For the second straight weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series was foiled at the last minute by Mother Nature in Indianapolis, this time as the professional-class finalists were making their way to the staging lanes Sunday afternoon to conclude the Lucas Oil NHRA Summernationals.
Among those finalists were T.J. Zizzo and newcomer Justin Ashley, both of whom reigned over the heavy-hitting, full-time teams in the greasy July heat to advance to their first career professional final rounds. The rainshowers, however, forced the two unlikely finalists to put the champagne on ice for the next six weeks.
No matter what, though, Top Fuel will have a first-time winner when the delayed final goes down at the U.S. Nationals over Labor Day weekend, back at Lucas Oil Raceway In Indy.
Zizzo, who earlier in the week had made the bold statement that he believed the Summernationals was his part-time team’s best chance yet at a national event triumph, bounced Terry Totten, Todd Paton, and a surging Terry McMillen in the semifinals to punch his ticket into the finale. On the opposite side of the ladder, Ashley, making just his sixth Top Fuel start ever, went through a murderer’s row of opponents, including Shawn Langdon, points leader Doug Kalitta, and Leah Pruett on his road to potential glory.
The moment the two drivers had waited their entire lives for, though, would have to wait.
Zizzo and Ashley, in concert with the NHRA, agreed to contest the final round during qualifying at the U.S. Nationals, rather than on Monday — at which time there would be no FOX television coverage — or at the third Indy race in August, when the teams will not both be in attendance.
In 80 Top Fuel starts, Zizzo had previously advanced beyond the first round just 10 times, with three semifinal round showings to his credit. But in a few short weeks, he could fully erase the memory of a lopsided 15-67 career record behind the wheel of his Mike Kern-tuned Rustoleum dragster.
Ashley, for his part, has fared better — albeit with a smaller sample size — appearing in one semifinal and advancing past the first round four times in his six previous starts, for a 5-6 overall record.
Either way this one goes, it’s a win for NHRA drag racing and its fans, providing a pair of ever-popular underdog storylines that follows up Ryan Oehler’s unlikely first-ever win in Pro Stock Motorcycle a weekend ago, at a time when the sport needs healthy competition and the excitement that goes with it the most.