Dave Rieff and Tony Pedregon preview the 2017 NHRA drag racing season
FOX Sports opens its second season as home to the NHRA this weekend, with three hours of final-round coverage from the NHRA Circle K Winternationals airing live on the FOX broadcast network Sunday, Feb. 12 (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET).
In addition, FS1 provides NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing qualifying coverage on Friday, Feb. 10 (7 p.m. to 8 p.m.), Saturday, Feb. 11 (1 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET) and Sunday, Feb. 12 (2 a.m. to 3 a.m.).
Returning to the FOX NHRA booth are veteran broadcaster Dave Rieff, with two-time NHRA Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon providing analysis and Bruno Massel, Jamie Howe, John Kernan and Amanda Busick reporting from the pits.
Rieff and Pedregon preview the 2017 season:
FOX Sports: What is the biggest NHRA on-track story heading into the 2017 season?
Pedregon: A lot of movement with teams, particularly in Funny Car, with tuner Jimmy Prock going back to John Force Racing after defecting to Force’s biggest competitor, Don Schumacher Racing. Will this give Force the firepower that he once had?
Rieff: Two things — Ron Capps returns as Funny Car champion. Finally, it all came together for Capps in 2016. Led by Rahn Tobler, the team didn’t let numerous difficult moments hold them back from claiming the ultimate prize; can they repeat? And movement in Funny Car – Del (Worsham) back with Chuck (Worsham), J.R. Todd switching classes. Jimmy Prock back to John Force Racing. Dean Antonelli makes the switch to DSR. You will need a program to keep up with the changes.
FOX Sports: Any driver surprise you with their performance in 2016; and are there new faces (or old faces in new places) for fans to keep an eye on and why?
Pedregon: The most impressive run in my opinion was the 3.82 run by Jack Beckman in Funny Car at the last race of the 2016 season. He will have different tuners, however, I do feel that we will see a Funny Car run in the 3.7 range in 2017. Also in Funny Car, the 335-mph run by Matt Hagan was unreal and may be hard for any team to top.
Rieff: A few —
— Obvious players come to mind — Fast Jack Beckman’s 3.82 ET; Matt Hagan’s 335-mph — INCREDIBLE. Top Fuel dipping into the 3.6 second range.
— J.R. Todd moving to Funny Car — In Scott Kalitta’s car no less. Will be interesting to see how he adapts. Driving a Funny Car seems to fit his driving style.
— Tanner Gray; I spoke with the kid after the first round of testing. Seems to be one of those young kids who doesn’t know driving a Pro Stock car is difficult. Reacted well, not only going quick and fast, but also when the car made moves. Seems to be a natural.
— Troy Coughlin Jr. — been a long time since his grandfather drove a fuel car. But based on how he handled the turbo/pro mod, I think he will be just fine. Look for Troy and Tanner to battle it out for the rookie of the year.
— My Top Fuel law firm of (Leah) Pritchett, (Clay) Millican & (Terry) McMillen. Can she win again? When will Clay hit pay day? And what does Terry have to do to get a bigger bite and challenge for a top 10.
— John Force — always. The sports winningest, most dynamic and perhaps bonkers driver is the reason Funny Car is what it is today … they need him to keep that pot stirred.
— The rest of team Force — Courtney/new sponsor, Robert Hight — he’s the first to tell you that he expects more.
— Alexis (DeJoria) — Rough year; how will she handle her return.
— Cruz (Pedregon) – ROUGH year, but (tuner) Aaron Brooks brings new expectations; can they be met?
— Erica Enders-Stevens & Jeg Coughlin — back to Chevrolet after one miserable season. How good can they be?
— Greg Anderson — had a championship year except for his teammate. It’s a long look back to title No. 4 (2010).
— Jerry Savoie & L.E. Tonglet — Pro Stock Bikes newest tandem could be tough to beat.
— Angelle Sampey & Cory Reed — new venture. Expectations?
FOX Sports: Which drivers are under the most pressure to perform this season?
Pedregon: Top Fuel drivers like Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence will see pressure in trying to dethrone Antron Brown. Pro Stock’s Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr. will have an opportunity to redeem themselves in familiar Chevy-powered cars after running for Dodge in 2016.
Rieff: Doug Kalitta, USAC champ is now the new face for longevity without a championship thanks to Capps; Steve Torrence called himself a championship player last year. Performance numbers didn’t agree with round wins though.
FOX Sports: Any new driver-crew chief combinations that stand out and why?
Pedregon: The Del Worsham (2015 Funny Car champ) move will be interesting as he will return as co-tuner and driver of his father’s Funny Car. They may not have backing for the entire season yet, but they have always been very resourceful. Rookie Troy Coughlin in Top Fuel should do well because the car he will drive performed very well last year with J.R. Todd driving. 17-year-old Tanner Gray showed some natural talent in testing, taking his father Shane’s place in Pro Stock.
— “Prock/Force – can they get the feeling again?
— Antonelli & John Medlen with Fast Jack – obvious reasons with the team’s switch. Dean and John work well together.
— Aaron Brooks & Cruz Pedregon – we need Cruz to be in there stirring it up again.
FOX Sports: The NHRA enjoyed some nice audience growth in 2016; what’s the key to keeping the momentum going?
Pedregon: The quality of drivers and competition are in place. The work is for the (television) production team to bring the stories and the racing to the NHRA audience and appeal to new viewers that find 330-mph, nitro-burning machines fascinating.
Rieff: Continue to deliver on Peter Clifford’s initiative to tell our story like no one else can. And that is something we will only continue to improve on in year two on FOX Sports & FS1.