After a three-race break, count Alex Laughlin as one of many who are thrilled to have Pro Stock return to NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series action. Laughlin is off to the best start in the class in his promising career, sitting second in points heading to this weekend’s second annual Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park.
With the new 18-race schedule for the class during the 2019 season, Pro Stock was on hiatus over the past month. But there is considerable excitement brewing with the class returning in Virginia and Laughlin is ready to come back with the same momentum he had to start the year in his Havoline Chevrolet Camaro. He’s done almost everything but win this year and Laughlin now has his sights set on his third career win in the class.
“People are definitely excited to see the class back out there and we’re excited to be back out there,” Laughlin said. “I’ve never been this high in points, but it’s so tight in this class. Bo (Butner) is way out there (as the points leader), but the position we’re in now, we’re trying to race for a championship, the pressure is on to say the least. There’s no room for mistakes and we have to be on our game. The Countdown (to the Championship) will be here quicker than you think.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of a race that will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) in 2019, including final eliminations coverage starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 19. It is the fifth of 18 races during the 2019 NHRA Pro Stock season and Laughlin is eager to pick up where he left off a month ago when he started the year with one final and one semifinal appearance.
But while he sits second in points in the talent-heavy class, Laughlin doesn’t have much of a cushion. Butner has dominated the start of the year to the tune of three victories, but the rest of the top 10 is tightly-contested, as Laughlin sits just a point ahead of Matt Hartford and 24 in front of Jason Line. There’s also his Elite Motorsports teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Erica Enders to deal with, which means a quick start in Virginia will be necessary for Laughlin, who is also racing the full 12-race E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service.
“Whether you’re running multiple cars or not, it does take a run or so to get it back together,” Laughlin said. “I’ve been out of the seat of the Pro Stock car, so you have to get acclimated. It’s going to come down to who’s ready. With this team, they have it together and I’m confident we’ll be ready. Ultimately, the group of guys, the car and myself, we’re all clicking and being consistent and making good runs. It goes back to confidence and believing and knowing we have a good team.”
Things have come together well for Laughlin, but he’s not taking the quick start for granted. If anything, it’s got him even more focused heading into one of the busiest stretches of the season. He’ll be racing both Pro Stock and Pro Mod in Virginia, a scenario that isn’t easy but one that Laughlin embraces. It makes for a thoroughly hectic weekend in two difficult classes, but Laughlin enjoys it, especially when it happens at a facility like Virginia, which impressed him last year.
“It’s great to come back at a track like Virginia,” Laughlin said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect last year, but I think it was the best racetrack we saw. It was a great facility and a great track. We’ve got two very competitive races cars, so it’s two chances for us to win and I’m excited about that.”
The Top Fuel category will be filled with tough competition including reigning champion and points leader Steve Torrence, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Antron Brown and Clay Millican. Funny Car is loaded with talent, including points leader Robert Hight, defending world champion J.R. Todd, John Force, Matt Hagan and Ron Capps, who won the most recent race in Atlanta.
Looking for their first victory in Richmond in Pro Stock Motorcycle are a number of talented competitors, including defending world champ Matt Smith and points leader Andrew Hines. The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the fifth of 12 stops in 2019 at Virginia Motorsports Park. Defending world champion Mike Janis is the also defending Pro Mod winner at the race. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers. Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Virginia Motorsports Park will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their NHRA Virginia Nationals victories.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:45 and 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 17, and the final two rounds of qualifying at 12:45 and 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, May 18. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, May 19.
To purchase general admission or reserved seats, call 800-884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. All students can save 50 percent on general admission at the gate with a student ID. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more info about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.