BRAINERD, MN – August 16, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – To succeed at this weekend’s 35th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway and during the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Funny Car standout Tommy Johnson Jr. knows it will take one incredible performance after another.
It can be a daunting task to consistently dip into the 3.80s to knock off a star-studded lineup but with a world championship set to be on the line within the next month, Johnson is ready to embrace the challenge.
He advanced to the final round last year during a record-breaking weekend at Brainerd in his 10,000-horsepower Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T and with the bar being constantly raised in the class during the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Johnson is seemingly enjoying himself even more.
“You’re going to have to run 3.80s to win and with the way the class is as a whole, it’s just so close,” said Johnson Jr., who is currently eighth in the Funny Car points standings. “It puts a lot of importance on the driver and these performances are outstanding to see. There’s a huge factor with the driver and reaction times and I love that challenge. The class as a whole is so good and a lot of fun, and I’m just really enjoying it.”
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the pivotal event that will be broadcast on FS1 for the first time. FS1 is also adding 30 minutes of live NHRA programming on Saturday to televise the final rounds of Top Fuel and Funny Car from the postponed event in Seattle. The added telecast will air from 3 to 3:30 p.m. ET and will feature the Funny Car final between Del Worsham and Ron Capps, as well as the Top Fuel final between Antron Brown and Steve Torrence. Both final rounds will take place during the third round of qualifying.
The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals also serves as the penultimate race of the regular season before the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins. Johnson won earlier this season in Bristol, but doesn’t head to Brainerd riding a massive wave of momentum. He hasn’t made it out of the second round in the past four races, meaning Johnson is still searching for performances that can win races and, ultimately, championships.
“This is the time of the season when you need to start performing at your best,” said Johnson, who has 13 career victories. “This is kind of when we were peaking last year. This year, we haven’t peaked yet. But I feel confident we’re getting there and that’s big. I can see our performance coming around and it’s important to be at your best this time of the year. I would love for nothing more than to go to Brainerd and hit the tune-up. Indy is coming up, so if you’re going to do any fine-tuning, you better do it here.”
Johnson, who won at Brainerd in 2006, used the momentum from last year’s runner-up performance at the facility en route to three final-round appearances in the Countdown to the Championship and a third-place finish in the points.
The Don Schumacher Racing driver would love to repeat that performance, adding a few wins to the mix, but Johnson knows the importance of having everything in line when the NHRA’s six-race playoffs begin.
“It’s been a good year but not a great year by any means, but we’ve learned the last two seasons it’s about being on your game for the last six races,” Johnson said. “We’re certainly not delaying the performance, but we’re learning right now and we’re trying to be at our best in the Countdown.”
To be at his best at Brainerd, Johnson believes a series of runs in the 3.80s will be necessary to get past a loaded lineup that includes points leader Ron Capps, who has four wins this year and five career Brainerd victories. Johnson will also have to contend with the likes of 11-time Brainerd winner John Force, who has won back-to-back races in 2016, Jack Beckman, Courtney Force, reigning world champion Del Worsham, Matt Hagan, Hight and Tim Wilkerson.
Despite that considerable challenge, consider Johnson one of many who enjoy the unique atmosphere that Brainerd International Raceway presents.
“There’s a fun attitude about Brainerd and ‘The Zoo’ is legendary,” Johnson said. “It makes for a fun weekend all-around, and I’m going to go in with a fun and comfortable attitude. Looking at the forecast, the record book better be filled in with pencil.”
Crampton pushed his Lucas Oil dragster to the Winner’s Circle in Brainerd last season to claim his fourth victory of the year, but is still looking for his first win in 2016. Reigning world champ Antron Brown has a grip on the points lead and is putting together a strong championship defense, but looking to knock him off the top spot is three-time Brainerd winner and eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher, three-time 2016 winner Doug Kalitta, J.R. Todd, who won in Sonoma, Texan Steve Torrence, Brittany Force, Leah Pritchett and Shawn Langdon.
Pro Stock’s Erica Enders raced to her fifth victory of the 2015 season last year en route to her second consecutive world championship, but it’s been a different story in 2016. Enders is still after her first win, while Jason Line and Greg Anderson both have seven victories in what has been a dominant campaign for the teammates thus far. Others to watch in Pro Stock include four-time Brainerd winner Jeg Coughlin, Bo Butner, Allen Johnson, who won in Denver, 2015 top rookie Drew Skillman, Vincent Nobile, Chicago No. 1 qualifier Shane Gray and Texan Chris McGaha.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec powered to his third consecutive victory of the 2015 season last year at Brainerd International Raceway and is the current points leader. His teammate and reigning world champion Andrew Hines is right behind in second thanks to three victories this season. But the Pro Stock Motorcycle field and deep and talented, and features the likes of LE Tonglet, who won in Sonoma, Angelle Sampey, who recently won her first race since 2007 in Englishtown, N.J., Jerry Savoie, veteran Steve Johnson, Matt Smith, Hector Arana, Hector Arana Jr. and Chip Ellis.
The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
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 how the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Aug. 20, at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 21.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 218-824-RACE (7223) or 866-444-4455. Tickets also are available online at www.brainerdraceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
LUCAS OIL NHRA NATIONALS
WHAT: 35th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, the 17th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event.
WHERE: Brainerd International Raceway and Resort, Brainerd, Minn. Track is located a few miles north of the Brainerd area off Highway 371. The track is located on the east side of the highway.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 1,200 feet above sea level; Track direction is west to east.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 18-21
THURSDAY, Aug. 18 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Aug. 19 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 3 and 5:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, Aug. 20 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1 and 3:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, Aug. 21 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, Aug. 20, FS1 will televise thirty minutes of live coverage at 3 p.m. (ET).
Saturday, Aug. 20, FS1 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Aug. 21, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 2 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Richie Crampton, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, 11, FC; Joe Amato, 6, TF; Kenny Bernstein, 5, FC/TF; Antron Brown, 5, TF/PSM; Ron Capps, 5, FC; Bruce Allen, 4, PS; Jeg Coughlin, 4, PS; Bob Glidden, 4, PS; Kurt Johnson, 4, PS; Warren Johnson, 4, PS.
Top Fuel – 3.662 sec. by Shawn Langdon, Aug. ’15; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15.
Funny Car – 3.879 sec. and 329.58 mph by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’15.
Pro Stock – 6.541 sec. by Erica Enders, Aug. ’15; 211.39 mph by Shane Gray, Aug. ’15.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.788 sec. and 197.39 by Eddie Krawiec, Aug. ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.671 sec. by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.832 sec. by Del Worsham, Aug. ’16, Seattle; 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: Order tickets by phone at (218) 824-RACE (7223). Tickets also are available online at www.brainerdraceway.com.
About National Hot Rod Association
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 23 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates five racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville in Florida; National Trail Raceway in Ohio; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Source: National Hot Rod Association