National Guard officially settled for Rahal’s IndyCar team

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Not a huge surprise, but after months of speculation and waiting since RACER’s Robin Miller originally reported this back in October, the National Guard will sponsor Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the 2014 IndyCar Series season.

RLL confirmed the news Thursday, and the Guard will in fact be the primary sponsor for Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Honda. The AP reported Thursday that RLL had submitted the winning proposal in the fall, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office denied Panther’s appeal last month.

“This is an historic day for all of us at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing,” Bobby Rahal, RLL co-owner, said in the team’s official release. “I can’t over­state how proud and how priv­i­leged we feel to repre­sent the men and women of the Army National Guard. This is a huge respon­si­bility that each of us feels and we are looking forward to working with the National Guard to achieve their goals.

“And I can’t imagine a better ambas­sador for those men and women than Graham, as an Amer­ican, driving the National Guard Dallara-Honda IndyCar.”

Graham Rahal was pleased as well with the news.

“I am really over the moon about driving the National Guard car,” he said. “Being an Amer­ican and an extremely patri­otic person, I am very proud of the men and women who fight for us and keep this great country safe and free. To have the oppor­tu­nity to repre­sent the National Guard and all that they do both here and abroad means more than anybody could ever know.”

An American driver did represent the Guard from 2011 through the 2013 Indianapolis 500 in the form of JR Hildebrand, before Panther terminated his contract after that race.

The question now shifts to the other brands and sponsors affiliated with RLL Racing. In 2013, Rahal’s No. 15 carried the Midas and Big O Tire brands, along with blu eCigs for select races. The team has confirmed Deltran Battery Tender as a major associate, and now the Guard, but no other partners as yet.

Whatever commercial affiliations the team is able to carry over from 2013 will likely play a key role in who will drive the team’s second Honda, the No. 16.

James Jakes is unlikely to return and there are a handful of names being tossed around with respect to the seat. Who gets it seems to depend on who you’re talking to – ultimately, only Bobby Rahal and co-owners Mike Lanigan and David Letterman know for sure.

NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations, including NHRA Summernationals, effective immediately

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”