Atlanta Mark Pawuk Says Pro Stock Tougher than Ever

COMMERCE, Ga. - Despite the ease at which Jeg Coughlin seems to be winning races these days, several Pro Stock drivers feel like these are the most competitive times ever for the category. Mark Pawuk, currently third in the Winston points ...

COMMERCE, Ga. - Despite the ease at which Jeg Coughlin seems to be winning races these days, several Pro Stock drivers feel like these are the most competitive times ever for the category.

Mark Pawuk, currently third in the Winston points standings following a pair of back-to-back semifinal efforts at Las Vegas and Houston and a runner-up finish in Phoenix, will support that theory. He says even though Coughlin has won the majority of the events so far, there's more parity overall.

That's why he's anticipating a tough battle with many of his fellow competitors at the 20th annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Southern Nationals, May 4-7, at Atlanta Dragway. The $1.8 million race is the seventh of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"There are several teams that have stepped up," said Pawuk, 42, from Bath, Ohio. "The harder we work and the progress that we make, the harder everybody else works. We're right there near the front of the pack, but don't have the slight advantage over some of the cars that we had a year ago. It's great for the sport though. The Pro Stock category is the most competitive in drag racing."

Several drivers have started to establish themselves as top weekend threats, including Ron Krisher, driver of the Eagle One Firebird; Pawuk teammate Greg Anderson and other Firebird drivers Mike Trumble, John Fairleigh and second-generation driver Jamie Yates.

With the increased competition, Pawuk knows that winning races is going to be tough. However, he's ready. He's very confident in his Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird and his talented crew, led by crew chief Rob Downing.

"I'm driving much better and the car has performed very well, especially on race day," said Pawuk, who sits 210 points behind points leader Coughlin.

"It's exciting going to races again. We have a young, aggressive team and everybody works well together. I think all indications point to us being in the winner's circle more than once this year. We came close at Phoenix and we're going to continue working hard to get there."

With the team chemistry Pawuk's group has developed, he's hoping for a career-best Winston points finish. In his best season to date - 1993 - he finished fifth overall. He's also hoping to add to his career victory list. He's earned four wins, his last coming in 1995 at Memphis.

"We're constantly buying new parts and pieces and going in different directions to figure out what works," Pawuk said. "I would say that maybe five percent of what we try actually works. When you're battling it out in such a competitive arena as we are, those are the chances you have to take to move your program forward."

JOHNSON'S QUEST: Five-time NHRA Winston Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson is having a tough time gaining on his sixth series title. Early season car troubles have relegated the Buford, Ga. driver to second place in the point standings, 211 behind five-time winner Jeg Coughlin Jr.

Meanwhile, he's in a side-by-side duel with Funny Car driver John Force to see who can top Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden's all-time win mark of 85 victories. Currently Johnson has 80 wins, while Force has 83.

He's certain he can overcome the perplexing situation that's slowed his charge so far. His only victory this season has come at Gainesville, Fla. He's posted runner-up finishes at Pomona, Calif. and Las Vegas. At Phoenix, Houston and Richmond, Va. he suffered early round exits.

"We've been a couple of notches below our usual performance level," said Johnson, the defending Pro Stock winner of the Advance Auto Parts NHRA Southern Nationals, a race that he's won four times. "The race car seems to have a malady that we can't pinpoint. We can't find anything broken, but the car isn't accelerating in the middle of the track."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Mark Pawuk , Jamie Yates , Warren Johnson , John Force , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Bob Glidden , Mike Trumble