READING, Pa. (September 5, 2019) – Steve Torrence made history a year ago en route to his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship. But the road to perfection in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship started at Maple Grove Raceway, where the Top Fuel standout sent a strong opening message that only got louder with each playoff race.
Torrence became the first driver in NHRA history to sweep all six Countdown to the Championship races, a streak that started with an impressive performance in Reading. Torrence isn’t worried about perfection to open the 2019 playoffs, but he would like to start his title defense on a strong note at the 35th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Sept. 12-15 at Maple Grove Raceway. Torrence will again enter the Countdown to the Championship as the points leader, but he knows the road to a second world title won’t be easy.
“It’s still just a six-race shootout,” said Torrence, a 35-time Top Fuel winner. “Yeah, we had a great regular season. We won eight times and my dad (Billy Torrence) won twice, but when we go to Reading, I’ll just be 20 points ahead of Doug (Kalitta). We’ve got a great team, a great car and a great track record, but that’s just history. You still have to perform in the playoffs.”
Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including final eliminations on Sunday, Sept. 15 at 2 p.m. (ET). Both Torrence and Todd used that momentum last year to win their first world titles, and it’s a scenario Torrence would like to repeat at the 19th of 24 races in 2019 in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster.
He was dominant during the regular season, winning eight times and advancing to 11 final rounds. His father also won twice and went to four finals, earning his first berth in the Countdown to the Championship. That means Torrence will have help from a teammate during the playoffs, but he’s fully aware of the job his team has done for the last several years.
“I’ve got a really good team, a really good group of guys,” Torrence said. “They are the reason for the success that we have. When you see teams that go out and do well and continually win, it’s usually because the guys have been together for years and they just work well together. That’s what we have with these Capco cars.”
Torrence has been dominant since 2017, winning 27 times during his remarkable run. He had an incredible stretch this year, too, winning eight of nine races. It’s another example of Torrence reaching an unbelievable level when things start clicking, something that was evident last year when he won all six races in the playoffs. But Torrence will face challenges from every angle, including from Indy winner Kalitta, who starts the playoffs in second and seeking his first world title. Other championship contenders include 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Antron Brown, Clay Millican, Leah Pritchett, Richie Crampton, Mike Salinas and rookie Austin Prock, but Torrence will stay confident knowing his team has performed well in these pressure situations before.
“(Crew chiefs) Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr., they’ve made all the right moves,” Torrence said, “and the guys putting my car together, they just don’t make mistakes. It’s an exceptional group. I’m very blessed and very thankful to be the guy in the car. It’s been an awesome ride.”
In Funny Car, Todd got off to a great start in the Countdown to the Championship, and then closed in impressive fashion to claim his first world title. He’ll try to repeat against points leader Robert Hight, Indy winner John Force, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps and Bob Tasca III.
Pro Stock points leader Bo Butner picked up his first career win at Maple Grove in 2017, a year that also ended with his first world title in the class. Doing that again is the goal, but he’ll have to get past the likes of Indy winner Alex Laughlin, Greg Anderson, Jason Line and Erica Enders.
Hector Arana Jr. is after his first world title in Pro Stock Motorcycle and a third win at Maple Grove would certainly help. He’ll have to go through points leader Andrew Hines, who has seven wins in 2019, Eddie Krawiec, Indy winner Jerry Savoie and defending world champ Matt Smith.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. Fan favorites in the Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car categories are sure to delight as well. Jet dragster driver Ernie Bogue Jr. will be driving the famed “Beast Fro The East” at the close of the day.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. On Friday, there will be a Pennzoil Celebrity Challenge race featuring local celebrities, dignitaries and personalities. Fans can also attend Pro Stock School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Maple Grove Raceway will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
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 unique 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 NHRA drivers as a DJ plays hit music.
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.
The Mopar Mega Block Party will rev up the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil race weekend for the fourth consecutive year. The free-admission fan event, set to roll into FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading from 4 -10 p.m. ET on Thursday, September 12, will offer a jam-packed slate of fun activities for Mopar and Dodge//SRT enthusiasts. NHRA stars and TV personalities will step up to the plate for the annual Mopar Mega Block Party home run derby with NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart providing the play-by-play.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 13, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 14, at 12:45 and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15.
Television coverage includes Friday Nitro Live from 7-8:30 pm ET on FS1 on Friday, Sept. 13, as well as live coverage on Sunday, Sept. 15 from 2-5 p.m. ET on FS1.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 610-856-9200. Tickets also are available online at www.maplegroveraceway.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 more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
MOPAR EXPRESS LANE NHRA NATIONALS PRESENTED BY PENNZOIL
WHAT: 35th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil, 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 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Maple Grove Raceway, Mohnton, Pa. Track is located off the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Exit 298), 10 miles south of Reading, Pa.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 548 feet above sea level; Track direction is north to south.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 12-15SCHEDULE:
THURSDAY, Sept. 12 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Sept. 13 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 2:00 and 5:00 p.m.
SATURDAY, Sept. 14 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:45 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.
SUNDAY, Sept. 15 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.TELEVISION:
Friday, Sept. 13, FS1 will televise an hour and a half of qualifying coverage at 7:00 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 15, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 1:00 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 15, FS1 will televise three hours of finals coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET).2018 EVENT WINNERS:
Steve Torrence, Top Fuel; J.R. Todd, Funny Car; Vincent Nobile, Pro Stock; Hector Arana, Jr., Pro Stock Motorcycle.
John Force, FC, 7; Angelle Sampey, PSM, 6; Tony Schumacher, TF, 5; Jeg Coughlin, PS, 4; Warren Johnson, PS, 4.
Top Fuel – 3.688 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ’16; 334.15 mph by Shawn Langdon, Oct. ’12
Funny Car – 3.844 sec. and 339.02 mph by Robert Hight, Sept. ‘17
Pro Stock – 6.465 sec. by Erica Enders, Oct. ’14; 214.59 mph by Greg Anderson, Oct. ’15
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. and 198.88 mph by Matt Smith, Sept. ’18
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 – 6.720 sec. by Andrew Hines, March ‘19, Gainesville, Fla.; 201.76 mph by Matt Smith, March ‘19, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call (610) 856-9200. Tickets also are available at www.maplegroveraceway.com.
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 NHRA Plugs 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. NHRA’s Youth and Education Services (YES) Program reaches over 30,000 students annually to ignite their interest in automotive and racing related careers. 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. For more information, log on to www,NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.