Few will deny that NHRA’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis is the single most recognized and prestigious affair in all of drag racing.
The 62nd edition of the grueling six-day annual race (which played out August 31-September 5) at fabled Lucas Oil Raceway once again featured significant wins by a very broad band of Chevrolet-powered and Chevrolet-configured cars.
COPO Conspiracy Thickens!
To say that Chevrolet COPO cars left a major impression at Indy this year would probably qualify as a major understatement! Both the popularity and the frequency for that class car configuration within NHRA’s Stock Eliminator ranks reached an even higher level during the 2016 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. The event’s participating COPO racers provided numerous event highlights, not the least were multiple Stock Eliminator “class” wins - including Jeff Strickland (FS/C), Rich Rinke (FS/D), Tyler Cassil (FS/E), Al Corda (FS/F), Dan Fletcher (FS/G), and Joey Wilkes (FS/H).
Arguably the biggest COPO newsmaker for the event, however was Louisiana’s Stephen Bell. Not only did Bell win his FS/XX class driving an all-new 2016 model – he was also credited (racing his FSS/B ’15 model in Super Stock) with a barrier-breaking sub 8-second run. Bell clocked an amazing 7.975 e.t. (at 169+ mph) driving that 409ci model; the first-ever “seven” by a COPO in drag racing history. Bell’s strong event also included a runner-up pacing in the event’s prestigious Factory Showdown.
Stock & Super Stock Scores!
The versatility and the longevity of Camaro race cars within drag racing was also illustrated at Indy with both a late-model and early model emerging victorious. Jeff Lopez, who is from Texas, prevailed to win the event’s overall Stock Eliminator title when he ran his 2014 FS/C COPO to victory. For Lopez, who ran a final round 9.395 e.t., it was his first-ever Indy title and his first-ever win in the Stock category. His win came over a demanding 128-car field, and from the middle of the pack after qualifying.
Super Stock racing featured a first-time winner with Indiana’s own Ryan Haag prevailing racing his SS/FA 1967 Camaro. Haag, who qualified 124th of 128 cars, drove a great race that included a .006 RT in the final round, which ultimately prevailed over Washington’s Sean Cour who placed runner-up racing his GT/DA 2009 Chevy Cobalt.
Bodies of Strength
The advancement of sixth-generation Camaro Funny Car bodies within drag racing was also a major development during the event; both in nitromethane and alcohol-fueled class categories. The very lucrative to win 2016 Traxxas Nitro Shootout (a race within a race featured on Sunday) featured an all-Camaro final round with Courtney Force matched up against her JFR teammate Robert Hight. Force came away $100,000 richer following that final-round pairing.
The event’s Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Funny Car class title featured another all-Camaro matchup with Sweden’s Jonnie Lindberg (who is the defending NHRA 2015 World Champion) claiming victory racing his new ’16 Camaro over Colorado’s Annie Whiteley - also in a 2016 model. In fact, the “final four” cars left in TAFC competition were all new Camaro-bodied cars. And for good measure, the new Camaro machines set both low e.t. (John Lombardo Jr. 5.446 e.et.) and top speed (Doug Gordon 269.40 mph).
Fans of Pro Modified class category witnessed real history during the Indy event as the largest and most-competitive field of class cars in NHRA history was presented. That championship final round featured a truly cool confrontation between two differently configured C7 Corvettes, with the supercharged model raced by Von Smith facing the turbocharged machine driven by Ohio’s Troy Coughlin. But when Coughlin had a -.0001 red light foul, that gave Smith the victory driving his Tennessee-based Corvette. Smith’s win was his first in a while but also the 7th of his career.
Smith’s collection came over the quickest and largest assembly of Pro Mod cars ever seen at a NHRA national event race. The 33 machines entered had collectively lowered the NHRA’s all-time record quick bump spot (for the 16-car field) to an amazing 5.892 e.t.! Runner-up Coughlin had entered eliminations as the Number One seed after he paced the field with a 5.773 e.t (low of the race).
Pro Stock Prowess
The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals produced two different Pro Stock titles for the Chevrolet brand with Washington’s Aaron Strong and Texan Chris McGaha emerging.
First it was Strong, who produced a pretty monumental upset when he won the rain-delayed NHRA Northwest Nationals event (all Camaro) Pro Stock final that was run during Saturday’s schedule. That championship bout had been deferred to Indy following weather issues back at Seattle some four weeks earlier. Strong benefited from a -.001 red light start by his heavily favored opponent, Vincent Nobile, which negated his much quicker 6.585 e.t compared to Strong’s winning 6.634.
Monday’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals crown went to McGaha’s Camaro, which overpowered Allen Johnson in the championship round. McGaha ran a superior 6.688 e.t to 6.715 e.t. to take that decisively. Chris’s Pro Stock title was the fourth of his career. He had topped all Chevy Camaro racers before that, winning rounds over Matt Hartford, Curt Steinbach, and Vincent Nobile.