Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove to kick off playoffs in 2018

Here is some news of interest for the many drag racing fans out there. The complexion of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship will take a new form as four of the national events will change dates for the upcoming season.

The Dodge NHRA Nationals will kick off the six-race playoff stretch at historic Maple Grove Raceway on Sept. 13-16. The scenic facility located outside of Philadelphia has long been a hot bed of racing and often produces national record performances.

The series will move to St. Louis on Sept. 21-23 for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals for the next event in the Countdown. Located in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch the event will be an integral stop on the tour.

Racers pursuing a world championship will then compete at the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex on Oct. 4-7.

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zMAX Dragway will host the NHRA Carolina Nationals on Oct. 12-14 at one of the premiere facilities in the country. The popularity of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will be on display as the points battles tighten up nearing the end of the season.

The penultimate race in the Countdown will be the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 28-28. The 2018 season will conclude and champions will be crowned at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona on Nov. 8-11.

A full season schedule can be found on NHRA.com and the new race dates are below.

Amazing to me is the fact that I have seen all these racers compete and some I have announced. Eight drivers, comprise the 2017 class of inductees for the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, which will be honored on Friday, January 12 during the annual “Chili Bowl Nationals” week at the Tulsa (Okla.) State Fairgrounds Expo.

Alphabetically they are: Dick Atkins, Roy Bowe, Bill Chennault, Tommy Copp, Bill Eldridge, Burt Foland, Drew Fornoro and Arnie Knepper.

Atkins, of Hayward, Calif., burst upon the racing scene with spectacular results in the mid-1960s, although his career was cut short in a devastating Sprint car crash at Ascot Park in Gardena, Calif. in 1966 which claimed his life and that of Don Branson. Atkins scored a USAC National Midget win at Ascot Park in 1965 and just one week before his fatal crash he recorded his most significant win in the USAC 100-Mile National Championship race at the California State Fairgrounds in Sacramento. T

Bowe, of Denver, Colo., won the Rocky Mountain Midget Racing Association’s crown in 1948 and 1949.

Chennault, of Kansas City, Mo., like A.J. Foyt, was a 1957 USAC feature winner at Olympic Stadium in Kansas City. He was a five-time Kansas City Midget Racing Champion (1953, 55, 56, 57 and 58). He competed in sporadic USAC National Championship races in 1957 and 1958.

Copp, of Fresno, Calif., was among the top USAC drivers between 1959 and 1964, racking up 23 feature victories. The 1959, 1961 and 1964 BCRA Indoor Midget Champion, he was a perennial “top-10” USAC point driver, recording eight “top-10” rankings between 1959 and 1967. His best ranking was a third in proficient at Flat Rock, Mich. 1962, 1963 and 1964 when he scored 17 of his USAC wins. He was especially proficient at Flat Rock, Mich., where he scored three wins, and he also notched a pair of wins at the high-profile Soldier Field in Chicago.

Eldridge, of Needham, Mass., captured Northeastern Midget Association titles in 1953, 1954, 1957 and 1958.

Foland, of Coarsegold, Calif., was primarily a pavement specialist and scored five USAC National Midget wins on the hard surface.

Fornoro, of Newton, N.J., joins father Nick in the Hall of Fame. During a 16-year stretch he claimed nine Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA) titles. They came in 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1998 and 1999! He scored a trio of USAC National Midget wins, at Lee, N.H. in 1985 and 1987, and at Seekonk, Mass. in 1986. His 83 career NEMA victories lead the all-time list.

Knepper, of Belleville, Ill., amassed five St. Louis Auto Racing Association (SLARA) Midget crowns. They came in 1954, 1955, 1960, 1975 and 1979. The five-time Indianapolis 500 veteran finished 18th (his best) in his rookie year of 1965, then made the 1966-67-68-69 races as well. In 1966 he was part of the contingent of drivers who competed in the race at Mount Fuji, Japan.

Change is coming to area sprint car racing. United States Auto Club (USAC) Sprint Car racing is coming eastbound on a full-time basis in 2018 when the newly-formed USAC East Coast Sprint Car Series makes its debut.

USAC’s newest division joins the slate after series director Curt Michael and the United Racing Club conducted a pair of wingless sprint car events during the 2017 season.

“The very first one at Big Diamond, we had 16 cars and the place was packed,” Michael explained. “(The promoter) took two races this year because he’s seen it’s something to build on. The next time out at Path Valley, we had 26 cars and I think it’s only going to get better.”

“They’re cool cars and it’s different,” Michael said of wingless sprint car racing. “The biggest thing is these kids coming up are racing 600 micros, 270s and SpeedSTRs. It’s a big thing in the lower ranks. We brought in a whole bunch of new guys to race with us this year. It didn’t hurt URC’s wing deal. We even had a couple wingless guys buy wing cars.”

The East Coast and, particularly, the state of Pennsylvania is obviously well-known for wing sprint car racing. Michael, who, himself, has made a living racing with the wing as a 9-time URC champion and will continue to race with URC in addition to his new side endeavor leading the USAC East Coast Sprint Cars, sees an opportunity for a different breed of racing to feed the appetite of drivers, teams and fans in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware region.