Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – CONCORD, N.C. – For the third straight NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship race, there was a different points leader by the end of the event in Pro Stock Motorcycle. After winning last weekend in Dallas, former class champ LE Tonglet hopes that is a trend he can break starting at this weekend’s 11th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
Making his second straight final round appearance in the playoffs, Tonglet picked up his fourth win of the year on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki, opening up a 47-point lead on defending world champion and event winner Eddie Krawiec, who was the leader after the Countdown to the Championship opener. Matt Smith, who now trails Tonglet by 48 points, was the leader after winning the second race, but Tonglet is ready for a continued stay at the top after this weekend.
“We just have to stay calm and take it one round at a time,” Tonglet said. “The key is to go rounds and when we show up to a race, I just want to get the semifinals. Whatever happens after that is just bonus kind of. If you keep going to the semis, you’re going to have a good shot come Pomona. We just have to stay calm and focused, and not make any mistakes.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and Krawiec (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, Oct. 14. It is the fourth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship and the 14th of 16 races during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
It’s been another standout year for Tonglet, who has 10 wins over his last 28 races dating back to last season. Two of those have come in the past four events, as Tonglet and White Alligator Racing teammate Jerry Savoie appear to be getting hot at the perfect time. Tonglet knocked off Krawiec in the semifinals in Dallas, setting up a match-up with Savoie, the 2016 world champ, in the final round. Tonglet won with a 6.892 at 194.80 mph, but Savoie remains in the title hunt, staying 109 points back, while Tonglet hopes that situation can repeat itself at zMAX Dragway.
“After the semifinals when we both won, it was a lot of fun,” said Tonglet, who won a PSM world championship in 2010. “It was a lot of fun in the pits, but once we came up (to the starting line), I didn’t look at him and he didn’t look at me. It was all business. We’re leading the points and we’re not looking back now. Jerry made a big move and we’re going to have two bikes competing for this championship down to the wire.”
Tonglet is excited for those moments and heads to Charlotte looking for his third career win at the state-of-the-art facility. He won the fall race in 2010 en route to his championship and the standout will look to continue to take advantage of opportunities this weekend. In Dallas, he pounced when Smith was upset in the opening round and it couldn’t have turned into a better end result.
“That’s when we got excited and said the door is open and we just have to capitalize on it,” said Tonglet, who has 20 career wins. “We just kept our heads straight and kept going rounds. We’ve been out here eight years and we’ve had a lot of fun.”
Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence is undefeated in the playoffs, winning his third straight Countdown to the Championship race to open up a 103-point lead on Clay Millican.
Funny Car points leader and defending world champ Hight will look for a repeat win at Charlotte to keep his hot streak going. He has two straight wins and a 50-point lead on J.R. Todd.
Pro Stock points leader Gray, who has seven 2018 wins, continues his impressive season, as the second-year star holds an 89-point lead on Vincent Nobile.
The NHRA Carolina 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 11th of 12 races, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the NHRA Carolina Nationals include Jim Dunn, Frank Manzo and more.
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 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.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.