Close NHRA Points Races Mean Excitement’s In Store At SpringNationals In Houston

Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – BAYTOWN, TX – Throughout his standout Funny Car career, Matt Hagan has consistently been in the hunt for a NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series world championship.

He’s captured two of them and now has his sights set on a third headed to a pivotal stop during the 2020 season, the upcoming Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil, which takes place Oct. 23-25 at Houston Raceway Park.

Hagan is coming off a final round appearance in his 11,000-horsepower Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat at the most recent event in St. Louis, a finish that gave him the points lead over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman. Hagan will have to come up clutch again in Houston to keep Beckman and teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. at bay, but considering it’s his sponsor’s race, expected the standout to be even more motivated to win.

“The excitement when you’re racing at your sponsor’s event is huge,” Hagan said. “There’s always pressure at any race, but when it’s your sponsor’s race you have extra motivation to win it. Being able to battle it out for a championship is something I’m very prepared to do. It always comes down to the wire and you never know what’s going to happen, but that’s what makes it so exciting. Every race is very important, and every run counts. We’re going to go out there, do what we do, and that’s turn on win lights for Mopar and Pennzoil.”

The event, which is the 10th race of the 2020 NHRA season, will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. After St. Louis, Hagan holds a 16-point lead over Beckman and 34 points over Johnson with a stop in Dallas coming before the race in Houston. DSR has also won the last 11 races in Funny Car action, dating back to 2019.

In Top Fuel, it’s come down to an exciting battle between Steve Torrence, a Texas native who has won back-to-back world titles, veteran Doug Kalitta, who is after his first world title, and Leah Pruett, who still has a shot at a championship after her unbelievable crash in St. Louis. Torrence currently leads Kalitta by just two points, but Pruett is determined to make some late-season noise in her 11,000-horsepower Mopar Dodge dragster. Along with wanting to rebound in impressive fashion following the crash, the stop in Houston is also her sponsor’s race, putting even more meaning on the pivotal late-season race.

“Extra levels of excitement are upon us as we enter a race of such significance on multiple levels,” Pruett said. “Usually when we race Houston it is special in its own right as the ultimate Pennzoil proving grounds, and the home race to our amazing partners at Pennzoil during the regular season. Now, we get to share our championship chase with them. As an integral partner in our performance, I look forward to providing them with the opportunity for their cars to achieve success at the culmination of a season.”

Houston is a homecoming event for defending Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders, who has always enjoyed putting on a show at her home track in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. The race in Houston usually doesn’t come late in the season, so that puts an added onus on doing well in front of what will be a huge number of friends and family. Enders, a three-time world champ, and Jason are in a tight points battle, with Line currently holding just a two-point advantage. It’s a points race that will likely come down to the wire, but Enders is ready for the challenge.

“The points are tight and it is going to be a dog fight to the end, just like I stated earlier in the year,” Enders said. “As we are trying to secure our fourth world championship, the two guys I have to beat (Line and Jeg Coughlin Jr.) are retiring at the end of the year, so I know they are going to give it their all as well. We will fight to the end and execute the best we can. I put my money on my team. They are the baddest dudes in Pro Stock and I’m lucky to have them. I’m looking forward to these races down the stretch.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines is still looking for his first victory of 2020 on his Harley-Davidson FXDR, but he’s stayed in the championship hunt with a number of consistent performances. The reigning world champ has stayed within striking distance of points leader Matt Smith with a pair of final-round performances, but breaking through in Houston would be big. He has three wins at the track and a fourth would put him in a tie for the most in class history at the facility. With the season winding down, a much-needed victory would also set up a thrilling late-season duel with Smith and Scotty Pollacheck.

“I’m really proud of our team for being in the hunt for another championship,” Hines said. “I am excited about our chances since we seemed to have rectified a gremlin that has been slowing down my motorcycle. Also, my Harley-Davidson loves the weather from a sea-level race track, and those conditions could lead to my first 200 mph time slip. We are hoping to write more history for Harley-Davidson, and we look towards Houston to try and kick it into overdrive.”

The event also hosts the sixth race of the 2020 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season. The event includes thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as well, where future stars of the sport hone their skills, along with the SAMTech.edu Factory Stock Showdown Drag Racing Series.

Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:45 and 3:45 p.m. CT on Saturday, Oct. 24. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25. Television coverage includes live action during eliminations beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 25 on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).

THREE-TIME WORLD CHAMPION RICKIE SMITH EYES LATE-SEASON SURGE IN NHRA PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES ACTION IN HOUSTON
Rickie Smith has raced just twice during the 2020 season in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, but it didn’t take long for the three-time world champion to have an impact.
The savvy veteran won the most recent event in Gainesville, picking up his 16th overall victory in the class and proving his incredible career is far from finished. Missing the first two races of the season after recovering from back surgery took him out of the championship mix, but Smith still proved to be a viable threat to win races in his nitrous-powered Camaro. He’ll take that momentum into the upcoming Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil, which takes place Oct. 23-25 at Houston Raceway Park.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to win a lot of races and that victory in Gainesville meant a lot,” Smith said. “I honestly believe in my mind if I hadn’t missed the first two races, I really think we could be leading the points right now or close to it. I feel like we’re as competitive and as good as anybody out there and we’ve still got it. It’s always important to prove you can still win, and I think I proved in Gainesville that I can still drive.”
The race will serve as the sixth event of the 2020 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season and will be shown on Fox Sports 2 (FS2). The class wasn’t originally scheduled to run in Houston, but it was added to the event after weather conditions caused Pro Mod action to be postponed in St. Louis. The Houston Pro Mod competition replaces the postponed race from St. Louis race.
Qualifying will be reopened in Houston, with the talent-filled class getting two attempts on Saturday, Oct. 24 before eliminations the next day. The field from the scheduled St. Louis event will carry over to Houston, with defending world champion Stevie “Fast” Jackson sitting as the provisional No. 1 qualifier.
For Smith, it’s an opportunity to continue his late-season surge at a track where he’s always performed well. Coupled with the success of teammate Jonathan Gray, who won the second Indy race in 2020 with Smith tuning, and the standout feels good about his team’s chances.
“I’ve had good success in Houston, even back when I was racing Pro Stock,” Smith said. “It’s been good to me over the years. It’s a good track and we’ve got both cars running well. That’s been the big thing and we’ll keep going with the flow. I came back and showed I can win and that was big. I know I’m getting older, but I can still win and still have fast cars.”
Smith has proven to be as good as ever on race day this year. He’s annually lauded as one of the best ever on the starting line in Pro Mod history, and that combination of veteran savvy and consistency in the car continues to make him a threat in a class full of standout performers.
Mike Janis is the current points leader over Jackson, but Gray is just 43 points back in fourth. A strong finish by Smith means a top-five finish isn’t out of the equation, either, and he’s been impressed with what his two-car nitrous team has been able to accomplish during a wild and unprecedented 2020 campaign.
“So far we’ve had four (NHRA Pro Mod) races this year and my cars have won two of them,” Smith said. “It’s been a crazy year in 2020, but, honestly, we’ve had a pretty awesome year racing. We haven’t been the fastest car on Sunday, but we just try to make the car go down the track consistently and give myself or (Gray) a chance to win. We just try to go down the track and make everybody else beat us. It’s been a pretty good thing for me, just going from one end to the other on a consistent basis.”
Featuring the world’s fastest doorslammer race cars, the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service offers something for every kind of hot-rodding enthusiast. The class is highlighted by historic muscle cars, as well as a variety of late model American muscle cars.
Two qualifying sessions for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service takes place at 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. CT on Saturday, Oct. 24. The first round of Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for 11:40 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25.
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