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U.S. Nats Preview: DeJoria Says She’s Back, And Just In Time

| , RacinToday.com Friday, September 1 2017

Alexis DeJoria heads to the biggest drag race in the world with much-needed momentum.

RacinToday.com

With NHRA’s postseason looming, Alexis DeJoria believes she’s finally got her groove back at 1,000-feet.

DeJoria‘s first victory of the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season on Aug. 20 at Brainerd International Raceway propelled her from 14th to 10th in the Funny Car point standings. DeJoria exited the Minnesota facility with a 12-point lead over Cruz Pedregon, one of a handful of drivers still mathematically eligible for the season-ending Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

That 10th and final Countdown spot will be determined during this weekend’s 63rd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals _ “The Big Go” _ at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in Clermont, Ind.

The 2014 U.S. Nats winner, DeJoria bumped Pedregon from the 10th spot with her win. But Pedregon, a two-time world champion, remains within one round (20 points) of the leader heading to the world’s biggest drag race. Jim Campbell (40 points back), Jonnie Lindberg (53 points out of 10th) and former world champ Del Worsham (60 points back) all are within range of DeJoria.

“Winning Brainerd was a huge morale boost for our team,” said DeJoria, driver of the Kalitta Motorsports Camry. “It definitely gave us a step up in confidence and came at a great time. Obviously we’re not safe in the top-10, so we’re just going to be focused on putting one foot in front of the other. We’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves. We just want to enjoy every moment and hope for the best. A lot of people are gunning for that 10th spot right now so we’ll see what happens.”

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be broadcast on FOX and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including a live broadcast of finals on both FOX and FS1 on Monday, Sept. 4. Drag racing’s oldest event is the 18th of 24 races and the finale of NHRA’s regular season. The six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship will be contested at O. Bruton Smith’s zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., from Sept. 15-17.

Heading into the U.S. Nats, point leaders in the professional categories are three-time/reigning champion Antron Brown (Top Fuel), defending champion Ron Capps (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and 2010 world champ LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

DeJoria has rebounded after early-season struggles and missing three races. “I really can’t say enough about the guys that I work with,” DeJoria said. “It trickles down from the top. (Co-crew chiefs) Nicky (Boninfante) and Tommy (DeLago) have been doing an incredible job chipping away at it. We’re getting better and better. The guys are strong and resilient. They’ve been through a lot and we’re still standing. I have a lot of faith in this team right now.”

A point-and-a-half system will be in play this weekend. Pedregon, a three-time U.S. Nats winner, is eager to redeem himself after an early exit in Brainerd bumped him to 11th in points.

“We’re looking forward to it and the challenge, and to see how we stack up,” said Pedregon, driver of the Snap-on Tools Toyota. “For us, it’s about consistent performances. Every run is going to be important. Without consistent runs, it’s hard to make the car go fast enough to outrun people. The people hovering around this spot are all good cars, so consistency is what I’m looking for.”

Campbell has excelled in his first full season driving for Funny Car pioneer Jim Dunn, while rookie Lindberg advanced to two final rounds early in the season, continuing to stay in the top-10 mix. Worsham has struggled at times during a 2017 season that has seen him return to racing with his father, Chuck Worsham. But the native Californian is capable of dialing up something big in Indy, where he won in 2005.

Campbell, meanwhile, indicated he is poised to shock his peers on drag racing’s biggest stage. “I’m absolutely looking forward to this,” Campbell said. “We need to go at least two rounds. One, we need to qualify and, two, we need to go rounds if we want to get in that top-10 spot. But I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited. This is the Super Bowl of drag racing and to be in contention, racing in a sport with the best drivers in the world, I couldn’t be more excited to have a shot.”

Top Fuel’s Schumacher etched his name in U.S. Nationals history a year ago, becoming the first NHRA driver to reach 10 wins at the prestigious race. The eight-time world champion will look to add to his legacy against point-leader Brown _ his Don Schumacher Racing teammate _ and six-time 2017 winner Steve Torrence.

McGaha’s first Indy win in Pro Stock was registered a year ago. Four-time world champion Greg Anderson has six wins in the event, second only to Indiana native Bob Glidden’s nine. Butner, Anderson’s Ken Black Racing Chevy Camaro teammate, is the “Factory Hot Rod” point leader.

Hines, a five-time world champion who picked up his second Indy win in 2016, is seeking his first victory of 2017 aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod. Former world champ and 2010 Indy winner Tonglet has been dominant this year, winning five races aboard his Suzuki, but will have to hold off reigning world champ and teammate Jerry Savoie, three-time world champ Eddie Krawiec and his H-D and two-time word champ Matt Smith and his Victory.

Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series also will look to become winners. The fastest Super Stock cars will challenge for ultimate bragging rights and bonus purse during the Mopar HEMI Challenge. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the Muy Caliente Racing jet dragsters sponsored by Lucas Oil and the Larsen Motorsports jet dragsters sponsored by Florida Tech and Matrix System. Jet cars are thrust-driven, propelled by jet engines with pre-run flame shows.

A special Monday edition of the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk also will take place prior to final eliminations, where many of the sport’s marquee drivers will walk alongside fans down the historic dragstrip. Fan-favorite vintage race cars will be on display in the Hot Rod Junction, along with several autograph sessions featuring the biggest stars of the sport.

The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is set for 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 1. Sessions are set for Saturday, Sept. 2, at 2:30 and 6:15 p.m., with the final two qualifying sessions booked for Sunday, Sept. 3, at 11:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 4.

FOX’s national network and FOX Sports 1 will televise coverage starting with qualifying on Sunday, Sept. 3, on FS1 at noon and 5 p.m. (EST). The broadcasts continue on FS1 with two hours of live coverage of eliminations on Monday, Sept. 4, starting at 11 a.m. (EST), continuing live on FOX at 1 p.m. (EST).

Tickets can be purchased by calling the NHRA Ticket Sales Center at (800) 884-NHRA (6472), or online at 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 visit www.NHRA.com.

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Former U.S. Nationals champion Richie Crampton has been selected to drive the SealMaster Top Fuel dragster for Kalitta Motorsports, immediately and curiously replacing rookie Troy Coughlin Jr.

Crampton will begin his tenure Friday at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and remain in the seat for the balance of the season. Specifically, Crampton is replacing Coughlin, who stood 10th in points and therefore eligible for the six-race Countdown to the Championship heading into Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in Clermont, Ind.

Kalitta Motorsports announced earlier this week that Coughlin had “removed himself” from the seat of the SealMaster car, citing a desire to get more experience in the Top Alcohol Dragster ranks. The third-generation driver has been racing the Kalitta entry for the first 17 races of the 2017 season.

“I want to thank everyone at Kalitta Motorsports for such an incredible opportunity,” Coughlin said in a statement. “It was a dream come true to race for Connie Kalitta and Jim Oberhofer. My teammates, Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon, Alexis DeJoria and JR Todd as well as everyone at SealMaster have been 
extremely supportive.

“Obviously, my rookie year hasn’t turned out like we wanted but everyone showed incredible faith in what we were doing and my development as a driver. I just want to take a step back and get some more seat time in an injected nitro dragster.”

Crampton scored his U.S. Nationals win during his rookie season in 2014 on his way to the Auto Club Road To The Future Award. In 2015, Crampton earned five victories and finished third in the final point standings. In 72 career events, Crampton has earned seven victories, five poles and 70 career round-wins.

“It was a huge honor to get the call from Jim O. (Oberhofer) asking if I could finish out the year with the team,” Crampton said. “Connie Kalitta is a legend, and for me to get an opportunity like this is unreal. I’m excited to jump into the SealMaster Toyota dragster and see what we can do. I never knew if I was going to be able to drive a Top Fuel dragster again, so I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity.”

Crampton began his NHRA career in 2007 as a crew member at Morgan Lucas Racing, eventually graduating to clutch specialist and car chief. However, Crampton had the desire to drive. Morgan Lucas Racing put Crampton in a Top Fuel ride in 2014.

“After talking with Connie Kalitta and SealMaster, we decided Richie Crampton would make a good fit to fill the seat of the SealMaster dragster,” said Oberhofer, vice president of operations, Kalitta Motorsports. “His driving experience as well as his overall knowledge of the dragster will make him a valuable asset to Kalitta Motorsports. We were happy he was available to race in Indy.”

Oberhofer, Coughlin’s crew chief, said he  understood the rookie’s situation. “Kalitta Motorsports fully supports Troy Jr.’s decision to take a step towards growing as a driver and will help him in any way possible to reach his goals,” Oberhofer said. “His action shows remarkable character; doing what it takes to become the best.”

The son of two-time Pro Mod world champ Troy Coughlin, Troy Jr. is a five-time NHRA national event winner and the first third-generation Coughlin to win a major event. Troy Jr. won Super Comp titles at the 2009 Las Vegas race and the 2010 U.S. Nationals and the Gainesville event in 2013. He also won a pair of national events in 2014 at the U.S. Nationals and the JEGS Northern SPORTSnationals.

Troy Jr. was the 2013 NHRA North Central Division Super Gas champion. During his career, Troy Jr. has appeared in nine Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional final rounds and has claimed 
three victories.

In addition to his success in NHRA events, Troy Jr. also is regarded as one of the sport’s best E.T. bracket racers. He has accumulated several major victories including a $25,000 payday at the Atco Dragway Superbucks event and a $10,000 win the Spring Buck Blast at South Georgia 
Motorsports Park.

“I hope to be drag racing my entire life so this is not the end by any means,” Troy Jr. said. “This is just something I felt I needed to do at this time. I’ll be back racing in the Sportsman ranks very soon.”

SealMaster, the pavement maintenance industry’s one-stop source for materials, products and equipment, will continue to back Kalitta Motorsports as Crampton’s primary sponsor. SealMaster has been a partner of the Kalitta Motorsports family since 2014 and a primary sponsor since 2016.

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Courtney Force and Terry McMillen secured No. 8 positions in the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout following a special lottery drawing held in downtown Indianapolis previewing the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and the lucrative specialty event.

Force, the defending Shootout Funny Car winner, has yet to win a race this year. But Force earned the most fan votes with 50 percent and will face top-seeded Ron Capps, the reigning world champion, in Sunday’s first-round matching John Force Racing vs Don Schumacher Racing. Force has raced in the event five times and took home the victory last year as the fifth seed.

“I want to thank the fans because I wouldn’t be able to have this opportunity if not for them,” said Force, driver of the Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS. “I’m really excited for my team and I can’t wait to get started in the Traxxas Shootout as we try to win this again.”

McMillen, who also won last year’s Shootout fan vote, defeated Scott Palmer in this year’s Top Fuel fan vote lottery. McMillen earned the spot with 55 percent of the votes cast. He will meet top seed Antron Brown of DSR in the first round Saturday.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling and I can’t thank all the fans enough who voted for us,” McMillen said. “It’s been a tremendous ride to get into the top-10 and now have the opportunity to race in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout once again.”

Selection of the drivers was the culmination of a process that started Aug. 20. All drivers in both categories who had competed in each race this season but were not a part of the seven qualified drivers for each Traxxas Nitro Shootout were eligible for the fan vote/lottery. Fan voting took place on NHRA’s Facebook page and lasted until Aug. 29. The fan voting determined how many lottery balls were assigned to each driver for the drawing.

The Shootout for Top Fuel will be contested on Saturday, Sept. 2, with rounds at 3:45, 5:45 and 7:40 p.m. The Shootout for Funny Car will be contested Sunday, Sept. 3, with rounds at 12:45, 2:45 and 4:40 p.m. The Shootout will be covered by FOX Sports 1 and FOX networks.

In other first-round pairings in Top Fuel, Steve Torrence, a six-time winner this season, will face Bristol winner Clay Millican; four-time winner Leah Pritchett will race Doug Kalitta and Tony Schumacher, who won in Gainesville, will face Epping winner Brittany Force. Schumacher is the defending Shootout winner in Top Fuel.

In the three other Funny Car first-round pairings, two-time winner Robert Hight will go up against Denver winner J.R. Todd; three-time winner Matt Hagan will be pitted against Gainesville winner John Force and Las Vegas winner Tommy Johnson Jr. will race two-time winner “Fast” Jack Beckman.

The winning drivers each will receive $100,000.

SATURDAY’S TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT (TOP FUEL)

FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS (3:45 p.m.) _1. Antron Brown vs. No. 8 Terry McMillen; 2. Steve Torrence vs. No. 7 Clay Millican; 3. Leah Pritchett vs. No. 6 Doug Kalitta; 4. Tony Schumacher vs. No. 5 Brittany Force.

SUNDAY’S TRAXXAS NITRO SHOOTOUT (FUNNY CAR)

FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS (12:45 p.m.) _1. Ron Capps vs. No. 8 Courtney Force; 2. Robert Hight vs. No. 7 J.R. Todd; 3. Matt Hagan vs. No. 6 John Force; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. No. 5 Jack Beckman.

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Veteran Mopar campaigner Allen Johnson, the 2012 NHRA Pro Stock world champion, has scheduled a press conference for Friday regarding his plans for the 2018 Mello Yello season. Johnson, currently campaigning the Marathon Petroleum Corporation/J&J Racing Dodge Dart, is ninth in the point standings.

The session will be conducted in the Raceway Media Center Conference Room at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, and will be carried live on Allen Johnson Racing’s Facebook page starting at 3 p.m. (EST).

In addition, Kalitta Motorsports and Global Electronic Technology will unveil plans for its 2018 NHRA season during a presser at 6 p.m. featuring  driver Shawn Langdon; Steve Bryson, founder/CEO, Global Electronic Technology; Samantha Bryson, executive vice president, Global Electronic Technology and
Jim Oberhofer, vice president of operations, Kalitta Motorsports.

The press conference also will be carried live on the Kalitta Motorsports Facebook page.

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Australian Pro Stock driver Shane Tucker will give the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals a global footprint this weekend.

“The U.S. Nationals is obviously one of the most prestigious races in North America,” Tucker said. “When you’re someone that isn’t from the States, you look to North America to be the pinnacle and this race is always a big deal for us. We’re very fortunate to be able to race the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals again this year.”

Tucker’s Auzmet Architectural Chevrolet Camaro made laps during a test session at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. on Monday but Shane was not behind the wheel. Former Pro Stock driver turned tuner Tommy Lee made runs in Tucker’s car to prepare for this weekend’s race.

“My dad (former Australian Pro Stock driver Rob Tucker) has put some good people in place at the shop to put our best foot forward,” Tucker said. “You can’t put a price tag on experience and with people like Tommy Lee and Terry Seng from Australia’s Paramount Performance, we really have a good thing going.

“We tested very well this week and hopefully that showed signs of how we’ll do in qualifying. It’s going to be a tough field this weekend. There’s 21 cars trying to make their way into the field and I think maybe 16 of those cars can run within four or five hundredths of each other; it’s going to be really tough.”

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A record nine hours of live multi-platform coverage will be delivered by FOX Sports and the NHRA during the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

“We’re thrilled to bring our fans the most live coverage ever from a single NHRA event,” said Ken Adelson, NHRA VP of Broadcasting & Chief Content Officer. “As our drivers and teams battle for points and positioning in the last race before the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, fans for the first time can follow the action live on both Sunday and Monday from ‘The World’s Biggest Drag Race.’^”

Veteran broadcaster Dave Rieff will handle play-by-play from drag racing’s longest-running Labor Day event, with two-time Funny Car world champion Tony Pedregon offering analysis. Jamie Howe and Bruno Massel report from the pits, with John Kernan and Amanda Busick providing feature coverage.

On the production side, the Lucas Oil helicopter will provide aerial shots on Sunday and Monday, with SMT virtual graphics included across multiple offerings, including the Finish Line, Player Cards, Telestrator and Virtual Tracking Lines.

“There are several annual motorsports events that deliver another level of energy for fans and for television audiences and the U.S. Nationals certainly is one of them,” said Frank Wilson, FOX Sports VP of Production. “And when you are launching hot rods peaking at 11,000 horsepower every weekend like the NHRA does, that’s saying something.”

Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on FOX: (all times Eastern and subject to change):

         Sunday, Sept. 3 – Qualifying (Noon to 2 p.m., Live, FS1)

         Sunday, Sept. 3 – Qualifying (5 to 7 p.m., Live, FS1)

         Monday, Sept. 4 – Final Rounds (11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Live, FS1)

        Monday, Sept. 4 – Final Rounds (1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Live, FOX)

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Point standings (top-10) heading into qualifying Friday for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals:

Top Fuel _1. Antron Brown, 1,513; 2. Steve Torrence, 1,482; 3. Leah Pritchett, 1,453; 4. Tony Schumacher, 1,121; 5. Brittany Force, 1,052; 6. Doug Kalitta, 1,038; 7. Clay Millican, 1,014; 8. Terry McMillen, 722; 9. Scott Palmer, 649; 10. Troy Coughlin Jr., 576.

Funny Car _1. Ron Capps, 1,383; 2. Robert Hight, 1,247; 3. Matt Hagan, 1,214; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 1,180; 5. Jack Beckman, 1,160; 6. Courtney Force, 1,012; 7. John Force, 954; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 792; 9. J.R. Todd, 788; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 664.

Pro Stock _1. Bo Butner, 1,526; 2. Tanner Gray, 1,300; 3. Greg Anderson, 1,263; 4. Jason Line, 1,123; 5. Drew Skillman, 1,089; 6. Erica Enders, 1,044; 7. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 1,006; 8. Vincent Nobile, 899; 9. Allen Johnson, 657; 10. Chris McGaha, 645.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. LE Tonglet, 874; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 690; 3. Jerry Savoie, 655; 4. Hector Arana Jr., 632; 5. Matt Smith, 581; 6. Andrew Hines, 529; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 528; 8. Joey Gladstone, 427; 9. Karen Stoffer, 408; 10. Angie Smith, 394.

| , RacinToday.com Friday, September 1 2017
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