MORRISSON, Colo. - Winning an NHRA national event is quite an accomplishment. Winning a national event where your main financial supporter is the title right sponsor is an extreme bonus. Mark Osborne will attempt to drive his new Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T to the winner's circle at the 22nd annual Mopar Parts Mile High Nationals, July 19-22, at picturesque Bandimere Speedway. The $1.8 million race is the 14th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
Osborne is seeking his first Pro Stock win since Atlanta 1998 and the fifth overall in his career. The Abingdon, Va., resident decided to race in the Pro Stock Truck category during the 1999 season so he could spend more time with his son, Zach, who is a budding motorcross star. Osborne then returned to the ultra-competitive two-door category in 2000, which was highlighted by his No. 1 qualifying position at the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, without the luxury of an established financial backer.
Despite competing on a limited schedule, Osborne was impressive enough to get the attention of current team owner David Nickens. In the beginning of the 2001 season, Nickens made a tough business decision and brought Osborne on to replace longtime Dodge racer Scott Geoffrion and join three-time Winston champ Darrell Alderman as the other 'Dodge Boy'.
"This deal is like a dream come true," said the 40-year-old Osborne upon joining the team. "To drive for a factory-backed team with a great teammate like Darrell Alderman is pretty special. Darrell and I are in the same business away from the track and we stay in constant contact. He's a Kentucky boy and I'm from Virginia so we talk the same talk. The chance for me to join the Nickens Racing program has been amazing. I think the folks at Mopar Parts picked an excellent representative in David Nickens to head the Pro Stock program and carry the Mopar banner."
Despite the history between Nickens, Alderman, and Geoffrion, Osborne knows winning can be a cure-all for any problem and the team has come so close this season with two runner-up finishes.
"We started off really slow and I didn't win a round of competition until the rain-delayed Gainesville (Fla.) event," said Osborne. "Ironically, we made it to the finals there and I had a chance to win my first race for Mopar, but Jeg Coughlin beat me off the line. I wasn't too pleased with myself. We also made another final in Columbus (Ohio). We have been so close to winning this season."
The entire Mopar Team is hoping that the debut of the new Dodge Neon R/T bodies in Denver will aid in their attempt to keep pace with the Pontiac Grand Ams and Chevy Cavaliers of the 200 mph category.
"We are real impressed with what we saw," said Osborne. "The cars are narrow enough that I could lean on the bumper and spread my arms to fit around the rear of the car. We could win a couple of races on just looks alone. The preliminary wind tunnel numbers looked really promising, which means the new Pro Stock Neon should be very stable, easy to drive and aerodynamically sound. I think that with the new Neons, I have a legitimate shot at winning my first Winston championship. We have had an up-and-down season so far, but I think we're on the verge of my first victory with Mopar."