Epping: Pre-race notes

TOP FUEL DRAGSTERS AND NITRO FUNNY CARS HEADLINE AMALIE OIL NORTH AMERICAN NATIONALS New England Fans Will Witness the Most Competitive IHRA Season in Six Years NORWALK, Ohio (September 1, 2006) -- The 2006 IHRA eMax Drag Racing Series has...

TOP FUEL DRAGSTERS AND NITRO FUNNY CARS HEADLINE AMALIE OIL NORTH AMERICAN NATIONALS

New England Fans Will Witness the Most Competitive IHRA Season in Six Years

NORWALK, Ohio (September 1, 2006) -- The 2006 IHRA eMax Drag Racing Series has been the most competitive seasons in years. By the end of the year, 2006 could prove to be the tightest in IHRA's history. Racers will need to earn as many points as possible during the remaining four races if they want to be in contention for the world championship. The Amalie Oil North American Nationals presented by New England Dodge Dealers, September 8 -- 10, the first of those four races, could be the pivotal event for many drivers.

Going back to 2000, IHRA has crowned 27 professional world champions. Of those points chases, only three times has the championship been won by fewer than 40 points:

* 2004 Alcohol Funny Car: Rob Atchison over Mark Thomas by 23 points

* 2000 Top Fuel: Paul Romine over Clay Millican by 7 points

* 2000 Nitro Harley-Davidson: Jay Turner over Steve Stordeur by 31 points

That of course brings into question the level of competition in IHRA. If one driver runs away with the title, is there much parity within the class?

However, this season, if it's not the most competitive in IHRA history, it is indeed proving to be the most competitive in the last six years. The current points chase:

* Top Fuel: Clay Millican over Doug Foley by 15 points

* Nitro Funny Car: Dale Creasy Jr. over Jack Wyatt by 13 points

* Pro Modified: Glen Kerunsky over Danny Rowe by 6 points

* Alcohol Funny Car: Mark Thomas over Rob Atchison by 5 points

* Pro Stock: Tony Gillig leads Pete Berner and Frank Gugliotta, but all within 100 points

"It's just good competition. Everyone is capable of running fast, however some guys have set-ups that are better at certain tracks," said current Torco Nitro Funny Car points leader Dale Creasy Jr., who is in the midst of the first championship chase of his career. "The ladder system IHRA uses gives a lot of parity in the classes. It makes it harder for the race cars, which actually makes for better racing. In the end, it's better for the fans."

In 2006, IHRA instituted a ladder system which places the No. 1 qualifier versus the No. 5 qualifier in an 8-car field, or No. 9 in a 16-car field. This was in place of the traditional ladder system which rewards the top qualifier by racing the lowest qualified cars early in eliminations (No. 1 versus No. 8 or No. 16).

"The ladder is structured so it creates tighter racing, a tighter points chase, and it reduces the risk of the traditional No. 1 versus No. 16 first round blowout, which no one wants to see," said IHRA Vice President of Racing Operations Skooter Peaco.

"The No. 1 car is now rewarded with lane choice and points, but he doesn't get a 'gimme' in the first round," said IHRA director of competition and technical services Mike Baker. "This ultimately creates better racing for the fans."

Despite the tight points chase, Creasy's Torco Racing Fuels-sponsored team won't change their race strategy. "We are sticking with our game plan, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried about the points. Every run means something. Every run is important," said Creasy Jr., of Beecher, Ill. "If I can qualify one or two positions higher than Jack (Wyatt, No. 2 in points) I can gain a few points. I'm even thinking about the 15 points we lost in San Antonio when we oiled the track. I pedaled it, stayed on the gas longer than I should have, and it pushed some oil out onto the track. I lost points and we didn't even qualify on that run. I won't make that mistake again."

"We now realize how important every single run is," said Top Fuel points leader and five-time defending world champion Clay Millican, of Drummonds, Tenn. "Every run, including qualifying, as well as the NHRA races we do are important for us because I get to drive the car, Mike (Kloeber, crew chief) gets to tune it, the team gets to work on it. Every part on the car is important. We had a simple bug in the car when we lost to Foley at Norwalk. We stayed at the track Sunday night well past midnight to find it.

"People have gone out, found the sponsorship dollars and moved their level of performance up. I think it's wonderful how well everyone is running. I also think it's great the NHRA cars are coming over and mixing it up, because for years that's what I did to their program," added Millican, who drives the Werner Enterprises dragster. "Do I want to win the championship? You better believe I think about it every day. (Despite the close points chase) we have to think the same way we always do. You can only do this sport one run at a time.

"All this good racing is great for the fans. If we don't keep people excited, I'll be back driving a forklift again," added Millican.

The Amalie Oil North American Nationals presented by New England Dodge Dealers will be held September 8-10 at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H. To schedule interviews, obtain media credentials or high-resolution photos, please contact Travis Reynolds at (419) 660-4225, travisreynolds@livenation.com or Mike Perry at (419) 660-4213, mikeperryihra@livenation.com.

Contact New England Dragway at www.newenglanddragway.com or (603) 679-8001. The track is located at 280 Exeter Road, Epping, NH 03042.

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers Paul Romine , Mark Thomas , Clay Millican , Tony Gillig , Dale Creasy Jr. , Steve Stordeur , Jack Wyatt , Doug Foley , Danny Rowe , Glen Kerunsky , Frank Gugliotta