The 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season is just a few weeks off and there are quite a few changes in order. First, and foremost, the championship points earned at the season ending event has been increased. The winner of the Auto Club NHRA Finals in each of the professional classes will now claim 150 points (each round is worth 30 points instead of 20). With the additional points also awarded during the qualifying rounds and final qualifying positions, it now possible for a driver to earn as much as 190 points at the event (130-points at all other events, except Indy; 160-points). This will make the final event more important to the championship than it was in the past. Each driver must be in one of the top ten series point positions in their category (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), by the completion of the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis to make the “Countdown to the Championship.” The countdown to the championship consists of the last six events on the 24-event season schedule.
There has also been quite a bit of driver/team news this off season. John Force has regained the services of championship crew chief Jimmy Prock and gained Chris Cunningham as his co-crew chief for his Peak Performance Chevrolet, which should make him a favorite to win the season title. Prock was crew chief with Jack Beckman the last two seasons. John Medlen now takes over the crew chief duties for Jack Beckman on the Infinite Heroes Dodge. Dean “Guido” Antonelli (leaving as General Manager of John Force Racing) will now work with Medlen as co-crew chief. Del Worsham, who won the championship in 2015, has left the Kalitta Motorsports/DHL Funny Car team to race with his father (Chuck Worsham) as the tuner/driver of the Worsham Family Funny Car. J.R. Todd will move from driver of the Kalitta Motorsports Seal Master Top Fuel dragster to the DHL Funny Car. Rookie, Troy Coughlin Jr., will now drive the Seal Master Top Fuel dragster. John Hale, who drove the Jim Dunn Fuel Funny Car the last two seasons, has decided to stop driving in the series so he can spend more time with his family and businesses. Jim Campbell will now take over those driving duties, with sponsorship from the 7-Eleven store chain. Two time Top Alcohol Funny Car Season Champion, Johnnie Lindberg (rookie) will now drive the Jim Head Racing Toyota, as (son) Chad Head wanted more family time. Courtney Force made some of the biggest sponsorship news, as she is now primarily sponsored by Advance Auto Parts. Independent racer, Scott Palmer will compete at all 24 events this season with his “Liquid Voodoo” Top Fuel Dragster. In Pro Stock (two-time champion) Erica Enders and teammate; six-time champion) Jeg Coughlin will return to Chevrolet Camaros on the Richard Freeman Elite Motorsport team .They both drove Dodges last season. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, three-time series champion Angelle Sampey will join the 2016 “Auto Club Road to the Future Rookie of the Year” Cory Reed with a two bike team.
With the numerous off-season race team and driver changes, along with the Championship Point change, the 2017 season looks to be very exciting. Defending Professional category champions, Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will have their work cut out for them. The season will kick off in Pomona, for the Winter Nationals, on Feb. 9. The series visits the Northern California area for the Toyota/NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway on July 28-30. If you are unable to attend an event, you can watch them on FS1 (Fox Sports One).