BAYTOWN, TX – April 27, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – With just seven Pro Stock races under his belt heading into the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Alex Laughlin tried to keep expectations for his first full season within reason.
But with the potential that Laughlin has already seen in his Gas Monkey Garage Chevrolet Camaro this year, those goals are constantly being updated.
Laughlin picked up his first career round win earlier this year, quickly checking one item off his to-do list for 2016. That’s only led to more excitement and bigger hopes for the rest of the NHRA season, which continues this weekend for the Granbury, Texas native at the 29th annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway.
“It seems like our goals keep changing,” Laughlin said. “First it was to win a round, but now that we’ve done that ultimately I would love to end up getting a No. 1 qualifier and winning a race. That would be incredible.
“But one of our primary goals to make it to the (Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship). Even if we don’t win a race or qualify No. 1, being in the Countdown is definitely our No. 1 goal and we’ll worry about the rest after that.”
Last year’s winners were Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and local favorite Erica Enders (Pro Stock). The race will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), with qualifying highlights on April 29 at 8 p.m. and finals coverage on May 1 at 5 p.m. The tradition-rich race near Houston is the sixth of 24 races during the 2016 season and marks the first back-to-back racing weekend of the year.
Laughlin’s round win came in Gainesville, where he also qualified fourth, and the 27-year-old driver currently sits 10th in points. But Laughlin also feels the team is capable of much more, pointing to a number of struggles that have popped up during eliminations this season.
The team has qualified seventh in every other race besides Gainesville, but they haven’t been able to put it together on race day. Laughlin said the team stayed an extra day in Charlotte to test following the Four-Wide Nationals, and he believes significant progress was made.
“We are definitely headed in right direction,” Laughlin said. “We’ve just been having problems on Sundays. It seems like we perform well on Friday and Saturday and get a good qualifying spot, and then we just have trouble on Sunday for some reason.
“We decided to stay and test and figure out what was going on with the car. We ended up going 6.60 at 210 mph, which is the fastest we’ve gone. I think we’re on the right track at this point. Things played out pretty well and we liked what we saw with the changes.”
The new-look Pro Stock cars were also an adjustment for Laughlin, though he seems to be handling the new set-up that includes fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter.
He’s leaned on the likes of Shane Gray and the Gray Motorsports team, as well as Pro Stock veteran Larry Morgan for advice and help throughout this process. Laughlin also admitted that competing in the seven races a year ago helped in his transition to the new car.
“I think I would have just been completely lost if I would have just jumped right into these EFI engines,” Laughlin said. “Getting in the car last year definitely helped me a little bit. Gray Motorsports has been a huge help and those guys definitely know what they’re doing. Even in January, we didn’t really know where we were going to be. To be where we are now, we definitely can’t complain.”
Improvements have come rapidly, even if Laughlin knows plenty remain. He’ll face off against a loaded Pro Stock field in Houston, including last year’s winner and two-time defending world champion Enders.
Laughlin also has to contend with the Summit Racing Equipment tandem of points leader Jason Line and Greg Anderson, who have combined to win all five races in the new-look Pro Stock class. Other talented stars in the class include five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., Drew Skillman, last year’s top rookie, Bo Butner, Vincent Nobile, Allen Johnson and fellow Texan Chris McGaha.
But Laughlin expects to see improvement even from last weekend in Charlotte and he is also looking forward to competing close to home.
“I have definitely improved with reaction times,” Laughlin said. “I’m sure there are a ton of tricks out there and it just takes time to figure those out. You just have to be able to slow everything down and process what’s happening.
“There’s so many little nuances in all these, but I’m really looking forward to this weekend. It’s cool to have some of our family and friends out there and by the same sense it’s a little overwhelming. You want to give everyone the right amount of time, but it’s hard sometimes because you’re there to do a job and it’s good to stay in a routine.”
In Top Fuel, last year’s winner Doug Kalitta will attempt to tie Kenny Bernstein and Larry Dixon for the most class wins at Royal Purple Raceway with three. Others to watch include defending world champion Antron Brown, points leader Brittany Force, who picked up her second win this season last weekend in Charlotte, eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, Winternationals winner Steve Torrence, Richie Crampton, J.R. Todd and Shawn Langdon.
Capps earned his third Houston win in 2015 and already has a victory in 2016. Standing in his way of a fourth victory is star-studded Funny Car lineup, including 2014 SpringNationals winner and points leader Robert Hight, seven-time event winner John Force, defending world champion Del Worsham, Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Alexis DeJoria, two-time winner in 2016 Tim Wilkerson, Courtney Force, Chad Head, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Cruz Pedregon.
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 get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series and the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
The first round of Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will start at 4:30 p.m. on Friday followed by the night session that will begin at 7 p.m. The final two rounds of qualifying will take place Saturday, April 30 at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 1.
For the Friday night qualifying session there will be a special pre-race ceremony highlighting some of the nitro stars and will feature a special Ladies Night promotion. All female spectators will receive free admission with a reserved seat on the spectator side of the track. This offer is available for walk-up ticket purchases only. In another promotion, kids 13 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult ticket.
NHRA SPRINGNATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 29th annual NHRA SpringNationals, the sixth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. Competition also will be featured in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series and the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series.
WHERE: Royal Purple Raceway, Baytown, Texas. From Interstate 10 take the State Hwy. 99 (Grand Parkway) exit, which is exit 799. Take a right on State Hwy. 99 and go to the first exit (2 miles) which is FM 565. Take a right on FM 565 and Royal Purple Raceway will be on your right. For additional information about directions please visit www.royalpurpleraceway.com.
COURSE: Championship dragstrip; Track elevation is 10 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, April 29-May 1
FRIDAY, April 29 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 4 and 6 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, April 30 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2:30 p.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 5 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1 and 3:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, May 1 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Friday, April 29, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET).
Saturday, April 30, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at Midnight (ET).
Sunday, May 1, FS1 will televise three hours of finals coverage at 5 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Doug Kalitta, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock.
MOST WINS: John Force, 7, FC; Warren Johnson, 6, PS; Jeg Coughlin, 4, PS; Tony Pedregon, 4, FC; Kenny Bernstein, 3, TF; Ron Capps, 3, FC; Larry Dixon, 3, TF; Mike Edwards, 3, PS; Bob Glidden, 3, PS; Cruz Pedregon, 3, FC.
Top Fuel – 3.726 seconds by Tony Schumacher, April ’15; 330.07 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’15.
Funny Car – 3.988 seconds by Jack Beckman, April ’15; 320.81 mph by Matt Hagan, April ’15.
Pro Stock – 6.519 seconds by Jason Line, April ’15; 212.66 mph by Mike Edwards, April ’13.
Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.879 sec. by Jack Beckman, March ‘16, Gainesville, Fla.; 331.45 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
TICKETS: For tickets call (281) 383-RACE (7223). Tickets also available online at www.royalpurpleraceway.com.
NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, CA — Point standings (top 10) for NHRA professional categories following the fifth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –
1. Brittany Force, 428; 2. Antron Brown, 365; 3. Doug Kalitta, 344; 4. Clay Millican, 318; 5. Steve Torrence, 310; 6. J.R. Todd, 289; 7. (tie) Terry McMillen, 242; Tony Schumacher, 242; 9. Richie Crampton, 240; 10. Leah Pritchett, 220.
1. Robert Hight, 369; 2. Ron Capps, 361; 3. John Force, 352; 4. Tim Wilkerson, 334; 5. Courtney Force, 322; 6. Del Worsham, 318; 7. Jack Beckman, 307; 8. Alexis DeJoria, 277; 9. Chad Head, 270; 10. Cruz Pedregon, 238.
1. Jason Line, 583; 2. Greg Anderson, 481; 3. Bo Butner, 429; 4. Drew Skillman, 343; 5. Chris McGaha, 287; 6. Allen Johnson, 244; 7. (tie) Jeg Coughlin, 223; Erica Enders, 223; 9. Vincent Nobile, 209; 10. Alex Laughlin, 187.
Pro Stock Motorcycle:
1. Eddie Krawiec, 232; 2. Andrew Hines, 197; 3. Hector Arana, 154; 4. Chip Ellis, 135; 5. Jerry Savoie, 108; 6. LE Tonglet, 107; 7. Michael Ray, 104; 8. Matt Smith, 93; 9. Angelle Sampey, 92; 10. Jim Underdahl, 84.