NHRA: Top five storylines to watch for in 2019

NHRA
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With the new NHRA season set to begin just over a month from now (Lucas Oil Winternationals, February 8-10 in Pomona, California), let’s kick off the new year with five of the top stories drag racing fans should watch for in 2019:

1. Can Steve Torrence get even better? The Texas native enjoyed one of the most dominating seasons in NHRA history in 2018. Not only did he win nearly half of the season’s races – 11 of 24, that is – he also became the first driver to ever win all six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

But at the age of just 36, the cancer and heart attack survivor may have only just scratched the surface of how good he not only truly is but also how much better he can become.

What’s more, Torrence achieved everything he did in 2018 in unique fashion, essentially going against the grain. While multi-car super teams like Don Schumacher Racing, John Force Racing and others are expected to be the best of the best, Torrence Family Racing is kind of like ZZ Top – a little old band from Texas that does things its way with one race car (although Steve’s father Billy got into the act part-time and even won his first NHRA national event in 2018, as well) and with a limited budget and personnel.

If anything, Torrence should be called David, because he slew all the Goliaths of the sport in 2018.

Unless his competitors suddenly find the same kind of magic that Torrence has, look for the Texas tornado to sweep through the 2019 season as well.

2. How will fans react to Pro Stock’s reduction? Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the Pro Stock class was right up there in terms of popularity with the kings of the sport, namely Top Fuel and Funny Car.

But it’s no secret that Pro Stock has seen a great deal of its popularity wane in recent years. Even worse, costs keep going up, causing several teams to either scale back or completely leave the sport. Plus, technological advances in the last couple of seasons, including elimination of the big hood scoops — very popular among fans — and introduction of Electronic Fuel Injection, have only added to soaring costs.

Heck, even the most recent NHRA Pro Stock champion – 2018 series champ Tanner Gray (at 19, the youngest pro champ in NHRA history) – will not be returning to the class in 2019 (Gray is off to pursue his racing dreams in NASCAR).

Now, come 2019, Pro Stock will be only a shell of what it was over the last 30 years. Shortly after the 2018 season ended, NHRA officials announced that Pro Stock’s schedule will be scaled back from a full complement of all 24 national events to just 18 races in 2019 (the NHRA originally wanted to cut that number to 16, but driver complaints saw the number for the so-called “sweet spot” become 18 races).

So, Pro Stock will join its counterpart, Pro Stock Motorcycle, in not running at every NHRA national event. PSM runs just 16 of the 24 NHRA national events.

Frankly, it’s hard to see NHRA’s logic that less will be more and help return the class to prominence and increase its popularity.

Rather, there is a strong possibility that if Pro Stock doesn’t see positive changes due to the schedule decrease, it could ultimately be shifted to even fewer races for 2020 and beyond – or perhaps be replaced in terms of popularity as a professional drag racing class by the increasingly popular Pro Modified class.

3. How many more seasons does John Force have in him? John Force has been the greatest drag racer in NHRA history for more than 30 years.

He’s accomplished and rewritten the record book countless times, including 16 Funny Car championships and 149 national event wins.

But there is one magic number that Force will hit this year that could potentially have many of his fans wonder how many more seasons he has left in him. That magic number: 70 – when he turns 70 years old on May 4, 2019.

Force has a longterm contract with primary sponsor Peak Antifreeze and Coolant, as well as existing contracts with several associate sponsors. But let’s face it, Force at 70 years old is not like Force at 40, 50 or even 60.

His 16th and most recent NHRA Funny Car championship came in 2013. More recently, he managed just one win in each of the 2017 (Gainesville) and 2018 (Denver) seasons. He also finished ninth in the 2018 season standings.

To his credit, Force rarely talks about retirement, and never has put a date on when he’d hang up his firesuit for the final time. His standard line is that he’ll keep racing as long as he feels productive and able to still win races.

Whether that means 72 or 75 or even 80 years old remains to be seen.

Heck, Force may want to become the oldest active drag racer ever – a distinction currently held by 84-year-old Top Fuel legend Chris Karamesines, who also has no plans of retiring anytime soon.

4. Will the next potential NHRA superstar be J.R. Todd? When J.R. Todd won the NHRA Funny Car championship this season, it helped elevate his status significantly.

When legendary team owner Connie Kalitta asked Todd to drive for him, Kalitta saw something in the young driver from Indianapolis that meant success could potentially be in the offing. Having been in the sport for more than a half-century, Kalitta has been an exceptional judge of talent, and Todd paid back Kalitta’s faith in him by winning this year’s championship.

Don’t think Todd’s 2018 title will be a one-and-done achievement. On the contrary. Todd laid down the gauntlet to some of Funny Car’s best – guys like John Force, Robert Hight, Ron Capps and many more – and beat them all at their own game.

Having just turned 37 on December 16, Todd is just starting to get into the prime of his drag racing career. That’s good for him – and no so good for his competitors, as Todd has the potential to win several more Funny Crown titles in the coming years.

5. Will 2019 be big comeback seasons for Pro Stock drivers and K.B. Racing/Summit Racing teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line? To say that 2018 was difficult for Anderson and Line is an understatement.

These are two guys who normally are in the thick of things for the championship each and every season. But not so in 2018.

Anderson has won four Pro Stock championships (most recently 2010) and 91 national event wins. He finished second in the Pro Stock rankings for three consecutive seasons (2015-2017) before dropping to a seventh-place finish in 2018, with just one race win.

Line, a three-time Pro Stock champ (most recently 2016) and winner of 50 national events, also had a difficult season in 2018, finishing fifth in the standings and also earning just one race win.

Both Anderson and Line certainly have the potential to roar back and challenge for yet another championship in 2019. However, the reduction of the number of races from 24 to only 18 for the Pro Stock class means more pressure on both drivers, not to mention all of their rivals in the class.

They’ll also have 2017 Pro Stock champ Bo Butner on the team this coming season. Butner had announced at the end of 2018 that he was “retiring” from Pro Stock and shifting back to his drag racing roots in Sportsman racing.

But a few weeks after that decision, and additional discussion with his family, Butner decided to accept KB Racing’s invitation and will be back full-time in the Pro Stock wars in 2019.

With Gray leaving Pro Stock, Anderson’s and Line’s title chances — not to mention Butner potentially going for a second championship as well — should go up exponentially.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws
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The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)