It would be easy for Alexis DeJoria to sugarcoat the slow start her team has had during the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
She could bank on the fact that her Kalitta Motorsports team and her 10,000-horsepower Patron XO Café Incendio Toyota Camry put together four final round appearances and three victories a year ago, and therefore is capable of turning it on at some point this season.
Instead, DeJoria knows the time is now when it comes to a turnaround and that time comes this weekend at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park for the 46th annual Toyota NHRA Summernationals.
“Considering the fact that we’re already eight races into the season, now it definitely matters,” said DeJoria, who is currently tied for ninth in the Funny Car points standings. “We have got to pick up the pace and get a win.”
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. It marks the ninth of 24 events during the 2015 NHRA season and DeJoria isn’t afraid to admit that things haven’t gone as planned through the first third of the season.
But that doesn’t mean DeJoria and her team, led by crew chief Tommy DeLago, isn’t capable of a quick response. DeJoria posted two wins over a three-race stretch last year and has posted impressive moments this season. Unfortunately, most of them have come during qualifying and not during eliminations. DeJoria has qualified fourth on three different occasions and was seventh in Topeka, clocking an impressive 3.994.
Her first round loss to teammate Del Worsham that same weekend might have summed up her early-season frustrations. DeJoria ran a strong 4.04 only to watch Worsham go 3.988 and fall in the first round for the second straight race.
“We have been running very fast in qualifying and even on race day,” said DeJoria, who has five career final round appearances. “For whatever reason, either it was on the starting line or down track, we haven’t had the consistency needed to follow through with those quick runs. It’s starting to pick up a little bit though, so I have a good feeling about these next couple of races.”
With an ultra-talented Funny Car field – one that produced an incredible 15 three-second runs during the weekend in Topeka – DeJoria knows those good feelings need to translate into on-track results soon.
Cruz Pedregon, who has three wins at the event, dominated the weekend at Englishtown last season in Funny Car, qualifying No. 1 and storming to the event win over Worsham. Four of John Force’s record 142 career victories have come in New Jersey, but he hasn’t won the event since 1999. Two-time and defending world champ Matt Hagan has enjoyed past success at Englishtown, winning the event in 2013, and other class stars are points leader Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., Courtney Force, Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, who won the most recent event in Topeka and Atlanta winner Tim Wilkerson.
That lineup presents a tough task in Englishtown, but DeJoria is eager and determined to get her season on the right path, which also means turning on four win lights during eliminations.
“I wouldn’t say that the season has gone the way I had expected it to,” DeJoria said. “I figured we would’ve continued our success from last year in the beginning of the season like we did before. This time, it’s a little more difficult to get that first win of the season.”
DeJoria’s strong work ethic will keep her committed to that first win of 2015 and she has continuously lauded the support and cohesiveness her Kalitta Motorsports team provides. Plus, DeJoria has always held Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in high regard and knows how important and meaningful a win this weekend would be for the entire organization.
“There are a lot of things that stand out when I think about Englishtown,” DeJoria said. “Overall, I love going back to that track even though certain things have happened there that haven’t been so great. I love racing there, I love the track, and I love the people. A win there would mean the world to me, my team and the Kalitta Motorsports organization as a whole. It would be right up there with an Indy win. “
In Top Fuel, Crampton claimed his first career win at Englishtown, becoming the 100th different driver to win in the category. Three-time Top Fuel world champ Larry Dixon is tied for the most wins at Englishtown, while other standouts include Doug Kalitta, who won in 2000 and 2003, eight-time and defending world champ Tony Schumacher, 2013 winner Shawn Langdon, 2011 Englishtown winner Spencer Massey, 2012 winner Steve Torrence, J.R. Todd, Brittany Force and Antron Brown, who won the most recent event to move into the points lead.
Greg Anderson leads the Pro Stock category with five career wins at Raceway Park, while teammate Jason Line has three wins in New Jersey. Defending world champ Erica Enders, who took over the points lead with a win in Topeka, is looking to add the Toyota NHRA Summernationals to her career victory total, while 2011 winner, Allen Johnson, 1994 winner and recent Charlotte winner Larry Morgan, Las Vegas runner-up Vincent Nobile, Houston runner-up Chris McGaha, Shane Gray and Jonathan Gray also figure to be major players in the ultra-competitive factory hot rod class.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines took home his second Englishtown victory last season en route to his fourth career world championship. Hines is currently second in points to teammate and Bayonne, N.J. native Eddie Krawiec, a 2012 winner of this event. Former Englishtown bike winners Matt Smith, Angelle Sampey and Shawn Gann will all be in pursuit of more success at the event. Meanwhile, Hector Arana Jr., Karen Stoffer, LE Tonglet and Scotty Pollacheck are among a group of riders who are ready to claim a breakthrough E-town victory.
The NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series returns for its fourth race of the 2015 season at Englishtown. The Toyota NHRA Summernationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.