Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – MADISON, IL – Vincent Nobile wasn’t sure if he was going to run the full NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour in 2018. Two early-season wins changed that and now the Pro Stock standout is firmly entrenched in the hunt for his first world championship heading to this weekend’s seventh annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Nobile won the opening event in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway in his Mountain View Tire Chevrolet Camaro, jumping to second in the points standings heading into St. Louis. He trails points leader Tanner Gray by just 18 points with five races remaining, a long way from where Nobile possibly could have been in 2018.
“Earlier this year, Vegas was going to be my last race for a little while,” Nobile said. “We won that race and that just solidified my whole season there. It was definitely a clutch win and then we won Atlanta, and that just showed us we had a good car. We kind of fell off after Atlanta, but we were trying some things and here we are now. We just have to keep moving forward. We have a pretty good race car, but as long as we can be in the top six in qualifying, I think we can get the job done.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (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 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 23. The second of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship is also the 20th of 24 in a 2018 that has turned out much better than expected for Nobile, who has 13 career wins.
A possible part-time schedule became a full-time championship run after the back-to-back wins, but Nobile got some much-needed momentum at Maple Grove last weekend. It was his first final round appearance since May, but the timing couldn’t have been better to get back on track. The team ran well initially on qualifying and then put together a number of strong, consistent performances in eliminations to beat Erica Enders, Anderson and then Drew Skillman in the finals.
“Once Saturday was over, we found a few things we wanted to change for Sunday, not knowing for sure if it would be okay or not, but we were confident with it and obviously it turned out okay,” Nobile said. “All in all, what a great way to start the Countdown with a win.”
But Nobile knows there is plenty of work ahead, including this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park, where he has yet to win. The loaded Countdown to the Championship lineup in Pro Stock also includes defending world champion Bo Butner, Chris McGaha, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Jason Line and Deric Kramer, and the parity in the class has been incredible in 2018. Nobile is one of nine different winners in the class, and will have to keep up an impressive pace to try and track down Gray, as well as hold off the likes of Anderson, who trails Nobile by just 12 points.
“If you really look at it, every single team out here can win the race,” Nobile said. “It’s just who has their stuff together the best that weekend. There’s been so many different winners, so the parity’s there and it can’t be any better. You just have to try to do the best you can. The championship could be won by one point. Last year, it went down to the final round. Every little point counts and we really need to do our best in qualifying. That’s going to be critical in the Countdown.”
Defending Top Fuel event winner Torrence is after his first world championship and will look to build on his points lead against talented drivers Tony Schumacher and Clay Millican.
Defending Funny Car winner Ron Capps will look up make up ground in the points as he faces off with points leader J.R. Todd, who has two straight wins, and defending world champ Robert Hight.
LE Tonglet will look to make up ground in Pro Stock Motorcycle in St. Louis against the likes of Hector Arana Jr., who won at Maple Grove, and points leader Eddie Krawiec.
The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, which will have its 10th of 12 races, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
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. The legends scheduled to attend the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals include Shirley Muldowney.
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.
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 4:00 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 22, at 2:15 and 5:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23.