The experience of racing in this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway will be a new one for rookie Funny Car driver John Hale.

To get ready for one of the most thrilling events in motorsports, Hale has his own plan to get accustomed to all of the nuances of a race unlike any other on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit.

“I’m going to go on YouTube and see if I can pull up last year’s race,” Hale said. “I’ll see what I can decipher and hopefully get a little head start in my mind.”

Whatever Hale is doing has worked in 2015. With just three races to his credit before this season, Hale has looked impressive through three events this year, posting his first career final-round appearance at the most recent race in Gainesville.

Next up is trying to conquer one of the most unique races of the season at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.

Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jimmy Alund (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN and ESPN2. ESPN will provide live eliminations coverage on Sunday starting at 2 p.m., and Mello Yello Series racing will begin at 1 p.m. (ET) at the track.

It marks the first time Hale will line up his 10,000-horsepower ALO Drink/Jim Dunn Racing Dodge Charger against three other 10,000-horsepower machines on the starting line, a fact that brings an equal mix of excitement and nerves.

He has leaned on the experience of Jim Dunn and Jeff Arend, gathering as much advice as possible entering the event, but Hale also knows that he must be even more locked in during an event that will undoubtedly have his adrenaline flowing.

“I’m a little apprehensive with the starting-line procedure at the Four-Wide event because I’ve had a little trouble with the starting-line game this year,” Hale said. “But I’ve already started to improve on that, and it’s just going to take a lot of concentration on the Tree. It’s really going to make you focus even more on your own lane. I talked to Jeff Arend about it, and he said it’s good to go watch it a little before I race to try and understand it a little better.”

hale-1Since being named the full-time driver for Jim Dunn Racing for all 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events in January, Hale has made rapid improvements. A veteran and two-time champion in the Nostalgia Funny Car ranks, the Texas native has made the most of his golden opportunity thus far in 2015.

He won a first-round matchup to kick off the season in Pomona and was tremendous in Gainesville, knocking off the likes of John Force and Alexis DeJoria before falling to Ron Capps in the final round.

“It was really exciting just to be considered for the driving job,” Hale said. “To get qualified and get that first round-win in Pomona was remarkable, and it’s been great to go to the finals in just the third race. But this car has been really consistent, and there’s a great, experienced team around me. The Dunn family is just really jazzed right now. It seems almost surreal, like ‘Did I just do that?’ It’s a pretty infectious feeling.”

That has Hale, who is currently fifth in points, thinking big, even against a rugged Funny Car field that is led by reigning world champion and current points leader Matt Hagan, who won the first two events of the season. Hight scored a victory at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in 2014, and other stars include Courtney Force, Del Worsham, Cruz Pedregon, Jack Beckman, and Tommy Johnson Jr.

But the success in Gainesville has Hale believing he can hold his own against the Funny Car elite this weekend at zMAX Dragway and beyond, perhaps even into the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.

“With the success of the past race, I’m really looking forward to getting back in the seat so we can hopefully continue it,” Hale said. “I’m ready to get after it, and hopefully we can get the car to run in the 4.00s. The more runs I make, the more comfortable I get. This team is capable of winning races, and we can compete with anyone out there. We had a successful weekend in Gainesville, and that just lets you know you can do it.”

In Top Fuel, Brown won at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals for the first time last season and claimed six victories in 2014. Spencer Massey, who was victorious at the most recent event in Gainesville, won in 2012 and 2013, and reigning world champ Tony Schumacher, who won the most recent event in Phoenix, has two victories at zMAX Dragway but is looking for his first in the unique four-lane format. Doug Kalitta, J.R. Todd, three-time world champ Larry Dixon, reigning rookie of the year Richie Crampton, Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, and 2013 world champ Shawn Langdon will all be major contenders as well.

Substituting for four-time Pro Stock world champ Greg Anderson, who had off-season heart surgery, Alund ran the first five races and struck gold at zMAX Dragway. Anderson, a two-time winner of the event, is looking to build momentum after his 75th career victory at Gainesville, and teammate Jason Line won the season-opening race. Others to watch include reigning world champ Erica Enders-Stevens, 2012 world champ Allen Johnson, Phoenix winner and current points leader Rodger Brogdon, rookie sensation Drew Skillman, Shane Gray, and Jonathan Gray.

Hines and Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec dominated the Pro Stock Motorcycle season in 2014, combining to win 11 of the 16 events. Hines claimed his first win of the year in Charlotte and claimed five more titles en route to his fourth career world championship. Krawiec, 2009 world champ Hector Arana Sr., 2013 event winner Hector Arana Jr., two-time world champ Matt Smith, Angie Smith, Gainesville winner and points leader Karen Stoffer, and former zMAX Dragway winner Steve Johnson are all expected to be competitive in the two-wheeled category.

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. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.

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.

Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, March 27, with sessions at 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, March 28, also at 1:15 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 29.

The NHRA Four-Wide Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.


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