TOPEKA, KS — official release — NHRA photo — Already home to some of the most historic runs in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history, Heartland Park Topeka created an added incentive for fans by hosting the 26th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals over Memorial Day weekend, May 23-25.
It marks the eighth of 24 events during the 2014 NHRA season, and all of the stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock are already anticipating the added excitement of racing on a holiday weekend.
“We used to race in Topeka on Memorial Day, and I am very excited to be going back on that date,” said Funny Car points leader Robert Hight. “We will get a lot of fans that camp out for the event, so it will have an atmosphere like Brainerd. This race facility and racing surface are top notch, and the fans are great.”
Added Top Fuel star Antron Brown, “Memorial Day is very special to me, and this will be a great time to salute our troops and everyone who has served to protect our country. I was proud to carry the colors of the U.S. Army for many years in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and I’m still involved with the Army through its education program.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car), and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Heartland Park Topeka was the site of the first four-second and 300-mph passes in Funny Car, set by Chuck Etchells and Jim Epler, respectively, and this marquee stop has always been a favorite for NHRA drivers. Putting it back on Memorial Day weekend could add even more incentive.
“Moving it up a week and having it over Memorial Day is going to be great for the fans in the Midwest and the Kansas area,” said reigning Pro Stock world champion Coughlin, a two-time Pro Stock winner at the track and winner last weekend in Atlanta. “We enjoy the facilities at Heartland Park, and we’ve had some good success there over the years. We’ve been going to the racetrack for what seems like 20 years now, dating back to my Super Stock days. I think it’s going to be a great weekend for the event.”
Brown might be the hottest driver in Top Fuel, winning three events already this season, but the driver of the 8,000-horsepower Matco Tools dragster is still searching for his first win in Topeka. Langdon knocked off Brown’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher a year ago en route to the world championship, and Brown wouldn’t mind a similar end result following his first victory in Topeka.
“I love going to Topeka, but I want to see if it looks any greener from the winner’s circle,” said Brown, the 2012 world champion. “I’ve won three poles there (2009-10, 2012) but never gotten to the final round. It’s been different things that have come up to bite us, and this could be the year we get four win lights. So far this year, everything’s been good to our Matco Tools team, and this could be our year in Topeka.”
Other Top Fuel standouts include current points leader and 2006 Kansas winner Doug Kalitta, Atlanta winner Spencer Massey, Steve Torrence, defending Auto Club of Southern California Road the Future Award winner Brittany Force, and J.R. Todd.
In Funny Car, Hight hopes his recent hot streak, which includes three straight victories and taking over the points lead, leads to a third victory at the Kansas Nationals. Well aware of the history made at the track, Hight wants to add his own over Memorial Day weekend.
“Topeka has a lot of history for Funny Cars, including the first four-second run, the first 300-mph run, and the first run in the 4.8-second range,” Hight said. “That proves that this facility is great. I have won here before and want to add another.”
Hight’s teammate John Force, the reigning and 16-time champ in Funny Car, has an NHRA-best nine wins in Topeka and will be among Hight’s top challengers. Other Funny Cars racing in Topeka include four-time event winners Cruz Pedregon and Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., Alexis DeJoria, Matt Hagan, Courtney Force, Del Worsham, Tony Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson, and Bob Tasca III.
Despite his win last weekend in Atlanta, a third victory for defending event winner Coughlin won’t be easy against a loaded Pro Stock field that includes teammate Allen Johnson, who also has two Topeka wins; points leader Erica Enders-Stevens; Greg Anderson; Dave Connolly; Shane Gray; Jason Line; Vincent Nobile; V. Gaines; and Chris McGaha.
“This NHRA race is going to be fun for every fan, and we’re going to put on one hell of a show,” Coughlin said.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, May 23, with sessions at 4:30 and 7 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, May 24, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 25.