Dallas: Fall Nationals preview

ENNIS, Texas - There are only a handful of races left in the historic 50th anniversary year of the National Hot Rod Association, but a season wouldn't be complete without a second stop in the Lone Star State. The 6,000 horsepower dragsters...

ENNIS, Texas - There are only a handful of races left in the historic 50th anniversary year of the National Hot Rod Association, but a season wouldn't be complete without a second stop in the Lone Star State.

The 6,000 horsepower dragsters already raced through Houston in March. Now it's time for the sport's first supertrack, which features the only all-concrete quarter-mile-racing surface, to play host to the nation's fastest hot rods.

Last year the event was interrupted by rain and the NHRA was forced to set the qualifying positions by points for the first time in history. This year, drivers and teams are keeping their fingers crossed for clear skies in hopes of gaining some Winston championship points at the 16th annual NHRA O'Reilly Fall Nationals, Oct. 18-21, at the Texas Motorplex.

Cory McClenathan, John Force and Kurt Johnson are the defending winners of the $1.9 million race, the 22nd of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

McClenathan became the only three-time Top Fuel winner of the Fall Nationals title when he defeated Melanie Troxel last year 4.659 to 8.213. One driver who has yet to grab a Top Fuel win at Texas Motorplex is Kenny Bernstein. His only victory during the O'Reilly Fall Nationals was during the inaugural event in 1986 - in the cockpit of a Funny Car. Bernstein made the switch to Top Fuel in 1990 and is in search of the Texas win and a season title in his Budweiser King dragster, but he will have to get past points leader Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite Top Fuel car first.

Force drove past Jerry Toliver 4.863 to 4.994 to earn the 2000 event win. Not only is Force working toward a NHRA record 100 wins, he is looking to keep his Fall Nationals streak alive. Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., has won three consecutive Funny Car titles during the fall race. Force also won the event in 1993 - making him only the second four-time Fall Nationals champion. Already the winningest driver in NHRA history, Force also is aiming for his 11th career national Funny Car championship.

At one point in the season, Force had what seemed to be an unbeatable lead in the points race. But Whit Bazemore and Del Worsham have been doing their best to make the points race, well, a race. Worsham has defeated Force in the finals twice this season en route to three victories. Enjoying the best season of his career, Worsham has been in the second or third spot in the standings since mid-June. Bazemore clocked one of the quickest and fastest runs in NHRA history as he grabbed his second career win at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. He ran a remarkable 4.756-second time at 325.69 mph at his hometown track. Bazemore has three wins this season and is looking for more.

Points leader Warren Johnson won Pro Stock titles in 1988-89 and 1998-99, but fouled at the starting line against Troy Coughlin last year in the quarterfinals. Kurt Johnson defeated Jeg Coughlin in the finals, 6.966 to 7.555 to earn the victory. Warren Johnson will have to stave off the likes of Jim Yates, Mike Edwards and Bruce Allen if he is to earn his sixth Pro Stock championship.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is set to begin at 2:15 and 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 and will continue at noon and 3:15 p.m. on Oct. 20. Final professional eliminations begin at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 20.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 16th annual O'Reilly Fall Nationals. For tickets call the Texas Motorplex at (800) 668-6775 or on-line at ticketmaster.com, nhra.com and texasmotorplex.com.

* TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at noon (ET) on Oct. 21. ESPN will televise two hours of early round coverage at 4 p.m. (ET) on Oct. 21. ESPN2 will televise final round coverage at 9 p.m. (ET).

ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at www.nhra.com.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Cory McClenathan , Bruce Allen , Melanie Troxel , Jerry Toliver , Mike Edwards