SONOMA — The latest weather forecast may call for continued 100-degree days in the foreseeable future, but there will be plenty of thunder and lightning in the wine country this weekend as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns to Sonoma Raceway for the 30th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
The Sonoma Nationals are the 15th of 24 events on the 2017 schedule and the centerpiece of the traditional mid-season Western Swing that began with last weekend’s Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Colorado and concludes next weekend with the Northwest Nationals near Seattle.
Antron Brown was the last driver to sweep the Western Swing, doing so in Top Fuel in 2009. After capturing the first leg of this year’s swing with his Top Fuel victory last Sunday in Denver (along with Robert Hight in Funny Car, Drew Skillman in Pro Stock and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Motorcycle) has Brown hoping to repeat the difficult feat.
After competing in the high altitude of Denver, the team must adjust his 10,000-horsepower Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster.to the much friendlier atmospheric conditions at Sonoma, where at an elevation of a mere 15 feet above sea level, ideal conditions and fast times are the norm.
“It’s tough,” explains Brown. “The conditions and the changes that these crew chiefs have to make in three weeks is what makes it so difficult. It’s getting tougher every year to win one race, let alone three in a row.”
As a three-time champion in Top Fuel (2012, 2015 and 2016) Brown knows what it takes to win and he seems to be building momentum at the right time for a run at a fourth championship.
After winning for the third time this season at Denver, knocking off his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Leah Pritchett in the final round, Brown moved to second in points behind five-time 2017 event winner Steve Torrence.
“We race hard and that’s the hardest part when you’re racing your teammate — you have nothing to lose and you better bring your A-plus game,” said Brown, who has 64 career wins, 48 in Top Fuel and 16 in Pro Stock Motorcycle. “It’s the same thing when racing all the other cars out there. Anybody can win on any given Sunday.”
Brown’s win in Denver also locked up a points spot in the top 10 which guarantees him a place in the six-race ‘Countdown To the Championship’ which will begin on September 17th with the Carolina Nationals in Concord, NC.
“We’re having a good season but there’s a lot more racing left to do and we just want to continue to get better every weekend,” Brown said.
California native Ron Capps once again leads the standings in Funny Car. After driving in Funny Car since 1997, Capps, who has amassed 54 event wins, finally broke through last season to capture his first Funny Car championship in the familiar yellow and blue Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing.
One driver looking to unseat Capps will be the popular icon John Force, of Yorba Linda. Over his career, which began in 1978, Force has raced to a record 148 victories and 16 Funny Car championships, the last coming in 2013.
Force, driving the PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro, is currently seventh in the Funny Car standings with one win this season, but the veteran driver is always a force (no pun intended) to be reckoned with. He is the all-time winner at Sonoma with a record eight career wins there including last year.
“I’m ready to keep fighting this fight,” Force said. “That’s what we’re going to do. We made some changes, and we’re heading in the right direction.”
Sonoma also holds other special memories for Force.
In 2006 he witnessed Eric Medlen, of Oakdale, win at Sonoma for John Force Racing. Unfortunately Medlen would pass away from injuries he sustained in a testing accident the following year.
Medlen had a saying, “You can never be sad when you’re eating ice cream” and in his honor Sonoma Raceway annually holds the Eric Medlen Ice Cream Social after the final round Sunday.
“I’ve won a lot of races there,” Force said. “We were there when Eric Medlen won. It’s always fun to go back and eat the ice cream.”
The Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals will hold two final rounds of qualifying today at 1:10 and 4:20 p.m and final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday. The event that will be televised on FS1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.
To purchase tickets or get more information, call 800-870-RACE (7223) or visit www.sonomaraceway.com