CHAMPIONS HONORED DURING 2001 NHRA WINSTON DRAG RACING SERIES AWARDS CEREMONY

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. - Kenny Bernstein headlined the NHRA Winston champions honored Monday evening during an an exciting and emotional 2001 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series awards ceremony at the Universal Amphitheatre near Hollywood.

John Force, Warren Johnson, Angelle Savoie and Bob Panella Jr. also were presented checks and trophyware for their seaon-long accomplishments in their respective pro categories as the NHRA officially closed the curtain on its season-long 50th Anniversary celebration, as well as paid special tribute to the final chapter of an enduring relationship with the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, whose Winston brand served as title sponsor for the marquee drag racing series for the last 27 years.

The evening was highlighted by special appearances by comedian Christopher Titus, star of the TV sitcom Titus, and legendary Motley Crue front-man Vince Neil. Titus and NHRA legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits introduced Bernstein to accept his sixth NHRA championship trophy, while Neil and another NHRA legend, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, introduced Force for his record 11th Winston crown.

Garlits (No. 1), Force (No. 2), Prudhomme (No. 3) and Bernstein (No. 6) also were honored during a special tribute to NHRA's 50 Greatest Drivers. The four drivers were among the top 10 drivers as voted by a panel of drag racing experts, which included journalists and historians of the sport. Others honored included drivers 4-10 respectively: Bob Glidden, Shirley Muldowney; Johnson; Bill Jenkins; Joe Amato and Dale Armstrong.

In one of the most emotional moments of the evening, NHRA Founder Wally Parks, NHRA President Tom Compton and NHRA Chairman of the Board Dallas Gardner co-presented R.J. Reynolds' Sports Marketing Enterprises President Rick Sanders with a very special award as part of a distinctive tribute for the company's storied tenure as the series' title sponsor.

"Tonight's event served as a fitting conclusion to NHRA's Golden Anniversary, as we celebrate our past and look forward to an exciting future with great anticipation," said Compton, who revealed that the new NHRA Drag Racing Series title sponsor will be announced on Dec. 3rd. "The evening also allows us a special opportunity to provide an appropriate thank you and formal good-bye to our eternal friends at R.J. Reynolds, a valued partner who through their Winston brand was instrumental in elevating the sport to great heights during their 27 years as an extremely dedicated title sponsor for our marquee series. The tremendous efforts of all of the folks at Winston over the years will never be forgotten."

Bernstein received a check for $200,000 from Winston for earning his second Top Fuel crown, while Force walked off stage with his 11th champion's prize, also good for $200,000. Johnson netted $125,000 for his sixth Pro Stock championship, while Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Savoie - who this season passed Muldowney to become the winningest female competitor in NHRA history by earning her 22nd victory -- earned a $30,000 payday. Three-time Pro Stock Truck champ Panella also pocketed a $30,000 champion's check.

Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell headed the list of special award winners, claiming the $20,000 Winston Rookie of the Year title. Pro Stock Motorcycle rider G.T. Tonglet was presented the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award, also worth $20,000.

NHRA Founder Parks was presented the prestigious Blaine Johnson award for his dedication, perseverance and nurturing committment to the sport over the years. Dave McClelland, the voice of the NHRA for over 30 years, was presented the Don Prudhomme Award for his many contributions to the sport of drag racing throughout the years.

For the sixth consecutive year, Pontiac earned the NHRA Manufacturers Cup, and Chevrolet earned the NHRA Truck Manufacturers Cup for the third straight year. Mike Berres of the Reading (Pa.) Eagle-Times was announced as the NHRA Media Award winner.

The future stars of the sport, drivers in seven categories in the NHRA Federal-Mogul Series, also were recognized as 2001 champions: Rick Santos (Federal-Mogul Dragster); Frank Manzo, Morganville, N.J. (Federal-Mogul Funny Car); Don Stratton, Beloit, Ohio (Competition Eliminator); Dan Fletcher, Churchville, N.Y. (Super Stock); Kevin Helms, Mineola, Texas (Stock Eliminator); Rodney Costlow, Dallas (Super Comp) and Ed DeStaute, Rosemead, Calif. (Super Gas).

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