The third stop on the NHRA’s 2014 Countdown to the Championship schedule is Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois (near St. Louis, Missouri), home of the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, Friday through Sunday, September 26th through 28th. The third-annual event will feature all four NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – plus the NHRA Pro Mod Series and the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Last year’s winners – Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) – will all return to the track to defend their victories and try to earn more Countdown to the Championship points.
The newest member of John Force Racing, Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, was surprisingly absent from the ladder at Texas Motorplex last weekend after failing to qualify for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. After falling to 10th in Countdown points, Force knows she has some catching up to do at Gateway Motorsports Park.
“Taking home a win at any point in this 2014 season would be unreal,” said Force. “With the Countdown in full swing, going after our first win is at the top of our list. Our team has a lot to do but it is nothing we aren’t capable of handling. Our plan with the final races is to no longer make minor mistakes and to make every run count. We need to qualify in the top half of the field to have a chance to battle it out. I need to make sure my driving routine stays consistent next to my team and our car’s performance.”
Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson sits ninth in points, but he’s just 41 points out of fifth. Gateway is a home track to Wilkerson, who is from nearby Springfield, Illinois.
“To be honest, the St. Louis race is such a huge event for us in terms of Levi, Ray & Shoup guests, Springfield fans, and family and friends, and that’s what sets it apart for us and for me,” said Wilkerson. “We try to take on every race at the same intensity level, and if you really want to analyze that you could make the case that every person on the team has a different ‘game face’ and they approach each lap with their own personal mentality.”
Jeg Coughlin Jr. won last year’s Pro Stock championship, but will have to right the ship to repeat this year – he currently sits eighth in points after a first round exit in Dallas.
“Realistically we probably need to go to the final of all four races and try to win a few to have a chance,” said Coughlin Jr. “We’ve had great success in the past at all four of the remaining racetracks so that’s a big bonus for us. I’m very comfortable with the guys behind me and with the way I’ve been driving. We’ll get up on the wheel and do all we can to get back in the fight.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Jr. is fourth in points, but sits 125 points back of leader Andrew Hines. Arana Jr. will need to improve on his performances from the first two events, with just one round win so far.
“If we worry about the points, we’re going to stress ourselves out,” said Arana Jr. “We can’t do anything about that. All we can do is do our best and go rounds. If we do that, the rest will take care of itself. That’s how we’ve got to keep our mindset.”
Qualifying for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals gets underway Friday at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. CT, followed by the final two sessions on Saturday at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. CT. Eliminations get underway Sunday at 11 a.m. CT. Keep up with the action at www.nhra.com.
Quotes in this piece provided by the NHRA.
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