In search of his 16th Funny Car world championship title, John Force has executed the blueprint perfectly in the Mello Yello Series Countdown to the Championship playoffs, advancing to the final round in each of the last three races and winning the last two events.
It put Force and his 8,000-horsepower Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in the points lead for the first time this season and now the iconic driver will try to continue his red-hot momentum when he arrives at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the NHRA Toyota Nationals Oct. 24-27.
Thanks to back-to-back wins in St. Louis and Reading, Force holds a 65-point lead over Matt Hagan heading into the fifth of six events in the Countdown. But Force isn’t worried about championship scenarios or holding off a talented list of competitors, focusing solely on furthering his blistering finish to the 2013 season.
“Our mindset is the same as it has been all year and that we want to win this race,” said Force, who earned his last championship in 2010. “I am not thinking about being the points leader. There are three guys behind me that could take this points lead from me and I especially am watching Hagan and his team. I feel good about how we have been running, but all my cars have been running good. The Auto Club Mustang with Robert (Hight) is right there and Courtney and that Traxxas Mustang can move up. I love Las Vegas, though, so it will be a great race and I am looking forward to getting back in my Jimmy Prock hot rod.”
Bob Vandergriff (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and defending world champions Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) raced to victories last season at the popular event that will once again be televised on ESPN2HD.
There is certainly plenty of anticipation for Force to get back behind the wheel considering his recent roll. He entered the Countdown fourth in the points standings and has been nearly unstoppable following a second-round loss in Charlotte at the playoff opener.
Force advanced to the final round in Dallas before losing to Cruz Pedregon in a classic duel, but followed it up by winning in St. Louis, knocking off defending champion Jack Beckman in the final round, and jumping into the points lead with a victory in Reading to finish off an impressive three-week stretch that also included recording his first career three-second run. Force’s biggest key for success in Las Vegas may be trying to continue that hot streak after having more than two weeks off since the last race.
“We were on a streak so you want to keep that rolling but you have to stop and let your guys rest,” Force said. “We were on the road for a month and you know you have to stay sharp. I am in the gym almost every day so I can be ready for all these drivers. I am ready for a fight to the finish and I know it will be tough over these next two races.”
Force will slug it out with Hagan on The Strip, but drivers like Beckman, Hight and Pedregon remain in contention and can all be wild cards. After dueling it out with Hagan in recent seasons, with Hagan taking the title in 2011, Force has learned that he can’t take anybody lightly in the loaded Funny Car class. Of course, that gives him even more incentive to be ready for a thrilling two-race sprint to end the season.
“I have battled Hagan it seems like for the past three or four years and then you throw in Beckman and Robert,” Force said. “Those teams could get hot just like we did but I will be ready. I don’t want to stop winning since I am chasing Corporate America. My wife Laurie told me in St. Louis before I won that race that winning helps solve a lot of problems. Our whole brain trust has been sharing information the past two weeks so all our race cars will be ready.”
For Shawn Langdon to secure his first Top Fuel world championship he will have to contend with fierce competitors Doug Kalitta and Spencer Massey, who trail by 83 and 85 points respectively. Should Langdon increase his series lead to 151 points over second place at this event he will clinch the championship title. Several others are still in title contention, but will need a strong showing in Las Vegas to boost their title hopes, including fourth place points-sitter Morgan Lucas, defending world champ Antron Brown and four-time NHRA Toyota Nationals event winner Tony Schumacher.
Pro Stock features a classic group of former world champions battling for the top prize, with everyone chasing JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger veteran Jeg Coughlin. Mike Edwards is in second place and is this season’s winningest driver with six victories total, while Jason Line, who drives the Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro, is currently in third. Defending world champ Johnson is 73 points back in his Team Mopar Avenger.
The battle in Pro Stock Motorcycle will showcase the brewing rivalry between 2007 world champion and points leader Matt Smith and Hector Arana Jr. Smith has a 125 point lead over Arana Jr. and could clinch the championship title if he can add 26 more points to his lead at this event. Arana Jr., Michael Ray, Hector Arana Sr., and Krawiec all will be racing hard to keep the championship battle in the two-wheel category going for one more event.
Fans arriving early for the penultimate race-weekend will be treated to the traditional NHRA Fremont Street Experience Fan Fest, annually one of the best-attended pre-race festivities on the circuit. The Fan Fest will be held Thursday, Oct. 24th at 5 p.m. on Fremont Street and will feature the sport’s top drivers participating in one of the biggest autograph sessions of the year and will also showcase a spectacular NHRA-themed light show over Freemont Street. Ticket giveaways and music will also be a part of this exciting kick-off event for the weekend.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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 in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with 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 support of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Tequila Patron Funny Car/Alexis DeJoria team has partnered with Nevada Health Centers to offer free mammograms all weekend long in the Midway for female race fans over 40.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
Families can take part in a special ticket offer for children 12 and under, who will be admitted free in general admission areas with a paid adult.
The NHRA Toyota Nationals qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:15 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 25. Qualifying continues at 12:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27.
Tickets are available for the NHRA Toyota Nationals online at www.lvms.com or by calling (800) 644-4444. For complete event coverage of the 13th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, please visit www.nhra.com.
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NHRA TOYOTA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 13th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the fifth of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Drivers in four categories - Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle - earn points leading to 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of Las Vegas off I-15.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 24-27
THURSDAY, Oct. 24 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Oct. 25 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 12:45 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m.
SATURDAY, Oct. 26 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2:15 p.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 4:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 2:45 p.m.
SUNDAY, Oct. 27 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Sunday, Oct. 27, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 2:30 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 27, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET).