BRAINERD, MN – August 18, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – Jim Underdahl knew there would be a learning curve when he rolled out his Suzuki Extended Protection motorcycle with a number of new changes for the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
What he didn’t expect was a season-long slump that has featured just one round win in the first eight events in Pro Stock Motorcycle, putting him currently outside the top 10 entering a critical point of the season.
There has been plenty of frustration along the way but that won’t stop the outpouring of support the Forest Lake, Minn., native will receive at this weekend’s 35th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. In fact, Underdahl, who is currently 15th in points, is hoping the large crowd of family and friends, who have had a designated spot at the track for years, will help provide the spark he needs to get his season turned around.
“We always get a pretty big crowd right past the finish line,” Underdahl said. “There’s usually about 10 motorhomes and buses parked there that are all family, friends and fans, and every time I go past them coming back to the trailer they’ve got the air horns going. It just shows they’re going to be there rooting me on whether we’re doing good or bad. Having them up there is always fun and it’s always a good time at Brainerd.”
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 Top Fuel final between Antron Brown and Steve Torrence, as well as the Funny Car final between Del Worsham and Ron Capps. Both final rounds will take place during the third round of qualifying.
The race is the ninth of 16 during the Pro Stock Motorcycle season, making it the penultimate race of the regular season before the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins. To advance to the NHRA’s six-race playoffs Underdahl knows he has work to do, currently sitting 72 points back of 10th-place Steve Johnson. A big performance this weekend in Brainerd and then at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals could provide a major swing for Underdahl, but things must come together quickly in Brainerd.
“There’s always a chance to make that top 10 and we want to go out there and go rounds,” said Underdahl, who finished ninth in points a season ago. “We figured out some things in Sonoma and that brought the whole team up. We’re trying our hardest to get into that top 10 and not being in it isn’t for a lack of effort. If it happens, we’ll be excited, but if it doesn’t we can always go out and spoil some people’s days, and maybe win a race.”
The 30-year-old Underdahl would love for his first career Pro Stock Motorcycle win to happen at his home track, one he has been going to for nearly 25 years with his dad, former Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor Greg Underdahl.
His dad continues to be with him every step of the way, which has been extremely beneficial in a season filled with this much frustration. They debuted a new bike with a new fuel injection system this year, and the learning process has been immense. It comes on the heels of eight straight first-round losses to end 2015, including an opening-round defeat last year at Brainerd, which means Underdahl is ready to taste some success.
“He’s always been there for me and my dad helps me through everything,” Underdahl said. “It’s been frustrating because you always want to do well. It’s been hard to step back and keep learning still, but that’s just the competitive side of me. It’s been a big learning curve. We’ve been trying a lot of new things and hopefully we’re now headed in the right direction.”
It won’t be easy in Brainerd competing against a deep and talented Pro Stock Motorcycle field that includes defending event winner Krawiec, who is the current points leader. Other standouts in the two-wheeled class include reigning world champion Andrew Hines, who has three wins in 2016, L.E. Tonglet, who won in Sonoma, Englishtown winner Angelle Sampey, Jerry Savoie, veteran Steve Johnson, Matt Smith, Hector Arana, Hector Arana Jr. and Chip Ellis.
But Underdahl saw glimpses of potential at the most recent race in Sonoma, which he hopes is a preview of a memorable performance in Brainerd.
“We learned some things in Sonoma and we’re starting to get to the right area,” Underdahl said. “We finally started seeing our back half numbers come back and in Sonoma we saw our short numbers get better. Hopefully we’ll put those two together and make some good runs this weekend.”
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.
In Funny Car, Hight defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. here one year ago to notch his first victory of the 2015 season. Everyone is chasing points leader Ron Capps, who has four wins in 2016, but Capps, who has five Brainerd victories, will have his hands full. He will deal with a loaded class that includes 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 and Tim Wilkerson.
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.
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