The 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals, held at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, was nearly a mirror image of the season opener in Pomona, California in mid-February. Good weather and great track conditions resulted in near record performances in each of the three NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing professional categories.
In Top Fuel, Leah Pritchett defended her 2016 event title by capturing the event win again. As was the case at the season opener two weeks ago, her Papa John’s dragster dominated the field. She captured the number one qualifying positon with a record setting 3.658 at 329.91 mph and marched through the field into the final round. Her final round opponent would be the exact same opponent she faced in 2016, Brittany Force and her Monster Energy Drink Top Fuel Dragster team. Pritchett, who had a first round bye run (there were only 15 cars qualified) used strong sub 3.70 second performances to lay waste of Clay Millican and Shawn Read on the way to her final round match up against Force. Force, who qualified seventh, also utilized strong 3.70 performances to dispatch Terry McMillen, Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher to give her a chance to avenge her 2016 final round loss to Pritchett. In the final, the results were nearly identical to those in 2016, as Pritchett reacted a quicker (0.051 to 0.081) and took the win with a 3.705 at 328.22 mph to (a quicker) 3.704 at 330.39 mph win. As was the case in 2016, Force had lane choice, going into the final, and took the right lane, but Pritchett ultimately prevailed. This was Pritchett’s second win in two events this season, as she defended her 2016 event title. This also makes her the first Top Fuel racer since 1997 to have back-to-back wins to start the season.
In Funny Car, it was basically a continuation of the season opening event in Pomona. Once again, Matt Hagan had one of the best cars in the class, as he qualified fourth and marched through eliminations into a final round match up with 2016 Mello Yello Funny Car Season Champion Ron Capps. Hagan defeated Capps in the semi-final round two weeks earlier at the season opener. Capps and his Napa Dodge team qualified third and marched into the final round with wins over Jeff Arend, Gary Densham and Jim Campbell with a steady string of 3.87 and 3.88 second performances. In the final, Hagan got away first (0.057 to 0.075) and drove away to a 3.878 at 330.88 mph to 3.883 at 330.88 mph victory. This was Hagan’s second win at this track, with his last occurring in 2015. He also joins an elite group of Funny Car drivers to also win the opening two events of the season twice. Hagan did it the first time in 2015.
In Pro Stock, it was pretty much the Ken Black/Summit Racing show. If it had not been for Drew Skillman beating (Summit Team driver) Jason Line on a hole shot (0.022 to 0.059) in the second round with a 6.578 at 210.11 mph to (a quicker) 5.564 at 210.67 mph, the final round match up could have been the same Greg Anderson-Jason Line match up. Instead, it was Greg Anderson defeating Drew Skillman, 6.547 at 211.43 mph to 6.563 210.50 mph, to claim the event title. With the win, Anderson now takes over the season point lead, with teammate Line in second. The Pro Stock class is slowly equalizing out between all the teams, but the Summit team still has nearly one hundredth of a second performance advantage on the track.
The next NHRA Mello Yello event is the Amalie Oil NHRA Gator Nationals in Gainesville, Florida over the weekend of March 16-19.