(Image courtesy Heartland Park Topeka)

Click your ruby slippers: NHRA will return to Kansas in 2016

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When the NHRA released its 2016 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season schedule in September, the sanctioning body could have borrowed a line from the Wizard of Oz: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The NHRA was prepared to drop the annual visit to Heartland Park Topeka and go forward with a 23-race schedule – one short of the 24-race slate from 2015 – due to lingering issues with track ownership and Topeka city officials

That all changed, however, on Friday afternoon as NHRA announced it will indeed return to the state’s capital and HPT in 2016 after all, with the 28th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals to be held May 20-22.

In addition, NHRA announced that the event – which will be the eighth race on the 2016 schedule – will be televised live on Fox Sports 1.

A new ownership group, Heartland Park Topeka LLC, led by Chris Payne and Todd Crossley, has apparently met and satisfied the concerns of both Topeka and NHRA officials that a successful event can take place.

“Heartland Park Topeka has such a great history with NHRA as the site of many performance milestones and record-setting achievements,” NHRA president Peter Clifford said in a media release. “We are looking forward to continuing that legacy with today’s announcement.

“The fans in the Topeka and Kansas City area are some of the most passionate in the country and we are excited for them to be able to continue to enjoy the NHRA Mello Yello Series.”

There’s also good news for the hundreds of NHRA Sportsman racers in and around the Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma region, as the track will continue be one of the premier venues for their style of drag racing.

Among Sportsman events on the 2016 calendar at HPT are back-to-back divisional events in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series in late July, as well as hosting events for the NHRA Summit Racing Series, NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League, NHRA Jr. Street and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA.

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.