DI Warm-Up: Recapping the 2014-2015 NHRA Offseason Changes
The few months that separate the season-ending and season-opening races at Pomona have been notoriously tumultuous in recent years, and this year wasn’t any different. Drivers and crew chiefs shuffled around the different teams. Some drivers left their class to try another class, while others left driving altogether. Sponsors left, but in most cases were replaced with bright, shiny new sponsors. Here are some of the big changes to watch for when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series kicks off at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals, February 5-8, in Pomona, California (or at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, March 12-15, in Gainesville, Florida, in the case of the Pro Stock Motorcycles).
Alan Johnson Loses Al-Anabi Funding
Critics said it was a matter of time before Al-Anabi Racing pulled the funding of its racing operations in the United States. Unfortunately, that time came just days into 2015, leaving Alan Johnson Racing searching for primary sponsorship right before the Winternationals, a race they enter as the defending champions. Though still searching for a sponsor, AJR and championship driver Shawn Langdon plan to compete at at least the first few races of the season.
Bob Vandergriff Retires from Driving
Top Fuel veteran Bob Vandergriff Jr. elected to retire from driving at the end of last season. Since then, BVR has been grooming Pro Stock standout Dave Connolly to replace Vandergriff as driver of the full-time C&J Energy Services Top Fuel dragster. Connolly is joined by three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon, who will also compete full-time in a second C&J/Casedhole Solutions car.
Clay Millican Joins New Team
The six-time IHRA Top Fuel champion and his 2014 team owner, Dexter Tuttle, parted ways over the offseason, allowing Millican to join Stringer Performance, a new team formed by businessman Doug Stringer. With funding coming from Parts Plus, Weld Wheels and Great Clips, the car will be tuned by veteran TF driver David Grubnic and general manager Lance Larsen.
Terry McMillen Hires Rob Wendland
McMillen has competed in the NHRA series full-time since 2010, but has yet to qualify for the Countdown for the Championship. He hopes to change that this year with the addition of crew chief Rob Wendland, who tuned Johnny Gray to seven Funny Car wins in two and a half seasons. Wendland replaces McMillen’s longtime tuner, Richard Hartman, who has since found a place on Tim Wilkerson’s Funny Car team.
John Force Replaces Outgoing Sponsors with Peak, Chevrolet and Lucas Oil
Fans of the 16x Funny Car champion were left wondering who would step up to fund the multi-car John Force Racing team in 2015 after longtime sponsors Castrol and Ford concluded their contracts at the end of 2014. Force started revealing his new partners last year; Peak Antifreeze & Coolant at Las Vegas, Lucas Oil at Pomona and Chevrolet just two weeks ago. Because of time constraints, JFR has retrofitted their Mustang bodies to resemble Camaros for the upcoming season until new Camaro bodies are developed.
John Hale Goes Full-Time with Jim Dunn Racing
Successful Nostalgia Funny Car driver John Hale has dabbled in “big show” racing the last couple years, but he’s decided to go full-time Funny Car racing this season. The two-time NFC champion is replacing Jeff Arend, who drove the Jim Dunn Racing entry for the last two seasons.
Alexis DeJoria Brings Back Hot Look
When the quickest woman in Funny Car debuted a fiery new paint scheme at the Auto Club NHRA Finals last year, it was meant to promote the new Patron XO Cafe Incendio, a hot chile chocolate liqueur, at one race only. The popularity of the design prompted Patron execs to rethink the plan, so now DeJoria will campaign the red and black look throughout 2015.
Erica Enders-Stevens Gains Teammate for Title Defense
Elite Motorsports announced it will field a second car on a limited basis this year. Young sportsman racer Drew Skillman will drive the Ray Skillman Chevrolet-sponsored Camaro at around 15 races as a teammate to Erica Enders-Stevens, the reigning NHRA Pro Stock world champion. Skillman is entering the Pro Stock ranks after five years in sportsman competition, driving entries in Stock, Super Stock and Comp Eliminator.
Larry Morgan Switches to Chevrolet, Gray Horsepower
It turns out John Force isn’t the only one switching from a Mustang to a Camaro this year. Larry Morgan, one of Pro Stock’s mainstay competitors, made the switch over the winter, picking up a new Jerry Haas-built Camaro. Morgan also picked up a new primary sponsor in FireAde, and will lease Gray Motorsports engines, a significant change for the driver who has long competed with engines built in-house.
Alund Returns to KB Racing
One of Pro Stock’s powerhouse multi-car teams will welcome two additional teammates during the 2015 season. KB Racing, with drivers Greg Anderson and Jason Line, will field a third entry at Pomona with nine-time FIA Pro Stock champion Jimmy Alund. The Swedish driver, who subbed for Anderson early in 2014 and won the Four-Wide Nationals, will run select early races in 2015. Former Comp champion Bo Butner is also expected to make the move up to Pro Stock on a limited schedule with KB.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
Victory Jumps into PSM with the Smiths
The husband and wife team of Matt and Angie Smith has signed a deal with Victory Motorcycles to bring the brand’s Gunner model to Pro Stock Motorcycle competition. Smith worked with Victory to develop an NHRA-approved body over the winter. MSR will continue to use their S&S V-Twin engines and associate sponsors Nitro Fish and Kandy Magazine will remain on Matt and Angie’s bikes, respectively.
Chaz Kennedy Leaves Star Racing
Kennedy, one of last year’s Auto Club Road to the Future Award candidates, decided in January to leave George Bryce’s Star Racing team to race on his own. Bryce plans to focus on a single bike this year with three-time PSM champion Angelle Sampey.
Adam Arana Joins the Coast Guard
It was announced at the Las Vegas fall race last year that Adam Arana wouldn’t continue racing with father Hector and brother Hector Jr. in 2015, instead making a noble move to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard. Adam rode one of the family team’s Lucas Oil-sponsored bikes for the last two years.
- NHRA introduced a harsh new oildown policy for Top Fuel and Funny Car competitors last week. Team owners and crew chiefs shared their opinions on the policy in this new article from CompetitionPlus.com.
- If you’ve ever flipped through the pages of Drag Illustrated, or even just looked at the cover in some cases, you’ve seen photographer Mark Rebilas’s work. The same remains true if you’ve read USA Today‘s Sports section or almost any news outlet’s coverage of last night’s Super Bowl. In addition to shooting the stars of NHRA drag racing, Rebilas also covers some of the largest sporting events in the world, a career he talks about in this interview.
- The new C7 Corvette NHRA Pro Mod of 2012 ADRL Pro Nitrous champion Bob Rahaim went viral across the drag racing circles after photos of the new Jerry Bickel car were released on Friday afternoon. Check out the photos and our interview with Rahaim here.
- The U.S. Street Nationals at Bradenton Motorsports Park was last weekend, and the event wasn’t without its share of carnage. In this clip from MotorManiaTV’s Livestream of the race, Outlaw Pro Mod competitors Ray Commisso and Bill Futch got crossed up during the night qualifying session. Both drivers walked away without serious injuries.
- Whether you like ’em or not, the racers on Discovery’s Street Outlaws are bound to make more appearances at the track as the show continues to grow in popularity.
- It’s no secret that drag racers like to partake in a few adult beverages after the day’s racing activities are finished. They also like to burn nitromethane whenever possible. Del and Chuck Worsham decided to add a little efficiency to that equation when they built this nitro margarita blender. It’s an old nitro Funny Car motor mounted on a small trailer, allowing for use at the occasional car show, open house or nostalgia race.