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Pandemic Forces Cancelation of Arizona NHRA Event

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 19 2021

The Arizona Nationals have been canceled.

COVID-19-related restrictions in the Phoenix area have prompted NHRA officials to cancel the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. The national event in Chandler, Ariz., originally was scheduled for April 23-25 as Round 5 of the 22-race 2021 Camping World Drag Racing Series.

In making the announcement from its headquarters in Glendora, Calif., NHRA President Glen Cromwell indicated the sanctioning body is optimistic the opening “will be filled with an event at a facility that has not hosted a national event before.”

The Gila River community, track and NHRA officials mutually agreed to cancel the event primarily based upon COVID-19-related issues.

“We’ll miss our annual stop at Wild Horse Pass, but we’re working on new options for 2021,” Cromwell said in a news release. “We hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another one of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks. We’ve gotten interest by other tracks in adding an event to the schedule. We’re not sure if this is possible for 2021, but we’re definitely looking into it.”

The 2020 Arizona Nats were run Feb. 21-23, shortly before the schedule was shut down until mid-July by the pandemic. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) emerged with Wally trophies as respective professional class winners.

“We have enjoyed being host to the NHRA Arizona Nationals for the past 36 years,” said Mark Grado, general manager of Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. “However, due to many circumstances beyond our control, including current COVID-19 restrictions, unfortunately the event is not feasible for the 2021 season.”

NHRA is aiming to rebound from a 2020 campaign that was particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. The originally announced 24-race tour was revised, realigned and reduced to 11 national events by season’s end. In addition to losing more than half of its original schedule and the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs to the pandemic, 16-time Funny Car world champion John “Brute” Force _ arguably drag racing’s marquee personality _ parked his four-car juggernaut (two in Funny Car/two in Top Fuel) once racing resumed in mid-July. 

NHRA management later imposed two reductions in prize money payouts in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Meanwhile, a legal battle between the sanctioning body and corporate partner Coca-Cola resulted in Mello Yello’s exit as series title sponsor. The rebadged NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series was introduced mid-race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis, in early October.

NHRA enters 2021 aligned with Camping World _ the nation’s largest retailer of recreational vehicles, RV accessories and RV-related services _ and an extended television partnership with FOX Sports. All national events will be aired exclusively on FOX Sports, with select events on the FOX broadcast network.

NHRA will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2021, one year after honoring the 50th anniversary of the Pro Stock class. Special features along the tour will commemorate the latest milestone and honor NHRA’s history of competition and diversity. 

“We’re grateful to the loyal NHRA fans and other members of the racing community who have stuck with us during the trying times of the 2020 season,” Cromwell said. “We’re looking forward to an exciting season of championship drag racing with fans in 2021. Thank you to our fans, racers, track operators and partners for your continued support and cooperation.”

For the first time, the NHRA season will kick off on the East Coast with the 52nd annual Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in Florida on March 11-14.  

The traditional series opener, the 61st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., has been moved to April 9-11 as part of a two-week spring stretch on the West Coast. The Winternationals will be followed by the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas, the first of two four-wide events during the 2021 campaign.

NHRA’s famed Western Swing, a three-race summer tradition, again will include events at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., near Denver; Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash., near Seattle, over consecutive weeks.

The sport’s biggest race, the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals, remains in its traditional slot over Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 1-5, at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Ind., outside Indianapolis.

NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs _ featuring the top 10 racers in the four professional categories competing over six races _ will lead into the season-ending 56th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 12-14, at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. 

Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., near Chicago, is not scheduling any drag racing events in 2021 and has been dropped from the track lineup.

Championship-winning crew chief Mike Green has joined Justin Ashley Racing as tuner on the Strutmasters.com/Auto Shockers Top Fuel dragster for the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. The move pairs Green with Ashley, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year and winner of the Summernationals.

“Adding Mike Green to our team provides us with an opportunity to take our program to the next level,” said Ashley, 25. “Mike is a championship-winning crew chief with a championship-winning mentality. It’s a perfect fit. I’m grateful to Mike for deciding to join our racing family. I’m looking forward to learning from his invaluable knowledge and experience throughout the season. Our goal is to race together for many years.”

Green replaces veteran tuner Aaron Brooks, who guided Ashley to his first win and a strong seventh-place point finish in the final point standings topped by three-time/reigning world champion Steve Torrence.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect and gratitude for Aaron on a personal and professional level,” Ashley said. “I have known Aaron for a long time and my feelings about him will never change. He’s an outstanding crew chief and a great person. We accomplished a lot together during a short period of time. I’m looking forward to watching him have continued success in the sport for years to come.”

Green began last season as tuner of the Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist dragster wheeled by 2019 Rookie of the Year Austin Prock at John Force Racing.  Green previously served as crew chief on eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher’s dragster and also spent time in Don Schumacher Racing’s machine and fabrication shops.

“Justin has great ability and he has proven himself,” Green said. “I just really love his attitude and how dedicated he is to driving. I worked with Tony Schumacher for a long time and there is a lot to driving these race cars. There is the burnout, how you back up, staging and everything else once you take the (Christmas) tree _ Justin has been really good at all of it. I’m looking forward to working with him, Dustin Davis and the rest of the team.”

Before joining DSR prior to the 2008 season, Green worked at Don Prudhomme Racing, Darrell Gwynn Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. As crew chief, Green had led drivers to 50 wins _ nine in Funny Car and 36 No. 1 qualifying positions. Green’s Top Fuel roots go back to the 1980s as a crewman on world champion Gary Ormsby’s entry.

In related news, Justin Ashley Racing announced a marketing partnership with New York City-based RISE Brewing Co., creators and distributors of RISE Nitro Cold Brew Coffee. Ashley will display RISE on his Top Fuel dragster during the season, as well as on uniforms, the team’s race trailer and pit area signage.

Located in Plainview, N.Y., Justin Ashley Racing fields the Strutmasters.com Top Fuel dragster in partnership with Davis Motorsports. A two-time winner in Top Alcohol Dragster in NHRA’s Lucas Oil Series, Justin is the son of multi-time NHRA national event winner Mike Ashley. In 2017, Justin was named to Drag Illustrated magazine’s 30-under-30 list, highlighting some of racing’s most promising young individuals on and off the racetrack.

When not racing, Justin serves as president of Ashley Developers, a real estate investment organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of distressed properties. To learn more about Justin Ashley Racing, visit JustinAshley.com.

Tony Stewart has spent some of his offseason dabbling in drag racing, ramping-up a rumor mill that began when “Smoke” appeared at NHRA events with girlfriend and Top Fuel regular Leah Pruett last season. Pruett finished fourth in the 2020 Top Fuel point standings driving for Don Schumacher Racing.

A video posted to Stewart’s YouTube channel _ “From NASCAR to Nitro” _ includes the lead-in tease, ”So…I went to Drag Racing School!” The seven-plus minute post has fueled speculation that Stewart, 49, may want to add a ride in NHRA’s nitromethane-powered ranks to his extensive pavement and dirt-track racing resume. Stewart is a three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

The video documents Stewart dutifully enrolling in Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School to learn the basics, beginning in the classroom. After plenty of one-on-one instruction from Hawley, Stewart suits up and is seen making a run in one of the school’s Super Comp dragsters before graduating to a pass in a blown Top Alcohol dragster at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida. However, the video does not indicate if Stewart earned a competition license or mention any planned next steps in drag racing.

Drag Racing Hall of Famer Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex will play host to the Spell Paving Services 2021 Funny Car Chaos Championship Tour on March 26-27 in Ennis.

This event down The Plex’s all-concrete surface will make history as the first time the Funny Car Chaos and Outlaw Fuel Altered Series will co-headline two days of racing. The $250,000 championship tour, presented by Red Line Shirt Club and Mears Mazda Volvo, will run at eight venues across the country this season, beginning in North Texas.

“We’re thrilled to be hosting the world’s only Outlaw Funny Car Championship series with 200-plus mph, ground-pounding nitro action combined with the Outlaw Fuel Altered Series,” Motorplex General Manger Andy Carter said in a statement. “We have been building towards hosting these mega-events for some time now. These two days will feature some of the most exciting and unpredictable racing action in the country.”

Friday will feature multiple qualifying sessions followed by a Friday Night Live After Party on the starting line open to any ticket-holder. On Saturday, a single Funny Car Chaos qualifier will lead into the eliminations program beginning at 5 p.m. (CT).

Funny Car Chaos features a wide array of body styles and engine combinations with an emphasis on safety. Advance tickets are available now $25, a savings of $5 off the day-of-event price. Tickets can be purchased at www.texasmotorplex.com.

 

UPDATED 2021 NHRA CAMPING WORLD DRAG RACING SERIES SCHEDULE

March 11-14 _ Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Gainesville, Fla.

March 26-28 _ NHRA Southern Nationals, Commerce, Ga.

April 9-11 _ Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, Pomona, Calif.

April 16-18 _ Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, Las Vegas

May 14-16 _ NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, Concord, N.C.

May 21-23 _ Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals Presented by Pennzoil, Baytown, Texas

June 4-6 _ Virginia NHRA Nationals, Richmond, Va.

June 11-13 _ NHRA New England Nationals, Epping, N.H.

June 24-27 _ Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Norwalk, Ohio

July 16-18 _ Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil, Morrison, Colo.

July 23-25 _ NHRA Sonoma Nationals, Sonoma, Calif.

July 30-Aug. 1 _ Flav-R-Pac Northwest Nationals, Kent, Wash.

Aug. 13-15 _ Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals Presented by Pennzoil, Topeka, Kan.

Aug. 18-22 _ Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Brainerd, Minn.

NHRA CAMPING WORLD COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP

Sept. 10-12 _ NHRA Nationals, Reading, Pa.

Sept. 17-19 _ NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals, Concord, N.C.

Sept. 24-26 _ NHRA Midwest Nationals, Madison, Ill.

Oct. 7-10 _ NHRA FallNationals, Ennis, Texas

Oct. 29-31 _ Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil, Las Vegas

Nov. 11-14 _ Auto Club NHRA Finals, Pomona, Calif.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 19 2021
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