Six days, 16 eliminators, more than 900 racecars from 42 states and five countries: this is the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. The competitors of the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series have been competing since Wednesday, beginning with qualifying and time trials and the always-exciting Stock Eliminator class eliminations on Thursday. The 65th edition of the world’s most prestigious drag race got off to auspicious beginning, as wet grounds delayed the racer parking process on Tuesday and Wednesday, pushing back the start of on-track activities by several hours. But competitors have traveled from near and far for a shot at Indy glory, and the such delays haven’t rained on anyone’s parade (pun intended).
Class Eliminations – An Indy Institution
This is what many in the class racing world live for: class eliminations run-offs at the U.S. Nationals. Nearly 160 cars strong have taken to the Lucas Oil Raceway this morning to compete for a class Wally. Prior to the opening round of class, which also serves as the final qualifier for the eliminator, the bump spot for the 128-car field already stood at a stout -0.764. Stock Eliminator is even more impressive, requiring a -0.881 run to make the fastest field of cars assembled all season.
Brad Plourd is a two-time champion of the U.S. Nationals, winning in Super Comp at the 51st running in 2005 and in Competition Eliminator in 2017. Plourd is enjoying a stellar week thus far, as he sits in the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot in Comp in his AA/AM altered and remains alive in the third round of Super Comp.
Mopar Hemi Challenge
One of the most popular attractions of the U.S. Nationals is the Mopar Hemi Challenge, featuring the 1968 Dodge Darts and Chrysler Barracudas of the SS/A Hemi category within Super Stock eliminator. Nineteen cars are on the property, all vying for the $15,000 prize and a special trophy from the folks at Mopar.
Yardley, Pennsylvania’s Jimmy Daniels (left) has won the last two Mopar Hemi Challenge contests, having never lost as round at this race-within-a-race in his young driving career. Daniels entered eliminations in the cat-bird seat with a stout 8.473 at 156.66 mph, earning himself a bye on the odd-numbered ladder in round one. Daniels carded an 8.49 at 155 mph on his solo shot — the quickest elapsed time of the round. Stephen Hebert, the No. 9 qualifier out of Louisiana, advanced through round one with an 8.81-second defeat of Dan Zrust.
Wendell and Mark Howes drove all the easy from New Brunswick, Canada, only to be paired against one another in the opening round of the Hemi Challenge.Wendell advanced on an 8.56, as Mark was dead-red at -0.281.
Hemi Challenge No. 2 qualifier Steve Comella was upset in the second round of the 426-inch elephant engine shootout by Jim Pancake, 8.64 to a quicker but losing 8.62.
West Virginia’s Bucky Hess, one of the SS/AH class’ longest-tenured competitors, has carried his impeccable style into the quarterfinal round of the Hemi Shootout after dispatching Gus Mantas in round two with an 8.56. Hess will face Rich Locker later this afternoon.
A Grand Debut
Alan Kenny anchors the quickest Top Dragster field in history with his 6.234. Even more impressively, it takes a 6.132 to get into the top 16 — a spread of just .032-seconds from number one to 16.
Last fall, the NHRA made dream a reality for Top Dragster and Top Sportsman competitors all across the nation when it announced they would be invited to the U.S. Nationals for the first time in 2019. The two high-speed bracket racing categories, originally conceived by the competing International Hot Rod Association, became part of the NHRA fold more than a decade ago and were later added to many of the Mello Yello Series national events — with the exception of Indianapolis. Many of the racers, who raced under the IHRA banner or in other categories, have never raced at the U.S. Nationals, making this one extra special.
Competition was fierce simply to gain entry into event, as racers from every geographic division within the NHRA vied for the opportunity to earn the first ever U.S. Nationals Top Dragster and Top Sportsman Wally’s. Just 34 entries were made available apiece, making these truly the creme of the crop.
Following three sessions of home-run derby shots at the racetrack,. Top Dragster concluded with the quickest field in history, as it required an incredible 6.234-second lap to make the show. Top Sportsman was equally impressive, as Jerry Albert snuck in on the final run of the final session with a 6.733.
Lester Johnson’s Kentucky-based ’55 Chevrolet paced the Top Sportsman field — as it has so many times previously — with a 6.154 at 230.53 mph.
North Carolina native turned Hoosier Don O’Neal brought perhaps the most unique combination in the Top Sportsman field to Indy — a 427 cubic-inch, Elite Motorsports-built LSX with a Magnuson supercharger on top (essentially a COPO Camaro Factory Stock Showdown engine package).
O’Neal, who had previously competed at Indy in Super Comp, failed to make the quick field with a 6.91-second best, but it was certainly not for a lack of effort as he works tirelessly to iron out the chassis and drivetrain package.
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