INDIANAPOLIS — official series release — NHRA photo —
The world’s most prestigious drag race, the 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, is unlike any other event on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit.
With the Traxxas Nitro Shootout taking place during the weekend, as well as five qualifying sessions and an increase of points via a return to the point-and-half system for the event, not only is the drama increased but so is the workload for all the stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
With that in mind, former Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown knows he has to take a totally different mindset into venerable Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis when the Big Go kicks off Sept. 2-7.
“You can’t treat it like another race,” Brown said. “The only thing that can groom you is past experiences there. With all the press, the Traxxas Shootout, everybody’s sponsor doing something special, all the fans coming out and packing the stands, it makes the stakes so much higher. You have to really pull together, get focused and leave nothing behind. It makes that testing before so important because you have to come out in a groove and have things dialed in. That’s what makes this event so big and special. Everybody prepares for this all year long.”
The event, which has provided drag racing’s biggest stage for six decades, also serves as the final race of the NHRA regular season, giving drivers one last chance to qualify for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
It adds to the drama of a thrilling weekend and while Brown, who has four victories during another banner Top Fuel season in his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools dragster, has firmly secured his spot in the NHRA playoffs, there is a Countdown-related goal he will take into Indy.
He sits just 53 points behind reigning world champion and teammate Tony Schumacher and Brown knows the importance of taking the points lead into the Countdown to the Championship.
“Finishing first in points gives you that extra 30-point lead (heading into the Countdown) and that’s huge,” Brown said. “We’re definitely shooting for that. We’re going to go and put our best foot forward. With how the points are at Indy this year, there’s even more emphasis on the race. There’s a chance you can move up several positions. There’s a lot at stake.”
Topping Schumacher at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will be difficult for anyone, including Brown, considering the eight-time world champion has an incredible nine victories in 11 final round appearances at the event. But Brown has never been shy about embracing the big moments and doing well in Indy certainly qualifies as that.
He has three career Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals wins, including one in Top Fuel, and has been strong throughout most of the 2015 season, going to six final rounds. With $100,000 on the line during the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, which takes place on Saturday in Top Fuel, the stakes are amplified in Indy, but Brown is confident his team, led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald, is motivated to put together a number of championship-level performances heading into the most important stretch of the season.
“I feel like we’re in a good spot and we’re where we need to be with our team,” said Brown, who has 51 career victories. “We’re second in points and have won four races, and we’ve had some really, really good races. At other races we’ve tried new things and we’ve been aggressive. We’re learning where the car needs to be. We’ve won in all conditions and that gives us confidence we can handle anything that comes at us.”
That means taking on a talented Top Fuel field that starts with “The Sarge” Schumacher and his famed U.S. Army dragster and also includes last year’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner Crampton, Mac Tools dragster pilot Doug Kalitta, Seattle winner J.R. Todd, five-time season runner-up and four-time Indy winner Larry Dixon and 2013 world champ Shawn Langdon, as well as Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, Clay Millican and Dave Connolly, who are all competing for the final Countdown playoff spots.
But Brown loves the vast history of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, as well as the backdrop it provides for current stars to create or add to their own legacies at the highly popular, tradition-rich affair.
“I think what makes Indy so special is the history,” Brown said. “You go back to the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and see how everybody comes from everywhere just to compete in this race. It’s the best of the best and it can absolutely make your season. You can go down in history if you win this. Winning Indy is a big deal.”
CREDIT: National Hot Rod Association