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NHRA: Some of the best memories that made 2015 season so memorable

NHRA 2015 champions

2015 NHRA champs (from left): Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

With the 2015 NHRA season now in the books, it’s time to celebrate some of the great accomplishments and achievements that took place during the 24-race season.

Here are some of my favorite memories of the season, in no particular order.

After you’ve read through this, I’d welcome YOUR favorite memories of the 2015 NHRA season:

* Erica Enders was nothing short of amazing with her penchant for near-perfect reaction times. It was that prowess that not only helped her win several races, but also led to her winning her second consecutive Pro Stock championship. You go, girl!

* Antron Brown’s second Top Fuel championship in four years was a thing of beauty, especially with the way he began the six-race Countdown to the Championship with three straight wins. Through it all, Brown never lost his composure or became over-confident. He and his team were paragons of getting the job done in the trenches. Congrats to AB!

* We saw a change in the NHRA’s top office, as Tom Compton abruptly retired after 15 years. Long-time NHRA executive Peter Clifford was tabbed to replace Compton and has already made a number of strategic hires and continues to bring about change within the sanctioning body that will only make it stronger going forward. While I wish Tom well in retirement, I look forward to seeing the changes Peter makes to make the sport more visible and popular.

* NHRA announced that it was ending its more than decade-long relationship with ESPN one year early (contract was due to expire after the 2016 season) and would have all 23 races in 2016 televised by either Fox Sports or Fox Sports 1. That Fox will televise NHRA races in more reasonable time slots – rather than the previous penchant to televise late at night or the wee hours in the morning – should help in attracting new fans or bringing back old fans.

* At the age of 66, 16-time Funny Car champ John Force continues to amaze. Yes, he is not used to finishing seventh, or having just two wins all season, as he did in 2015. But given all the changeover Force and his four-team operation had to begin the season, particularly with the change from Ford to Chevy and Castrol to Peak, it was inevitable there would be growing pains. With continuity back and not having to spend time chasing sponsorship, look for John to have a significantly better season in 2016. And don’t rule out a 17th championship.

* After years of trying, Del Worsham finally captured his first career Funny Car championship this season. Any championship is a noteworthy accomplishment, but Worsham’s crown this year was historic. Adding to the Top Fuel title he won in 2011, Worsham joins retired veterans Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi as the only drivers in NHRA history to win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car in their respective careers.

* What can you say about 32-year-old Andrew Hines other than he’s amazing? Hines also made history in 2015, winning a second straight Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, but more importantly, becoming the youngest driver in NHRA annals to earn five championships in a career.

* Speaking of Pro Stock Motorcycle, my hat’s off to Jerry Savoie. The 53-year-old Louisiana alligator farmer essentially took three decades off from racing to build up his thriving business. Once things were solid, he came back to play on the NHRA circuit and his performance this season was outstanding. He gave Hines a real run for the championship and almost pulled it off.

* Alan Johnson Racing was dealt a devastating blow when it had its season funding pulled by primary sponsor Al-Anabi Racing just a couple of weeks before the start of the 2015 campaign. To its credit, AJR soldiered on, including winning the season-opener at Pomona, California. The team essentially raced race-to-race from a financial standpoint, pulling together piecemeal sponsorships for each event. But the well ran dry at the most inopportune time, and AJR was forced to suspend operations at the start of the Countdown to the Championship. Driver Shawn Langdon was able to pick up a ride in the Countdown with Don Schumacher Racing, including winning Sunday’s season-ending race. That means Langdon bookended a very trying season with wins to start and end the 2015 campaign – and still managed to finish a very respectable sixth place in the final standings.

* The winningest driver in Top Fuel history, Tony Schumacher (78 wins), looked to earn his ninth championship, but it was not to be. Teammate Antron Brown was just too strong, and Schumacher ultimately finished second. Two bright spots in Top Fuel were Richie Crampton, who finished third, as well as the return to full-time racing of Larry Dixon, who finished fourth.

* “Fast Jack” Beckman did everything he could to try and earn his second Funny Car championship in four years. He gave eventual champ Del Worsham a strong battle during the Countdown, but ultimately finished second to Worsham. Perhaps the biggest highlight of Beckman’s seven-win season was how he swept through the U.S. Nationals.

* It was also good to see Tommy Johnson Jr., make a huge comeback, finishing third in the final standings. On the flip side, one of the sport’s rising stars, Courtney Force, had somewhat of an off year, failing to qualify for the Countdown (still managed to finish 11th).

* In Pro Stock, it was good to see the resurgence of veteran drivers including Greg Anderson and Larry Morgan, as well as the upstart performance of young drivers such as Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman (finished fourth and fifth, respectively).

* In Pro Stock Motorcycle, we also saw strong performances throughout the season from several drivers, most notably Karen Stoffer, Chip Ellis, Matt Smith, Eddie Krawiec and Hector Arana Jr.

There were so many more highlights during the 2015 season that, as is usual, one season is now over – and it’s less than three months before the new season begins.

There will be off-season testing, rule changes, team personnel changes and looking back at what worked – and what didn’t – for every team this past season, and how to make things even better in 2016.

I don’t know about you, but the off-season has already been too long (just one day). I’m ready to go racing again. Let’s hope the season-opener at Pomona comes quick!

Follow @JerryBonkowski