May 24, 2018
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Inaugural New England Nationals roll into Epping

By Phil Whipple, Sun Journal

In the sport of drag racing, the National Hot Rod Association is the sanctioning body against which all others are measured. When teams on their national championship series roll into any facility with 10,000-plus horsepower nitro-burning machines, it creates an automotive spectacle like no other.

Now, for the first time in history, the top teams of NHRA’s Mello Yellow Drag Racing Series are headed to New Hampshire for the inaugural Auto Plus New England Nationals, June 20-23 at New England Dragway in Epping.

It’s difficult to describe just how huge this event is for drag racing in New England. Names like 15-time Funny Car world champion John Force, Cruz Pedregon, Ron Capps, Top Fuel Dragster pilots Tony Schumacher (seven-time champion), Antron Brown and point leader Shawn Langdon will all compete here in our backyards.

Here in central Maine, drag racing has a loyal following thanks to Oxford Dragway. It’s also very healthy “Down East,” where Winterport dragway runs events in a variety of classes with great success.

“Having the NHRA bring this national event to Epping is as significant to northeastern motorsports as when NASCAR first brought the Sprint Cup Series to New Hampshire Motor Speedway,” said Rich Wilcox, a lifelong drag racing enthusiast and current general manager of Oxford Dragway. “These are the top names in the sport, and the 300-plus mile per hour runs they make are incredible.”

Tracks like Oxford Dragway and Winterport Dragway work hard to ensure that grass-roots drag racing on the local and regional levels stay healthy. Yet the “big show” has always been the NHRA’s national tour, fueling interest in the sport from both the fan and competitor standpoints.

“This is the culmination of years of dreams and hard work to make this a reality,” said Wilcox, who worked at New England Dragway for 10 years. “It has been the desire and goal for many of us within this sport to have a national event in Epping. When it became a reality, we all stood and cheered. It literally doesn’t get any bigger than this, so I strongly urge anybody who loves cars and racing to attend. It will create memories to last a lifetime, and it just might get you hooked on drag racing.”

Cory Prindall of Turner has been involved in drag racing for 16 years. He competes in the Super Street class in NHRA’s eastern regional tour and will race in Epping after racing this past weekend at Lebanon Valley Dragway in West Lebanon, New York. Prindall, 31, won the Modified class championship at Oxford Dragway in 2009. As a local racer with an appreciation for all levels of competition, he knows just how much this national event means to his sport.

“This is something all of us who love drag racing in the northeast have dreamed about for decades,” Prindall said. “Up until now, we’ve always had to travel to Englishtown, N.J., or Maple Grove in Pennsylvania to see a national event. To have one just down the road is huge; the chance to race alongside the top teams in our sport means the world to me.”

Prindall is one of a handful of Maine drivers planning to compete in Epping. Jamie Madison, who runs in the Super Comp class at Oxford Dragway is also going, as are several others from central and eastern Maine.

“I think a few of us actually have a shot at making the finals down in Epping. We’re all after that coveted winner’s trophy. If I could hang in there and win there, it would fulfill a lifelong dream.”

Qualifying for all classes in the inaugural Auto Plus New England Nationals will begin Thursday and continue through Saturday. For those with consistent speed and reaction times (at the green light), Final Eliminations will take place on Sunday.

“There will be 40 entries in my class, and all of them have great equipment and talent,” added Prindall. “I need to perform well each time we run. In drag racing, you’re either on top of your game — or you’re loading the car back onto the trailer.”


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