The NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Indiana, has tradition and significance on its side. This week is the 58th annual drag racing event in a city known around the world for speed and motorsports excellence.
NHRA drag racers are accustomed to routine and fast three-day races in their 23-race season. But at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus, also known as the “Big Go”, the days go on and on, from mid-week through the weekend to Monday.
It’s twice as long as a normal NHRA race, but the Big Go trophy is valued many times more than other races during the season.
Funny Car contenders Ron Capps of Don Schumacher Racing and John Force of John Force Racing explained the importance of an NHRA Indy win.
John Force (Funny Car)
“Winning Indy is like winning the championship,” Force said. “I know guys that have never won championships, but they’ve won Indy. I know guys who have won championships but because they never won Indy they feel like they are missing something.”
Ron Capps (Funny Car)
"You can talk about Indy and try to treat it like another race, but you can't because it isn't like any other race,” Capps said. "Part of what makes Indy special is what you have to put into that race. You go in earlier for Indy because of media requests and the hoopla that surrounds a race with such great tradition. You're in town there longer because the finals are on Monday. It's Labor Day weekend. Fans are great, the city is great, the track is great.”
Prior to 2007, the Big Go race was powerful without being the final race before the six-race playoffs. Now, the Countdown to the Championship playoff scheme—which readjusts points after Indy for the top 10 racers in each professional class—waits after the last run.
This year, the top two leaders in each class don’t have to worry about making the playoffs as they are at the top and in—Antron Brown and Spencer Massey in Top Fuel, Capps and Robert Hight in Funny Car, Allen Johnson and Jason Line in Pro Stock and Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Some Leader Thoughts:
Antron Brown (Top Fuel)
"If you want to win one race all year long, this is the race that you want to win," Brown said. "Everyone comes out and brings their A-game. Everyone saves their best for this race. If you can do good at this race then you've definitely done something."
Spencer Massey (Top Fuel) (second place)
"Come Monday, it's game on,” Massey said. “We want to win the U.S. Nationals. That's our main concern. I've never done it before. I've never even been to a final round there. We need to go rounds, get points and get that win."
Allen Johnson (Pro Stock)
“We always look forward to going to Indy for the U.S. Nationals,” Johnson said. “It’s a long weekend, and a little bit different of one than a normal event, but we always have fun there. The U.S. Nationals rank right up there, prestige-wise and money-wise, as one of the biggest events of the year. It would certainly mean a lot to win it.”
Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle)
“As much as you would like to say Indy is just like every other race, it’s not.” Krawiec said.
Before 2007 there wasn’t much struggling for a 10th place spot—there were no “bubble boys” needing good results at Indianapolis race to make the playoffs. This long weekend nine contenders are vying for precious few spots.
For Bob Vandergriff and Clay Millican in Top Fuel, Jeff Arend, Bob Tasca, Matt Hagan and Tim Wilkerson in Funny Car and Shane Gray, Larry Morgan, and Jeg Coughlin in Pro Stock, it’s go hard or go home, and this time home means no spot to achieve a championship trophy.
Thoughts from the bubble boys:
Matt Hagan (Funny Car)
“We won it from sixth place last year. You just have to be in it to win it.”
Bob Vandergriff (Top Fuel)
“My mentality has always been, once the game starts, I actually hate the other guy,” Vandergriff said. “I don't want to talk to him, I don't want to look at him and I actually kind of want to rip his head off. It's hard for me to turn that off sometimes and look at the other guy over there and pretend he's a friend or be nice to him.
“Last year when I raced Tony Schumacher the first round, I didn't like his team, I didn't like his car, I didn't like anything about that group and I just wanted to rip his heart out and that's the same way I'm going into this race.”
Clay Millican (Top Fuel)
“To win that race to be my first win would be just fantastic,” Millican said. “It's such a big race and there's so many days, there's so many things that can happen. You get an extra qualifying run; there's the Traxxas Shootouts and there's a lot of distractions going on and we are in this battle with Bob for the tenth spot.”
Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock)
"We've had our share of growing pains— more than expected—but we are heading into Indy with a chance at getting in the Countdown,” Jeg said. “We're only two points out of the top 10 right now.
“Any advantage would be positive. The history of this race makes it one you always want to win. This year, that's especially true.”
The Coughlins with Team JEGS have a family tradition to uphold—winning at Indy.
Troy Coughlin (Pro Mod)
“I’m one of the fortunate ones that won NHRA Indy,” Troy said. “It's a race every driver wants to claim—almost as much as a championship.
“Everyone that's someone in the sport has won Indy. I was lucky enough to get my first Indy win early in my career (1991).”
Troy Coughlin Jr. (Super Gas)
"Every year we go to Indy it brings back childhood memories,” Troy Jr. said. “Always the last race of the summer—right before school started. My first memory was 1996. Dad was racing Pro Stock. My uncles were racing. After I won in 2010, I understood how special it is.
"Most races we go to are three, four days. We’ll be at Indy for a whole week. If you’re not careful it’s easy to get burned out.”
After Indy many teams may not be burned out, but some will surely be out of contention.
Fans not able to go to the “Big Go” can go to ESPN2 on Labor Day, Sept. 3, from 12:00 PM - 6:00 PM ET.
For more racing details, go to www.NHRA.com
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanctioning body and team representatives.