MORRISON, Colo. - The NHRA west coast swing will be at full throttle as the Winston championship picture continues to take shape in the second half of the NHRA's 50th Anniversary season.
The base of the Rocky Mountains will come alive with thrilling side-by-side drag racing action ranging from 6,000 horsepower, nitro-burning Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, to the more traditional, ultra-competitive, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle categories. The high altitude and thin Colorado air will present a challenge for all competitors when the NHRA returns to picturesque Bandimere Speedway for the 22nd annual Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals, July 19-22.
Joe Amato, Whit Bazemore, Kurt Johnson, and Angelle Savoie are the defending pro category winners of the $1.8 million race, the 14th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Amato earned an emotional victory at Bandimere Speedway last season driving past '99 Winston champ Tony Schumacher for the win. The five-time Winston champ had just returned to the driver's seat of his dragster after corrective laser eye surgery. At the conclusion of last season, Amato announced his retirement and selected Darrell Russell as his replacement. Russell has proven to be a serious contender for the championship in his first Top Fuel season as he looks to inch closer to points leader Kenny Bernstein. Bernstein is leading a tight Top Fuel points race as he tries to maintain his points lead in hopes of a sixth Winston crown. Larry Dixon, Doug Kalitta and Yankee dragster driver Mike Dunn, are in close pursuit of Bernstein in what will be a battle to the end.
After nearly missing the cut, Bazemore earned top qualifying honors on his last qualifying attempt of the weekend, then advanced to the finals and made the quickest Funny Car pass ever at the mountainside facility for the victory over rival Scotty Cannon. The rest of the field will try and close the gap between themselves and habitual points leader John Force as he moves towards a record-setting 11th Winston Funny Car championship. Bazemore, Del Worsham, Bruce Sarver and Force's teammate Tony Pedregon all will be seeking a win in hopes of slowing down the legendary Force.
Johnson's win in Colorado last season initiated a late season surge for the Georgia driver that resulted in a streak of six wins out of the final 11 races and a career-best-tying second place finish in the Winston Pro Stock standings. An early season slump in 2001 has Johnson looking for a repeat of last year and another momentum-building win as the season continues forward. Jim Yates, points leader Warren Johnson and defending Winston champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. also are among the top contenders for the Pro Stock win.
Savoie scored the Pro Stock Motorcycle victory over rival and hometown favorite Matt Hines in a battle of Suzukis. Savoie, Hines and Antron Brown are locked in the midst of a tight battle for supremacy of the two-wheel category. The talented trio will be challenged by Shawn Gann, Craig Treble, Reggie Showers and 18-year-old GT Tonglet, who recently scored his first professional victory in St. Louis in only his seventh career start.
SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying begins at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. on July 20 and will continue at 12:15 and 3:15 p.m. on July 21. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on July 22.
TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 22nd annual Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals. Call (800) 664-UWIN, or Ticketmaster for ticket information. Tickets also are available at nhra.com.
TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 5 p.m. (ET) on July 22. ESPN2 also will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 6 p.m. (ET) on July 21.
ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at www.nhra.com.