After Canada win, Red Bull looks toward home in Austria

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A fruitful Canadian Grand Prix has given momentum to Red Bull as it and the rest of the Formula One paddock prepare to return to Austria for the first time since 2003.

It will be a home race for Red Bull, which has revitalized the old A1 Ring into the new Red Bull Ring. Back in November, the first batch of tickets for the June 22 Grand Prix sold out in 48 hours, assuring that a big crowd will be on hand to welcome F1 back.

And that means high expectations for Montreal winner Daniel Ricciardo and four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel, as well as their boss, team principal Christian Horner.

“To have a race at the Red Bull Ring as Red Bull Racing – with that comes a bit of pressure but it will be fantastic to perform in front of effectively a home crowd,” Horner said to Reuters.

“They sold out within a matter of hours a colossal amount of tickets and I think it is going to be a huge spectacle. For us as a team, it will be trying to get the most out of that weekend as we can.”

Red Bull’s triumph in Canada will surely intensify their ongoing battle with Mercedes. But even though the rivalry between the teams has gotten more fierce as the season’s progressed, Merc’s Toto Wolff was impressed at what Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has done regarding the revival of the Austrian Grand Prix.

“It is a fantastic place with so much history and heritage and I think what Mateschitz’s done there has just revived the region,” Wolff also said to Reuters.

“I hope on the Sunday night, we are going to spoil the party, but I think he has a bigger picture than just a racing team.”

Still, this particular race has already been at the center of some controversy between the teams.

Last month, the name of Niki Lauda, three-time F1 champion and current Merc non-executive chairman, was removed from one of the Red Bull Ring’s corners.

Then going into last weekend in Montreal, some German media reports surfaced about Red Bull kicking Mercedes personnel out of their hotel for Austria.

According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Horner denied those reports and was spotted with a piece of paper that showed Mercedes had actually cancelled their reservations.

(Updated) NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations immediately, cancels NHRA Summernationals

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.”

UPDATE: Hatcher reached out again to NBC Sports later Wednesday afternoon with an addendum that could be promising for race fans in other markets: “Upon hearing the news about the Englishtown track, we’ve received a significant level of interest from other track operators about hosting a national event in 2018.  We’re not sure if this is possible for 2018, but we’re definitely looking into it, if not for 2018, then perhaps for 2019.”

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.”