event: NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals
when: August 30-September 4, 2017
where: Lucas Oil Raceway, Brownsburg, Indiana, USA

NHRA US Nationals Preview

photos by Tim Hailey story by NHRA and team reports

Andrew Hines hoists the Wally at last year's Big Go

Andrew Hines remembers begging his father Byron to take him to the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for as long as he can remember. Nearly three decades later, the five-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion gets just as excited for the world’s biggest drag race.

Competing as the defending race winner in Pro Stock Motorcycle and with the team’s new Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod making its first appearance at the Big Go, there’s even more for Hines to be thrilled about at this weekend’s 63rd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The victory in 2016 at the prestigious race also marks Hines’ last win, which has him aiming for a repeat win more than ever.

“I grew up knowing how special this race was from an early age,” Hines said. “I always remember my dad talking about and hearing about the stories, and Indy was the place to go. It will be my 15th time racing there consecutively and the ones that stand out are winning in 2016 and 2012. It’s always good coming out here and to have the biggest race in our backyard, it’s a pretty cool deal.”

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will be broadcasted on FOX and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including a live broadcast of finals on both FOX and FS1 on Monday, Sept. 4. Drag racing’s grandest event is the 12th of 18 events in Pro Stock Motorcycle and the final race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season, with the six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship to follow. 

Hines’ on the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod—the longest name in racing

Since debuting the new Street Rod in June, Hines and longtime teammate Eddie Krawiec have been busy working out the kinks. Krawiec won in Denver and Hines, who is sixth in points, had his best showing on the new bike at the most recent race in Brainerd, advancing to the semifinals. That’s a good sign for Hines, who hopes to be at his best at Indy and beyond.

“I’m confident in what we’ve done the last few weeks,” said Hines, who has 47 career wins. “We’ve got good power and fast bikes, we’re just still in the learning process of getting them to 60-foot. Once we get that figured out, I think we’ll make our competitors turn some heads. I’m hoping that happens this weekend. That would be a good start heading into the Countdown. They’ve been fast and that’s a good confidence-booster, knowing the tuneup and horsepower are good.”

Both LE Tonglet and Jerry Savoie, seen in the Atlanta winners' circle, have tasted victory at Indy

There is definitely work to be done in a loaded Pro Stock Motorcycle class that will have 22 standout riders competing for a prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals win. LE Tonglet, who has five victories this season, and teammate and defending world champ Jerry Savoie, who has two wins in 2017, are at the top along with Krawiec, but Hines believes it is just a matter of time before he breaks through for the first time this year. Doing it at the world’s biggest drag race would only make that first breakthrough this year even sweeter.

“Right now, it’s still so early with these bikes,” Hines said. “We’ve probably only made 40 runs on them. It’s like you get to see them grow up. Right now, we’re just passing the infancy stage. Everybody pitches in around the shop and we all feel that buildup as the process moves along. It’s all been a true team effort on everyone’s part and we feel really solid heading to Indy. It’s the biggest race of the year and we’re going to keep trying to move forward.”

Hector Arana Jr

For Hector Arana Jr., rider of the Lucas Oil Racing TV Buell Pro Stock Motorcycle, the most-anticipated event on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule also is an opportunity to go back home to Indiana. This weekend's running of the U.S. Nationals is also an opportunity for the 28-year-old to get racing redemption at the "Big Go."

During last year's installment of the biggest drag racing event in the world, Arana piloted his Lucas Oil Racing TV Buell to the final round, but he came up just short of capturing his second "Wally" trophy in Indy. Although he won the prestigious Indy title in his rookie season of 2011, last year's foul start by the New York resident ended the final round before it even started. "I went red," Arana said. "Nothing else to say about it, but you know, it happens. It's unfortunate it came in the final round of the sport's biggest race, but it did. All you can do is not dwell on it and move on. It's a part of racing Pro Stock Motorcycles. The bikes react so quickly at the hit of the throttle so we're always close to the edge."

Although he's a native of Miami, Arana spent almost half of his life growing up in Indiana and has a business degree from Purdue University. He only recently moved to New York after marrying Nicole Nobile, sister of Pro Stock ace Vincent Nobile."It's Indy. It's the 'Big Go.' It's the biggest race of the year so we're very excited to see what happens this year," Arana said. "I'll have my whole family out there cheering me on. I can't wait to get going."

Still sidelined as he recovers from shoulder surgery, Hector's father, teammate, and team owner Hector Arana Sr. will be in attendance in Indy to help his son's effort of getting a second U.S. Nationals trophy.

Arana Jr. qualified in the No. 1 position at the previous event in Brainerd, Minn., but was unexpectedly defeated in the quarterfinals of eliminations. Despite the loss, Arana is encouraged by finding the source of his motorcycle's lack of power. "After Brainerd, we got the bike back to the shop and found out the motor on our bike was hurt," Arana said. "You never like to hurt a motor but it's promising to find a reason why you slowed down. We were able to fix it and we'll have two good motors for Indy."  

Last year's Top Fuel final between winner Tony Schumacher (near lane) and Steve Torrence

Top Fuel’s Schumacher etched his name in Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals history a year ago, becoming the first NHRA driver to reach 10 wins at the prestigious race. He’ll look to add to his legacy against points leader Antron Brown and six-time 2017 winner Steve Torrence.

Hagan grabbed his first career Indy win last season in Funny Car and has three wins in 2017. He’s currently chasing reigning world champ Ron Capps, who has six wins this season, and Robert Hight, who won two races during the NHRA’s Western Swing.

McGaha’s first Indy win in Pro Stock came a year ago. Greg Anderson has six wins at the Big Go, second to only Bob Glidden’s nine at the race, while others to watch include points leader Bo Butner, rookie Tanner Gray and Drew Skillman.

Bonus bucks are on the line for qualified drivers in Top Fuel and Funny Car in the lucrative Traxxas Nitro Shootout. Top Fuel will run on Saturday evening, while the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car is contested on Sunday. Traxxas Nitro Shootout winners will earn $100,000. Schumacher is the defending winner in Top Fuel, while Courtney Force was the 2016 winner in Funny Car.   

Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series also will look to become winners of the prestigious event. The fastest Super Stock cars will challenge for ultimate bragging rights and bonus purse during the popular Mopar HEMI Challenge. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Muy Caliente Racing jet dragsters sponsored by Lucas Oil and the Larsen Motorsports jet dragsters sponsored by Florida Tech and Matrix System. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.

As always, 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 also 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.
A special Monday edition of the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk also will take place prior to final eliminations, where many of the sport’s most celebrated drivers will walk alongside fans down the historic dragstrip. Fan-favorite vintage racecars will be on display in the Hot Rod Junction, along with several autograph sessions featuring the biggest stars of the sport will be featured.
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 1. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 2:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 3 at 11:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 4. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel will be contested Saturday, Sept. 2 with rounds at 3:45 p.m., 5:45 p.m. and 7:40 p.m. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car takes place on Sunday, Sept. 3 for the eight qualified drivers, with rounds at 12:45 p.m., 2:45 p.m. and 4:40 p.m.

FOX national broadcast and FS1 will televise coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, starting with qualifying on Sunday, Sept. 3 on FS1 at 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. EST. The broadcasts continue on FS1 with two hours of live coverage of eliminations on Monday, Sept. 4 starting at 11 a.m. EST, continuing live on FOX at 1 p.m. EST.
Tickets for the world’s most prestigious drag race can be purchased by calling the NHRA Ticket Sales Center at (800) 884-NHRA (6472), or online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.