Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – LAS VEGAS, NV – This year marks the second straight season Deric Kramer has advanced to the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. It doesn’t take much more than a cursory glance at the numbers to know this year has been far more productive for the Pro Stock standout.
A year after winning just one round in six playoff races, Kramer is in the midst of an extremely tight and thrilling battle for a world championship. He picked up his first career playoff victory with his Charlotte triumph and that has him just 72 points out of first in his American Ethanol Chevrolet Camaro heading to this weekend’s Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It’s a new feeling for Kramer, but he’s enjoying every part of it.
“We’re just going to do the absolute best we can,” Kramer said. “We’ve got to be one of the two cars in the final round the last two races, so that’s the goal. And then you just try to win every race and let the points fall where they may. You try not to feel any different and I think that’s the best way to approach it. It can be a stressful position to be in. You figure we’re already in the car for six decisions and we’ve got a 100 decisions to make, so you don’t need to add any more stress.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Bo Butner (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 live final eliminations coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 3. It is the fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship, and the 17th of 18 events in a 2019 Pro Stock season that’s gone even better than Kramer’s breakout 2018 campaign.
He’s currently fifth in points on the strength of two wins and six semifinal appearances, boasting impressive consistency all season in the talent-filled class. The race for a title is jam-packed, but Kramer knows he’s in a far better position than a year ago. His introduction to the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship wasn’t a friendly one, as Kramer and his team learned some very valuable lessons they’ve carried into the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
“I think we raced and tried to win rounds last year where what we really needed to do was learn how to race a season,” Kramer said. “It was a completely new experience for most of us. Not being a full-time team before, we didn’t know what it was going to be like. We’ve done a better job of looking at the bigger picture this year. We definitely have a surplus of parts to choose from that we didn’t have a year ago. Having that piece of mind going down the track, it’s a lot more fun.”
Kramer will try to enjoy himself on the track in Vegas, but it won’t be easy in the tightly-compacted class. Erica Enders leads Matt Hartford by 28 points and Jeg Coughlin Jr. is only 65 points back. Jason Line and Kramer are just three and seven behind Coughlin, respectively, meaning a whole lot of chaos could ensue in Vegas and Pomona to close out 2019. That makes for plenty of thrilling moments for the fans, and Kramer is determined to not let the pressure consume him.
“There’s seven cars within striking distance of that championship and it’s probably the coolest championship hunt I’ve seen since I’ve been in Pro Stock,” Kramer said. “it’s awesome to be a part of. Every race we try to be as good as we can be and I think we have a good shot. Our motto is, ‘Don’t screw it up four rounds in a row,’ and it’s worked out pretty well. If we don’t screw up, we’re pretty hard to beat. Hopefully we can continue to be a contender.”
Torrence clinched his first Top Fuel world title a year ago in Vegas en route to the victory, but it will be a different story in that regard this year. Torrence is currently locked in a tight points battle with the likes of Doug Kalitta, 2017 world champ Brittany Force and his father, Billy.
Todd won in Las Vegas en route to his first Funny Car world title, but everyone is chasing points leader Robert Hight. He’s trying to claim a third world championship against the likes of John Force, Jack Beckman and Dallas winner Matt Hagan.
Arana Jr. will look for a second straight win in Vegas to help finish his Pro Stock Motorcycle season on a strong note. Andrew Hines is after another world title after an impressive season, but Karen Stoffer, Jerry Savoie and Eddie Krawiec will look to make things interesting in Vegas.
The Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil also features thrilling competition in the season-finale of the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. Stevie “Fast” Jackson has clinched his first world championship in the NHRA Pro Mod class, while Sidnei Frigo is the defending winner in the category.
After nitro qualifying, watch spectacular jet cars, including Segal Motorsports’ Shelly Segal running “FireStarter,” Tim Smith running “American Freedom Fighter,” Tony Franco driving the Lucas Oil Terminal Velocity and Lucas Oil Racing TV Missile driven by Tom Bogner. Known for exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
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. The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the 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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 2, at 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3.
NHRA SPORTSNATIONALS MOVES TO JULY AT NATIONAL TRAIL RACEWAY
One of the most widely known and prestigious weekends on the Sportsman racing calendar, the JEGS NHRA SPORTSnationals, will be back at National Trail Raceway on July 18-19, 2020.
After a three-year hiatus from National Trail Raceway, the race made a return to the track, located just outside of Columbus, Ohio, in 2019 following owner and management changes. The race was previously held at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Ky. during the hiatus.
“We couldn’t be more excited to have the JEGS SPORTSnationals return to National Trail Raceway,” said Jay Livingston, owner of National Trail Raceway.
Following the success of the 2019 race, the annual event will feature tough competition from the most talented sportsman racers from around the country. The JEGS NHRA SPORTSnationals regularly has a purse of over $100,000, along with bonuses and national event product contingency awards.
New for 2020, Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol funny car will put on a thrilling show for fans. The race will also feature exciting action in multiple Sportsman classes, including Super Stock, Stock, Super Gas, Super Street, Super Comp, Top Dragster, Top Sportsman and Comp Eliminator, along with Sportsman Motorcycle, returning for the third time.
As an added bonus, all sportsman Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series categories will earn an event Grade Point towards national event entries, giving racers the opportunity to enter into national events.
“JEGS will be celebrating our 60th anniversary in 2020 and having this combo event weekend will be huge for sportsman racers and Central Ohio,” said Scott Woodruff, director of media and motorsports for JEGS Automotive Inc. “We are also adding Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car to the JEGS SPORTSnationals in 2020. Our goal has always been to improve events each year we are involved. This only strengthens our longstanding commitment to the NHRA sportsman racers. This will be an exciting weekend for racers and fans alike and we can’t wait.”
More information is to come as National Trail Raceway looks to make the JEGS NHRA SPORTSnationals an exciting, annual must-attend event for race fans.