INDIANAPOLIS – Steve Johnson has tasted victory twice at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, providing a pair of incredible moments in the veteran’s Pro Stock Motorcycle career. Needing a great result at this weekend’s race at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis to advance to the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown the Championship, Johnson’s sole focus is simply trying to gain a third win, knowing full well that would more than take care of his playoff aspirations.
Johnson is currently 12th in points, 19 behind 10th-place Hector Arana, so the rider of the Steve Johnson Racing Suzuki knows he has work to do on drag racing’s biggest stage. But Johnson, who posted Indy wins in 2008 and 2005, isn’t counting points at the moment. Instead, his priority is figuring out the best chance to win the world’s biggest drag race.
“The testing and preparation we’ve done is all about winning the race and that race happens to be the U.S. Nationals,” Johnson said. “Our focus isn’t on the Countdown. Our focus is on winning the race. It’s the U.S. Nationals, the biggest race we go to. What ties it together is it seems like we’re always in this position. That’s a result of my own actions so I’m working on finding a solution.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Skillman (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be broadcasted on the FOX national broadcast network and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including a live broadcast of Monday’s finals on both FOX and FS1 on Monday, Sept. 3. It is the 10th of 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle races during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Series season and Johnson isn’t the only one who has a lot riding on Indy.
Four playoff spots are on the line in the class at the Big Go, with Jimmy Underdahl just 10 points back of Arana. Joey Gladstone (36 points behind Arana) and Ryan Oehler (53 points back of Arana) are also within range of playoff spots, while Scotty Pollacheck, Angie Smith and Angelle Sampey, who is just 19 points ahead of Arana, will look to secure their spots in Indy. Underdahl knows what is on the line, but he warns that changing his approach would be detrimental.
“If you change your routine, that’s where you start to lose it and start making mistakes,” Underdahl said. “If you do that, you lose your focus. We’ll make sure we’ve got everything ready to go and everything that’s on the line gives you that motivation to try to do better. I think it’s going to take going to the semis to get into the Countdown. We’re all gunning for it and it’s going to be a battle.”The points-and-a-half system being in play (150 points to the winner) for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals also throws another variable into the mix this weekend, as does competing against a loaded class that includes defending winner and reigning world champ Krawiec, points leader Andrew Hines, LE Tonglet, Jerry Savoie, Matt Smith and Hector Arana Jr. Johnson realizes that, but it doesn’t change his approach heading into the weekend.
“As a racer, you always envision winning,” Johnson said. “I spend more time on my winner’s circle kit than most people spend preparing their Thanksgiving dinner. I not only concentrate on details for the mechanical side, but I also work on the details for the mental side. There’s very stout competition, but I feel like and I can visualize doing really well at this race.”
In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence is after a second straight Indy win to maintain the points lead against the likes of defending world champ Brittany Force and 10-time Indy winner Tony Schumacher.
Funny Car’s J.R. Todd got his first Indy win in 2017, something he’ll try to repeat against points leader Courtney Force, defending world champ Robert Hight and Brainerd winner Jack Beckman.
Drew Skillman would like his first Pro Stock win of 2018 to happen at Indy against the likes of points leader Greg Anderson, four-time 2018 winner Tanner Gray and Erica Enders. Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series also will look to become winners of the prestigious event. The fastest Super Stock cars will challenge for ultimate bragging rights and bonus purse during the popular NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge as well. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the El Arabe Racing “Majestic” jet car driven by Juan Cantu. Known for their exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. A star-studded lineup of legends is scheduled to attend the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, including Don Prudhomme, Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Al Segrini, Tom Prock, Darrell Gwynn and Terry Vance.
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.
A special Monday edition of the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk also will take place prior to final eliminations, where many of the sport’s most celebrated drivers will walk alongside fans down the historic dragstrip. Fan-favorite vintage racecars will be on display in the Hot Rod Junction, along with several autograph sessions featuring the biggest stars of the sport will be featured.
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 31. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 4:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 12:00 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 3.
FOX national broadcast and FS1 will televise coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, starting with qualifying on Sunday, Sept. 2 on FS1 at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST. The broadcasts continue on FS1 with two hours of live coverage of eliminations on Monday, Sept. 3 starting at 11 a.m. EST, continuing live on FOX at 1 p.m. EST.
Tickets for the world’s most prestigious drag race can be purchased by calling the NHRA Ticket Sales Center at (800) 884-NHRA (6472), or online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. 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 more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
CHEVROLET PERFORMANCE U.S. NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, 18th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the last race in the NHRA Mello Yello Series regular season. At the conclusion of this event, the top 10 drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – will be locked in to begin the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, leading to the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Brownsburg, Ind. From I-465, exit Crawfordsville Road (Hwy. 136). Head west for four miles past downtown Clermont. The facility’s main entrance is on the left, one-half mile past Raceway Road. From I-74 go south on Ronald Reagan Parkway, exit 68 and turn south. Turn east on U.S. 136 and entrance on the track will be on the right.
COURSE: Championship dragstrip; Track elevation is 700 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.
POINTS: A special world championship points system is in effect at this event, where drivers in the Mello Yello Series categories will earn points based on a point-and-a-half system (150 points to win). A single racer in each category can earn a maximum of 188 points at this event. All other NHRA Mello Yello Series events offer 100 points to win. Teams also will get 15 points instead of 10 for making a qualifying attempt. Qualifying bonus points will remain at 1-2-3 for the five sessions and the standard 1-8 points will be given for qualifying positions.
WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 29 through Monday, Sept. 3.
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 29 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
THURSDAY, Aug. 30 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations
FRIDAY, Aug. 31 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations (featuring Mopar HEMI Challenge)
E3 SPARK PLUGS PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES PRESENTED BY J&A SERVICE qualifying at 6:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 7:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, Sept. 1 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations
E3 SPARK PLUGS PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES PRESENTED BY J&A SERVICE qualifying at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.
SUNDAY, Sept. 2 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations (featuring Factory Stock Showdown)
E3 SPARK PLUGS PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES PRESENTED BY J&A SERVICE qualifying at 10:45 a.m. and 2 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 3:45 p.m.
MONDAY, Sept. 3 – Pre-race ceremonies, 9:45 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.TELEVISION:
Sunday, Sept. 2, FS1 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 4 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 2, FS1 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).
Monday, Sept. 3, FS1 will televise two hours of live finals coverage at 11 a.m. (ET).
Monday, Sept. 4, FOX will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 1 p.m. (ET).
2017 EVENT WINNERS:
Steve Torrence, Top Fuel; JR Todd, Funny Car; Drew Skillman, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Tony Schumacher, TF, 10; Bob Glidden, PS, 9; Don Garlits, TF, 8; Don Prudhomme, TF/ FC, 7; Greg Anderson, PS, 6; Warren Johnson, PS, 6; Ed McCulloch, FC/TF, 6; Dave Schultz, PSM, 6; Larry Dixon, TF, 4;John Force, FC, 4.EVENT HISTORY: The most historic and prestigious event in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals has been contested annually since 1955. Originally known as “The Nationals” and first held at an abandoned airstrip in Great Bend, Kan., the event made stops at Kansas City, Mo., Oklahoma City and Detroit before eventually moving to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 1961. Past winners include “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, an eight-time winner in Top Fuel; Shirley Muldowney, 1982 Top Fuel winner; Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, a seven-time winner and one of a handful of drivers to win the event in both Top Fuel and Funny Car; and Bob Glidden, the legendary Pro Stock driver who dominated the race by advancing to the final round in 13 consecutive seasons from 1977-’89. The Indiana native won the event nine times. Tony Schumacher has the most wins at the event with 10 victories including his 2016 win. It is the only major motorsports event to be contested on Labor Day.
FAST FACTS: The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is the final of 18 regular season Mello Yello Series races. Following conclusion of this event the top 10 drivers in each Mello Yello Series category will qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs that begin Sept. 13-16 at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa. …. Tony Schumacher is an 10-time U.S. Nationals finalist in Top Fuel… Schumacher’s first career NHRA start came at the U.S. Nationals in 1996 and the then rookie posted a runner-up finish to Cory McClenathan… John Force, 16-time NHRA Mello Yello Series world champion and winner of a record 148 events, has won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals four times, his last coming in 2002… Four women have earned Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victories, including Shirley Muldowney once in Top Fuel, Ashley Force Hood twice in Funny Car, Alexis DeJoria once in Funny Car and Angelle Sampey twice in Pro Stock Motorcycle…Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Jim Head and Ed McCulloch have won the race in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, while Antron Brown has also won the race in multiple MYDRS classes, Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle… The event also will feature competition in the Lucas Oil Series and the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, featuring high-horsepower machines that accelerate to more than 250 mph.
WHAT TO WATCH: Tony Schumacher is seeking a record 11th Top Fuel victory at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals… Four-time Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson is seeking his seventh Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals victory… Several high-profile drivers are looking for their first victory in the world’s most prestigious drag race, including two-time Indy runner-up Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel, Ron Capps in Funny Car… Drivers in several Mello Yello Series categories who are on the bubble to make it into the top 10 in points will be trying to take advantage of Indy’s point-and-a-half system and secure their berths into the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race postseason playoffs.TRACK HISTORY: In 1958, led by Tom Binford, Frank Dickie, Rodger Ward and Howard Fieber, 15 Indianapolis-area businessmen and racing
professionals invested $5,000 each to fund the development of what would become Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The group purchased a 267-acre farm about seven miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and developed a multipurpose auto racing facility. The original intention in creating Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis was to design a 15-turn, 2.5-mile road course. Nearly as an afterthought, and as an insurance measure against economic problems, the investment group decided to incorporate a quarter-mile drag strip into the long straightaway of the 2.5-mile road course design. Constructed with assistance from the NHRA, the drag strip was the first of the three courses to be completed, with the facility’s first event held on the strip in the fall of 1960. During the 1960 U.S. Nationals in Detroit, a handshake agreement between Binford and NHRA founder Wally Parks promised that the event would move to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 1961. The historic three-year pact was signed and sealed under a tree in Detroit Dragway’s pits, and Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis eventually became the home of NHRA’s biggest annual event. The NHRA purchased the entire facility in 1979. The first major improvement came in 1983 with the construction and dedication of Parks Tower, the four-story drag strip tower. In 1998, new grandstands, suites and a tower complex on the front straightaway were completed at the oval track at a cost of nearly $2.5 million, which included the repaving of the entire oval surface as part of a three-phase facility improvement project. In 2001, NHRA and Lucas Oil Raceway constructed a new drag strip racing surface, replacing the strip with a 660-foot concrete pad and laying new asphalt on the remainder of the track and shutdown area. Prior to the 2003 race, eight new luxury suites were added along the top of the west-side grandstands of the drag strip, giving fans a unique perspective of the action on the famed track. In 2006, new soft barrier walls were added to the oval. In 2007, the track announced its first track entitlement with O’Reilly Auto Parts. In 2011, the track announced a new track entitlement with Lucas Oil Products. The track – formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park – is now known as Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. During the winter of 2008, a new main track office building was constructed near the track entrance.
Top Fuel – 3.663 sec. by Clay Millican, Sept. ’17; 330.31 mph by Tony Schumacher, Sept. ’16.
Funny Car – 3.799 sec. by Matt Hagan, Sept. ‘17; 338.77 by Jack Beckman, Sept. ’17.
Pro Stock – 6.538 sec. by Jason Line, Sept. ’11; 211.13 mph by Mike Edwards, Sept. ’12.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.812 sec. by Angelle Sampey, Sept. 16; 197.25 mph by LE Tonglet, Sept. ’16.
Top Fuel – 3.628 sec. by Clay Millican, Feb. ’18, Pomona, Calif.; 336.57 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ‘18, Phoenix
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.; 201.01 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ‘18, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets.
Photos courtesy of NHRA
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 24 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, and E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates four racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California.