Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – READING, PA – Andrew Hines and Bo Butner are in similar situations heading into the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, as both have been the points leader in their respective classes for the entire NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season.
With that in mind, it’s simply a matter of maintaining the status quo at this weekend’s 35th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Maple Grove Raceway.
Hines has been dominant in Pro Stock Motorcycle, winning seven of the 10 regular-season races in the class, while Butner has been the points leader in Pro Stock since the opener, racking up four wins thus far in 2019. Now both will look to keep that going through all six playoff races, where championships will be on the line. Hines, the winningest rider in the class, is after his sixth world title, but he won’t change his approach on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson FXDR, even as the stakes are raised starting in Reading.
“It’s business as usual,” Hines said. “It’s been such a good year and we just want to continue on, refine what we’ve learned and keep moving forward. I feel like you have to constantly improve in this class. You can’t be idle. (Defending world champ) Matt (Smith) is coming on strong and we saw Jerry (Savoie) come on strong in Indy. But right now, we’re focused on our three Harleys and getting them where we want. I’m excited for these last six races and what we can do.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including final eliminations on Sunday, Sept. 15 at 2 p.m. (ET). Both Torrence and Todd used that momentum last year to win their first world titles, a scenario Hines and Butner would like to repeat in the two Pro Stock classes.
Butner was dominant right out of the gates in his Jim Butner Chevrolet Camaro, winning four the first five Pro Stock races. While he’s maintained the points lead for all 12 events in the regular season, Butner is looking to re-create that early magic. He won at Maple Grove Raceway in 2017 en route to his first Pro Stock world championship and has raced well in previous weeks, leading Butner to believe that he can get on another hot streak at the perfect time.
The 11-time event winner will have to deal with the likes of KB Racing teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson, as well as Indy winner Alex Laughlin, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Erica Enders, Matt Hartford, Deric Kramer, Chris McGaha and Val Smeland, but he likes his team’s state of mind.
“We have a good car right now,” Butner said. “My Jim Butner Auto Group Chevy Camaro is starting to show some signs of greatness again, and this is the right time for that. We enter the Countdown as the No. 1 seed, and hopefully, that’s where we end up. Of course you want to win, especially once you know what it feels like – but if it’s a KB Racing car at the end, we’ll be happy. We’ve been saying all year that we want to be 1-2-3 at the end, and we’re starting this deal off pretty close to that. Now we just have to keep it going and keep everybody else from separating us.”
Hines, who has 55 career wins, has eight final-round appearances in 2019, putting him on an ideal path heading into the playoffs. But the work isn’t done, especially as the talented rider will try to ward off challenges from teammates Eddie Krawiec and Angelle Sampey, M. Smith, Indy winner Savoie, defending event winner Arana Jr., Ryan Oehler, Karen Stoffer, Angie Smith and Hector Arana Sr. Hines, though, isn’t thinking too far ahead, an approach that’s served him well this year.
“I’m just trying to be focused on the next run,” Hines said. “You can’t control 3-4 runs from now, you just have to stay focused on the next run. That’s where I’ve struggled in the past, but it’s worked out well. I’m just looking to win the next round. I’ve taken that aspect from Eddie, and it’s taken a lot of pressure off. It’s helped make me more consistent, so we’ll look to keep that going.”
Top Fuel’s Torrence will look for a second straight win at Maple Grove and what he hopes is a second straight world title. He’ll enter the playoffs with the points lead, but will be challenged by Indy winner Doug Kalitta, Brittany Force, Leah Pritchett, Antron Brown and Clay Millican.
In Funny Car, Todd got off to a great start in the Countdown to the Championship, and then closed in impressive fashion to claim his first world title. He’ll try to repeat against points leader Robert Hight, Indy winner John Force, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps and Bob Tasca III.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. Fan favorites in the Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car categories are sure to delight as well. After nitro qualifying, watch the thrilling “Beast From The East” jet car driven by Ernie Bogue.
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 Pro Stock School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Maple Grove 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. Another can’t-miss experience 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 victories.
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 as a DJ plays hit music.
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.
The Mopar Mega Block Party will rev up the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil race weekend for the fourth consecutive year. The free-admission fan event, set to roll into FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading from 4-10 p.m. ET on Thursday, September 12, will offer a jam-packed slate of fun activities for Mopar and Dodge//SRT enthusiasts. NHRA stars and TV personalities will step up to the plate for the annual Mopar Mega Block Party home run derby with NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart providing the play-by-play.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 13, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 14, at 12:45 and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15.
Television coverage includes Friday Nitro Live from 7-8:30 pm ET on FS1 on Friday, Sept. 13, as well as live coverage on Sunday, Sept. 15 from 2-5 p.m. ET on FS1.
NHRA ANNOUNCES 2020 TOP FUEL HARLEY SCHEDULE
NHRA officials announced the schedule for the 2020 Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series, which will compete at 10 of the 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
The Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series features NHRA’s only nitromethane-powered two-wheeled bikes at some of the most breathtaking facilities across the country. Fans will experience the fastest motorcycle racing action on the circuit with bikes capable of exceeding 220 mph with each pass and races that are regularly decided by just thousandths of a second.
NHRA’s two nitro categories – Funny Car and Top Fuel – will participate at all 24 national events in the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. The national event schedule for the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series will be released later this fall.
2020 MICKEY THOMPSON TIRES NHRA TOP FUEL HARLEY DRAG RACING SCHEDULE
Feb. 6-9 – Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, Pomona, Calif.
Feb. 21-23 – NHRA Arizona Nationals, Phoenix
April 24-26 – NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, Charlotte, N.C.
June 12-14 – Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals, Topeka, Kan.
July 9-12 – Route 66 NHRA Nationals, Chicago
Aug. 13-16 – Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Brainerd, Minn.
Aug. 21-23 – NHRA New England Nationals, Epping, N.H.
Sept. 2-7 – NHRA U.S. Nationals, Indianapolis
Sept. 17-20 – Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals, Reading, Pa.
Oct. 15-18 – AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Dallas