NHRA Stars Preparing For Arizona Nationals

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The Pros & Cons
Billy Torrence raced to victory last year in the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. (Ivan Veldhuizen Photo)

CHANDLER, Ariz. – The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is ready for a duel in the desert, bringing plenty of action to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park for the 36th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals on Feb. 21-23.

It is the second of 24 races during the NHRA season, providing the opportunity for an early-season victory at one of the traditional stops on the NHRA circuit. Southwest race fans have enjoyed the sights, sounds, smells and thrills of NHRA racing for more than three decades, with the early-season fixture set to provide more pulsating 11,000-horsepower, 330-mph action in 2020.

NHRA Prime Time, where drivers perform a burnout to their favorite jams played by an onsite DJ, takes place during the second qualifying session on Friday and will help kick off the weekend in style, while all the stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock will look for some early-season momentum during the NHRA’s annual stop in the Valley of the Sun.

Billy Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of of the race.

It was a Torrence who won in Top Fuel at Phoenix for a second straight year, only it was Billy, the father of back-to-back world champ Steve Torrence, who ended up in the winner’s circle in 2019. It was the start of a career-best season for the elder Torrence, while Steve, who won the race in 2018 for the first time, ended up with his second straight world title.

The Torrence family is aiming for three straight in Phoenix, but it won’t be easy in a loaded class. Leah Pritchett won two straight races at the track in 2016 and ’17, and others to watch include Antron Brown, a three-time race winner, veteran Doug Kalitta, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Shawn Langdon, who is returning to the class, Clay Millican, Terry McMillen, Austin Prock and Mike Salinas.

In Funny Car, Hagan has enjoyed a strong run at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in recent years. His victory last year gave him three wins in the past five years in Phoenix, and the two-time world champ will look to grab more early-season momentum.

Trying to stop him will be a slew of talented drivers in the star-studded class, including defending world champ Robert Hight, who won the race in 2012, Hagan’s Don Schumacher Racing teammates Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Ron Capps, John Force, who has an NHRA-best eight wins at the track, previous race winner Alexis DeJoria, who is returning to the class in 2020, 2018 world champ J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson, Bob Tasca and Cruz Pedregon.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, the Pro Stock class will head to Phoenix with plenty of fanfare. The class continues to provide plenty of thrills, much like Coughlin did last year en route to his third career victory at the track. Coughlin finished second in points last year, trailing only Elite Motorsports teammate and reigning world champ Erica Enders.

The three-time world champ will look for her second win at the facility against the likes of Greg Anderson, Jason Line, who is retiring from driving following the 2020 season, Alex Laughlin, Deric Kramer, Chris McGaha, who won the race in 2018, Bo Butner and Matt Hartford.

The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills. After nitro qualifying, fans can watch a trio of spectacular jet cars, including a pair from the Lucas Oil Muy Caliente team, as well as Scott Arriaga’s “Wicked Sensation” jet car. Known for exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.

New for the event will be the Arizona Big Tire Shootout. The shootout will feature an eight car field that consists of one time trial, plus three rounds of eliminations. A chip draw will take place to determine ladder placement. The winner will receive a special acrylic version of the coveted Wally.

NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds.

Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.

Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park has moved its popular Camp Wild Horse overnight campground to Maricopa Road just outside of the main gate, behind the starting line. The new campground experience at the track will allow campers and fans easy access to and from the track. The fee for an overnight camping spot will remain at $225, but the experience and value will increase significantly. Camp Wild Horse access will be granted to anyone with an event ticket.

Camp Wild Horse will be hosted each night by 2016 NHRA Funny champion Ron Capps, driver of Don Schumacher Racing’s NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Capps will be on stage for question-and-answer sessions and autograph signings.

Fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.

Fans will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.