NHRA Chevrolet Performance US Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway, Brownsburg, IN, USA, Sept 4-7, 2015

Jerry Savoie WINS the U.S. Nationals
The inside story of White Alligator Racing’s winning weekend in Indy

photos, video and story by Tim Hailey with a lil' help from team reports and the NHRA

Jerry Savoie lurked near the top of the qualifying order all weekend before making his 3 appearance in 5 Indy final rounds pay off.

It was an emotional Jerry Savoie that addressed the crowd and media following his Pro Stock Motorcycle win at the NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on a day that—according to Statman Lewis Bloom—all pro class winners collected U.S. Nationals Wallys for the first time.

Only .001 of a second separated Savoie and fellow-finalist Chip Ellis on their semifinal passes, so the final was set up to be one of the best of all time. And with Savoie on a Suzuki TL1000 and Ellis on a V-Twin Buell, it was exactly the kind of match-up that the diverse PSM class thrives on.

Ellis rode for Savoie a couple of years ago when Jerry was recovering from neck surgery. Savoie and Ellis’ bike owner Junior Pippin are good friends—both self-made, blue-collar businessmen who can be found working hard all day, everyday. Pippin is currently working hardest on a serious battle with cancer, and after a pre-race prayer in the staging lanes, the feeling was that a win for one was a win for all.

Pre-race prayer time for (left to right) Jerry Savoie, NHRA chaplain Craig Garland, and Chip Ellis

But there was still a matter of trophies and checks to be settled on Lucas Oil Raceway’s quarter mile just outside of Indianapolis, and the White Alligator Racing team rolled up to the starting line anything but certain of how their bike was going to perform.

The team had to replace the entire clutch set-up after the semi. “The whole clutch was just melted,” said crew chief/tuner Tim Kulungian, who put in a new basket, bearing, plates—everything. “Normally the clutch is one of the most predictable parts of our program. But to get it to do what we want to do has required a lot of clutch, a lot of plate load. It was working pretty much the way we expected it to this weekend ‘til the semis. There was nothing in my tune-up that should have caused that, but it still ran a respectable number (6.878 at 194.77 mph over Hector Arana Jr.)

The clutch-meltdown semifinal between Savoie and Hector Arana Jr

So Kulungian had to apply a tune-up to the whole new set-up as best he could for the final. “The biggest variable you could possibly have thrown at you! I did my best to come up with a tune-up, but it just spun.”

Savoie found some racing luck when he needed it most as Ellis redlit.

The problem also could have been the broken wheelie bar brace the team found while pushing the bike back after the win. “That definitely could have unloaded the tire,” said Savoie.

WAR tuner Tim Kulungian

It was a well-deserved victory for a team that started the weekend fast right off the trailer, running 6.93 at 192 mph to lead the first full qualifying session. “It’s hard to do that,” said Kulungian. “We’re not like that every weekend, but when you can come off the trailer and be very competitive like that, it puts you a step ahead.”

True enough, as runs of 6.896, 6.900, and 6.908 followed and Savoie finished third in the qualifying order.

Eliminations opened with a competition bye when Chaz Kennedy couldn’t get his Buell in gear, and Savoie ran a very quick 6.877. Then after cutting identical reaction times, Savoie’s Suzuki outran Steve Johnson’s 6.896 to 6.945 for the round 2 win.

WAR Winners Circle

That round qualified Savoie and the WAR team for NHRA’s Countdown to One championship playoffs, which begin when the teams unload for the 8th Annual NHRA Carolina Nationals on September 18-20 at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina.

“If Jerry keeps doing what he’s doing, and I can find the power and get a hold of the clutch tune-up, we can have a very competitive program the rest of the year,” predicts Kulungian.

Watch Jerry Savoie’s US Nationals race winning press conference

 

Jerry Savoie thanks Eddie Krawiec, Byron Hines, Terry Vance and everyone at Vance & Hines, E3 Spark Plugs, High Performance Lubricants, PJ1, crewmen Jeremy Derouche, Rick Elmore and Steve Zellman, Kulungian, his whole family, and the staff of Savoie Alligator Farm.

EARLIER: Ellis and Savoie in PSM Final

E3 incrementals

This is what the .018 to .095 bullet looked like that Chip Ellis dodged against Angelle Sampey. Angelle's Buell fumbled 4th gear and Ellis drove around for the win and lane choice by .001 against Jerry Savoie.

Former Michael Phillips crewman Red (left) and nitro Harley stud Mark Conner

EARLIER: Harleys Out in E2 at Indy

EARLIER: Krawiec with Low ET E1 at Indy

E1 incrementals

While discussing his chances of holding on to the bump spot for the Countdown, I asked LE Tonglet who he had in E1. "Eddie!" he barked glumly.

"Well, he's not doing so well so far this weekend," I observed.

"He always does that!" Tonglet snapped. "Just wait, he'll pop off a lap tomorrow and you'll say 'Where did that come from?!'"

And indeed, LE called it as Krawiec laid down low ET of the round with a 6.873 at 193 mph.

"They're right where they want to be," birthday boy George Bryce said about his Vance & Hines rivals on Saturday night. "That's how good they are."

Setting up an all V&H final, perhaps?

Jackie Bryce takes a Star Racing group photo before E1

EARLIER: Ellis and Pippin Qualify #1 at Indy

Chip Ellis (near lane) and Jerry Savoie in the final qualifying session

Chip Ellis qualified the Junior Pippin/PiranaZ Buell number one in Pro Stock Motorcycle for Labor Day’s 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis, Indiana—his third number one qualifier of the season and 16th of his career.

After leading qualifying Saturday, Ellis actually padded his advantage over second place Andrew Hines in Sunday morning’s session with a 6.855 when few others improved. And although Ellis didn’t improve his ET in the heat of Sunday’s final afternoon session, he did set high MPH of the event so far with a 196.22.

Chip Ellis spun down low but ran high MPH with a 196.22 in the final qualifying round. His earlier 6.855 held up for #1. Jerry Savoie's .908 in the heat easily took low ET of the round.

“We hit the chassis pretty hard that pass,” said engine builder/tuner Lon Moyer. “It actually hooked then unloaded the tire. It kinda gave us some wheel speed down low and made for the big speed up at the top and gave us a little more run at the end of the track.

“We learned a lot from that run and can use the data on raceday. It’s an accurate reading of what it’s gonna be like tomorrow.

“And we’re kind of a team that’s still collecting a lot of data. A lot of these guys out here have a lot more laps on their stuff at every racetrack, but we’re definitely in high learning mode every race. We need a lot of laps so we can figure out what to do come Sunday when the track changes—like yesterday. It changed a lot from when we left the trailer to when we finally ended up running.

“So hopefully, on Monday, we’ll make some good decisions when we leave this trailer.”

Ellis and the team face 16th qualifier Angie Smith in round 1 of eliminations. “We know we have the horsepower and today was a good tune-up,” said Ellis. “These will be the conditions we race in tomorrow, so we know where we should be first round tomorrow.”

Watch this video of Chip Ellis’ Sunday press conference

 

The team has extra incentive to bring home a Wally as bike owner Pippin is on the receiving end of massive doses of chemotherapy and radiation to combat recently discovered inoperable, stage 4 cancer.

Junior Pippin and Chip Ellis would like to thank PiranaZ, Junior Pippin Trucking,  Paul Bost Trucking, B&R Automotive, Lisa Pippin, Lon Moyer, Dave Bryant and Brad Moore.

Eddie Krawiec has been quiet—almost a complete non-issue ever since the long weekend started. Is he truly struggling or is he sandbagging? First round opponent LE Tonglet hopes against hope that it's the former. Tonglet, on the bump spot for the Countdown, is in danger of being overtaken by 11th-in-point Ellis.

Still crackin' each other up after all these years—Terry Vance and Byron Hines

Jack Beckman (near lane) continued his Funny Car tear with the Traxxas Nitro Shootout win over Robert Hight (photo by Ron Lewis)

Jack Beckman earned a $100,000 payday with his victory in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car Sunday at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Beckman, the 2012 world champ, claimed the victory with a winning performance of 4.051 seconds at 309.06 mph, defeating Robert Hight in the final of the all-star bonus event. It was Beckman’s second win in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, making him the second Funny Car driver to win the event twice, tying John Force.

“I think we have shown everyone how good we are when conditions are favorable,” said Beckman, who also won a Funny Car all-star race at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 2007. “We’ve been spectacular in hot conditions too but we haven’t had that many runs in it over the last month and a half. I think we just reinforced that this Infinite Hero team has it no matter how hot the track is.”

Hight, who was also the runner-up in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout last season, ran a 4.138 at 303.71 in the Auto Club Chevy Camaro SS. He defeated Matt Hagan and Tim Wilkerson to reach the final. “We went down the track every run. For some reason, on none of the runs it didn't run as good as (Mike) Neff wanted it to. We were chasing something. We changed engines last night, but no excuses. For some reason it was just down on power for whatever reason today. So, we are going to work hard tonight,” said Hight in his hauler after the final. “The biggest deal is to get this Shootout for these guys. Yes, we wanted to win a hundred grand, but the big deal is to make sure we fix it for tomorrow. Tomorrow is really when you want to win. If you had to pick one or the other, tomorrow is what you would pick. But truthfully, we wanted both."

Beckman also earned the No. 1 qualifying position for Monday’s 11 a.m. eliminations with his Friday night pass, a track-record performance of 3.936 at 323.74 in the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T. He earned his fifth No. 1 of the season, fourth-in-a-row and 15th of his career. Beckman will battle Bob Bode in the first round.

Hight qualified second with a 3.971 at 322.96, earning him a first round matchup with John Bojec. Tommy Johnson Jr. starts third with a 3.976 at 318.32 in the Riley Children’s Hospital Dodge Charger R/T. He will face John Hale.

A critical matchup that will be pivotal in deciding the final playoff spot in the Countdown to the Championship will take place in the first round of Funny Car eliminations featuring Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force. If Force defeats DeJoria in round one, she would need to reach the final to clinch the final playoff position.“We’re definitely in a tough position, but we’re excited. We’re going to do the best we can. Everyone wants to win Indy, but you have to just see where the cards are going to fall. We’re going to put ourselves in the best position possible tomorrow. I think our Traxxas Chevrolet Camaro SS team will hopefully make a good pass in round one. That’s the most important round for us so we really have to be on our A-game and give it all we got,” Force said.

Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) also claimed No. 1 qualifying positions at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis during the final event of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season.

Dixon was the top qualifier in Top Fuel on Saturday with a 3.744 at 326.00 in his C&J Energy Services dragster and that run held to give him the No. 1 seed. A three-time world champ, Dixon earned his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and 53rd of his career. The four-time winner of the world’s most prestigious drag race will race Doug Kalitta in the first round. “It’s been a great start to the weekend,” said Dixon. “We had a little trouble getting down the track today but I’d rather have those runs today and that information going into tomorrow. I don’t care where I’ve qualified this year, I haven’t had an easy draw.”

Billy Torrence qualified second in the Capco Contractors dragster with a 3.771 at 323.58. He will face TJ Zizzo in the first round. Steve Torrence, driver of the Capco Contractors dragster, will start third with a 3.778 at 326.08 and race defending event winner Richie Crampton.

In Pro Stock, Anderson used his run from Saturday’s sessions to secure the No. 1 qualifier with a 6.562 at 210.70 in the Summit Racing Chevy Camaro. Anderson, a four-time world champ and six-time Indy winner, earned his second No. 1 of the season and 77th of his career. He faces Aaron Stanfield in the first round. “The table is set and I’ve got a great racecar,” said Anderson. “There are a whole bunch of other great cars. We’ve got a hot racetrack and I like that. I think my car has been the best on those. My little red Camaro seems to shine on the hot tracks.”

Jonathan Gray qualified second with a 6.562 at 210.70 in the Gray Manufacturing Chevy Camaro. He will face Vincent Nobile in the first round. Drew Skillman, driver of the Ray Skillman Racing Chevy Camaro, will begin as the No. 3 seed and face Alex Laughlin. Defending world champ Erica Enders, who is trying to hold off Anderson for the No. 1 seed in the Countdown, qualified fourth and opens eliminations with V Gaines.

Khalid Al-Balooshi's 5.84 qualified #1 in a huge field of 33 Pro Mod hopefuls and won E1. Balooshi is also subbing for the fired Spencer Massy in Top Fuel and qualified 13th.

Khalid alBalooshi claimed the No. 1 qualifying position and followed it up with a first round victory Sunday during the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the U.S. Nationals, the seventh of 10 events on the Pro Mod schedule. alBalooshi pushed his Precision Turbo and Engine ‘69 Camaro to the No. 1 spot with a 5.845 second pass at 239.78 mph to earn his first top qualifier of the season and third of his career.

The 2011 Pro Mod world champion continued his weekend success with a first round win against Don Walsh Jr. and will race Troy Coughlin Jr. in the quarterfinals on Monday. alBalooshi is chasing his first win since 2011.

Sidnei Frigo, a Pro Mod newcomer, had a successful qualifying attempt to earn the No. 2 starting spot, but fell to Jim Whiteley in the first round. Whiteley will go up against Mike Janis in the quarterfinals. Janis, who won the most recent Pro Mod event in Norwalk in July, took the points lead from Gainesville winner Bob Rahaim after racing to victory over Troy Coughlin. Rahaim failed to qualify for Indianapolis.

“It’s great to get the points lead at Indy, but it just adds to the pressure,” said Janis. “I would rather come from behind at the end and get it, but it’s all right. We’ll take it round by round. It’s really tough competition out here, tougher than I think it’s been all year. Everyone is right on their game. It’s a hot race track but everyone’s going down, so it’s going to be a tough deal.”

Steve Matusek and Rick Snavely will also meet in the second round of eliminations.

Atlanta winner Kenny Lang and Englishtown winner Billy Glidden also failed to qualify.

Pro Mod Series eliminations will continue at approximately 1 p.m. on Monday.

US Nationals results and ladders

EARLIER: Ellis and Pippin Lead Qualifying at Indy

Chip Ellis improved to a 6.855 this morning despite going .008 slower to the 60 foot than last night's 6.862 (1.059). Ellis and Hector Arana Sr tied with high MPH for the round (and the event so far)

Steve Johnson rebounded from a Q2 tankslapper to sit 10th with one round to go

Chip Ellis' remarkable performance on the Junior Pippin/PiranaZ Buell continues

Andrew Hines is now .024 behind Ellis going into the final qualifying round

Chip Ellis rode the Junior Pippin/PiranaZ Buell straight to number one in Saturday’s second round (third round overall) of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying for Labor Day’s 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis, Indiana. If Ellis stays on top through two more scheduled rounds on Sunday, it will be his third number one qualifier of the season and 16th of his career.

Friday qualifying "leader" Redell Harris (right) and Hector Arana

And while Friday’s result may have been somewhat of a fluke, Saturday was the second day that Pippin-powered Buells led PSM qualifying at Indy. Redell Harris rode his own Pippin-powered Buell to the top of the charts on Friday when his bike was the only one to take a timeslip as rain canceled the rest of the session and he was crowned king for the day.

All this took place while Pippin is at home in Conyers, Georgia on the receiving end of massive doses of chemotherapy and radiation to combat recently discovered inoperable, stage 4 nasal cancer.

Leading at the end of the day hardly seemed possible for Ellis after a bad bog slowed the black and pink Buell to an 11th place qualifying result in the early round. The 7.14 at 189 mph pass left the team with precious little to tune with for the evening session. And yet, while the competition improved marginally, Ellis and the bike improved dramatically to a 6.862 at 193.63.

Chip Ellis on the Junior Pippin/PiranaZ Buell

“I was expecting to improve, but not to an .86,” said engine builder/tuner Lon Moyer. “Then I thought that was gonna be a pretty stout run to hold up for the session. But the Harley guys were coming up next and they always run pretty strong, so you never know.”

And Andrew Hines did come close, running 6.879 on his Harley-Davidson. Second round leader Jerry Savoie was third with a 6.896.

“We have a little more to tune off of now,” said Moyer. “The first run, we had such a poor 60 foot. But we knew we had something to work with, it was just a matter of getting it to work down low. We’ve made good runs with bad 60 foots before, but you don’t want to make a habit of that. You’ve gotta make good runs out here, these are some of the best racers in the world.”

“We’ve been trying to get the clutch straightened out,” explained Ellis. “We came here and tested last Wednesday and I think we are starting to get a handle on it.” Indeed, as Ellis’ 1.059 was the second best 60 foot time of Saturday’s second round.

Watch this video of Chip Ellis’ Saturday night press conference here


Will Ellis stay on top after Sunday’s two rounds? “I have all the faith and confidence in my engine builder and team that we can get this job done,” said Chip, who noted that a winning performance is the best medicine for Pippin when he needs it most.

Junior Pippin and Chip Ellis would like to thank PiranaZ , Junior Pippin Trucking, Paul Bost Trucking, B&R Automotive, Lisa Pippin, Lon Moyer, Dave Bryant and Brad Moore.

Rickie Smith sits 10th with a 5.895, faces Steven Whitely tonight

EARLIER: DeSantis Crashes, Savoie #1

Joey DeSantis launches towards a top end crash in today's first qualifying session. Joey's OK but getting checked out at the hospital

Q2 incrementals

EARLIER: Redell Harris! Friday's #1 Qualifier?!

Pippin-powered Redell Harris

Persistent rain showers forced NHRA officials to cancel Friday’s professional qualifying session at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Rain started just as qualifying for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series began and continued into the night. Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Redell Harris was the only bike to make it down Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis before the rain hit, leaving him as the qualifying leader with a 7.224-second pass at 181.23 mph on a Buell.

Sometimes, as in Friday's qualifying, NHRA brings the spec Sunoco fuel to the bikes in the staging lanes. Here, an NHRA official watches as Andrew Hines' (on right) crewman fuels his V-Rod. It's understanding this new-for-2015 fuel that Vance&Hines blames for their lack of wins and #1 qualifiers since Andrew's Charlotte win in April until Eddie Krawiec's Western Swing domination.

Defending NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series world champion Rickie Smith raced to the qualifying lead in that class on Friday. Smith powered his late model IDG nitrous-injected Camaro to a leading performance of 5.901 seconds at 246.48 mph. Smith, who won his first race of the year at Bristol Dragway in June, is looking for his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and sixth of his career. “Luckily, we ran a little better down the back half,” Smith said. “It was a little tricky out there; you didn’t know what to do. The clouds had come in, the air was starting to blow and the track was starting to cool down. I didn’t think I had enough clutch, but I ended up having too much clutch. Luckily we made a pretty good call and made a good run.”

Angie Smith and a broad-smiling Victory umbrella girl wait out the rain

Former Pro Mod world champion Khalid alBalooshi was second in his Precision Turbo and Engine 1969 Camaro with a 5.908 at 245.09 and Steve Whiteley was third in his Cadillac CTS-V with a 5.920 at 245.76. Series points leader and Gainesville winner Bob Rahaim was 10th after the first session with a 6.005 at 243.90 while second place points sitter Troy Coughlin qualified fifth in his Corvette.

Angelle Sampey's umbrella boy is George Bryce

Racing is scheduled to begin on Saturday with sportsman qualifying and time trials at 8 a.m. Two NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for at 2:45 and 6:15 p.m. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel will also take place on with rounds at 4, 5:15 and 7:40 p.m. Two rounds of Pro Mod qualifying will be held Saturday at 2 and 5:30 p.m. The fourth and final round of qualifying will be held on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. before the first round of eliminations at 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, Jackie Bryce and Gary Tonglet were without umbrella

Friday's results after the first one of four rounds of qualifying for the 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park at Indianapolis, the seventh of 10 events in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.

Pro Modified
-- 1. Rickie Smith, Chevy Camaro, 5.901, 246.48; 2. Khalid alBalooshi, Camaro, 5.908, 245.09; 3. Steven Whiteley, Cadillac CTS-V, 5.920, 245.76; 4. Don Walsh, Camaro, 5.940, 250.74; 5. Troy Coughlin, Chevy Corvette, 5.948, 249.12; 6. Danny Rowe, Corvette, 5.952, 245.00; 7. Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.962, 242.89; 8. Steve Matusek, Camaro, 5.976, 245.72; 9. Troy Coughlin Jr., Corvette, 5.979, 249.95; 10. Bob Rahaim, Corvette, 6.005, 243.90; 11. Chip King, Dodge Charger, 6.006, 238.81; 12. Billy Harper, Dodge Viper, 6.007, 238.34; 13. Jim Whiteley, Chevy Chevelle, 6.008, 242.54; 14. Mike Castellana, Corvette, 6.013, 239.27; 15. Richie Stevens, Camaro, 6.020, 238.26; 16. Jeff Naiser, Camaro, 6.023, 237.75. Not Qualified: 17. Harold Martin, 6.063, 240.00; 18. Jimmy Widener, 6.077, 233.76; 19. Dan Stevenson, 6.129, 240.85; 20. Doug Winters, 6.148, 236.13; 21. Kenny Lang, 6.207, 237.92; 22. Michael Biehle, 6.223, 248.34; 23. Gerry Capano, 6.264, 228.65; 24. Bill Glidden, 6.317, 181.69; 25. Shane Molinari, 6.334, 242.10; 26. Pete Farber, 6.446, 237.92; 27. Jim Bell, 7.047, 155.92; 28. Kevin Fiscus, 8.081, 115.44; 29. Clint Satterfield, 8.413, 151.26; 30. Richard Snavely, 9.265, 97.83; 31. Jay Payne, 13.459, 98.10.

Look who else was wearing a Star Racing shirt—Coop of Cooper Performance, shown here with Freddie Camarena

That's not a Louisiana hurricane looming over Jerry Savoie's head, but it was enough weather to keep the White Alligator Racing Suzuki from making a lap

Ed Krawiec Sr in front of some threatening skies

Jimmy Underdahl glumly contemplates the raindrops

Michael Phillips in the house, but with no bike!

NHRA US Nationals Preview

Expect to see these two faces—Eddie Krawiec (left) and Andrew Hines—in the winners circle from now through Pomona. If they're not, they've made an error somewhere

First off, let’s get this out of the way—expect either Eddie Krawiec or Andrew Hines pick up everything on the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle table from now through Pomona.

And it really doesn’t matter which explanation for their year so far that you believe. “We’ve really struggled getting a handle on this Sunoco fuel,” Eddie Krawiec has told me at least twice this year, explaining their middling performance.

Did the V&H team back off after their Charlotte win, or really lose their way with the Sunoco fuel?

But that middling performance followed a strong win by Hines at the Charlotte 4-Wide in the spring, and strategists might say that—using Kent Stotz’s favorite term—they just didn’t want to “Stick their dick out too far.”

It should be noted that despite not qualifying spectacularly during that strecth and not collecting Wallys, Krawiec has been in the points lead since the second race of the season (Charlotte)

Then the Vance&Hines Screamin’ Eagle/Harley-Davidson team suddenly seemed to understand tuning with Sunoco just in time to coincide with the Sturgis Rally and the run into Indy and the Countdown. Just sayin’.... Krawiec’s been dominant in recent weeks, winning the past three events, making him the clear favorite in the class heading to Indy.

 

And now it’s gonna be a familiar scene from here on out, with everybody else fighting for third.

Which should be a great fight this weekend, by the way. Only the top 3 are locked in so far (Krawiec, Hector Arana Jr, and Hines), so it should be a dogfight behind them. Former champ/current Metarie, LA fireman LE Tonglet is on the bump spot.

Krawiec and daughter Kaden in the Indy winners circle last year

Englishtown, NJ native and now Avon, IN resident Krawiec is the defending Indy winner. “It was an awesome deal,” the 3X champ said about winning his first Big Go last year. “You try to treat every race the same but that’s easier said than done with Indy. I’ve won my hometown race in Englishtown and won world championships, but...to get that win, that was my championship last year.

“I felt very comfortable last year and I feel the same way again this year. Honestly I feel even better this year and I don’t have to prove I can win it. I just want to keep this (streak) going. I don’t want this roll to end. It’s the right time to get momentum going into the Countdown and I just want to keep performing. The bike has felt good all year and we got it figured out at the right time of the year, and that makes me that much more confident.”

Krawiec has advanced to six final rounds in nine Pro Stock Motorcycle races this season, but has been especially dominant over the last three. He was the No. 1 qualifier in Denver and Sonoma, and qualified second in Brainerd before beating teammate and reigning world champion Hines in the final round. He followed last year’s win at the U.S. Nationals by winning the first race of the Countdown in Charlotte and two overall to finish second to Hines.

Another strong performance in Indy and hot start in the Countdown could cement a fourth world championship, but Krawiec will have to contend with the likes of Hines, Hector Jr, Karen Stoffer, Jimmy Underdahl, two-time world champ and past Indy winner Matt Smith, 2009 Indy winner Hector Arana and alligator farmer Jerry Savoie.

As far as the race for 10th-place, Tonglet, who trails ninth-place Scott Pollacheck by only 21 points, is 26 points ahead of Chip Ellis and 51 points ahead of multi-time Indy winner Angelle Sampey.

Chip Ellis on the Junior Pippin Buell

It’s a remarkable position for Ellis, who just got on the Junior Pippin Buell at the Atlanta race. They had some figuring out to do on the bike, and now have Junior’s big horsepower sticking to the track.

Ellis with Lisa and Junior Pippin in Norwalk on the 4th of July

But just as they started achieving some real success, bike owner Pippin has been stricken with a very serious nasal cancer and will be receiving heavy doses of chemo and radiation in Atlanta this weekend. How all that affects the Pippin/Piranaz team remains to be seen.

Chaz Kennedy and Angie Smith are both 68 points back of Ellis, while Steve Johnson also has a shot at 78 points behind, as Indy is a points and a half race.

Antron Brown (left) and Tony Schumacher signing autographs in downtown Indy on Wednesday

Brown's car looking badass on the Meridian bricks

In Top Fuel there are a host of stars, including reigning world champion, current points leader and nine-time Indy winner Tony Schumacher. Others include four-time season winners Richie Crampton and Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, J.R. Todd, three-time world champion Larry Dixon, Brittany Force and Shawn Langdon. Clay Millican and Dave Connolly are both trying to sneak into the final spot, as they sit 124 and 134 points out of the 10th spot. Steve Torrence is just three points ahead in ninth as the stage is set for an epic weekend of competition in the class.

Fast Jack Beckman says his run through the brecord books might be in jeopardy due to a loack of magic clutch plates

JR Todd (left) got into theTraxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel when Spencer Massy got fired by DSR. Alexis DeJoria (right) gathered nearly as many fan votes as Courtney Force but lost the lottery for the Funny Car Shootout

Currently in tenth place in the loaded Funny Car class, reigning Indy champion DeJoria sits 73 points ahead of Courtney Force, the winningest female driver in Funny Car history, in the race for the final spot in the Countdown. The rest of the field is headed by points leader Jack Beckman and also features reigning world champion Matt Hagan, John Force, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Tommy Johnson Jr., Tim Wilkerson, Del Worsham, and three-time Indy winner Robert Hight.

Courtney Force flashes her toothy grin while sister Brittany focusses on her signature. While Courtney is in the Traxxas Nitro Funny Car Shootout, Brittany lost the Top Fuel lottery to Clay Millican despite having more balls in the hopper

Gray would love to get back-to-back Pro Stock wins at Indy, but four-time world champion Greg Anderson, who has won four races in 2015, is primed for a seventh Pro Stock win at the Big Go. Others to watch include reigning world champion and current points leader Erica Enders, who has five wins this season, Jason Line, Allen Johnson, Jonathan Gray, Chris McGaha, who won back-to-back races on the Western Swing to jump firmly into the championship picture, Vincent Nobile, rookie and local favorite Drew Skillman and two-time season winner Larry Morgan. V. Gaines is 176 points back of 10th-place Skillman. 

Courtney Force won the fan lottery to put the Traxxas car into the Traxxas Nitro Shootout

Bonus bucks and bragging rights will be on the line for qualified drivers in Top Fuel and Funny Car as they battle in the lucrative Traxxas Nitro Shootout. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel will be held on Saturday evening, while the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car is contested Sunday afternoon. The winners in each Traxxas Nitro Shootout will earn $100,000. Prior to each Traxxas Nitro Shootout there will be a fan Q&A and autograph session conducted with all qualified drivers.

John Force's Camaro on Meridian

Once again, ESPN and ESPN2 will provide national television coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. The event, which has provided drag racing’s biggest stage for six decades, is the 10th of 16 events during the 2015 Pro Stock Motorcycle season and the final race of the NHRA regular season, giving riders one last chance to qualify for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.

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