Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – JOLIET, IL – The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series powers back to state-of-the-art Route 66 Raceway for the 22nd annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals on May 30-June 2, kicking off a stretch of four straight races. Drivers want to start this rigorous stretch on an impressive note and the popular track provides the backdrop for a thrilling 10,000-horsepower, 300-mph weekend.
It marks the ninth of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season and fans will be treated to an exciting weekend that starts with “Friday Night On Fire,” an ultimate sensory overload under the lights. The special nitro session starts at 8:45 p.m., giving fans the chance to see the thrilling ground-shaking, nitro-fueled flames of the standout Top Fuel and Funny Cars at night. That leads into “All-Star Saturday” before winners are crowned in the professional classes on “Championship Sunday.”
The top stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will pursue the coveted Wally trophy at Route 66 Raceway, delivering plenty of unbelievable action in the process. Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 5:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 2.
The Top Fuel category is filled with star drivers, including reigning world champion Steve Torrence and defending event winner Clay Millican. Torrence has gone on back-to-back event victories starting with Charlotte and is set to go on another hot streak. Millican will try to prevent that as he looks for his first victory of the 2019 campaign, but there are plenty of other top drivers who want to grab a Wally in Chicago, including Las Vegas winner Mike Salinas, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Leah Pritchett, three-time champ Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta and Terry McMillen.
In Funny Car, there are a number of top competitors in the thrilling class, but defending event winner Robert Hight has a strong chance to repeat based on his hot start to 2019. He is the current points leader and has three wins as he seeks a third world title, but it won’t be easy in the loaded field. Others to watch in the class include his teammate, John Force, who is a victory away from earning his 150th career win, Charlotte winner Shawn Langdon, J.R. Todd, who is the defending world champion, Tim Wilkerson, Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr.
Five-time Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. has dominated the talent-heavy class at Route 66 Raceway, winning for the sixth time at the facility a year ago. It’s twice as many as his nearest competitor – Jason Line – and he’ll look to extend that lead and pick up his second win of 2019 during the sixth of 18 races in the Pro Stock season. To do it, he’ll have to top the likes of points leader Bo Butner, who already has three wins in 2019, Elite Motorsports teammates Erica Enders and Alex Laughlin, Greg Anderson, Matt Hartford and Chris McGaha.
Matt Smith’s championship journey in Pro Stock Motorcycle started to take shape in Chicago a year ago, and the three-time champ will look for a similar result this year during the sixth of 16 events in class during the 2019 season. It was Smith’s first win at Route 66 Raceway and he’ll go for a second victory at the track against points leader Andrew Hines, who has two wins this year, as well top stars in the two-wheeled class like Eddie Krawiec, two-time event winner Hector Arana Jr., three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, Jerry Savoie, Ryan Oehler and Joey Gladstone.
The Route 66 NHRA Nationals also features competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, including the popular JEGS Allstars bonus event. This pits the best NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series racers from across the country in individual and team competition, creating one of the most anticipated and unique weekends in sportsman racing. After nitro qualifying, fans can stick around and see Scott Holdridge and Al Z launch their jet cars as they put on an incredible show down the track. Known for their exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust-driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
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.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Route 66 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. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event 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 Route 66 NHRA Nationals victories.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:30 and 8:00 p.m. on Friday, May 31 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 1, at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 2.