The Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, NHRA's six-race playoff series, opens Sept. 13-15 at the spectacular zMAX Dragway, during the Carlyle Professional Hand Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts.

The kick-off race for this season's world championship battle for the top 10 drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, promises to provide three action-packed days of the fastest accelerating machines on the planet. In past seasons, this pristine dragstrip has produced incredible record-setting performances, like Top Fuel driver Spencer Massey's exciting national- and track-record run of 332.18 mph, Funny Car driver Matt Hagan's impressive milestone run of 3.995 seconds in 2011, and Mike Edwards' incredible Pro Stock run of 6.471 seconds in April this season.

Every Countdown-eligible driver knows that the path to claiming a world championship title starts here and they will be pushing the limits to hoist a coveted Wally trophy at the sixth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway, the first of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, NHRA's postseason playoffs. Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the event that will be televised on ESPN2.

Last season, current points leader Langdon earned his first professional victory in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster against seven-time world champion and driver of the U.S. Army dragster, Tony Schumacher. In Funny Car, veteran driver Capps claimed his fourth win of the season. Line (Pro Stock) and Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) kept their title bids alive by defeating respective points leaders Allen Johnson and Eddie Krawiec. The event is the first of what will be four straight weekends of grueling Countdown racing that lasts until the first week of October.

There are a lot of drivers who are riding a hot streak as the Countdown approaches this season. In Top Fuel, Langdon and Schumacher have been passing the baton back and forth in the No. 1 and 2 spots. But numerous contenders have been picking up crucial wins including two-time Charlotte champ Massey and defending world champion and a former zMAX Dragway winner Antron Brown. Others seeking a victory include Langdon's Al-Anabi teammate Khalid alBalooshi, GEICO/Lucas Oil driver Morgan Lucas, Mac Tools dragster veteran Doug Kalitta, C&J Energy Services driver Bob Vandergriff Jr. and Capco Contractors driver Steve Torrence.

"Our class just gets stronger and stronger each and every year," said Brown, the reigning Top Fuel world champ. "It's a dogfight just to be in the top 10, to make the Countdown. I guarantee you, we have anywhere between 14 and 16 cars on any given Sunday that can win a race in Top Fuel. Our main goal is to focus and to contend for another championship. It's definitely going to be 10 times harder than it was last time because everybody is throwing their best shot at us."

Virginia cattle rancher Hagan is plowing through the Funny Car field and became the first to clinch a seat in the Countdown as well as hold on to the No. 1 spot since Englishtown in May. But former zMAX Dragway champs are eager to knock Hagan off his saddle, including defending world champion Jack Beckman, two-time zMAX Dragway winner Robert Hight, Capps, and Cruz Pedregon, who is currently No. 2 in the points standings.

The Pro Stock category, one of the hardest-fought classes in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, has been led all season by three-time zMAX Dragway champ Edwards. A tough pack of championship contenders in the 200 mph category includes defending world champion Allen Johnson and his teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Vincent Nobile, who won back-to-back races at Sonoma and Seattle during the western swing. Others to watch include Gray Motorsports driver Shane Gray and local favorites and past champs Jason Line and his teammate, Greg Anderson, the winningest pro driver at zMAX Dragway.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana Jr. has won four races this season and is ready to start adding to his win total when it counts the most - in the Countdown playoffs. But a pool of talented riders wants nothing more than to run well in the playoffs including former zMAX Dragway winners Matt Smith and Hector Arana Sr., both of whom have clinched berths in the Countdown to the Championship. Other favorites in the two-wheel class are Michael Ray, John Hall, Scotty Pollacheck and rookie Adam Arana.

The NHRA Carolina Nationals is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. In addition to all of the drama and excitement going on in the Countdown playoffs, fans will also enjoy a brilliant night qualifying show on Friday and an incredible fireworks display to close out Friday's racing.

As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they're granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. No other sport offers fans an up close and personal experience like NHRA. Fans can stand close by as teams warm up their high-horsepower machines prior to each run.

Fans also will want to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where manufacturers and sponsors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.

Be a part of the action all weekend with a three-day pass to the NHRA Carolina Nationals, with packages starting at just $99. Children 13 and younger will receive free general admission with a paid adult all weekend.

Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals qualifying opens on Friday, Sept. 13, with pro sessions at 4:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Sept. 14, at 12:15 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15.

To purchase tickets, call zMAX Dragway at 800-455-FANS (3267) or visit www.zMAXdragway.com.  For more information about NHRA, please visit www.NHRA.com.

Connect with zMAX Dragway and stay up to speed with all the happenings at the Bellagio of drag strips on Facebook at www.facebook.com/zmaxdragway and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/zmaxdragway.