The 2019 NHRA Southern Nationals

Just a week ago, the NHRA tour was in Charlotte, contesting a four-wide event at the beautiful zMAX Dragway – a monument to how big drag racing can be. 

Atlanta Dragway has the difficult position of following up that circus. The Arby’s Southern Nationals felt like a different series in comparison.

This is a basic venue, one of the most simple on the tour. The location isn’t beautiful, though it is convenient to hotels and restaurants in nearby Commerce. The track surface is showing some age, as are the facilities for fans. But this place does have history; it has been part of the tour for a long time.

I had the feeling that this event was about going through the motions. Perhaps it’s a symptom of having to back up a big race just a few days later. Maybe it’s the humid and hot weather. 

But next year is the 40th anniversary and I can see the potential. While zMAX is an absolute palace, it can lack soul. Atlanta Dragway remains an intimately sized venue that has the ability to generate atmosphere in a way that other venues can’t. I hope that ahead of the 40th running of the event there will be some special features announced for the race, or perhaps even some upgrades to the venue to improve fan comfort. With one of the biggest cities in the USA just down the road, there is no reason Atlanta Dragway shouldn’t be able to sell out.

For now though, enjoy our photo review of this year’s Southern Nationals! 

Luke Nieuwhof

Blake Alexander waits for a warm up in the pits. Alexander would have a frustrating event with his car failing to fire in qualifying and then again in the first round of racing.

A dedicated fan uses a gas mask to watch a nitro warm up from close proximity, as others stand back to avoid the fumes.
It's the gun show with Matt Hagan and fans.
Luigi Novelli (right) in a spirited discussion with his crew before they warm up his Top Fuel dragster.

Pro Modified drivers Chip King (left) and Mike Castellana share a laugh in the staging lanes.
Sidnei Frigo boils a set of tires in Pro Mod qualifying.
A unique aspect of photographing events at Atlanta Dragway is the raised ground behind the barriers of the right hand lane, allowing for a unique elevated photo position. Here Paul Lee gets off the line in his return to competition.

John Force backfires in severe fashion right as he launches his Funny Car.
Audrey Worm's privateer team has been making it down the track more and more in recent races.
Austin Prock and Scott Palmer leave a heat haze in their wake during qualifying for Top Fuel.

Sometimes I wish the pro teams would learn something from the radical colors in Top Dragster!
Steven Whiteley and Khalid alBalooshi launch in the afternoon sun during Pro Mod's second qualifying session.
Pop up storms are a feature of summer in the south, though May is not normally so affected as this year's Southern Nationals was.

Jack Beckman joins crew chief Dean Antonelli on track to discuss the surface.
Rain begins to fall, interrupting the start of Funny Car's second qualifying session and leaving Jim Campbell stranded.
Cruz Pedregon's team wipe off his Funny Car after the shower.

Teams await a return to racing.
A rough time for Jim Campbell when he goes bang right off the start line and oils the track.
The delay after Campbell's oildown gave fans a true night session. Atlanta Dragway is a dark track at night and the nitro flames were on full show.

Nitro fumes fill up the air on the starting line.
Scott Palmer accelerates with nitro flames standing tall.
Day two saw qualifying brought forward due to the risk of weather. Here a crew member holds on to his ear muffs as Doug Kalitta burns out.

Pat Dakin scrunches the rear tire as he hits the throttle.
Last minute wheelie bar adjustments and tire scrubbing for Richie Crampton's DHL dragster.
Brittany Force burns out in her Advance Auto Parts car.

A crew member for Dave Richards ensures the 'butterflies' on the injector hat are completely closed. Sometimes after a burnout they will be slightly ajar, which will cause the motor to idle high.
More weather closes in on Saturday afternoon. The final qualifying sessions for the pros would be cancelled.
Just an hour away from the track you can get into the mountains - the perfect way to spend a rained out afternoon and evening!

Tim Wilkerson tunes up his motor in the pits.
Reigning Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence prepares for battle. He would go on to win the day.
Fans cheer for free t-shirts during pre-race ceremonies.

Brittany Force and her crew get their strut on as they prepare to receive their top qualifying honors before racing.
Crew members surround Doug Kalitta's Mac Tools dragster before round one.
Racing begins! Doug Kalitta has some trouble onboard right here, looks like it is torching a head gasket.

Scott Palmer burns it up for a first round win.
Terry Haddock gets big time sideways against Robert Hight.
Angelle Sampey and Hector Arana both get close to the center line.

Jerry Savoie at speed on his Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle.
A Top Dragster driver gives his rear tires hell during the burnout.
I love the diversity of Competition Eliminator. Here you have a blown altered taking on a Pro Stock-looking Dodge.

Tim Wilkerson (near) and Bob Tasca in the midst of a pedal fest.
Eddie Krawiece marks out his preferred launch zone on the track.
Ron Capps returned to the winner's circle in his NAPA Funny Car, shown here approaching 300mph.