With only three races remaining in the 2014 IHRA Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series season, championship points are at a premium.
And that couldn't be any more true than at this weekend's pivotal stop at Pittsburgh Raceway Park as the stars of the IHRA return to the Steel City for the fourth annual IHRA Nitro Jam Pittsburgh Nationals presented by Good Vibrations Motorsports this Friday and Saturday.
Following a compelling race at Cordova Dragway Park two weeks ago that saw first-time winners in every professional category except one, fans and drivers are buzzing as the IHRA returns to the track this weekend with only three events remaining.
"We saw an exceptional race at Cordova earlier this month and that has created a lot of attention on the IHRA and the Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series. After what we saw in Illinois, I would expect similar results this weekend in Pittsburgh with another superior lineup heading to Pennsylvania," said Scott Gardner, President of IHRA Motorsports. "I expect, with only a few races left, the competition and intensity will be at an all-time high which should make for an extremely compelling race this weekend."
Adding to the racing excitement itself, two unique variables will play a key role at this weekend's event at Pittsburgh Raceway Park - track length and the crunch being placed on IHRA's Nitro Funny Car teams.
First up, Pittsburgh Raceway Park will host IHRA's only event not contested on the quarter-mile this season. For safety reasons, the IHRA Pittsburgh Nationals will be shortened to 1,000 feet for all nitro classes creating an extra challenge for IHRA teams. While 320 less feet doesn't sound like a lot, it could play a major role in the final outcomes with some teams better suited to shorter attacks.
The second variable is the Nitro Funny Car schedule. With one less event on the schedule than all of the other pro classes, the IHRA Pittsburgh Nationals will serve as the next-to-last race of the season for Nitro Funny Car competitors, meaning championships can be clinched this weekend.
Breakout star Jason Rupert in the Bays and Rupert "Black Plague" '69 Camaro can clinch his first IHRA Nitro Funny Car championship this weekend with a strong performance at the Pittsburgh Nationals as he holds a commanding 177-point lead over second place Mark Sanders. With four national event victories and a trip to the final round at every national event entered except one, Rupert can seal his first IHRA title and fourth career Nitro Funny Car championship in Pittsburgh.
But it won't be an easy task. Fellow 2014 national event winners John Hale in the "Mike Burkhart" tribute Camaro and Mike McIntire in the "McAttack" Camaro will join IHRA record holder and multi-time Pittsburgh winner Peter Gallen in trying add another Ironman to their collection. They will be joined in Pittsburgh by Sanders, Tim Boychuk, Bruce Litton, Mike Smith, Ronny Young, Greg Jacobsmeyer, Gary Kraus, John Crimmins and more.
The remaining professional classes still face three races, giving them extra time to lock up their respective championships.
One of the closest battles of 2014 is in Nitro Harley as Canadian Mike Scott sits just 15 points ahead of Louisiana native Randal Andras and a little over 100 points clear of fourth place Mark Cox. Multi-time IHRA champion Jay Turner sits in the middle in third. Scott leads the quartet with three wins this season, though he hasn't hoisted an Ironman trophy since early June. Cox has two wins, while Andras has one.
In Pro Stock, Oklahoma's Cary Goforth leads the championship standings by 32 points over John DeFlorian. Goforth and DeFlorian began the season as the class of the field, but have not visited the winner's circle since early April. They will look to regain momentum this weekend.
Goforth teammate Todd Hoerner sits third in the championship standings, followed by Kevin Bealko and Pete Berner. Dean Goforth is the most recent winner in the class, winning the Summer Nationals at Cordova earlier this month.
Rounding out the pro classes are Nitro Altered and Jet Dragster as Ron Maroney brings a healthy lead in the AA/FA category in the "Blind Faith" machine over Don Blackshear in "Bullet Bob." In Jet Dragster, Elaine Larsen leads the all-female lineup, just ahead of Dawn Perdue. 20-year-old Kat Moller, fourth in points, won her first career race last weekend in Cordova giving all four girls at the top of the standings a win this season.
The 2014 IHRA Nitro Jam Pittsburgh Nationals presented by Good Vibrations Motorsports will take place this Friday and Saturday at Pittsburgh Raceway Park. Tickets can be purchased online at www.nitrojam.com or at the gate on the day of the show. For more information, visit www.nitrojam.com or call Pittsburgh Raceway Park at (724) 668-7600.