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

2 Comments

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.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne