2014 NHRA Mello Yello Series Preview: Top Fuel
Over the course of Mello Yello's first year of title sponsorship of NHRA's Pro classes, drag racing fans saw dominance, resurgence, and what we are led to believe were the final runs of some fan favorites.
John Force (Funny Car) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) hoisted their championship titles in Las Vegas after three straight victories apiece, a scenario no one predicted at the beginning of the 2013 season. Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) took his fourth class title after a one-year hiatus followed by a season where he struggled (2012) to make it to final rounds. Finally, Shawn Langdon proved his supporters right when he took home his first-ever Top Fuel title, the third in four seasons for Alan Johnson and Al Anabi Racing.
So, who to watch in '14? Over the next couple weeks as we count down to Pomona, we'll take a look at the four Pro classes. Today, we're examining Top Fuel.
Langdon had a dominant year in Top Fuel from the first race of the season, the Winternationals in Pomona. What many didn't realize was, midway through the year, Langdon took over as interim general manager of the team. The new title obviously didn't affect his on-track focus, but that's an issue he won't have to worry about this year. Brandon Bernstein, former Top Fuel racer for Morgan Lucas Racing, found himself out of a ride when his team lost sponsorship after the World Finals. The former rookie of the year is now the full-time GM at Al Anabi, stepping away from active racing.
Speaking of MLR, Lucas himself is no longer racing full time, as he is taking a more active roll in the family business. Former crew member Richie Crampton will now pilot the GEICO rail.
Other changes over the offseason include Clay Millican's departure from Bob Vandergriff Racing. Millican very nearly broke through for his first NHRA TF victory a couple times in '13 thanks to his BVR affiliation. Fortunately for the former IHRA champ, longtime sponsor Parts Plus is sticking around as the Tennessee native is now racing under the umbrella of Tuttle Motorsports.
The Don Schumacher Top Fuel teams saw some inconsistencies last season, especially with Tony Schumacher bowing out early via some first-round exits. Former champion Antron Brown should be strong in '14, but it's my belief we're going to see Langdon take two in a row. A dark horse in the class could be Steve Torrence and look for Brittany Force to make it to at least two finals.
Check back here later as we look at the Funny Car field for 2014.