Matt Hartford has made 103 starts in his Pro Stock career, but none of those have taken place at Brainerd International Raceway. That will change this weekend for Hartford, as he will make his debut in Brainerd for this weekend’s 38th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series veteran also heads there with plenty of momentum.
Hartford went to the finals at two of the three Western Swing races, grabbing his second career Pro Stock win with his victory at the most recent race in Seattle. It has Hartford fourth in points and he’s already clinched a spot in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship for the first time in his career. Now, he’s ready for another first – a trip to Brainerd and “The Zoo” in his Total Seal Chevrolet Camaro with a chance to creep up on points leader Bo Butner.
“We obviously ran well in Denver and we were going to run well in Sonoma before driver error,” said Hartford, who picked up his first career win a year ago. “We still had a really fast car there and then in Seattle, we certainly had a really good Sunday. You take all that into consideration and we obviously have a lot of momentum going into Brainerd. We’re looking forward to going there and hopefully we can hold another Wally on Sunday. I’m definitely looking forward to it. The track produces some really good times and we feel like we can run really fast up there.”
Billy Torrence (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Aug. 18. It is the 10th of 18 races during the 2019 Pro Stock season and it’s been a breakout campaign for Hartford and his team.
The victory in Seattle was Hartford’s fourth final round of 2019, and he’s routinely qualified in the top half of the field. Everything has come together nearly perfect for Hartford, who has praised the work of crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia. It’s been an enjoyable process, but the fact he’s done it with a close-knit group has made this season that much more rewarding for Hartford.
“To go to four final rounds this year and win one of them, it definitely says we have a strong team and a championship-caliber team,” Hartford said. “To be able to have my team and my group of friends and family around me, and have this opportunity, it’s the most exciting part. The meaning behind all this is you’re with your closest friends and family and you’re representing your sponsors and your family. The relationships are just so strong and to have a chance to win with them, that’s the powerful meaning for me.”
Hartford, though, is nowhere near finished heading to the penultimate race of the regular season. He had championship aspirations to start the year and that hasn’t changed, especially sitting just 90 points out of second. That means Hartford will need a strong showing in his debut at Brainerd – the only track on the NHRA circuit where Hartford has never raced – against the likes of points leader Bo Butner, Greg Anderson, Alex Laughlin and Jason Line. But Hartford has shown continuous improvement all year, and he expects that to continue at Brainerd.
“We ran really well throughout many of the races last year and ran well at the end of last year,” Hartford said. “We knew we just needed to learn to qualify just a little bit better and race just a little bit better, and maybe make smarter decisions as the rounds go on. It was just a learning curve for all us, and the more you go rounds the more you learn this.”
Jack Beckman picked up his first Funny Car career win in Brainerd a year ago, and is after his first in 2019 to get his season on track. He’ll have to do it against stars like points leader Robert Hight, defending world champ J.R. Todd, Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., Matt Hagan and John Force.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying on both days, fans can watch the spectacular Lucas Oil “Muy Caliente” jet cars. Jet cars are propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock Motorcycle school at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, as well as Nitro School to learn how the cars and motorcycles operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Brainerd International Raceway will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans can congratulate the winners as they celebrate their Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals victories.
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. Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 16 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Aug. 17, at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 18. Tickets are available at the front gate of Brainerd International Raceway. Kids 12 and under are free with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on tickets. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.