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Motorcycles, hot rods coming to New Hampshire for a weekend of fast, furious racing

Consider this the warm-up to the main event.

NASCAR heads to Loudon in July, but two of New Hampshire’s most prominent racing venues will be busy three weekends early. This week, the Loudon Classic will be held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, while the National Hot Rod Association returns to New England Dragway in Epping for the second straight year.

The events have opposite legacies in the state. The Loudon Classic is steeped in tradition, with this weekend marking the 91st edition of the road racing competitions. The NHRA, on the other hand, is looking to develop a niche in the racing community, with the New England Nationals providing another opportunity for the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series to bring the country’s top drag racers to the state.

Bottom line: Anyone looking for a head start on racing before the stock cars and modifieds arrive will have plenty of chances to get their fix. Here’s a look at what’s coming up and what to expect in the two events.

NHRA

The NHRA – led by its premier event, the Top Fuel series – will arrive at Epping sporting both the fastest speeds in racing (up to 330 miles per hour) and a competitive field that will be gunning for an elusive spot in Sunday’s final heat, which occurs after the field is whittled down via eliminations earlier in the day after qualifying rounds tomorrow and Saturday.

Doug Kalitta has opened up a 120-point lead in the standings, and he’s done it with an unmatched consistency to this point in the season. Kalitta has only one win, which he got back in mid-March, but he’s reached three of the last four finals and seven of 10 for the year.

Kalitta is a strong bet to be among the last drivers standing – but he’s far from a lock to win. Antron Brown has a series-high three wins this year, though he’s been streaky (he’s reached only one final he hasn’t won) and he hasn’t won since late April. Spencer Massey has come on strong of late, snagging wins in back-to-back weeks in May, and he was the winner of the inaugural visit to Epping last year.

The field widens from there. Shawn Langdon is third and won the series’s most recent event in Bristol, Tenn. Khalid alBalooshi, seventh in the standings, was the first winner of the season and has made a pair of finals. Brittany Force (eighth) and Richie Crampton (ninth) have a final appearance and win, respectively. And there’s no counting out Tony Schumacher, who’s won this year and, with seven NHRA titles, is one of the best the sport has seen.

The Top Fuel series will have qualifying rounds tomorrow at 4:15 and 6:45 p.m. and Saturday at 12:15 and 2:45 p.m. The eliminations Sunday will start at 11 a.m.

The NHRA will also bring the Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle series to the dragway. Robert Hight leads the Funny Car series, Erica Enders-Stevens leads Pro Stock and Andrew Hines holds a narrow 24-point lead over Ed Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Loudon Classic

The big race will be Saturday, when the Loudon Classic Middleweight Grand Prix gets under way for a 20-lap frenzy.

As for what to watch in the meantime? Take your pick.

More than 35 races will surround the signature event, and will be held tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. The big race is the Middleweight Grand Prix, a 20-lap race that will be held at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. The favorite will be Shane Narbonne, a Tyngsboro, Mass., native who has shown a knack for handling the Loudon track. He won the race last year, and has taken titles in three of the past five years with first-place finishes in 2009 and 2011.

He won’t be alone, however, as local riders Scott Greenwood (Dunbarton) and Christian Cronin (Loudon) figure to be hanging near the front of the pack as well. The two finished second and third, respectively, at last year’s race, and Greenwood was the champion in 2010.

Eric Wood will have his sights set on first place as well. The Ashburnham, Mass., native was fourth in the race last year but won his first Classic in 2012, when a crash prevented Narbonne from earning four titles in five years.

The weekend will also include new events in the SuperMoto East Coast and SuperMotor Quebec races, which will hold qualifying heats Saturday and Sunday before the final. The races tomorrow will begin at noon, with the eight-lap Vintage Sidecar race kicking off a slate of 12 events.

Saturday’s races begin at 1:25 and feature six events before the Middleweight Grand Prix, including the Formula 50 Lights, P-89 Lights and Ultralight Superbike competitions. Sunday will feature 13 races to wrap up the festivities, including the Motard Cup final and Unlimited Superbike Thunderbike, Middleweight Superbike and Lightweight Superbike races. Sunday’s events will get started at approximately 1 p.m.

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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