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NHRA cancels 2020 playoffs; shortens season from 24 to 19 events

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The NHRA announced Wednesday that it will resume its 2020 schedule June 5-7 with the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

Because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the season will be shortened from an original slate of 24 events to 19 races, and the points won’t be reset for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs after the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

The championship finale will be Nov. 13-15 in the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, California.

The NHRA completed its first two events at Pomona and Chandler, Arizona. Of the remaining 17 events, six will be condensed to two-day shows. The calendar has two makeup dates for further delays.

The following events have been canceled: April 3-5 Four-Wide Nationals at Las Vegas, Nevada; May 15-17 Southern Nationals at Atlanta Georgia; May 29-31 Virginia Nationals at Richmond, Virginia; Aug. 21-23 New England Nationals at Epping, New Hampshire; Sept. 25-27 Carolina Nationals at Concord, North Carolina.

The NHRA suspended all drag racing for 30 days on March 16 because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

All other NHRA-sanctioned drag racing (beyond the national level) remains suspended until further notice.

Here’s the release from the NHRA:

In consideration of the COVID-19 global pandemic, NHRA officials have announced revisions to the 2020 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. The series is tentatively planned to resume June 5-7 with the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. The season will conclude with the crowning of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champions November 13-15 at the Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.

The revised schedule will consist of 19 total events, with 17 of those events being contested when the series resumes in June. Six of these events will be condensed to two-day competition schedules for the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series classes due to economic and logistical factors. As a result of the compressed schedule, points will not be reset after the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway. NHRA has held two make-up dates on the calendar in case there are further delays.  

Tentative schedule announcements for the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series, Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Series and Samtech.edu NHRA Factory Stock Showdown Series will be announced soon. All NHRA-sanctioned drag racing series competition is still suspended until further notice.

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994