CHANDLER, AZ – February 22, 2017 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – After a busy and what he thought was a productive off-season, Allen Johnson didn’t come out with the bang he hoped for to start the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. The former Pro Stock world champion is determined to not let that become a trend starting at a track that has been home to previous success.
Johnson won at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in 2014 and 2005, and is eager to get his 2017 season jumpstarted in his Marathon Petroleum/J&J Racing Dodge Dart at this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals.
“We thought we had a successful off-season but we spent all our time on the dyno and not at the track,” Johnson said. “When we got to the track (at the season-opener in Pomona), it kicked us in the butt. We basically had to backtrack and get back to our foundation for Phoenix. The off-season didn’t provide us with a lot other than what not to do.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the race that will once again be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1). Qualifying will air on FS1 on both Friday and Saturday, with Sunday’s finals starting at 6 p.m. EST.
Johnson’s baseline for what not to do came after a weekend of struggles in Pomona that saw him qualify 13th and bow out in the opening round. That wasn’t what he had anticipated following an off-season where he felt the team had made significant improvements. The team had to adjust a year ago to the redesigned Pro Stock class and Johnson never could find his footing, finishing eighth in the points standings.
The struggles at Pomona weren’t ideal, but Johnson, who has 27 career wins, remains confident his team is a championship contender despite the bumps in the road.
“We’ve got the same team and it’s a good team,” Johnson said. “We’re really fighting the engine combination still. The low RPM change really hurts the Hemi engines. We’re just doing everything we can to try to get more torque out of them. That’s why we were so bad at the first race.”
But a strong weekend in Phoenix could provide the turnaround Johnson is after. An early-season triumph can provide a considerable boost, especially if it comes by knocking off defending event winner and reigning world champion Jason Line.
The win last year at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park was Line first of eight last year and his 2017 started just as strong, winning in Pomona. Johnson is after the same momentum, knowing how much early success can carry over to the rest of the season. But along with Line, Johnson will also have to deal with the rest of a talented Pro Stock class that includes Line’s teammate and four-time world champ Greg Anderson, five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., two-time world champion Erica Enders, Chris McGaha, Drew Skillman, Bo Butner and Vincent Nobile.
“A win early in the season can boost our momentum and give us a solid foundation under us and that makes it easier to progress forward all year,” Johnson said. “When you have that solid foundation, it makes it easier to make gains all throughout the season and that’s what we’re seeking to get back to in Phoenix. It’s very crucial to have that solid foundation and build the blocks on top of that solid foundation and then you can progress from there. It’s so crucial.”
Leah Pritchett’s first career Top Fuel win came at Phoenix a year and she started 2017 great, qualifying No. 1 and winning in Pomona. She’ll have her hands full against the likes of back-to-back world champ Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, Steve Torrence, Tony Schumacher and Brittany Force.
Tim Wilkerson knocked off eight-time event winner John Force in the Funny Car final round in 2016. He’ll contend for a repeat win against the likes of reigning world champ Ron Capps, Del Worsham, Jack Beckman, Pomona winner Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Robert Hight.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, Nitro Harleys and exhibition passes by Jet Cars. 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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:30 and 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 25, also at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
NHRA ARIZONA NATIONALS
WHAT: 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals, the second 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 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz. Track is located off Interstate 10 at exit 162. Follow the signs.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Feb. 24-26.
FRIDAY, Feb. 24 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.
SATURDAY, Feb. 25 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.
SUNDAY, Feb. 26 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Sunday, Feb. 26, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise three hours of finals coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).
2016 EVENT WINNERS: Leah Pritchett, Top Fuel; Tim Wilkerson, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, FC- 8; Bob Glidden, PS- 5; Tony Schumacher, TF- 5; Jack Beckman, FC- 3; Kenny Bernstein, TF-FC- 3;
Antron Brown, TF-3; Ron Capps, FC-3; Larry Dixon, TF- 3; Cory McClenathan, TF- 3; Darrell Alderman, PS- 3; Kurt Johnson, PS- 3; Warren Johnson, PS- 3.
Top Fuel – 3.716 seconds by Doug Kalitta Feb. ’16; 329.91 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ’13.
Funny Car – 3.905 seconds by Robert Hight, Feb. ’16; 327.11 mph by Hight, Feb. ’16.
Pro Stock – 6.498 seconds by Mike Edwards, Feb. ’13; 213.77 mph by Mike Edwards, Feb. ’13.
Top Fuel – 3.671 sec. by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.822 by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by 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.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets.
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 24 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 program 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; Gainesville Raceway 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