The NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, a six-race playoff that decides the champions of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, is crunch time and that time of the season when the contenders are separated from the pretenders.
The NHRA Sonoma Nationals may not be a part of the Countdown, but it’s an event that plays an important role as the second stop of NHRA’s Western Swing whose winners usually go on to achieve great success in the six-race playoff series.
Three of last season’s race winners are prime examples. In Funny Car, Courtney Force made history in Sonoma when she defeated her father, John Force, in the final. The win was Force’s fifth victory, breaking a tie with her older sister Ashley Force Hood. Force won two races in the Countdown and was a top contender before ultimately finishing fourth. Pro Stock’s Jason Line, a two-time world champ, claimed his third win in Sonoma, and that helped propel him to a winner-take-all final-round title fight at the season-ending event in Pomona with eventual world champ Erica Enders. Last year’s Pro Stock Motorcycle event winner, Eddie Krawiec, also ended the season on a high note with a second-place points finish.
With only three races remaining in the regular season before the Countdown begins, the 28th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals, July 31-Aug. 2, at scenic Sonoma Raceway is once again ready to provide a glimpse into can be expected to emerge as championship contenders in the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
Sonoma Raceway has hosted loyal NHRA fans since 1988, and the well-known event will again provide a grueling test as NHRA teams hit the track during the second stop of three consecutive race weekends during the famed Western Swing.
Force’s Funny Car win over her father was a popular one last season. She dedicated the win to her former teammate Eric Medlen, who died of injuries sustained in a 2007 test session crash in Florida and who was a native of nearby Oakdale, Calif., and called Sonoma Raceway his home track. Medlen’s name lives on at the track through the popular Eric Medlen Ice Cream Social, where fans enjoy ice cream on pit road following the final qualifying session. The youngest Force daughter has struggled in 2015, losing in the first round six times and sitting outside of the top 10 in points. The Sonoma event provides Force and her Traxxas Chevy Camaro SS team the opportunity to turn things around before the Countdown. Other contenders in Funny Car include seven-time Sonoma winner John Force, four-time winner Ron Capps, and two-time and defending world champ Matt Hagan.
Top Fuel presents the ultimate opportunity for a driver to set the stage for a championship run. Tony Schumacher (2007 and 2008), Larry Dixon (2003 and 2010), Antron Brown (2012), and Shawn Langdon (2013) have claimed victories in Sonoma during their championship seasons, and all four are title contenders 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; the duo traded jabs until they met in the final round in Pomona for a winner-take-all championship run. Line remains a ferocious competitor seeking a third championship. His 2015 season has continued with positive momentum from two wins and a top-three position in points. His Summit Racing Chevy Camaro has been one of the most consistent cars this season, and he will be looking to tie teammate Greg Anderson for the most Pro Stock wins in Sonoma with four. Enders, four-time world champ Anderson, and 2012 world champ Allen Johnson all figure to be drivers to watch in the 200-mph factory hot rod category.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship came down to Krawiec and eventual world champ and teammate Andrew Hines. Krawiec had five wins last season, and Sonoma was one of the most important, sending him to a title assault for a possible fourth world championship. A win in Sonoma in 2012 did propel Krawiec to his third world title. The Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson rider is fresh off his first win of the season in Denver, and the Sonoma event could provide more momentum toward another title. Teammate Hines, perennial contender and 2013 race winner Hector Arana Jr., and Englishtown winner Jerry Savoie are all members of the two-wheel factory class who can propel themselves to Pro Stock Motorcycle glory 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 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.
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.
NHRA’s Baptism by Nitro campaign will make its first appearance in Sonoma. Inspired by the popular phrase “baptism by fire,” commonly used to describe when an individual is thrust into a new situation, experience, or environment, Baptism by Nitro is NHRA’s call to encourage longtime fans to introduce a family member or friend to the heart-pounding atmosphere of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
Throughout the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, NHRA fans are encouraged to share first-time Baptism by Nitro fan experiences on social media. Prizes will be given all year to the best rookie reactions captured in the pits or in the grandstands and posted to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. All posts should include the hashtag #BaptismbyNitro and tag @NHRA.
Prior to the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, fans are encouraged to go online and nominate a nitro rookie and explain why their candidate deserves a VIP Baptism by Nitro experience. The winning entry will receive four tickets to the 2015 NHRA Sonoma Nationals, inside-the-ropes VIP access for a nitro warm-up, and starting-line access, where each new fan will be baptized by nitro. Fans can visit NHRA’s Facebook page for their chance to win this VIP experience. An exciting visual preview of the campaign can be seen and shared athttp://bit.ly/BBNitroVid.
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. Sunday, Aug. 2. The NHRA Pro Bike Battle at Sonoma Raceway will take place Saturday, Aug. 1, with rounds at 1, 3, and 4:55 p.m.
To purchase tickets, call 800-870-RACE (7223) or log on to www.racesonoma.com/tickets.