Boston fanfest set to promote NHRA drag racing’s first-ever race in New Hampshire

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When New Hampshire Dragway opened its doors in 1966, its goal was to eventually play host to a National Hot Rod Association national event.

It may have taken nearly 50 years to fulfill that goal, but drag racing fans wanting to see the sport’s biggest stars will finally get that opportunity in this weekend’s inaugural NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Auto-Plus New England Nationals at the Epping, N.H. track.

(Is that the longest sports event name you’ve ever seen, or what?)

To promote the event, some of the NHRA’s biggest stars will take part in a free fanfest scheduled for Wednesday (June 19) at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in downtown Boston. The event begins at Noon and will feature legendary and 15-time Funny Car World Champion John Force, daughter Brittany Force, a Top Fuel driver, along with Funny Car drivers Bob Tasca III, Robert Hight and Blake Alexander, and Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon.

As for New England Dragway, about an hour north of Boston, the four-day event (June 20-23) is the culmination of not just years but decades of lobbying NHRA officials that both the track and greater New England could support a national event.

New England has long been known as a motorsports hotbed full of diehard racing fans, but most of those have been followers of NASCAR and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, or local late-model racing at well-known short tracks such as Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway and Waterford Speed Bowl, as well as the legendary Stafford Motor Speedway, owned by equally legendary racing and sports announcer Jack Arute.

The 8,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars are fast (in excess of 300 mph in many instances), loud (bring earplugs) and the nitromethane fuel that pumps through the motors is so potent that it’s sure to bring tears to your eyes if you’re anywhere within a whiff of the residual fumes.

Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes will compete in the 11th race of the expanded 24-race 2013 NHRA schedule. This weekend’s race is the second of a grueling four consecutive weekend stretch that began last week in Bristol, Tenn., and then moves on to events in suburban Chicago next weekend and Norwalk, Ohio the following weekend.

Other stars competing in this weekend’s race include Courtney Force, Tony “Sarge” Schumacher, Antron Brown, Ron Capps, Morgan Lucas, Greg Anderson and dozens of other high-horsepower jockeys.

If you’re a fan of blurring speed, ear-shattering noise and ground-pounding vibrations, New England is the place to go this weekend. Those monsters are so loud and powerful, you may even hear or feel ’em all the way back in New York City.

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.