winner Jack Beckman, Robert Hight, Cruz Pedregon, Chicago winner Tommy Johnson Jr., Atlanta winner Tim Wilkerson, teammate Del Worsham and defending winner Courtney Force.
“Tommy and Glen have been racing for a long time so I don’t think that it’s as much of a challenge for them as someone who is maybe just starting out or doesn’t have as much experience at that track,” DeJoria said of the adjustment from Denver to Sonoma.
“Like most teams do, they have a certain setup just for Denver. Once Denver comes around, we take our normal setup off the car and put in our Denver tune-up. Because of the high elevation the chutes don’t blossom as hard and we don’t make very good downforce so that can be a troublesome for the driver, so when we come back down to sea level at Sonoma, we put our fast tune-up back in the car.”
In Top Fuel, Sonoma presents the ultimate opportunity for a driver to set the stage for a championship run. Reigning world champion and current points leader Tony Schumacher (2007 and 2008), Larry Dixon (2008), Antron Brown (2012) and Shawn Langdon (2013) have all claimed victories at Sonoma during their championship seasons and all four are title contenders once again. Others to possibly add their name to that list include perennial title contender Doug Kalitta, a five-time Sonoma winner, and reigning Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner Richie Crampton, who has three wins this season at the controls of his Lucas Oil dragster.
Line’s win over V Gaines last season set the stage for an epic Pro Stock championship rivalry between the two-time world champ and Enders, who claimed her first world title in 2014. Line will be looking to tie teammate Greg Anderson, who has four wins and the points lead in 2015, for the most Pro Stock wins at Sonoma with four. Enders, 2012 world champ Allen Johnson, who won in Chicago, Denver winner Larry Morgan, Chris McGaha and rookie Drew Skillman all figure to be drivers to watch in the 200-mph factory hot rod category.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship one year ago came down to Krawiec, winner last weekend in Denver, and eventual world champ and teammate Andrew Hines. Teammate Hines, perennial contender and 2013 race winner Hector Arana Jr., who won in Chicago, Englishtown winner Jerry Savoie, two-time season winner Karen Stoffer, Matt Smith, Norwalk runner-up Angelle Sampey and Hector Arana are among the riders to watch in Sonoma.
Sonoma Raceway will also host the NHRA Pro Bike Battle, a specialty bonus event for the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. The event will take place on Saturday, Aug. 1 and feature eight riders vying for the top prize. Pro Stock Motorcycle riders began earning points for the event at last year’s NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
The NHRA Sonoma Nationals also will feature thrilling side-by-side competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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 unique opportunity in motorsports 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 NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, July 31, with sessions at 4:15 and 6:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Aug. 1, at 1:10 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 2. The NHRA Pro Bike Battle at Sonoma Raceway will take place on Saturday, Aug. 1 with rounds at 1, 3 and 4:55 p.m.
To purchase tickets, call 800-870-RACE (7223) or visit www.racesonoma.com/tickets.