EPPING, N.H. – The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series starts a stretch of four straight races with a trip to New England Dragway for the fifth annual NHRA New England Nationals, June 2-4. It is a grueling span, but for Funny Car’s Tim Wilkerson, starting at Epping makes for an ideal kickoff.
The class veteran has enjoyed the annual trip to New England Dragway, in particular because of the overwhelming fan support he has seen from the strong fanbase in the area. Coming off his first final round appearance of the season in his 10,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang, Wilkerson now hopes for his first victory at one of his favorite stops on the NHRA tour.
“The amount of people that walk up to you and tell you that they’re happy you’re there, that’s what stands out about Epping,” Wilkerson said. “It’s already such a great event, and I think it will only continue to grow. Through the support of the fans, the racetrack will just get better and better. People were so excited to have us there, and that always makes it fun. The folks that run New England Dragway have shown that they are willing to invest in the future of drag racing.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage starting at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 4. It is the ninth of 24 events during a 2017 season that has started to come together for Wilkerson, who has 20 career Funny Car wins.
It started with just one round win over the first five races, but the uptick in performance the past two weeks has been significant. It culminated in a runner-up finish to red-hot Ron Capps, the reigning world champ and current points leader who has won three straight races, in Atlanta, and a continued focus on only worrying about his own performance in a class loaded with stars.
“I would say that the ability to know when to make changes is what made us successful in Atlanta,” said Wilkerson, who is eight in points. “As good as everybody is out there, sometimes your normal settings and your normal way of looking at things just doesn’t work everywhere you go.
“It’s a mind game because you’ll try to convince yourself that it does, again and again, even when you keep getting the same results. It just doesn’t work if you’re not able to step back and look at it. We just need to try to be more consistent with our thought processes and not get caught up in who we race. We just need to try to do what we did in Atlanta, and that was to race the particular situation, not the customer.”
It can be a tough deal, especially when the other lane includes the likes of Matt Hagan, who has two wins in 2017, 16-time world champion John Force, Tommy Johnson Jr., Robert Hight, J.R. Todd and Courtney Force. But Wilkerson’s approach has proven plenty successful over the years and after making a considerable move in the points standings over the last two races, he’s looking forward to starting this four-week gauntlet on a good note at New England Dragway.
“The guys are on the road for a lot of time these next four weeks, and morale-wise, it’s good to go some rounds at every race,” Wilkerson said. “You get that thought in the back of your head about not being solidly in the top 10, and it’s good to get that off your back. I think it weighs on them more than it does on me, but after Atlanta everybody was really pumped about being eighth in the points. Hopefully, we’ll be having a conversation about being fourth or fifth before too long.”
Brown won for the first time at Epping en route to a second straight Top Fuel title, but he’s chasing three-time 2017 winner Leah Pritchett, eight-time champ Tony Schumacher and Steve Torrence.
Anderson won for a second straight year in Pro Stock in 2016 and is the current points leader in 2017, holding a one-point lead against Bo Butner, the lone two-time winner in the class thus far.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying on Friday, fans can watch the spectacular Hanna Motorsports jet cars. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
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 and sensory-filled 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 get autographs from 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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday, June 2 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 3, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 4.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
NHRA NEW ENGLAND NATIONALS
WHAT: Fifth annual NHRA New England Nationals, the ninth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The race also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series.
WHERE: New England Dragway, Epping, N.H., the track is on Route 101 off Exit 8, an hour north of Boston and just 20 minutes from Manchester and the New Hampshire sea coast. From I-95, take Exit 2 in New Hampshire. Travel west on Route 101 to Exit 8, then turn right. From I-93, take Exit 7 in New Hampshire. Travel east on Route 101 to Exit 8, then turn left, and the track is straight ahead. From I-495, take Exit 51-B to Route 125 north. Travel east on Route 101 to Exit 8, then turn left, and the track is straight ahead.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 90 feet above sea level. Track direction is southwest to northeast
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, June 2-4
FRIDAY, June 2 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:30 and 7 p.m.
SATURDAY, June 3- LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.
SUNDAY, June 4 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
FRIDAY, June 2, FS1 will televise one hour of live qualifying at 7:30 p.m. (ET)
SATURDAY, June 3, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 12:30 a.m. (ET)
SUNDAY, June 4, FS1 will televise three hours of finals coverage at 4:30 p.m. (ET)
2016 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock.
MOST VICTORIES: Tony Schumacher, 2, TF; Ron Capps, 2, FC; Greg Anderson, 2, PS.
Top Fuel – 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, June ’16; 329.26 mph by Doug Kalitta, June ’16.
Funny Car – 3.865 sec. by Ron Capps, June ’16; 330.63 mph Tim Wilkerson, June ’16.
Pro Stock – 6.485 sec. by Shane Gray, June ’14; 214.72 mph by Greg Anderson, June ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.658 sec. by Leah Pritchett, Feb. ‘17, Phoenix; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.822 by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets