NHRA drag racing fans and competitors have likely noticed a consistent new rhythm in the format of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events, both those already contested in September and the events yet to come. In a departure from tradition, the Mello Yello series professional categories (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle) have been condensed to two-day programs, featuring just two rounds of qualifying on Saturday and final eliminations on Sunday. In lieu of a traditional Friday program, the NHRA has been fielding a “semi-professional” show on Friday evenings, highlighting the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Modified Series, the SAMTech.edu Factory Stock Showdown, Mickey Thompson Top Fuel Harley, and Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car. The Texas Motorplex is set to take this new format a step further, hosting “Friday Night Live” during its AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals October 16, featuring the aforementioned categories, along with grudge racing, jet dragsters, a freestyle motocross exhibition, and a musical DJ.
The event structure — with what would be a highly popular Friday-night draw anywhere in the nation — is a swift change from the norm. But, it falls largely in line with what racers, fans, and the media have been calling for in recent years to reduce costs, improve competition, and spotlight the semi-professional and limited-schedule pro classes in front of a national event crowd.
Jeffrey Young, NHRA’s VP of marketing and communications, assures that for the present moment, this change in its national event format is purely an effort to streamline operational costs in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But Young notes the organization is evaluating the format and the response from its fans and competitors as it develops future national event schedules. The 2021 Mello Yello Series schedule is expected over the next couple of weeks; specific event schedules as it pertains to two- and three-day professional programs will be determined at a later time.
“This is definitely something we’re looking at,” Young says. “This was all out of necessity due to Covid-19 this year, cutting expenses on travel and trying to make sure we can all get to the events and cut down on costs. But, we are looking at this for next year. Pro Mod, they’re a professional class, and the Top Alcohol classes, these are cars people want to watch, and so it’s really a pro event all weekend, it’s just the nitro categories have been Saturday and Sunday. So there is a possibility that there will be some two-day pro-class events next season. We’ll still have three-day pro events, and the U.S. Nationals will still be an extended event, but we could see some changes in the future regarding the number of qualifying of runs.”
While not confirmed by Young nor NHRA management at this time, the 2021 schedule is widely expected to forego the long-standing season-opener at Pomona and the subsequent Arizona Nationals in Phoenix, and could begin at Gainesville as late as the final weekend in March.