NHRA president: This could be the most exciting Countdown to the Championship yet

Photo courtesy NHRA

The National Hot Rod Association has long called this past weekend’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis its biggest race of the year.

It’s so big that it runs the longest of any race (six days), draws the most drivers (over 1,100 competitors), the most fans (including a sellout this past Saturday), and is to the NHRA what the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR.

But for 40 drivers and riders – 10 each in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – the biggest races of the year are yet to come.

With the U.S. Nationals now in the rearview mirror, all attention going forward will be on the NHRA’s six-race playoff known as the Countdown to the Championship.

The 10th anniversary of the Countdown begins next weekend in Charlotte (Sept. 16-18), followed by St. Louis (Sept. 23-25), Reading (Pa., Sept. 29-Oct. 2), Dallas (Oct. 13-16), Las Vegas (Oct. 27-30) and wraps up with the season-ending – and championship-deciding – Auto Club Finals in Pomona, California (Nov. 10-13).

NBCSports.com had a chance to sit down with NHRA President Peter Clifford during the U.S. Nationals and he talked about the upcoming Countdown.

Here are some excerpts of that conversation:

NHRA President Peter Clifford

Q) This is shaping up to be perhaps the best Countdown we’ve since the format was first implemented in 2007. How excited are you to see it get underway?

CLIFFORD: “We are so excited about the Countdown because going into it we have such great battles, like the one here at Indianapolis between Leah Pritchett and Terry McMillen in Top Fuel and who would get into it (Pritchett eventually made it into the Countdown, McMillen didn’t). Plus there are so many storylines going into the Countdown.

“The competition between Top Fuel and Funny Car this year has been fantastic with so many different winners across both classes. So, anybody can win the championship.

“Plus, we have six female drivers in the Countdown: two in Top Fuel with Leah Pritchett and Brittany Force, two others in Funny Car with Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria, and one each in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle with Erica Enders and Angelle Sampey.

“Any of those people can win the championship. That’s why we’re so thrilled. Plus, this could be the year that Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) finally win their respective first championships. They’ve won so many races and are great champions for the sport, so this could be their year.

“There’s so many potential opportunities in the Countdown so I think that’s what is going to make it so exciting for our fans.”

Q) What has been the biggest or most pleasant surprise thus far this year?

CLIFFORD: “The biggest change is how quickly television changed things. We’ve picked up year-to-date so far this year more than 12 million more viewers on television. We never envisioned that would happen. It’s been a big surprise.

“We thought we do well and Fox cautioned us on that because whenever you switch networks (from ESPN to Fox this season), you have to be careful (about expectations). But to have 12 million more viewers, to be up more than 40 percent on our Sunday shows alone (when the final rounds are aired live), and up close to 80 percent with re-airs and so forth, we never envisioned that would happen.

“It’s really changing everything out here. It’s changing the whole sport. It’s impacting sponsorship for the teams and it’s also impacting attendance. We’ve had sellouts at four events and this weekend in Indianapolis it has been just an absolute home run. It’s impacted things so much.”

Q) You’re very big on getting feedback. What is the reaction from fans when they speak with you?

CLIFFORD: “Fans are the ultimate feedback. They’re who we have to listen to the most. We have the Fan Council plus we talk to a lot of fans at every single event to find out what they’re thinking.

“And the feedback we’re getting has been great. Number one, they love Fox. We hear that over and over. They love the broadcast, the consistency and the time slots; everything about it.

“And number two, they’re thrilled with the racing this year. It’s so good that it gets better and better every single week. That’s what this sport is all about: these guys push it, the teams, to try and get a little faster every single week. And with all the different winners this year, it’s made for some very exciting racing.”

Q) Coming into the U.S. Nationals, there seems to be a more positive and excited vibe going into this year’s Countdown than in previous years from fans and especially the teams. Is that due to the number of different winners, the closeness of competition and the uptick of interest and excitement from fans and teams?

CLIFFORD: “It definitely is. It’s picking up from last year’s Countdown, like how (Funny Car driver) Del Worsham didn’t win any races in the 18-race regular season and then went out and won four of the six Countdown races and ultimately the championship, becoming only the third driver in history to win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.

“That’s where I think teams in this year’s Countdown are looking back at last year and see that it’s anybody’s chance to win, and that’s the whole idea of the Countdown, that’s what you want, you don’t want to peak too early, you want to peak at the right point of the season, just like any other major league sport in the playoffs. For us, it’s the Countdown and it’s so, so important.

“That’s why the teams are excited because it’s anybody’s game out there right now going into the Countdown. That’s what makes it fun. Otherwise, if it was predictable, it would be no difference. They’re all working hard, trying to out-do each other and trying to make it fun for the fans.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Supercross 2023: Results and points after Seattle


The final results from the Monster Energy Supercross race in Seattle suggests the season is turning into a two-rider battle as Eli Tomac scored his sixth win of the season to tie Cooper Webb for the points’ lead and Chase Sexton crashed in yet another race.

Tomac downplayed the neck strain that caused him to lose the red plate for two weeks, but without that holding him back, it would appear it might have been a bigger problem than he admitted. Despite finishing on the podium in Detroit, Tomac has not shown the late-race strength everyone has come to expect. He was in a slump after scoring a season-worst in Indianapolis and described his sixth win as a “bounce back”.

With this win, Tomac tied James Stewart for second on the all-time list with 50 career Supercross victories. Six rounds remain and there is no sign that Tomac is slowing down. Jeremy McGrath’s 72 wins remains untouchable, for the moment at least.

RESULTS: Click here for full 450 Overall Results; Click here for 250 Overall Results

Cooper Webb was disappointed with second-place, but he recognized the Supercross results at Seattle could have been much worse. He rode in fifth for the first nine laps of the race, behind Tomac and Sexton. When Sexton crashed from the lead and Tomac took the top spot, Webb knew he could not afford to give up that many points and so he dug deep and found enough points to share the red plate when the series returns in two weeks in Glendale, Arizona for a Triple Crown event.

Justin Barcia scored his third podium of the season, breaking out of a threeway tie of riders who have not been the presumed favorites to win the championship. Barcia scored the podium without drama or controversy. It was his fourth consecutive top-five and his 10th straight finish of eighth or better.

Click here for 450 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier | Lap Chart

Jason Anderson kept his perfect record of top-10s alive with a fourth-place finish. Tied for fourth in the standings and 49 out of the lead, his season has been like a death of a thousand cuts. He’s ridden exceptionally well, but the Big Three have simply been better.

Sexton rebounded from his fall to finish fifth. He entered the race 17 points out of the lead and lost another five in Seattle. Mistakes have cost Sexton 22 points in the last three races and that is precisely how far he is behind Tomac and Webb. Unless those two riders bobble, this deficit cannot overcome.

The rider who ties Anderson for fourth in the points, Ken Roczen finished just outside the top five in sixth after he battled for a podium position early in the race.

Click here for 450 Overall results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points

The 250 West riders got back in action after four rounds of sitting on the sideline and Jett Lawrence picked up where he left of: in Victory Lane. Lawrence now has four wins and a second-place finish in five rounds. One simply doesn’t get close to perfection than that.

Between them, the Lawrence brothers have won all but two races though 11 rounds. Jett failed to win the Anaheim Triple Crown and Hunter Lawrence failed to win the Arlington Triple Crown format in the 250 East division. In two weeks, the series has their final Triple Crown race in Glendale. When he was reminded of this from the top of the Seattle podium, Jett replied, “oof”.

Click here for 250 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier | Lap Chart

RJ Hampshire finished second in the race and is second in the points. This is fourth time in five rounds that Hampshire finished second to Lawrence. If not for a crash-induced 11th-place finish in the Arlington Triple Crown, he would be much closer in the points standings. With that poor showing, he is 23 points behind Lawrence.

Cameron McAdoo made a lot of noise in his heat. Riding aggressively beside Larwence, the two crashed in the preliminary. McAdoo could never seem to get away from Hampshire in the Main and as the two battled, the leader got away. It would have been interesting to see how they would have raced head-to-head when points were on the line.

Click here for 250 Overall results | 250 West Rider Points | 250 Combined Rider Points

The Supercross results in Seattle were kind to a couple of riders on the cusp of the top five. Enzo Lopes scored his second top-five and fourth top-10 of the season after crossing the finish line fourth in Seattle.

Tying his best finish of the season for the third time, Max Vohland kept his perfect record of top-10s alive. Vohland is seventh in the points.

2023 Results

Round 11: Eli Tomac bounces back with sixth win
Round 10: Chace Sexton wins, penalized
Round 9: Ken Roczen wins
Round 8: Eli Tomac wins 7th Daytona
Round 7: Cooper Webb wins second race
Race 6: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Race 5: Webb, Hunter Lawrence win
Race 4: Tomac, H Lawrence win
Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Tomac, J Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, J Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 10: Chase Sexton leads with consistency
Week 8: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
Week 7: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Tomac
Week 6: Perfect Oakland night keeps Tomac first
Week 5: Cooper Webb, Sexton close gap
Week 4: Tomac retakes lead
Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Sexton falls
Week 1: Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s