Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – CHANDLER, AZ – Scott Palmer has taken massive steps in his Top Fuel career each of the last two seasons, finishing in the top 10 for the first time in 2017 and advancing to his first career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series final a year ago in Phoenix. With that now under his belt, Palmer and his team have raised expectations considerably heading into the 2019 NHRA season.
The veteran and driver of the 10,000-horsepower Magic Dry Organic Absorbent dragster now hopes to stand in the winner’s circle at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park after falling just short a year ago. Picking up his first career win at his sponsor’s race, the 35th annual Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals on Feb. 22-24, would make it even more enjoyable.
“The next big step for us is to win a race, and then win multiple races,” said Palmer, who finished 10th in points in 2018. “We are taking all the steps to be more prepared to win each weekend. The attention to detail matters so much. You truly win races back at the shop. That’s where it starts. We are fighting to be at that final level, that top level, of performance. We’re learning how to win. There’s a big difference between surviving out here and winning. We are making that transition.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will once again be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage on Sunday, Feb. 24. It is the second of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season and Palmer is locked in on more improvement after steady progress the last two years.
He advanced to his first Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship two years ago and fell to defending Top Fuel world champ Torrence in the final round at Phoenix last season. But Palmer has turned into a top-tier performer in the star-studded class and he remains thankful to be in the mix, crediting the support of team owner Tommy Thompson for bringing the team to a new level. Palmer will get marquee attention in Phoenix with it being his sponsor’s race, but that only has him more excited to perform at a high level and grab early-season momentum.
“To me it adds confidence,” Palmer said. “We have other people who believe in us as much as we do. It makes you very proud. This is a big-time deal. Sponsoring a Top Fuel dragster and a couple of national events at this level is just huge. We worked hard for so many years with nothing and now look at us. I love Tommy Thompson for believing in us when very few others did.”
It puts Palmer in the spotlight and may add a little extra pressure as well, but his team is confident they can take the next step in 2019. He’ll have to get past the likes of Torrence, three-time world champ Antron Brown, 2017 world champion Brittany Force, Terry McMillen, Doug Kalitta, Leah Pritchett and Clay Millican to do it, but Palmer is eager for the challenge. Plus, he received his first taste of racing at his sponsor’s event a year ago and remains energized by it.
“It’s kind of like going to a race back in the day and one of the big team’s sponsor is the title sponsor of the race and you’re thinking, ‘wow, that’s big time,’” Palmer said. “Now this is real for us. Our sponsor is the sponsor of an NHRA national event. This isn’t small-time any more. You see the name CatSpot or Magic Dry everywhere and it’s almost hard to believe. You dream about this and now we can say, ‘hey, is this really happening.'”
In Funny Car, J.R. Todd looks to defend his world championship by getting off to a strong start in 2019. Trying to stop him are a host of star contenders, including 2017 world champ Robert Hight, Ron Capps, the 2016 world champ, John Force, Tim Wilkerson and Matt Hagan.
Pro Stock’s Chris McGaha earned his first Phoenix win a year ago, knocking off Jason Line in the final round. McGaha will look to continue that success against the like of Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2017 world champ Bo Butner, Greg Anderson and two-time world champ Erica Enders.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills.
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 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 23, also at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 24.