CONCORD, N.C. --
After a year of tracking press releases and updated photos, and after more than a year of rumors, the NHRA POWERade Series finally comes to the heart of NASCAR country Sept. 11-14 for the inaugural NHRA Carolinas Nationals. It'll be the first race of six in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs and the beginning of the march to the end of the 2008 season for the elite drivers of the world's fastest motorsport. The race will be televised by ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD.
It's also the second of four events in a five-week stretch that nearly rivals the more famous and oft-referenced Western Swing.
The earliest aerial photos left little room for speculation. Indeed, this track, the proclaimed "Bellagio of Drag Strips" by many, would have four lanes, although only two will be used. The monster nerve center of zMAX Dragway, the control tower where media and suites also would be housed, would be a reality. Promises deemed impossible to reach by anyone but O. Bruton Smith were no fables.
And now the time has finally come for the biggest show in drag racing - the NHRA POWERade Series - to meet the sport's newest track.
"I'm looking forward to racing there for several reasons," said Tommy Johnson Jr., driver of the Monster Energy Dodge Charger R/T. "The caliber of the Bruton Smith facilities in my opinion is top notch, but I think this will be the ultimate drag strip...It will also give us a chance to give our NASCAR friends and fans in the southeast a taste of drag racing. This is huge for our sport and I'm happy to be able to be a part of the inaugural event."
Several drivers have already had the chance to see the track in its various stages of construction, from the first press conference announcing its birth to the final ribbon cutting, but it was Johnson's father who was the first Johnson family member to test its rare concrete surface.
"My father raced when I was a child and it was because of his involvement in drag racing that I inherited my passion for the sport," Johnson Jr. said. "My dad lives in Charlotte, so a couple of weeks ago when the strip was opened for locals to have a chance to test it out with their own cars, he drove his tricked-out Camaro down the strip and then sent me pictures. So he got to say he was the first in the family to race on the surface and had nothing but great things to say about the facility."
The books were hardly closed on NHRA's "Big Go" in Indianapolis when all attention shifted to this next big stage. Ten drivers in each category have qualified for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs that will culminate in the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in Pomona in November.
In Top Fuel, the following drivers are still in the running for world championship titles: Tony Schumacher (U.S. Army), Antron Brown (Matco Tools), Larry Dixon (U.S. Smokeless), Cory McClenathan (FRAM), Rod Fuller (Caterpillar), Brandon Bernstein (Budweiser), Hillary Will (KB Racing), Doug Herbert (Snap-on Franchise.com), Doug Kalitta (Mac Tools) and Dave Grubnic (DHL).
Funny Car drivers issued playoff invitations are: Tim Wilkerson (Levi, Ray & Shoup); Tony Pedregon (Q-Horsepower); Robert Hight (Auto Club); Cruz Pedregon (Advance Auto Parts); Ashley Force (Castrol GTX); Jack Beckman (Valvoline/MTS); Gary Densham (Racebricks); John Force (Castrol GTX); Ron Capps (NAPA Auto Parts); and Mike Neff (Old Spice).
In Pro Stock, the following drivers remain eligible for world championship titles: Greg Anderson (Summit Racing); Kurt Johnson (ACDelco); Jeg Coughlin (JEGS.com); Jason Line (Summit Racing); Allen Johnson (Team Mopar); Dave Connolly (Charter Communications); Mike Edwards (Young Life); V. Gaines (Kendall); Ron Krisher (Valvoline); and Greg Stanfield (Attitude Apparel).
Pro Stock Motorcycle riders who made the cut are: Matt Smith (NitroFish Wear); Andrew Hines (Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines); Chip Ellis (Schumacher Electric); Angelle Sampey (Rush Racing); Chris Rivas (G-Squared); Matt Guidera (Mohegan Sun); Eddie Krawiec (Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines); Steve Johnson (Snap-on Tools/Wyotech); Craig Treble (Schumacher Electric); and Karen Stoffer (Geico).
These drivers have a short six races to prove they deserve 2008 NHRA POWERade Series world championship titles, and the fight starts at zMAX Dragway.
SCHEDULE: The first two of four pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 12. Qualifying continues at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13. Final eliminations begin at noon on Sunday, Sept. 14.
TICKETS: Tickets are available for the inaugural NHRA Carolinas Nationals. Call (800) 455-3267 for ticket information, or check online at www.ticketmaster.com.
ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 14. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise the race beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 14.
LUCAS OIL SERIES: The NHRA Carolinas Nationals also will feature competition in six categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA POWERade Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on Sept. 11, with eliminations starting on Sept. 12 at 8 a.m.