The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello drag racing season is fast approaching with the season opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals event scheduled Thursday, Feb. 8 through Sunday, Feb. 11.
There were quite a few off season changes. Most notably were the team changes made by two premier crew chiefs. Mike Neff, crew chief for John Force, moved to Don Schumacher Racing to become crew chief on Antron Brown’s Top Fuel dragster. He will work alongside co-crew chief, Mark Oswald. Brian Corradi has moved from crew chief of Antron Brown’s Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster to Courtney Force’s Advanced Auto Part Funny Car.
In Top Fuel, Brittany Force comes in as the reigning champion. Her Monster Energy Top Fuel team comes in totally intact, making her one of the season’s opening favorites. But, Steve Torrence, Antron Brown, Tony Schumacher, Doug Kalitta and a host of others all are formidable contenders for the 2018 Championship. Force’s “Ace in the Hole” will (once again) be the tuning consultation and managerial expertise of Allan Johnson.
Last season, two popular drivers, Clay Millican and Terry McMillen, both claimed their first national event wins. Millican and his UNOH/Great Clips/Parts Plus team won in Bristol and McMillen and his Amalie Oil team won at the second Vegas event.
Robert Hight and his AAA of Southern California Chevrolet team are the reigning champions in Funny Car. They had many dominating performances during the year (339.87 mph speed record at Sonoma; 3.793 second elapse time record). Hight will be chased by Ron Capps (2016 Champion), Matt Hagan (2011, 2015), Jack Beckman (2012), Courtney Force, John Force (16-time Champion) and Del Worsham (2015), to name a few. Bob Tasca will return to the full tour, bringing Ford back into the Funny Car category with his Motorcraft Ford Mustang. Other strong teams include Jonnie Lindberg (runner-upped at two events last year) in his Jim Head Racing team Toyota and Jim Campbell in his 7-11/Oberto Beef Jerky/Jim Dunn racing Dodge Charger team. The Funny Car rules have also changed, limiting the engine RPM allowed in the class, which could throw a curve ball at many of the tuners.
In Pro Stock the big news isn’t so much about who will contest for the championship, but the rule changes. For 2018, the rules have changed, allowing any engine in any car. Chevrolet engines can now be run in Dodges or Fords. This was done to appease the fans, who wanted to see more car body styles in the class (Ford Mustangs, Dodges, etc.). Over the last almost 10 years the Chevrolet engine had become the most dominating (under the class rules) in the category. This led to the fields being made up of nearly all Chevrolet cars. This created a decline in fan interest over the years. Currently, there are only 14 cars entered for the season opener and all of them are Chevrolet Camaros. It will take some time before teams use the new engine rules to integrate other cars and body styles. Bo Butner comes in as the reigning champion.
Pro Stock Motorcycle is led by the Harleys of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines. Jerry Savoie and LE Tonglet will also be very strong on their Suzuki motorcycles. The Buells and Victory motorcycles are gaining some momentum and should also be strong contenders.
From a local standpoint, Oakdale racer Richard Townsend will compete at several events this season in his new Nitroholic Racing Toyota. His first event will be the season opening Winternationals in Pomona. His Funny Car team will be led by veteran crew chief, Lance Larson. Larson was co-crew chief on Clay Millican’s Top Fuel dragster the last two years. Early testing has shown very positive results in the car’s performance.