The Cardinals are on the road. The Blues are busy tuning up the Zamboni. And the Rams? Don’t ask. This weekend, the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois is the only game in town.
The world’s biggest names in professional drag racing will converge on the St. Louis region this weekend to battle for the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship at explosive speeds in excess of 330 miles per hour.
This weekend’s NHRA event at Gateway Motorsports Park is the second race in the six-round 2016 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
Two-time NHRA Top Fuel Dragster champion Antron Brown has a stranglehold on the event. The New Jersey native has won the past four AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway and shows no signs of loosening his grip. Brown won the opening round of the Countdown on Sunday and winning in St. Louis is crucial to earning a third title.
John Force is a 16-time NHRA Funny Car world champion but was shut out of victory lane last year at Gateway. Force won the opening round of the Countdown in Funny Car Sunday and could have the momentum to strike out all opponents. Del Worsham won last year’s Gateway Funny Car final and went on to claim the 2015 Mello Yello title.
Talented, popular Leah Pritchett has been taking it on the chin all season but answers the bell after every round. Pritchett lost her Top Fuel Dragster ride in April (after scoring her very first Top Fuel Dragster victory in February) when team owner Bob Vandergriff ceased operations following the untimely death of his sponsor. Pritchett, 28, gathered up enough sponsorship money to get a ride with the Lagana Brothers, and later secured backing from FireAde and Papa John’s Pizza and now drives for Don Schumacher Racing. After grabbing the 10th and final berth in the 2016 Countdown to the Championship, Pritchett admitted, ““It’s a nice little emotional roller-coaster. The only thing that can’t be broken is our intestinal fortitude.”
It’s the world’s fastest sport: Four new Gateway track records were set at last year’s event. Among those smashing the record books: Matt Hagan (new Funny Car top speed: 330.47 mph); Dave Connolly (new Top Fuel Dragster top speed: 329.99 mph); and Steve Torrence (new Top Fuel Dragster elapsed time: 3.718 sec.).
Fans will have the opportunity to meet their heroes at a free fanfest and driver autograph session on Thursday, September 22 at Ballpark Village in St. Louis. The fanfest will take place from 6-7:30 p.m. Many NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series drivers and riders have agreed to participate, including: Reigning Funny Car champion Del Worsham, Leah Pritchett, Kebin Kinsley, Terry McMillen, Clay Millican, Tim Wilkerson, John Hale, Allen Johnson, Cory Reed, Matt and Angie Smith and Hector Arana Sr. Many race cars will be on display, including Kebin Kinsley’s Road Rage Fuel Booster Top Fuel Dragster and legendary monster truck Bigfoot. Musical entertainment will be provided by Midwestern rockabilly/honkytonk rockers, the Rat Rod Kings (www.RatRodKings.com).
Tickets now are on sale for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals and may be purchased at the speedway ticket office, online (www.GatewayMSP.com) or by calling (618) 215-8888. Kids 12 and under are free.
SCHEDULE FOR THE 2016 NHRA AAA INSURANCE NATIONALS
Thursday, September 22
6 p.m. — NHRA Fanfest and driver autograph session at Ballpark Village in St. Louis at Busch Stadium. (6-7:30 p.m.)
Friday, September 23
11 a.m. — Midway opens.
2:15 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.
2:45 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.
3:30 p.m. – Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster qualifying session.
4:45 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.
5:15 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.
6 p.m. – Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster qualifying.
7:30 p.m. – Track closed.
Saturday, September 24
10 a.m. — Midway opens.
1 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.
1:45 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.
2:30 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.
3:45 p.m. – First round of Pro Mod eliminations.
4:15 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.
5 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.
7:30 p.m. – Track closed.
Sunday, September 25
9 a.m. — Midway opens.
10 a.m. — Pre-race ceremonies.
11 a.m. – First round of Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car Eliminations.
Noon – First round of Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations.
12:20 p.m. – Second round of Pro Mod eliminations.
12:45 p.m. – Second round of Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car eliminations.
1:15 p.m. – Second round of Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock eliminations.
1:30 p.m. — Pro Mod semi-finals.
2:15 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car semi-finals.
2:33 p.m. — Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle semi-finals.
2:40 p.m. — Pro Mod finals.
2:45 p.m. — Sportsman finals.
3:30 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock finals.
3:37 p.m. – Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster finals.
Schedule subject to change.