Compiled by SEMA Editors
NHRA DRIVERS VISITING PLAYOFF MARKETS AS PART OF COUNTDOWN KICKOFF MEDIA TOUR: Six NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship contenders and one playoff spoiler hit the road, Wednesday, September 16, to provide a preview of the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship in each of the six markets that will host a round of the playoffs. Top Fuel drivers Richie Crampton, Brittany Force and J.R. Todd, along with Funny Car drivers Jack Beckman, John Force and Cruz Pedregon are the championship contenders who will be featured in NHRA’s first Countdown Kickoff Media Tour. Countdown spoiler Courtney Force, who won two Countdown playoff races last season and just missed on advancing to the playoffs this season, also will participate in the Countdown Kickoff. Each of the drivers above will travel to one of the six markets, where he or she will participate in media interviews with television, newspaper and radio stations, pose for photo opportunities at the racetrack and local landmarks, and participate in a variety of social media events, among other activities. NHRA fans who want to keep track of each of the Countdown Kickoff Media Tour drivers can follow on NHRA’s social media channels using the hashtag #CountdownFever.
FORCE SAYS THANK YOU TO NASCAR GREAT JEFF GORDON WITH TRIBUTE FUNNY CAR: John Force’s memories of Jeff Gordon go back to the early ’90s, when the two drivers were just getting started on their impressive championship runs. As Gordon wraps up a legendary career at the end of this season, Force wanted to say thank you to Gordon in a way that only the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion could—with a fully flamed Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car. Force will run the Funny Car for one race—the NHRA Carolina Nationals—starting September 18.
“I got the idea for the flames from Jeff telling me years ago he was a fan because I was always on fire. He was right; when I got started, we were on fire from here to Australia. I always enjoyed seeing Jeff at races and award banquets. The guy was just so polite and professional, but you knew he had the eye of the tiger, too. You don’t win all those championships on your good looks. This special Funny Car is just a way for me, my family, my team, my sponsors, NHRA and the fans to say thank you for being a great champion and being such a great driver in NASCAR. I put as many flames as my designer Brandon [Baker] could fit on my hot rod in Jeff’s honor,” said Force, who will unveil the Funny Car on Friday at the NHRA Carolina Nationals.
In addition to recognizing Gordon’s racing success, Force wanted to say thank you for the many times the pair of Chevrolet drivers shared a stage or autograph line throughout the years. Force met Gordon in the early ’90s, when they were seated next to each other at an end-of-season awards banquet. Gordon admitted to Force he was a little nervous about speaking to a big crowd, and Force gave the young driver some humorous advice to get him through the event. Those tips worked for Gordon, and he has recounted this story many times throughout the years, to Force’s amusement.
KALITTA MOTORSPORTS PARTNERS WITH JIMI HENDRIX FOUNDATION: Kalitta Motorsports has announced a partnership with the Jimi Hendrix Foundation for the remainder of the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. The Jimi Hendrix Foundation will be the primary partner on J.R. Todd’s Top Fuel entry in the first three events of the Countdown to the Championship. The scheme will be unveiled on September 18—the 45th anniversary of the passing of the legendary musician—in front of the zMAX Dragway tower.
“What an awesome way to start our chase at the title,” said Todd. “Hendrix was an amazing musician, and I am excited to be able to represent this foundation and educate people on the Music for Life program.”
Todd will run the Jimi Hendrix Foundation Top Fuel dragster at events in Charlotte, St. Louis and Reading. The Jimi Hendrix Foundation will be an associate partner with longtime Team Kalitta sponsors Red Line Oil and Optima Batteries through the balance of the 2015 schedule.
“The Jimi Hendrix Foundation is very pleased and excited to be working with a true pioneer of racing, Connie Kalitta. An association with Kalitta Motorsports is an honor and privilege that will take the Jimi Hendrix Foundation to new heights of visibility, launching its new visions and programs to help young adults, musicians and veterans,” said Joe Rosignolo, CEO/president, Jimi Hendrix Foundation. “We greatly appreciate the support of all those on the Kalitta team. J.R. Todd piloting the Jimi Hendrix Foundation Top Fuel dragster is the winning combination that will give ‘Racers and Rockers’ something to talk about.”
He Said, She Said
“We made the top 10, but I don’t feel like we’re going to stop now. You never know what’s going to happen with these cars, but hopefully we can get on a streak. You get some momentum and who knows what can happen. Every round is important, and you try not to treat anything different, but in our position, we have to race a little more aggressive. But I feel like we’ve got a great team and great crew chief and we’re going to give it our best effort.”
—Top Fuel racer Dave Connolly on defying the odds and advancing to the final round at Indy to earn the 10th and final seed in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
6: And then there were six. Only six races remain in the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, and those six are the pivotal Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoff rounds. The post-season action starts this weekend with the opening round during the NHRA Carolina Nationals at spectacular zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, North Carolina, then moves on to St. Louis for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, September 25–27, and then finishes a quick three in a row at the NHRA Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania, October 4–7. After a one-week break, the playoffs resume at the famed Texas Motorplex, October 15–18 for the AAA Texas NHRA Fallnationals, then the tour heads west for the penultimate race—the NHRA Toyota Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, October 29–November 1. NHRA Mello Yello world champions will be crowned at the season finale, November 12–15, at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, California.
STOFFER SECURES FUNDING TO RUN IN THE COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP: On the eve of the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoff to determine season champions, popular Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Karen Stoffer has secured the funding that will enable her and crew chief/husband Gary to continue their pursuit of the Mello Yello championship. The Stoffers have announced a six-race agreement with BIG St. Charles Motorsports—a leading motorcycle, ATV and watercraft dealer located in St. Charles, Missouri. They now plan to race their 198-mph Suzuki in all six Countdown events in Charlotte, St. Louis, Reading, Dallas, Las Vegas and Pomona.
“As recently as last week in Indy, our future plans were up in the air,” said Stoffer. “We were only committed to the last two events in Las Vegas and Pomona. We’d spent our complete budget for the season, and we weren’t going to the other four which, obviously, meant that we weren’t going to be able to compete for the championship. At Indy, we were approached by Brad Holzhauer of BIG St. Charles Motorsports and we were able to come to an agreement. Obviously, we’re very happy to have them aboard and there is nothing we’d like more than to be able to deliver a championship for them.”
Following a pair of impressive wins this season in Gainesville and Norwalk, Stoffer entered the Countdown to the Championship as the No. 5 seed. Stoffer will begin the Countdown just 60 points behind top seed Eddie Krawiec.
“We’ve had a great season so far and it would have been a shame if we couldn’t have finished what we started, but the reality is that Karen and I weren’t going to mortgage the house in order to go racing,” added Gary. “For most of this season we’ve been going race-to-race and being very conservative with our set-up because we couldn’t afford to hurt an engine. Now, it’s nice to have a little stability in our program. Karen and I can go out and focus on winning as many rounds as possible over these last six races. This is really an exciting time for us.”