Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – CONCORD, NC – With the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship reaching the halfway point, expect NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competitors to leave it all on the line when they visit state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway for a second time in 2019 for the NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals, Oct. 11-13.
It is the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship, also marking the 21st of 24 races during a memorable 2019 NHRA season. As the top 10 competitors in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle make a push to a coveted championship, the thrilling action will return to the traditional two-lane format for the key fall race in Charlotte.
The action gets off to a resounding, pulsating start with the new NHRA Prime Time qualifying during the second session on Friday night. During Prime Time, drivers perform a burnout in their 11,000-horsepower nitro burning machines to their favorite jams played by an on-site DJ, setting the tone on a critical and equally exciting race weekend while a jaw-dropping pyrotechnics display wows the crowd.
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 13.
Torrence has ruled zMAX Dragway of late, as the defending Top Fuel world champ won both races at the facility a year ago and grabbed a victory at the spring race this year. Another Charlotte sweep would go a long way in his pursuit of a second straight world title, but he’ll be challenged by a star-studded field that includes points leader Doug Kalitta and Richie Crampton, who won the playoff opener. Other championship contenders to watch are 2017 world champ Brittany Force, who made the quickest run in NHRA history in Reading, Clay Millican, Leah Pritchett, Mike Salinas, three-time world champ Antron Brown, Billy Torrence and rookie Austin Prock.
Capps stayed alive in the Funny Car world title chase with his win in Charlotte a year ago, and the former world champion will try for a second world title in 2019. He’s currently fourth, 43 points back of Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman, who started the Countdown to the Championship with a win in Reading. Capps will also try for a Charlotte win for a third straight year, though he’ll have to get through the likes of Reading runner-up John Force, who is second in points, defending world champ J.R. Todd, Robert Hight, Tim Wilkerson, Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr., Bob Tasca III and spring race winner Shawn Langdon.
The fall race will mark Pro Stock’s first appearance at the facility in 2019 and defending event winner Line is rolling at the perfect time. He has won two of the past three races, including the playoff opener, as the veteran seeks his fourth world title. Line also has a class-best four wins at zMAX Dragway, but getting a fifth won’t be easy against the likes of KB Racing teammates Bo Butner, the 2017 world champ, Greg Anderson and Deric Kramer, Erica Enders, Indy winner Alex Laughlin, five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., Chris McGaha, Matt Hartford and Val Smeland.
Matt Smith won for the second time at the track in Pro Stock Motorcycle, using that momentum to win his third title. Smith is in contention for a fourth, but it’s a packed field currently led by Jerry Savoie, who has won back-to-back races, including the first race in the Countdown. That gives him a slim lead against Andrew Hines, who has seven wins in 2019 and also seven victories in Charlotte. Other championship contenders in the two-wheeled category include Eddie Krawiec, Karen Stoffer, Hector Arana Jr., Angelle Sampey, Angie Smith, Ryan Oehler and Hector Arana.
The NTK 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 in 2019. Rick Hord is the defending event winner, while defending world champ Mike Janis won at Charlotte in the spring. Stevie “Fast” Jackson is the current points leader as he seeks his first world title. The event also includes the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes. A special wheelstander will also be making appearances.
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. zMAX Dragway will also 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.
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. Also in the midway, fans will be entertained by live performances and an exciting drifting box. Throughout the weekend, stars of Hot Rod Drag Week will be participating in a special exhibition competition to demonstrate what these street-legal machines can do on the track.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 6:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13.
Television coverage includes Friday Nitro Live from 7:00-8:00 pm ET on FS1 on Friday, Oct. 11, as well as live coverage on Sunday, Oct. 13 from 12:00-1:00 p.m. and then 2:00-4:00 p.m. ET on FS1.