National Hot Rod Association racers no longer are in early-season mode. One-third of the campaign has passed, and as this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway approaches, they’re talking about mid-season conditions (usually meaning hot, sticky, greasy racing surfaces) and looking forward to the Countdown to the Championship that starts in September.

This event, No. 7 on the 23-race Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour, will complete the first back-to-back segment of the season.

So far no one can crack the John Force Racing code in the Funny Car class. Force’s Winternationals victory and Mike Neff’s triumph last Sunday at Houston book-ended Robert Hight’s four consecutive wins in the first six Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events.

However, Hight said at least half a dozen Funny Car drivers are capable of winning any given weekend. “You look at the level of competition and it is never been higher in Funny Car,” he said. “We have four strong Funny Cars at JFR. The Don Schumacher Funny Cars have been in the hunt all season. Jeff Arend had a great car in Houston, plus you add Cruz Pedregon, Bob Tasca III, and Tim Wilkerson and on race day your battle starts in the first round.”

In the Top Fuel division, the knot at the top is almost as tight.

Morgan Lucas continues to dog the Don Schumacher Racing dragster trio of Antron Brown, Spencer Massey, and Tony Schumacher. Lucas won at Gainesville and Houston and has four No. 1 qualifying positions in six races. DSR mates Antron Brown and Spencer Massey have been swapping the points lead, and Brown has it now, along with one victory. Massey has three Wally statues this year.

But Lucas is the lone driver preventing his DSR counterparts from taking the top three spots in the standings. While the Countdown to the Championship fields won’t be complete until Labor Day, his constant presence at the top of the heap is symbolic of the smaller teams jousting against the mega team resources.

The Houston winner in his GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster still is marveling that in the most recent race he qualified No. 1 and ran low elapsed time of every round on race day — for the first time in his career. He said he’s stoked because “we’ve definitely hit the hot part of the schedule and our car is still really stout.” He loves Atlanta Dragway, for it’s where he scored his first professional victory in 2009.

Could this be the weekend in which Tony Schumacher, the most successful driver in Top Fuel history, finally gets his first Atlanta victory and halts his winless streak at 29 races? The U.S. Army Dragster driver has been runner-up here three times, including at last year’s visit. Still, he’s fourth in the standings, 37 points behind leader Antron Brown.

“What I find interesting,” Schumacher said, “is that, even though we haven’t won a race, we are still very much in the hunt. We’re less than two rounds of racing behind Antron in first, which is pretty amazing. Wait until we start putting some victories in the bank.”

Steve Torrence is steadily improving with his family-owned dragster and could shake up the status quo just one year after stepping from Dexter Tuttle’s ride. Shawn Langdon also appears to be on the verge of breaking from his dry spell in the Al-Anabi Dragster, and his rookie teammate, Khalid alBalooshi, is getting more laps and inching closer to making an impact like he made in the Pro Modified cars.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson has been the points leader all season, but the class has seen five different winners in six races. Anderson is the only repeat winner, but Jason Line, Mike Edwards, Allen Johnson, and Vincent Nobile also have had a turn in the winners circle.

Erica Enders has been threatening all season long and just might be annoyed enough to plow through four rounds without an incident this weekend for her first victory. “I feel like we keep getting gypped,” the Chevy Cobalt driver said. “My guys work really hard, and I’ve got a great car and a great team. But stupid stuff happens. But you know what? It’s going to come together. The tables will turn. We’re going to keep at it for as long as it takes.”

Meanwhile, Anderson and Line are itching to debut their new Chevy Camaros, which won’t happen this weekend. Greg Stanfield continues to fight with his new Camaro.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle class has run just twice, but the Harley-Davidsons — despite a mandatory 20-pound addition — are dominating. Eddie Krawiec won the season-opening Gatornationals, and Andrew Hines claimed the Wally last week at Houston.

Image courtesy: NHRA/National Dragster

GEICO Suzuki rider Karen Stoffer perhaps said it best: “Every weekend seems to be a little different with the Pro Stock bike class. You never know who’s who in Whoville. You’ve got all these weight rules and no R&D on some of the Suzukis and huge R&D on some of the Buells. It’s always a mish-mash, and you never know what you’re going to come up against.”

Consider competitor Jerry Savoie and his Mark Peiser-tuned White Alligator Racing entry. He has a Suzuki and a Buell and plans to switch them, depending on the weather and track. This weekend he and Peiser said they’ll likely go with the Buell.