NHRA teams prepare for Arizona Nationals at spring training event


It was Feb. 6, and the early morning air in south Phoenix was thick with the smell of gas at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park (WHPMP). The whirring of power tools emanated from the symmetrical rows of behemoth trailers that lined the pitch beside the track. Then, stunting all sounds in its way, a dragster would come to life, pounding the asphalt with a steady rumble, the idling roars an ominous hint of the shockwave to come.


It was Nitro Spring Training, the event where the biggest names in top fuel and funny car drag racing gathered to test their equipment, cars and personnel before the start of the National Hot Rod Associations 2016 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

The event is not just preparing the drivers and crew for the first race in Pomona, Calif., Feb. 11-14, it is also giving everyone the chance to familiarize themselves with the track that they will be returning to in February as NHRA comes back to WHPMP for the Arizona Nationals on Feb. 26-28.

“It is really our spring training, so the fans have a chance to see a taste of what you’ll see here at the end of February when we have the national event,” said Shawn Langdon, driver for Red Fuel/Sandvick Racing. “It is time to see how the changes will work that we’ve made in the off season, and you try to get one step ahead of the competition and keep progressing the car.”

His car, a top fuel dragster, belongs to one of two categories of cars that were practicing over the weekend, the other being the funny car category. Top fuel cars are the dragsters many are accustomed to seeing, with the long thin bodies and rear-mounted engines.

Funny cars look like elongated normal cars with front-mounted engines. A third category, pro stock, will also be competing at the end of February, with those cars made to resemble classic muscle cars, only with a lot more power.

“This is one of the few sports that really hits all your senses,” said Langdon. “When you are sitting in the grandstands and to feel the power it really feels like a small earthquake with the 10,000 horsepower that these things put out running speeds of 330-plus miles per hour.”

The CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Arizona Nationals will pit the biggest names in drag racing against each other and will be the second race in a 24-race series. The largest NHRA teams will all be represented in February, including John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing, but there will also be independent drivers like Tim Wilkerson, who will be racing his funny car for the one-car team from Tim Wilkerson racing.

“The nationals in February are at the beginning of the year, and everybody has new parts and equipment and people, so there is still a little bit of a learning curve, and that’s why we prepare” Wilkerson said.

Also new to the NHRA Mello Yello series this year will be their own package on Fox Sports One that will allow fans to see all 24 races across the country for the first time on a dedicated network.

“I think that is going to be the most exciting part of our new season, that we have dedicated times,” Wilkerson said. “Before we’d get bumped by whatever was before or behind us, and now these are live shows.”

For tickets to the Arizona Nationals, visit nhra.com or call 800-884-6472. Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park is located at 20000 S. Maricopa Road in Phoenix.