With Nitro Spring Training in the rear view mirror and the start of the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series just on the horizon, drivers and teams are gearing up for the 24-event season.
Per usual, we have a new set of rookies that will join the tour.
Former bracket racer, Troy Coughlin Jr. is set to race the SealMaster Toyota Top Fuel Dragster. He and his team had their struggles during testing and the 26-year-old Ohio native acknowledged that, “It’s definitely a learning curve. A lot of new pieces and new people to work with. It’s just a whole different car to race. It’s extremely intimidating a humbling class for sure. It’s a lot of power and you’ve got to respect it. You’ve got to be precise with everything you do, literally everything you do. It’s all new but we’re learning a we’ve got a great group behind us, Kalitta Motorsports, SealMaster, Toyota, Jegs.com, everybody involved with us. Between Doug Kalitta, JR, and the whole team, everyone on the whole team has been extremely helpful.”
Third-generation drag racer, Tanner Gray will hop into the seat of his father’s Gray Motorsports Pro Stock car. His father, Shane, races Pro Stock, and his grandfather, Johnny, raced in the Funny Car category. Despite only being in high school, Tanner has been racing since he was a child. I’ve been around racing my whole life; I’ve always had a passion for it. My dad started me in a Sprint Car when I was young so it’s kinda what I grew up doing. When I gotta a little older I realized I wanted to go drag racing. [My dad] let me do some burnouts in his car and and I knew I wanted to do that. We went from there and he started letting me make some 1/8 mile runs and stuff like that and it was a lot of fun, so here we are.” Despite this weekend’s Circle K Winternationals being his professional debut, Tanner Gray isn’t feeling too nervous. “[I’m] more excited more than anything. We tested good and we’ve got good power. Everything is going smooth so far. I’m really excited to go and see what we can do and see how it all pans out,” said Gray.
Since 2006 J.R. Todd has been a competitive driver in the Top Fuel category. When Del Worsham left Kalitta Motorsports in December, Todd saw an opportunity. J.R. will make his Funny Car debut this weekend in the DHL Toyota entry for Kalitta Motorsports. Even though J.R. has been behind the wheel of a racecar since childhood, he can’t help but feel like the new kid. “Yeah, I definitely feel like a rookie again. Especially because testing went “so-so” for us. I was hoping to come into [Pomona] with more runs under my belt. We just had some mechanic problems with the car. I definitely feel like a rookie so it will probably take a couple races before I’m good an comfortable like I was in a dragster. But it’s just a different experience that I’ve ever dealt with in drag racing but a fun one at the same time,” he explained.
NHRA powerhouse team, Don Schumacher Racing made the nitro championship sweep last year by claiming both Top Fuel and Funny Car world titles.
Antron Brown, who picked up back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016, loves the pressure of trying to make his title haul three in a row, “At the end of the day you could let pressure crumble you, but with our team we take it all in and that’s the fuel that drives us. The more pressure there is the better it gets. Hopefully the pressure can be more intense than it was last year to push us to new levels. We know the competition has been working hard and so have we.”
It only took 20 years and 50 wins, but Ron Capps took home his first Funny Car World Championship last November. 16-time World Champion, John Force told Capps that he was no longer the “hunter” but now “the hunted”. We had to find out whether Capps was able to enjoy his off-season or if he was anxious to get back out there. Capps offered a short and sweet answer to our inquiry, “I had a great off-season but I’m ready to get back out there.”
The 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series gets underway February 10th, in Pomona, Calif. at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.