This weekend, zMAX Dragway will be overtaken by fans as drivers and teams kick off the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

Fans from all over the United States, and some from as far away as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Australia will make their way to the Charlotte region for the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals this Friday through Sunday. Many longtime fans have likely been anticipating this event for quite a while, but those who are making their first visit to zMAX Dragway are in for an unexpected treat as the fastest accelerating machines on the planet try to tame the Bellagio of drag strips.

Larry Easler, a lifelong drag racing fan, makes his way to Charlotte every spring and fall to see his favorite drivers. He has never missed a Friday session of NHRA at zMAX Dragway since the sport's premier facility opened in 2008. And he never comes alone.

This year Easler purchased 31 tickets to the Friday qualifying races. Some of those tickets will be used by family and friends, but most will be given to people who have never been to an NHRA event before.

Easler's passion for drag racing definitely goes beyond his own enjoyment. "I love the sport, and I love sharing it," Easler said.

The thrill of experiencing drag racing in person is something Easler believes is contagious for those who have never seen it before.

"You get them there," Easler noted. "And they keep coming back."

He said he offers to buy the first ticket for drag racing "newbies," and many times they will want to buy their own tickets for the rest of the weekend.

Remembering the first time he took his brother to zMAX Dragway, Easler said, "his knees buckled when he saw the cars take off!"

Drag racing is a sport Easler thinks everyone must experience live. He certainly likes to bring new fans into drag racing, but he also appreciates the pleasure it has brought him and his family.

"We've made lasting friendships with the people we sit next to and the drivers we've met," Easler said. "The sport is really unlike any other when it comes to building relationships."

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

Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals qualifying opens on Friday, Sept. 12, with pro sessions scheduled at 12:45 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions are scheduled to take place Saturday, Sept. 13, at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14.

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.