Although the final media votes for the 2013 Auto Club Road to the Future Award will be tallied by the time NHRA teams arrive at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona for the season-finale, the six rookie drivers who have campaigned all year long will be looking to close out their first seasons as NHRA Mello Yello Series drivers in grand style.
Each rookie driver would love to finish their inaugural seasons with a win at the tradition-rich Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 7-10 at the famed Southern California dragstrip. Brandon Bernstein (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised on ESPN2 HD.
A couple of the rookie drivers have come very close to winning this season. Funny Car driver Chad Head advanced to two final round appearances, one at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, N.C. and another at the Countdown playoff event in Reading, Pa. Pro Stock Motorcycle rookie Adam Arana scored a runner-up finish at Epping, N.H. in June.
Both of those drivers also claimed No. 1 qualifying positions, as Head took the top spot at the Four-Wide event and Arana was No. 1 at Denver. Brittany Force led qualifying in Top Fuel for two days at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
The $20,000 bonus and trophy for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award will be presented during the annual NHRA Mello Yello Series Awards Ceremony on Monday, Nov. 11. Motorsports journalists from across the United States submitted votes to determine the winner of the award. In addition to Arana, Force and Head, the ballot also included Top Fuel drivers Sidnei Frigo, Leah Pruett and Billy Torrence.
After 23 of 24 races in the season, Force had won eight elimination rounds, while Arana and Head have won seven elimination rounds each, while Pruett won four and Frigo and Torrence earned one apiece. Arana, whose brother Hector Arana Jr. claimed the award in 2011, says it is tough to predict whose name will be called when the winner is announced.
“It’s going to be tight,” said Arana, who rides the ProtecttheHarvest.com Buell and is the only rookie to earn a spot in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. “I know I need to go rounds. Chad Head is killing it now. It’s going to be a close one.”
Force, the first member of her famous drag racing family to ever sit at the controls of a Top Fuel dragster, would follow in the tire tracks of John Force Racing teammates and past winners Robert Hight, Ashley Force Hood, Mike Neff and Courtney Force, if she is announced as the winner. She has attended every event this season and also claimed a starting spot in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout through the fan vote and random lottery selection.
“I am so proud of my team,” said the 27-year-old driver of the Castrol Edge dragster. “Each weekend we learn a little bit more about our car to keep it moving in the right direction.”
Head, who turned heads after advancing to the final round at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania where he battled series points leader John Force down to the wire, continues to make consistent improvement at the wheel of his Head Racing Toyota Camry in one of the most competitive categories in the sport.
“We’re trying,” Head said. “I’ve been working at it, digging at it and listening to guys like Tommy Johnson, Jr., Del Worsham, and Ron Capps, who are giving me a lot of confidence going into the rounds along with my dad (Jim Head), who has made all this possible.”
While the rookies will be racing hard to grab a season-ending victory, there will be plenty of additional drama as the series leaders in Top Fuel and Pro Stock try to settle the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship titles.
In Top Fuel, Southern California native Shawn Langdon is the current leader and is followed by defending world champ Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, Spencer Massey and Morgan Lucas. Langdon holds a nearly insurmountable 102 point lead over Brown, who won the most recent race in Las Vegas.
In Pro Stock, a group of drivers will decide the season’s top honor, including series points leader Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line and '09 champ Mike Edwards, Shane Gray and defending world champ Allen Johnson. Coughlin holds a 71- point lead over Line heading into the season-finale.
NHRA icon John Force has already earned his NHRA-record 16th world championship title in Funny Car, as he took the crown at the season's penultimate race in Las Vegas on Oct. 27. A talented pack of drivers will be battling for second place at the Auto Club Finals, including 2011 world champ Matt Hagan, defending champ Jack Beckman, '09 champ Robert Hight and last season's top rookie and Winternationals winner Courtney Force.
Like Force, Matt Smith also has claimed his world championship trophy already in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Smith won in Las Vegas as well to secure his second season title. Several riders are in contention for second place, including Michael Ray, Hector Arana, Hector Arana Jr. and Eddie Krawiec.
The Auto Club NHRA Finals excitement kicks off with a family-fun NHRA Fan Fest in Old Town La Verne on Saturday, Nov. 2. The event is free to the public. The NHRA Fan Fest will include a variety of racecars on display. The highlight of the event will be driver autograph and fan Q&A sessions with the stars of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, including Funny Car drivers John Force, Jack Beckman and Jeff Arend. There also will be children’s activities, great food, community performances, and live classic rock music performed by the very popular group “The Ravelers.” The Fan Fest, which will be held on D Street and Third Street just south of Bonita Avenue, will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The racing fun only gets more intense as the Auto Club NHRA Finals arrive at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. On Thursday, Nov. 7, fans can catch the first glimpse of the 2013 Mello Yello championship title chasers at the official event press conference, which is free for all Thursday ticket holders and will be held in the nitro pits starting at 11 a.m.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
While strolling through the pits, fans will want to check out the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum’s “Hot Rod Junction” car corral featuring dozens of nostalgic dragsters, race cars and hot rods on display. The Hot Rod Junction also will showcase several NHRA-exclusive Cacklefests throughout the weekend, where vintage front-engine dragsters will be fired up simultaneously.
Fans also will want to take advantage of the popular Championship Sunday Track Walk, which is free to all Sunday ticket holders. This popular event gives fans the opportunity to walk down the legendary drag strip alongside some of the NHRA’s biggest stars. Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car driver Robert Hight will lead the track walk at the Auto Club NHRA Finals.
The NHRA Motorsports Museum, which is located on the Auto Club Raceway of Pomona grounds, is also offering fans the opportunity to visit the museum for free and learn about the history of the sport. The fan-favorite Night of Champions with NHRA Mello Yello drivers will be held on Friday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. Admission is free during the Auto Club NHRA Finals weekend.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
The NHRA Finals qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7 and Friday, Nov. 8. Qualifying continues at 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10.