Tuesday, January 16, 2018

NHRA Storms Into Heartland Park Topeka

sucp_heartland_park_topeka_logo-300x225The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series heads to the Midwest and historic Heartland Park Topeka for the eighth event of the 2016 season, the NHRA Kansas Nationals. The sprawling multipurpose facility has hosted an NHRA national event since 1989 and has been home to some of the most memorable moments in the sport’s history, including the first four-second and 300-mph runs in the Funny Car category.

Last season, all of the track records were reset in elapsed time and speed in all three Professional categories that were in competition. The performance-laden event was highlighted with wins by Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), and Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

Here’s look at some of this year’s major storylines:

How low can they go?
The fact that Infinite Hero crew chief Jimmy Prock sparked a performance revolution in the Funny Car category during last year’s Western Swing made some forget what a remarkable race the 2015 NHRA Kansas Nationals was for the fabulous floppers. Cool conditions and the lauded Heartland Park Topeka track surface set the stage for 15 three-second runs, including firsts by No. 1 qualifier Chad Head and Tim Wilkerson. To put that in perspective, there were only 19 three-second Funny Car runs recorded during the entirety of the 2014 season. Returning to Topeka equipped with laid-back headers and other technological advancements that have made the class quicker has Funny Car crew chiefs licking their chops with anticipation.

Thrice as nice
Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta (pictured) is trying to parlay his current momentum into a feat that the Mac Tools driver has never achieved in his career: winning at three consecutive events. Kalitta scored wins in Houston and Atlanta and enters a facility that has been the site of many memorable moments for Kalitta Motorsports drivers, particularly his late cousin, Scott, who won at Heartland Park Topeka on six occasions.

Just looking for one
Antron Brown, on the other hand, is just looking for one win at an event that he has yet to cross off his list. The two-time Mello Yello champion has been the No. 1 qualifier at this event on four occasions but has never reached the final round. His next final will be the 100th of his career. Speaking of looking for one win, Don Schumacher Racing teammates Tony Schumacher and Shawn Langdon are looking for their first wins of the year as well as defending event champion Richie Crampton. J.R. Todd is among those vying for a win and subsequent spot in the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout with only two spots remaining before the fan vote/lottery. Clay Millican is looking for his first win ever after 10 career finals, including one at this event in 2009.

Aiming for eight
Ken Black Racing teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line have won everything there is to win so far in Pro Stock this season. They are looking to extend their winning streak to eight consecutive victories. Perhaps Bo Butner can contribute to the tally by vying for his first win after three career runner-ups. A competitive field of drivers, including defending event champion Erica Enders, will be trying to stop their momentum.

Body debut
We will see the brand-new 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car body in action for the first time. Sixteen-time Funny Car champion John Force (pictured) is ushering in the new design on his Jon Schaffer-tuned entry in Topeka. A lighter body, improved aerodynamics, and motivation to make a big splash for one of his major supporters could help Force on his quest for career win No. 144.

Worlds collide in alcohol classes
The central location of Heartland Park Topeka affords the opportunity to see Sportsman racers who don’t normally compete at the same event do battle. In Top Alcohol Dragster, perennial championship contenders Joey Severance and Chris Demke will be in the same field as rookie sensation Megan Meyer at her home track. The class has had nine first-time winners score at this event. In Top Alcohol Funny Car, no repeat winners have been crowned this season, which is something Kris Hool and Steve Gasparrelli will try to put an end to. Title hopeful Doug Gordon is a favorite to put one on the board for the first time in 2016.

Track records
Top Fuel
3.710, Richie Crampton, May 2015
329.91, Larry Dixon, May 2015

Funny Car
3.967, Chad Head, May 2015
325.06, Courtney Force, May 2015

Pro Stock
6.515, Erica Enders, May 2015
211.43, Erica Enders, May 2015

Qualifying for the NHRA Kansas Nationals in Topeka will feature two rounds at 4:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday, May 20, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 21, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 22.

For tickets, call 800-884-NHRA (6472). Tickets are also available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets.

Saturday, May 21, FS1 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 11 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, May 22, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 2 p.m. (ET).

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