Dodge NHRA Na­tion­als at Maple Grove to kick off play­offs in ‘18

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - SPORTS - By Ernie Sax­ton For Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

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.

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.

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 fea-

ture 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 196667-68-69 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 full­time 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 well­known 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.

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