NASCAR & Auto Racing

NHRA in Charlotte in 2008? Expanded schedule opens door

FONTANA, Calif. – While there is no drag strip at Lowe’s Motor Speedway yet the National Hot Rod Association might already be making room for one on its schedule.

The 2008 Powerade Series schedule, released Saturday at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, includes a new event scheduled for Sept. 11-14 at a site to be announced. That new race will expand the schedule in drag racing’s top series to 24 events.

While there was no official word Saturday that unnamed site is a drag strip that Speedway Motorsports Inc. is considering for the LMS complex in Concord, sources in Indianapolis said speculation there is that is what’s being planned. An NHRA-owned facility could have a facility in Gainesville, Fla., ready as a backup in case construction could not be completed. Or, Gainesville could be designated the site for 2008 with Charlotte coming on line a year later.

An NHRA spokesman said Charlotte is one of the potential venues being considered.

“We have said that we are looking at different venues around the country,” Jerry Archambeault, NHRA vice president of public relations and communications, said Saturday when reached by phone in Indianapolis.

“We needed to let our teams know that we are going to expand our schedule to 24 events.”

SMI chairman Bruton Smith confirmed this week he is “looking very hard” at building a drag strip at the Concord track. SMI already plays host to NHRA national events at its tracks at Bristol, Las Vegas and Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

Could a drag strip that hasn’t received procedural approvals from governmental agencies be ready to host a top-tier drag racing event in 12½ months? Building and renovating racing facilities on seemingly impossible timetables is something Smith and SMI have done before. Construction began on the facility at Las Vegas, for example, in December 1999 and it hosted a race in April 2000, but part of the structure for the grandstands was already in place when that project began.

Calls seeking comment from SMI were not immediately returned Saturday.

NHRA president Tom Compton told the Observer on Friday that the drag racing series would be interested in the Charlotte area.

“We are coming off one of the most successful seasons in NHRA history,” Compton said in announcing the schedule.

“There has been much anticipation regarding today’s announcement and that anticipation will likely carry over until we announce the newest addition on the national event schedule.”

The NHRA schedule has not expanded its schedule since 2000. A one-time summer event was held in Pomona, Calif., in 2001 to mark the NHRA’s 50th anniversary.

The new race in 2008 could alter the NHRA’s new “Countdown” championship format being used for the first time this season for drag racing’s top fuel, funny car, pro stock and pro stock motorcycle divisions.

The Countdown narrows the number of drivers competing for championships in each NHRA division to eight.

Those eight have their points totals reset, and then after four more races the championship field is narrowed again, to four in each class. After another points reset, the championships are determined over the final two races.

This year’s U.S. Nationals, drag racing’s equivalent to the Daytona 500, is the first race after the championship field was narrowed following an event in Reading, Pa. If the same format holds for 2008, however, the U.S. Nationals would be the final race in determining which eight teams qualify to run for the championship.

The new race would then be the first race after the points reset. After races in Dallas, Memphis and Richmond, the field would be cut to four for the final two events at Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif.

2008 NHRA Powerade Series schedule

Feb. 7-10: Pomona, Calif

Feb. 22-24: Phoenix

March 13-16: Gainesville, Fla.

March 28-30: Houston

April 10-13: Las Vegas

April 24-27: Commerce, Ga.

May 2-4: St. Louis

May 16-18: Bristol, Tenn.

June 5-8: Chicago

June 19-22: Englishtown, N.J.

June 26-29: Norwalk, Ohio

July 11-13: Denver

July 18-20: Seattle

July 25-27: Sonoma, Calif.

Aug. 7-10: Brainerd, Minn.

Aug. 14-17: Reading, Pa.

Aug. 29-Sept. 1: Indianapolis

Sept. 11-14: TBA (Charlotte or Gainesville, Fla.?)

Sept. 18-21: Dallas

Sept. 26-28: Memphis

Oct. 10-12: Richmond

Oct. 30-Nov. 2: Las Vegas

Nov. 6-9: Pomona, Calif.