After suffering a disappointing and rare first-round loss last weekend in Dallas, count Pro Stock standout Mike Edwards as someone who is excited to get back in his car as soon as possible.
The points leader for most of his impressive 2013 season, Edwards dipped to third after two races in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. But the best news for Edwards is that he can get back behind the wheel of his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro quickly, and that chance comes this weekend at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, Sept. 27-29 at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are defending winners of the third race in the Countdown to the Championship, which will be televised by ESPN2HD. For Edwards, it’s a swift opportunity to get back into a rhythm that produced a class-best six wins and 13 No. 1 qualifying positions during a fantastic regular season.
"We've had a solid race car all season and know the only way to take advantage of the next [four] races in the Countdown is to win events and collect NHRA Wallys," Edwards said. "Moving forward, we understand that the only way to control our destiny and the championship is we have to win races, and winning is the only way you can make sure nobody can chase you down. We do not want to leave anything to chance and rest our hopes on other people."
A slump came at the worst possible time for Edwards, who entered the Countdown with incredible momentum after winning the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indy.
But the last two weekends have provided more than their share of frustrations. It started with a semifinal loss on a holeshot to eventual Charlotte event winner Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Edwards’ momentum took another hit last weekend in Dallas.
He qualified sixth, his second-lowest qualifying spot this season, then lost on a holeshot to Larry Morgan, giving Edwards his first first-round loss in 14 races.
That allowed Jason Line, who won in Dallas, to take over the points lead in Pro Stock for the first time since 2011, with Coughlin close behind. Edwards now trails Line by 34 points with four races remaining, the first time he hasn’t been in the points lead since early April.
Edwards was disappointed after the first-round loss, but he is focused on moving forward and taking care of business in St. Louis, where he last won in 2006.
"If we make good runs and I do my job on the starting line, we have a good chance of collecting another Wally and helping our cause," Edwards said. "We just have to stay focused on the task at hand, and if the good Lord is willing, we will have a great weekend."
Edwards will also have to deal with a number of other talented drivers in the class, including defending world champion Allen Johnson, four-time champ Greg Anderson, Dallas runner-up Shane Gray, Enders-Stevens, three-time season winner Vincent Nobile, V. Gaines, and Rodger Brogdon. But he is banking on a solid showing, in part because his Camaro has been remarkably consistent for the majority of the season.
“The Camaro has really helped us,” Edwards said. “It's really stable. It's just a good car, good race car. We've made several changes to it, and it has just been really, really fast right out of the box. We worked on our engine program all winter like we always do. But I think the biggest thing we managed was with the Camaro.”
In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon and Dallas winner Doug Kalitta share the points lead. Spencer Massey raced to a runner-up finish in Charlotte and is third. Others to watch include Morgan Lucas, who won the playoff opener in Charlotte, defending world champ Brown, Tony Schumacher, Clay Millican, Bob Vandergriff Jr., and Steve Torrence.
The Funny Car field is led by points leader and 2011 world champion Matt Hagan. Cruz Pedregon is riding plenty of momentum coming into the event after winning in Dallas and moving to second in points. John and Courtney Force, Robert Hight, Illinois native Tim Wilkerson, Ron Capps, defending winner Beckman, Del Worsham, and Johnny Gray also will be among the pre-race favorites.
The two-wheeled warriors in Pro Stock Motorcycle return to Gateway Motorsports Park with Hector Arana Jr. atop the series standings. Matt Smith, Michael Ray, John Hall, and Eddie Krawiec, the most recent winner in the Countdown, will be among the contenders vying for the NHRA Wally during the weekend.
Fans of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in St. Louis can meet their heroes during the free Fan Fest sponsored by Mid-America Chevy Dealers in downtown St. Louis Sept. 26. The event will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. on Washington Avenue (14th and Tucker) with activities for fans of all ages. A driver autograph session, car show, interactive displays, food, music, and ticket giveaways will be among the featured attractions during the event. Downtown St. Louis will be electric with the excitement of Thursday Night Football, and this will be a way to rev up the action before the game.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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. Fans can get autographs and watch the race teams service their high-performance hot rods between each round of racing. No other sport offers fans such an up-close-and-personal experience.
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.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
Families can take part in a special ticket offer: Children 12 and younger will be admitted free in general admission and grandstand two with a paid adult. A special 12 and younger rate is also available in the Nitro 2 section.
AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27. Qualifying continues at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 29.
For tickets for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, log on to www.gatewaymsp.com or call 855-RACE-TIK (722-3845).