Halloween is celebrated each year on Oct. 31. This year, Oct. 31 also marks the day of final eliminations for the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The Oct. 28-31 NHRA Las Vegas Nationals is the next-to-last event on the 2010 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule and the meet is a must-win for any driver or rider who aspires to claim the championship crown.
Children dress up in colorful costumes and go door to door, ringing doorbells and hollering “Trick or treat.” For them, a treat might be a handful of their favorite candy.
For drag racers, the proverbial doorbell is the Christmas tree. They pull up to the starting line and wait for the green light to discover whether they’ll receive a trick (losing traction and going up in smoke on the starting line) or a treat (lighting the win indicator on their side of the track as they cross the finish line.
For kids, Halloween is fun. For drag racers, there is no time for ghosts, goblins or pumpkins. Every waking moment at the track is focused on qualifying, razor-sharp reaction times and winning rounds. For them, the ultimate treat is to win the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals and leave town with the points lead en route to the season finale in Pomona, Calif.
All drivers and riders competed from opening day in the Countdown to 10. At the close of the 17th race on the 23-event schedule, the top 10 competitors in Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle were placed in a six-race shootout for the championship.
In the Top Fuel Dragster ranks, former champions and perennial favorites Larry Dixon (consecutive crowns in 2002 and 2003) and Tony Schumacher (seven titles) are battling Cory McClenathan, Shawn Langdon, Brandon Bernstein, Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown, Morgan Lucas, Steve Torrence and Australia’s David Grubnic for the pot of gold at the end of the 1,000-foot rainbow.
“Vegas is huge,” said FRAM Top Fuel Dragster driver Cory McClenathan. “It’s going to come down to where there’s probably two or three cars that are going to go into the last race for the championship. I think it makes us drivers crazy because we’ve gone all these races and it’s coming down to one race left to determine who’s the champion. It can be very unraveling at times. We’re starting to get used to it, since this is our third year going into the Countdown.
“You can’t beat Vegas,” Cory added. “It’s got the nightlife, it’s got great drag racing, it’s a great facility. Bruton Smith does such a great job when he builds a facility. Bruton just goes above and beyond. I know that’s the thing a lot of people say but, at the same time, every time you get there it kind of takes your breath away. We race at a lot of different venues, we love them all, don’t get me wrong, but his tracks just have that aura, a take-away-your-breath type of deal. To be able to go back into town and gamble and see shows at night and go back to racing the next day. I think it’s why everybody goes there. I think we all love going to the casino to see how we’re all rated and what the odds are and who the longshots are. It just keeps you guessing.”
The Funny Car battles are every bit as intense. John Force has won the Funny Car championship 14 times. At age 60, he is facing nine others, including his daughter Ashley, who seek to snatch the crown from atop his head.
Jack Beckman is no stranger to The Strip at LVMS, having competed here for a number of years in the Sportsman ranks before being called up to the big leagues. These days, “Fast Jack” steers a Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing.
“When you roll into Vegas you’re down to eight rounds maximum left,” Beckman explained. “At that point you’re either a contender or you’re hoping for a miracle – or you’re out of contention. And you don’t want to be in a position where you’re hoping for a miracle. You always want to control your own destiny. Vegas is typically one of those let-it-all-hang-out type of race tracks. It’ll handle the horsepower the crew chiefs throw at it. This year, we’ve had that kind of car in the Valvoline/MTS Dodge. We’ve had a car that was awesome on the good race tracks. Vegas and Pomona are the two tracks we’re probably most looking forward to because those should have great conditions there. I love the Vegas facility. I race my Sportsman car all the time there and it’s kind of like my home race track. If they’d ask Jack Beckman to script how the season ends, we’d be in contention for the championship going into Vegas.”
Mike Edwards is on a roll and hoping to earn his second consecutive Pro Stock title. The competition always is fierce in the Pro Stock class. Just ask heavy hitters Warren Johnson, Kurt Johnson and V. Gaines, who all failed to crack the top 10. Now on the outside looking in, their role is that of the nothing-to-lose spoiler, aiming to take out the frontrunners with upset victories. It happened at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis – where big names like Ron Capps, Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, Tony Pedregon and Robert Hight all were defeated in the first round – and upsets can jump up and bite title contenders in Las Vegas as well.
Ron Capps likes his chances in Las Vegas and certainly does not want to experience a repeat of Indy. “When you approach that race, with it being the second to last race of the Countdown, you’re hoping that you’re in contention for the championship,” said Capps. “We’ve always looked at that race as a place where we can make up some ground. I couldn’t imagine how awesome it would be to go to Vegas and be able to clinch a championship there and celebrate there. Vegas is just that. It’s one of the more fun tracks that we go to. It’s always a big race but for me. It’s a pivotal race. You don’t want to have to go to Pomona having to do too much on Sunday to win the championship. You’d like to make some ground up there in Vegas.”
For more information, please call LVMS at (702) 644-4444 or visit www.LVMS.com.