The Herald Bulletin
---- — After some of the drivers, fans and media withered under the scorching heat and soaring humidity during the U.S. Nationals press conference Wednesday, weather was a topic for the weekend.
The biggest news that came from the press conference was the lottery ball selection that decided the eighth competitor for the weekend Traxxas Nitro Shootout.
Saturday will be the Top Fuel competition and Sunday the Funny Cars will be in the spotlight. The first seven winners in each division get automatic berths. The final spot comes from fan vote. Each driver who earns votes gets a number of lottery balls equal to the percentage of votes that were cast.
In both drawings, the driver with the highest percentage was chosen. For the Top Fuel competition, Brittany Force had 49 percent of the vote. For Funny Cars, Tim Wilkerson captured 40 percent of the vote.
"I remember watching my dad (John Force) race in all the shootouts growing up and to follow in his footsteps and get a chance to compete in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, it's awesome," said Force.
"I'm very happy to get in the show and thanks to all of the fans for voting," said Wilkerson.
The winner of one or both of those three round events might be the one who can tame the hot, slippery track and make three passes without spinning the tires and ruining their chances.
The heat and humidity forecast for every day of the qualifying, makes the final round of qualifying of Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. each day crucial. With all of Sunday's qualifying done during the heat of the day, the only slight break in temperatures is likely to be during those evening rounds.
"It will be really huge," said Top fuel driver Brandon Bernstein. "Those will be the best conditions. We won't be able to put up any numbers those other times."
But he did leave open that someone could get something accomplished on Sunday. "By then, the crew chiefs have figured something out," said Bernstein. The drivers and crew chiefs are also at a disadvantage because as the NHRA has toured the country for the series, not many stops featured heat and humidity akin to what is being forecast for Lucas Oil Raceway this weekend.
The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, or the Big Go as it has long been called, has always been the crown jewel of the NHRA circuit, even before it was designated as the final event to make the top 10 in each pro class and qualify for Countdown to the Championship.
Nobody has been more successful the past several years in Top Fuel than Tony Schumacher. He has won the U.S. Nationals nine times and finished runnerup twice. "I've had great teams and good luck here," said Schumacher Wednesday. "I wish the final six races (of this season) were all run here."
The U.S. Nationals will conduct eliminations and crown its champions on Monday beginning at 11 a.m. Much of the action can be seen on ESPN, but the best way to experience the NHRA is in person. That's where I plan to be this weekend.