The NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs have been six races long since 2007 and are now halfway over for the 2013 season.
The powerful NHRA show will shift east to the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa. The area is known for big speed owing to elevation and an abundance of trees. NHRA engines like plenty of oxygen and get that from this Pennsylvania area.
NHRA’s four professional classes—Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car, Pro Stock Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle—have been very competitive this year, and two continue to be tightly contested.
A meager six points separates 2011 champion Matt Hagan from 15-time Funny Car champion and drag racing icon John Force.
Hagan has excelled and struggled in the past and has learned to cope with the pressure of being the leader, the fast leader with the target on his back.
"I think sometimes after this much racing, this many events in a row, sometimes you need to take a deep breath and stop thinking about it,” Hagan said.
Hagan and teams have found confidence and winning ways in the previous 21 races this year and carry it into the last three races.
“We have a good race car and we know how to run it, I know how to drive it and the guys know how to put it together, so worrying about it or the points is not going to be productive.”
Force is a fierce competitor who is known for his showmanship and managerial intensity. Two of his primary sponsors recently announced they are not going forward with John Force Racing, and that has necessitated additional marketing personnel for his team.
“I have been guilty of getting overloaded and not focusing on my race car,” Force said. “Now I have people working for me (who are chasing new sponsorship) so I can focus on winning—because you have to live this race car every day.”
Force has been known to work nearly every day anyway, but it’s clear he isn’t finished wanting championships.
Mike Edwards and team have returned to consistent form in 2013 since winning the Pro Stock Championship in 2009, but they have only a 10-point buffer over four-time PS champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. Edwards expects strong competition in the final three races.
“It is going to be a dogfight to the very end,” Edwards said. “The Pro Stock Championship is going to come down to the last race, and we just need to return to our pre-Countdown form and we will be just fine.”
Coughlin shared his confidence as well.
“We all know, and it's not a cliche, it's most important to lead the points leaving Pomona,” Coughlin said. “We've got great experience in running this car. We need to get out there and show it."
Every fast round counts and only 12 remain. Coughlin and team are preparing.
"We're in this thing to make as good a run as we can each and every time down the racetrack,” he said. "We've got a great team, a great car and great momentum."
The Top Fuel dragster class has Shawn Langdon in the lead with Doug Kalitta trailing by 33 points. Langdon hoped to extend that lead.
“Reading has the capability of being a throwdown race, so we are going to be prepared for that possibility when we arrive,” Langdon said.
Langdon and team bring momentum with them.
“We are in control of our own destiny, and that is how we want it,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, the Al-Anabi car is very strong right now, and we are very excited to be going to Reading this weekend.”
Matt Smith vaulted to the lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle when leader Hector Arana Jr. went out early in St. Louis. He and his team have run well this year.
“We’ve had a dominant bike this year,” Smith said. “I feel like I’ve got the bike to beat and as long as we don’t have any problems, I think we’ll be fine. This Viper Motorsports bike is pretty bad. We’ll just see what happens the last three races.”
Hector Arana Jr. held the PSM lead often in 2013 and has time to rebound.
"We're paying attention to every last little detail, trying to eliminate anything that can go wrong," Arana said. "We're expecting some quick numbers. If we can be consistent and run in the 6.70s, I think we'll have a good chance of making it the whole way."
The Reading race could change the leaders, and with only two more races left after Maple Grove, competition every round counts big.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.