WADE: Things To Watch During the NHRA Season

Susan Wade.

SEATTLE — It might be difficult for the NHRA to top the drama from its final day of last season with all four pro champions crowned, a top-end fight, qualifying-order manipulation, bribery and all sorts of rumors and controversy.

However, with a fresh season comes fresh craziness even though the following trends to keep an eye on in 2020 really aren’t scandalous or terribly provocative.

Keep an eye on these, though:

Changes to the Countdown — Top Fuel racer Billy Torrence’s magic carpet ride through a part-time schedule to the top five in the Countdown to the Championship has made officials rethink the format.

Insiders tipped us off in November that a tweak to the six-race playoff system already had been decided and that it favored the racers who run all 24 events.

Few changes have been made to the Countdown since it began in 2007, but kudos to the NHRA for being flexible and considering updates as they become necessary.

Shawn Langdon returns to Top Fuel — The versatile Langdon gave it a gallant go in the Funny Car class for the past two seasons for Kalitta Motorsports. He was title-eligible both times and overcame a steep learning curve to win twice in 2019.

But he should be back in a Top Fuel dragster this year, though likely not with recent sponsor Global Electronic Technology. Langdon earned the 2013 Top Fuel championship, adding that to titles in Jr. Dragster and Super Comp.

Alexis DeJoria launches a comeback — After sitting out two seasons, this feisty five-time winner is jumping back in the mix with her familiar tuners, Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante, from their days at Kalitta Motorsports.

She’ll be the only female in the Funny Car class and DeJoria is only two-elimination rounds away from 100, so she should hit a milestone early in the season.

Pro Modified class receives mainstream attention — When the Real Pro Mod organization quietly dissolved toward the end of 2019, moving the semi-independent and highly popular class toward tighter NHRA control, the fall meeting in St. Louis included an invitation to the FOX Sports TV production crew.

And according to RPM boss John Waldie, the FOX crew was “more than helpful.” They said, “We’ve never been exposed to this before. This room is alive with these Pro Mod guys! There’s personality here! We can really run with this Pro Mod class.”

So don’t be surprised if the NHRA starts giving this class a little more love.

More corporate interest — Entrepreneur Aaron Lewis partnered with Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Jianna Salinas and Scrappers Racing to launch the clothing line True Disruption, which is designed to stream revenue into his revolutionary start-up, Sphere Brakes.

And he said, “You look at all the big sponsors on these cars and they’re billion-dollar companies. We’re not. We’re small. And the NHRA gives us an opportunity to get on a national stage with a very reputable team and a great family who all stand by the same values. And that is what I feel true sponsorship should be, where everyone wins. Racing is the best multi-win scenario, because you have so many stakeholders involved that you really can do so much for so many people. It’s quite extraordinary.”

Lewis is no newcomer to business, having placed his products in the military segment of the market, as well as with the freight rail industry. If he recognizes the value of the NHRA platform, surely others in Corporate America will too.

Two sidelined and capable Top Fuel drivers should land sponsors — Jordan Vandergriff’s Top Fuel sponsor surprised him with a race or two remaining with news that it wouldn’t return for 2020.

The 24-year-old made an excellent, if unsuccessful, case for rookie-of-the-year recognition in a part-time schedule, and he is the face of the NHRA’s future. Uncle and team owner Bob Vandergriff should be able to land a marketing partner for the popular and personable driver.

Class victories leader and eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher was idle all last year following the U.S. Army’s exit from the sport.

But while nothing appeared to be on the horizon for Schumacher at the close of last season, don’t be surprised if he secures a sponsor and is on track to extend his records — with a bit of an unexpected twist.

Continued backbiting in the Pro Stock class — Greg Anderson’s annoyance with sharing the Pro Stock class with current and three-time champion Erica Enders (and her delight in watching him deal with his perturbance) resurfaced during the Finals in November.

And with a class full of drivers who are business owners used to giving orders and being in charge, they haven’t always played nicely together in the sandbox. Nothing has changed, so neither has the personal opinions. And for those who thrive on the theatrics, this could be the class to watch.