NHRA’s much anticipated 2017 Mello Yello Championship playoff round kicked off last weekend……

Doug Kalitta powered to his first career victory at zMAX Dragway at the 10th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals. Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also victorious in their respective categories at the first of six playoff events during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

Points leader Kalitta took down teammate Richie Crampton in the final round with a 3.775-second pass at 318.39 mph in his Mac Tools dragster to earn his first victory of the season. Kalitta now has 43 career victories and only two tracks on the NHRA circuit at which he hasn’t won throughout his career.

“Getting this win gives us great momentum with only five races to go, but with the team I have with me I’m full of confidence,” Kalitta said. “It’s huge for me to get my first win at this great facility, because we have been coming here for a lot of years and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

Doug Kalitta scored with his Mac Tools sponsored dragster during round #1 of NHRA’s playoff season.

Kalitta earned the top slot in qualifying and defeated Chris Karamesines, Tony Schumacher and Clay Millican before reaching his third final round of the season. Crampton qualified seventh and reached the final round in only his second event of the season, taking down Scott Palmer, Steve Torrence and Brittany Force on the day.

Hight earned his third victory of the season and first since Seattle with a 3.943 pass at 328.86 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro to defeat teammate Courtney Force in her Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro in the finals. Hight now has 40 career victories and has taken the lead in the Funny Car points standings.

Robert Hight emerged victorious during the crucial round #1 for NHRA’s Mello Yello Series Funny Car championship chase.

“We’ve had a great race car over the past 15 races in either hot or cold weather, getting low E.T. in several events throughout the year,” Hight said. “It’s almost impossible to have six great races in a row during the Countdown, but we had everything figured out today which we needed with the tough competition we faced today.”

Hight qualified sixth and took down Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson J.R. and J.R. Todd on his way to his sixth final round of 2017. Force was the top qualifier and defeated Bob Gilbertson, John Force and Alexis Dejoria on the way to her fourth final round of the season.

In Pro Stock, Gray continued his impressive rookie campaign with a 6.614 at 208.07 in his Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro during the final round to earn his fifth victory of his season. He took down four-time world champion Greg Anderson to emerge victorious at his local track and take command of the Pro Stock points lead.

“If you would have told me I would be the points leader when I left the first race of the Countdown I would have said you were crazy,” Gray said. “I have a great team who has helped me throughout the season and we are really happy with where we are at.”

Runaway NHRA Rookie of the Year candidate Tanner Gray won in Pro Stock in this cool Valvoline special edition Camaro.

Gray qualified first and got past Val Smeland, Erica Enders and Jason Line before making it to his sixth final round of the year. Anderson has now reached eight final rounds this season, defeating Alan Prusiensky, Drew Skillman and Bo Butner after qualifying second.

Krawiec took home the Pro Stock Motorcycle victory with a 6.850 at 196.87 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to take down his teammate Andrew Hines in the final round. Krawiec took over the points lead as he locked down his 40th career victory and fourth of this season, including his second in a row.

Eddie Krawiec moved to the points lead in Pro Stock motorcycle with a convincing victory on his Screaming’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson

“This is a huge race for me because I love this drag strip and this facility, and to come out of the first Countdown race with a win is huge for me and my team,” Krawiec said. “Getting a win here is awesome, because it increases your chances to win a championship quite a bit so I’m really excited about this.”

Krawiec qualified second and beat Charlie Sullivan, Chip Ellis and Hector Arana Jr. en route to the finals. Hines earned the No. 1 qualifier and knocked off Charlie Sullivan, Chip Ellis and Hector Arana Jr. as he earned his third runner-up finish on the year in three final round appearances.

Breakthrough winner in Pro Mod

Jonathan Gray locked down his first career Pro Mod victory during the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

Gray powered to a 5.809-second pass at 250.46 mph in his IDG Chevrolet Camaro to earn the victory over Steve Jackson in the final round. Gray defeated Steve Matusek, points leader Mike Castellana and Chuck Little on his way to the finals.

“I can’t thank everybody enough for the opportunity and it’s just been awesome,” Gray said. “Hopefully we can get another one before the end of the year.”

Former Pro Stock driver Jonathan Gray drove the nitrous injected IDG Chevrolet Camaro to a win in J&A Services Pro Modified class racing.

Gray entered the event eighth in the Pro Mod standings and finished the day in fifth after becoming the ninth driver in the class to win an event this year. Jackson entered Charlotte in sixth in the Pro Mod standings before earning the runner-up finish that moved him to fourth. Castellana maintained his lead over Troy Coughlin despite a quarterfinal exit.

The 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will continue with the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway Sept. 21-24.

The J&A Service Pro Mod Series continues Sept. 29 at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals in Madison, IL.

Lucas Oil Lowdown 

The Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series was in full effect this past weekend during the 10th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway. Frank Aragona and John Labbous Jr., both moved closer to National Championship rings with final round victories Sunday.

Aragona, Freehold N.J., squared off against Comp Eliminator Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series National points leader David Rampy of Piedmont, Ala. Aragona took the starting line advantage and powered his way down the strip to victory, running 7.388 seconds, 171.31 mph; Rampy 7.354 seconds, 160.94 mph.

Frank Aragona’s win in Comp has moved him to closer to a potential Lucas Oil World Championship title for that category.

Labbous, White House, Tenn., took the Super Comp final round win; outrunning Amanda Boicesco, Warminster, Pa. Labbous nearly doubled up but fell short to Dean Mathauser, Newport News, Va., in a double breakout during the Super Gas final round. Labbous is the points leader in Super Comp and Super Gas.

Shawn Cowie, Surrey, B.C., came from behind to score the final round victory in the Top Alcohol Dragster final round after giving up the starting line advantage to Corey Michalek of Columbus, Ohio. Cowie peaked at 5.295 seconds, 272.39 mph, Michalek runner upped at 5.399 seconds, 267.27 mph.

( See our separate post on Shawn Cowie’s event victory: HERE )

Top Alcohol Funny Car points leader John Lombardo Jr., Brea, Calif., got off the line first but faced traction issues and could not recover as Andy Bohl of Racine, Wyo., took home the national event Wally trophy at 5.556 seconds, 268.60 mph. Lombardo came in second at 5.786 seconds, 267.91 mph.

Wyoming’s Andy Bohl scored in the Lucas Oil TAFC division with his Camaro.

Todd Ewing, Vinemont, Ala., also was very close to doubling up but broke out against Jerry Albert, Avon, Ohio, in the Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs final round. Albert clocked in at 6.890 seconds, 199.82 mph for his Top Sportsman win. However, in the Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs final round, Ewing triggered a great reaction time (.008 second) and held off Barry Brown, Blountville, Tenn., for the win.

The other drivers visiting the winner’s circle were Nicholas Chiles in Super Stock and Kenneth Stott in Stock.

When Nick Chiles scored in Super Stock – it was his first career NHRA national event level win.

Posted with files by NHRA Communications & Keith Yazdenseta

Photos by Bruce Biegler, Gary Nastase, Dave DeAngelis and courtesy of NHRA