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2014 NHRA O’Reilly Auto Parts SpringNationals: Who to watch

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The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series visit Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas (near Houston) for this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals, Friday through Sunday, April 25th through 27th. It’s the sixth event on the 2014 Mello Yello Series schedule, and will feature three of the Mello Yello divisions – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – along with the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, the Nitro Harley Series and the Lucas Oil Series.

Last year’s race winners – Bob Vandergriff Jr. (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) – will all be back at Royal Purple Raceway to defend their titles, and 2013 NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, who leads all drivers with seven wins at the track, returns as well, hoping to win his first race at the track in 12 years.

Houston native Erica Enders-Stevens, the first woman to lead the Pro Stock points standings in NHRA history, is looking for her first Pro Stock win at her home track. “Racing in front of your home fans is fun and that makes it great, but there can be a lot of distractions and you have to learn how to handle it,” said Enders-Stevens. “I think I’ve learned to do that, but it should be a really good weekend. Hopefully there’s some on-track success that keeps them happy all weekend.”

Vandergriff Jr. would like to make it two-in-a-row at Royal Purple Raceway. He likened last year’s win to the stuff movies are made from, since the track is closest to his sponsor C&J Energy Services’ home turf.

“Those are great memories, Hollywood movie type stuff,” said Vandergriff Jr. “Winning at your sponsor’s home track with their employees and customers rooting you on was incredible. If it had been a movie people would have said, ‘Yeah right, it would never ever happen like that,’ so it was pretty exciting.”

Vandergriff Jr. will have competition from Texas native Steve Torrence, who is looking for his first Top Fuel win in his home state. “The pressure never goes away,” said Torrence of racing at home. “Really, it gets bigger and everyone wants to see you do better. Home races are a lot of fun, but you have to learn to compartmentalize it. You can entertain and hang out with your friends and family, and that’s part of it, but during the race I’m there to compete and do my job.”

Force has seven Funny Car wins at Royal Purple Raceway, but hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since 2002 – a win that was also the 100th of Force’s career. “It’s about winning, that’s what my sponsors pay me to do and it’s my job and the job of my crew guys to deliver but it’s also about the fans,” said Force. “Texas has great race tracks and great fans and they deserve to see the best racing in town.”

“I want to win every race,” continued Force. “I just lost the final to my son-in-law Robert Hight in Charlotte and I am happy for him but I am sick. I want to win. I want to get to 140 and then win after that. I have 16 championships but I am not going to stop there. There are more championships to win.”

Qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals kicks off Friday, April 25th at 4 and 6:30 p.m. CT, continuing Saturday, April 26th at 12:30 and 3 p.m. CT. Eliminations get underway Sunday, April 27th at 11 a.m. CT. Keep up with the action at www.nhra.com.

Quotes in this piece provided by the NHRA and John Force Racing.

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