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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 NHRA WINSTON TITLE RACES WILL START TO TAKE SHAPE AT ATLANTA COMMERCE, Ga. -- The time for excuses is over. The time for early-season experimentation with engine...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761

NHRA WINSTON TITLE RACES WILL START TO TAKE SHAPE AT ATLANTA

COMMERCE, Ga. -- The time for excuses is over. The time for early-season experimentation with engine and chassis setups is over.

It's time to separate the contenders from the pretenders in the NHRA Winston championship race.

The chase for the championship will start to take realistic shape at the 17th annual, $1,462,250 Fram Nationals, April 10-13 at Atlanta Dragway. The race is the fifth event of the 22-event, $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1997.

While the expanded NHRA schedule won't reach the quarter pole until late April, the Fram Nationals should provide a good idea of who will contend for championships this season. History shows that most of the drivers who leave this event in the top three in the NHRA Winston point standings stay there for keeps.

Take last year, for example. John Force, Al Hofmann and Tony Pedregon were 1-2-3 in the Funny Car point standings after this race. Force went on to win his sixth NHRA Winston championship in the Castrol GTX Pontiac Firebird, Pedregon climbed to second in the Castrol GTX Pontiac Firebird, and Hofmann ended up fourth in his Pontiac Firebird.

In Pro Stock, Jim Yates was first and Mike Edwards was second. That was a good facsimile of the final standings, as Yates won the championship in the McDonald's Pontiac Firebird, and Edwards ended up third in the JK Racing Oldsmobile Cutlass.

The standings in Pro Stock Motorcycle after the Fram Nationals were a mirror image of the final results, with Dave Schultz No. 1 on the Sunoco Suzuki, John Myers No. 2 on the Star Racing Suzuki and Matt Hines No. 3 on the Vance & Hines Suzuki.

Last year was no fluke, either. Force, Cruz Pedregon and Hofmann were 1-2-3 after Atlanta in 1995, a pretty strong indication of the rest of the season. Force ended up No. 1, Hofmann No. 2 and Pedregon No. 3 in the McDonald's Pontiac Firebird.

Top Fuel was no different. Larry Dixon was No. 1 in the Miller Racing Dragster after Atlanta, with Cory McClenathan and Scott Kalitta right behind. Kalitta ended up winning his second championship in the American International Airways Dragster, with McClenathan second in the McDonald's Dragster and Dixon third.

It's possible that a driver outside the top three after this event can rally to win the championship. But don't bet on it. Only two of the 12 champions crowned in the four professional categories since 1993 have been outside of the top two after this race. Eventual Top Fuel champion Scott Kalitta and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider John Myers were third in 1995 after leaving Atlanta.

There are two reasons why the Fram Nationals serves as a good barometer for future success.

Top teams usually have a good understanding of their chassis and engine setups by this point in the season. They have found a consistent tuneup that will work on all kinds of racetracks.

This event also is the first of the early-spring races, with temperatures sometimes climbing into the 80's. Teams have one of their first chances to test warm-weather setups, which are vital during the long stretch of hot summer races that paves the way for championships.

*Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3 p.m. April 11 and continues at 7 p.m. that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. April 12. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. April 13. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 10 a.m. April 10.

*Tickets: Tickets are available for the Fram Nationals. Call NHRA Ticket Information at (800) 884-6472 for ticket information.

*On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of live, final-round competition from the Fram Nationals at 4 p.m. (EDT) April 13. ESPN2 also will show two hours of live, Friday-night qualifying at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) April 11. -30-

3/17/97-AG1-045

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Larry Dixon , Al Hofmann , John Force , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Scott Kalitta , Mike Edwards