FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761 DRIVERS TO PURSUE NHRA TITLES, RECORDS AT NEW HOUSTON EVENT BAYTOWN, Texas -- Many NHRA competitors have made an early-season statement at Houston Raceway Park by unleashing a record time or speed. Now a Top Fuel driver could make the ultimate late-season statement at the track by winning an NHRA Winston championship. The NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion could be crowned at the inaugural, $1,417,000 Matco Tools SuperNationals, Oct. 23-26 at Houston Raceway Park. The race is the 21st event of the 22-event, $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1997. This is the first year that drivers have a chance to clinch NHRA Winston titles at Houston Raceway Park, one of the quickest and fastest tracks on the circuit. From 1988-1996, just one NHRA national event took place annually at the track, the Slick 50 Nationals presented by Western Auto in March. That event featured many record performances but played little part in deciding championships. This year is different. There's a good chance that rookie Gary Scelzi could wrap up the Top Fuel championship in the Team Winston Dragster at Houston Raceway Park. John Force and Jim Yates might need to put the finishing touches on the title in Funny Car and Pro Stock, respectively. But Force and Yates probably will clinch Oct. 19 at the Revell Nationals in Dallas. Scelzi led second-place Cory McClenathan by 135 points after 19 of 22 races this season. He needs to lead by 139 points after this event to become the first rookie to win an NHRA Winston title since Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon in 1992. But clinching at Houston is no lock for Scelzi. McClenathan has been the hottest driver during the second half of the season, winning five of eight races from mid-July to early October in the McDonald's Dragster owned by former NFL coach Joe Gibbs. Championship races are a unique feature of this event at Houston, but they will be joined by a common occurrence at the spring event: record performance. This track is a pure performance playground, as all categories excel in the sea-level elevation and oxygen-rich air of southeast Texas. At least one NHRA national record has fallen every year since 1992 at Houston Raceway Park. That's a record unmatched by any other early race on the NHRA schedule. Expect it to continue. Speed records appear the most vulnerable. McClenathan recorded the second-fastest speed in NHRA history, 318.58 mph, at the Pennzoil Nationals presented by AutoZone earlier this month at Memphis, Tenn. That speed is faster than the NHRA record of 318.24 set by Joe Amato in September at Indianapolis, but McClenathan failed to back up that speed within 1 percent at Memphis, required by NHRA rules for a national record. Force set a stunning Funny Car speed national record of 314.35 mph at Memphis. *Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3 p.m. Oct. 24 and continues at 7 p.m. that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at noon and 4 p.m. Oct. 25. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. Oct. 26. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 10 a.m. Oct. 23. *Tickets: Tickets are available for the Matco Tools SuperNationals. Call Houston Raceway Park at (281) 383-2666 or check the track's World Wide Web site at http://www.houstonraceway.com for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased from Ticketmaster by calling (713) 629-3700. *On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 90 minutes of live, final-round competition from the Matco Tools SuperNationals at 4:30 p.m. (CST) Oct. 26. TNN also will televise one hour of live, first-round competition at 10:30 a.m. (CST) that day. -30- 10/8/97-MS1-158