It’s finally here: my favorite week of the year. The U.S. Nationals, The Big Go, INDY. It’s hard to describe the feeling of just being at the racetrack during such a prestigious race. There are so many drivers ready to bring home the Wally. It’s not just A Wally, but it’s THE Wally from The Big Go. Nerves are high, and everyone’s on their A-game (or they better be). Indy cultivates winners and puts names in history books, so it’s natural for it to be on most drivers’ bucket list. You already know some typical things you can expect (and are no doubt excited) to see: John Force, Steve Torrence, Jeg Coughlin. You’ll be watching closely for who’s claiming the final spots left in the countdown. But outside of those moments, there are a lot more drivers and experiences that need to be on your to-do list at the U.S. Nationals.
WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY
The 65th Annual U.S. Nationals kick off this week with Sportsman qualifying on Wednesday, August 28 at 8:00 a.m., and continues through the day on Thursday. You’ll get to see nearly 600 Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Gas, and Super Comp cars make qualifying passes for these two days, and eliminations will begin at 8:00 am on Friday, August 30.
In addition to Sportsman eliminations on Friday, you’ll also be able to enjoy:
- 19th annual Dodge HEMI Challenge
- Qualifying for: Top Alcohol, Top Fuel Harley, ScottRods Gassers, Pro Mod, Factory Stock Showdown, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Funny Car and Top Fuel
- Factory Stock Showdown School with Alan Reinhart and Aaron Stanfield at 6:30 pm
Basically, you’ll be able to see just about every class and every type of car go down the track on Friday, in addition to a night qualifying session for nitro cars, which needs to be on your bucket list.
And if you’re not at the track, head to Don Schumacher’s shop (just down the road) for their Racing Open House benefiting Riley Children’s Foundation. Meet DSR drivers, see where they do all the work on their cars, and more. Just the size of their shop is hard to imagine. Make sure a visit here is on your list. This is from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.
Saturday will play host to a first-of-its-kind event for the U.S. Nationals: the NHRA Street Car Showdown. This will bring together four of the greatest street racers in the world for a chance to reset the Street Car E.T. record. Racers including Tom Bailey, Joe Barry, Bryant Goldstone and Dave Schroeder will see if they can beat the current record of 5.85 seconds. All four of these drivers and cars have completed Hot Rod Drag Week, a competition where drivers race and road-trip their cars on a course of five drag strips in five days. These cars are driven, not trailered, to each racetrack, where they run for the quickest pass at each location. This is the first time this event has happened at the U.S. Nationals, so you can expect it to draw a lot of spectators.
Pro Stock lovers, get ready. Legendary Warren Johnson and Greg Anderson, two of the winningest drivers in NHRA Pro Stock history, come together during the U.S. Nationals for a one-time-only match race called “Back to School.” They’ll also be revealing plans for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Pro Stock. It’s safe to say that we can’t wait for this epic moment.
If you’re into learning more about the specifics of some of the classes, join Brian Lohnes and Greg Anderson at 11:00 am for Pro Stock School, and Alan Reinhart and Matt Smith at 11:45 am for Pro Stock Motorcycle School.
And you’ll be able to enjoy more qualifying from competitors in the Top Alcohol, ScottRods Gassers, Top Fuel Harley, Factory Stock Showdown, Pro Mod, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Funny Car, and Top Fuel classes.
Eliminations begin today for several classes, including: ScottRods Gassers, Top Alcohol, Top Fuel Harley, Factory Stock Showdown, and the first round of Pro Mod. You’ll also be able to see more qualifying passes from Pro Mod, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Funny Car, and Top Fuel cars.
Pro Mod and Nitro-lovers, don’t miss the Pro Mod School with Brian Lohnes and Stevie “Fast” Jackson at 10:30 am, and Nitro School® – with Alan Reinhart and Brian Corradi at 11:15 am.
The day is finally here. The one day you don’t want to miss at the Big Go. The day starts with NHRA Today, SealMaster® Track Walk, and Pre-Race Ceremonies on the starting line at 9:45 am. You don’t need any special kind of pass for this – everyone is welcome! It’s a great opportunity to take a walk down the most historic track in the country on the biggest race day ever.
Eliminations begin at 11:00 am with Funny Car and Top Fuel, followed by Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Then round two of eliminations begin for Pro Mod, Factory Stock Showdown. Throughout the day, winners will be crowned in every class. Don’t miss the party in the winner’s circle at the end of the day. Click here for more information on the 65th Annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and schedule.
WATCH OUT FOR THESE DRIVERS:
TOP SPORTSMAN & TOP DRAGSTER
This is the first year that Top Sportsman and Top Dragster will be competing at the U.S. Nationals, which is huge for these drivers. If you’re not familiar with these classes, they are essentially a class for very fast E.T. racers, with dragsters competing in the Top Dragster category and full-bodied cars competing in the Top Sportsman field. Competitors chose their own dial-in and they’re running a traditional bracket format with a full three-amber Christmas Tree start, and the breakout rule is enforced. It’s basically really fast bracket racing. It’s not uncommon for most entries to run more than 200 mph. I can imagine it’s pretty hard to judge the quarter-mile stripe going that fast. And over the past few years, we’ve seen the field get quicker and quicker. There’s no doubt that everyone’s going to be on their A-game for Indy in hopes that they’ll be the first-ever winner of the Big Go Wally in these classes.
Who to watch in Top Sportsman: Curtis Fredrich
This Wisconsin-based racer is currently No. 2 in the national points standings heading into Indy, and number one in the Division 3 standings. There’s a lot on the line for him in Indy.
Who to watch in Top Dragster: JB Strassweg
This Indiana-based racer was the 2017 Division 3 Top Dragster champion, and most recently was the winner of the Top Dragster field at the third annual World Series of Pro Mod at Bandimere Speedway. He’s on fire and ready to bring home a Wally in his home state.
The NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series features a range of different types of cars with all different types of body styles, paint jobs, and power-adders. This class can use supercharges, turbochargers, or nitrous-oxide injection. But the one thing they all have in common: they’re fast, and usually quite a handful to drive. Lately they have also had some of the quickest and tightest fields in history. This class definitely needs to be on your “must watch” list.
Who to watch in Pro Mod: Stevie “Fast” Jackson
Stevie is the defending U.S. Nationals winner and the current points leader in the 12-race Pro Mod series. He’s had an interesting season so far, ending up in four finals of the eight NHRA Pro Mod races so far this year. He took home the Wally at two of those races (Houston and Topeka), and the two that he lost (Gainesville and Richmond) were holeshot losses. The Gainesville holeshot-loss is being called one of the best drag races of all time. Todd Tutterow’s .008 reaction time compared to Jackson’s .036 light is what sent the Wally home with Tutterow. But, that’s not the end of the story. Jackson’s run was the quickest pass in the history of Pro Mod and set the national record. The next NHRA race in Houston set up a rematch of the final round, but this time with Jackson taking the win over Tutterlow. Jackson was also beat on a holeshot win in Atlanta to Sidnei Frigo, and he pulled out the win against Clint Satterfield in Topeka. Jackson has the car, and there’s no doubt that he’s going to be more focused than ever at The Big Go.
TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
You might confuse these cars with the similar-looking Nitro Funny Car counterparts, but these cars are restricted to the use of methanol fuel and have a three-speed transmission. They’re known as one of the hardest cars in the world to drive and generally run at speeds more than 270mph.
Who to watch in Top Alcohol Funny Car: Chris Marshall
The Oregon-based racer was a competitor at the Big Go for the first time in 2018, and it wasn’t a planned race on his schedule. But after winning the NHRA national event in Seattle, then the regional event at the same track, he knew he had a winning car and made the last-minute trip to Indy. He didn’t take home the Wally last year, but did make an impressive U.S. Nationals debut, getting beat in the finals by Sean Bellemeur. And this year looks like a bit of a repeat. Marshall also won the NHRA Northwest Nationals in Seattle in early August, and followed it up with another win in Seattle at the Northwest Divisional. He’s currently fifth in the national points standings, and he’s headed back to Indy with plans to add one more Wally to his shelf.
Pro Stock is only racing at 18 of the 24 national event races this year. This class undoubtedly offers some of the closest finishes in drag racing, and most cars hit speeds at well over 200mph.
Who to watch in Pro Stock: Alex Laughlin
Alex laughlin has had quite a busy year. In February, he stepped out of his Pro Stock and Pro Mod cars and stepped into the world of small-tire racing, winning $50,000 at Lights Out X in Georgia. And when it comes to Pro Stock, he’s entering the Big Go in third place in points, just 80 points shy of the No. 1 spot of Bo Butner, and 8 points shy of Greg Anderson’s No. 2 spot. Laughlin will be debuting a new look for his Pro Stock Camaro, featuring a nardo gray Havoline wrap, and he’ll also be competing in Pro Mod, debuting a new look with a life-size Hot Wheels lookalike car.
The quickest of the heads-up Super classes is an 8.90 index class filled with mostly rear-engined dragsters. There’s currently 134 drivers entered in this class at Indy, and many of these drivers have some pretty impressive accomplishments under their belt.
Who to watch in Super Comp: Kevin White
One car that will be sure to stand out is Kevin White’s ‘72 Nova. Yep, you read that right. Kevin is racing a door car in a class that’s predominantly dragsters, definitely not something you usually see. And not only is it a rare car for the class, but it’s just a rare car, with only six of them being made. He purchased the car from a collector at the Mecum auction in Indianapolis a few years ago. The Indianapolis-native isn’t just an anomaly in the class by having a door car, but he doesn’t even have a throttle stop or delay box, something that nearly every other competitor depends on. This will be White’s third time competing at the U.S. Nationals.
DODGE HEMI CHALLENGE
This year will be the 19th year that this fan-favorite class will be running at the U.S. Nationals. It showcases Super Stock/A-Hemi NHRA Sportsman cars that are powered by 426 Hemi engines. The winner will take home a unique trophy designed to look like the 426 Hemi engine.
Who to watch in the Dodge Hemi Challenge: Jimmy Daniels
The 23-year-old has won the race for the last three consecutive years. It’s a no-brainer that you probably want to place some bets on him and his Super Stock 1968 Dodge Dart to take the trophy and $15k cash prize home again this year.
TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME SPECTATORS AT THE U.S. NATIONALS:
Become a VIP at the Top Eliminator Club
Forgo the typical general admission tickets and splurge for a seat in the Top Eliminator Club. You can get these tickets for one day or for the entire event. In addition to having reserved seats that are right on the starting line, you’ll also enjoy a members-only hospitality center, complimentary breakfast and lunch buffets on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, complimentary beverages and snacks every day, live on-track action via closed-circuit television, a members-only souvenir store, private restrooms, a members-only full bar, a gift bag with exclusive TEC cap and the official Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals event program, and a preferred parking pass.
Mark these restaurants off your Indy bucket-list:
- St. Elmos
Head downtown and try some of the world-famous shrimp cocktail at one of Indianapolis’ most known restaurants. Steak, seafood, and cocktails are some of their specialties, but nothing competes with their shrimp cocktail sauce. The Travel Channel called it the world’s spiciest dish, and it’s known to make grown men cry. Plus you can take home a bottle (or two) of the famous sauce.
- Rick’s Cafe Boatyard
Located just a few miles from the racetrack, enjoy fresh seafood, steak and more overlooking the water at Eagle Creek. If you can, grab a seat on their deck and enjoy live music.
Other must-visit places in Indianapolis:
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway – home of the Indy 500, just a few miles from Lucas Oil Raceway. You can set up a tour of the track and even get a photo-opp kissing the legendary bricks.
- Bringing your kids? They’ll love the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. It’s the world’s largest children’s museum and we promise that kids of all ages (that means you, dad) will have fun.
- Visit the Dolphin Adventure at the Indianapolis Zoo – the only place in the Midwest where you can get in the water with dolphins. Help feed them and interact using hand signals.
- Visit the NCAA Hall of Champions where you can delve into 24 different sports, including some unique ones like field hockey and water polo.