Joliet II: Event preview

JOLIET, Ill. - As NHRA's Golden Anniversary season heads towards its stretch drive the sole focus of the sport's professional competitors will be to gather as many of those NHRA Winston points as possible in hopes of capturing a prestigious NHRA...

JOLIET, Ill. - As NHRA's Golden Anniversary season heads towards its stretch drive the sole focus of the sport's professional competitors will be to gather as many of those NHRA Winston points as possible in hopes of capturing a prestigious NHRA Winston championship.

Teams in four NHRA professional categories are hoping for a repeat of the peak weather conditions they experienced earlier this year when time and speed records were shattered in every category. The NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series heads back to Route 66 Raceway just outside of the Windy City, for the inaugural NHRA Nationals, Sept. 27-30.

Kenny Bernstein, Del Worsham, Mike Edwards, Antron Brown and Scott Perin all found their way to victory circle this past June at Route 66 and are looking to duplicate that performance at the $1.9 million race, the 20th of 24 races in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Larry Dixon and his Don "the Snake" Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite dragster has dominated the hot, summer months winning three of the past six races and vaulting past Bernstein for the Top Fuel points lead. Bernstein, a five-time Winston champion, and his Budweiser King dragster lurk closely behind Dixon and look to regain their mid-season form that has helped him win six races this season including three in a row and most recently at Memphis. Other top contenders that will challenge Dixon and Bernstein include Mike Dunn in his Yankee dragster who set the speed record at more than 330 mph at Route 66 in June, as well as 1999 champion and local favorite Tony Schumacher, and rookie sensation Darrell Russell.

The hot summer months have seen Whit Bazemore and his Matco Tools Firebird sizzle the rest of the competition, winning two races and qualifying No. 1 at five of the past seven events. The summer also has seen a cooling trend for ten-time champ John Force, who has won only once since July (Denver) and watched his one-time insurmountable lead diminished somewhat by Bazemore. Other drivers hoping to top Bazemore and Force in Joliet are teammates Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. in their Don Prudhomme-owned Skoal Camaros, the animated Worsham looks to add to his three wins this year, and Bruce Sarver will try and regain his early season form and make it interesting down the stretch.

Five-time Winston Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson looks poised to claim his sixth series crown and get back to the Route 66 winner's circle as he did in 1999. Jim Yates, in his Split Fire/Peak-sponsored Pontiac Grand Am, is searching for his third Winston title, but his status for the event is still in question after he experienced health problems in Memphis. In addition, Mike Edwards, considered one of the top engine builders on the circuit, would like to take home the winner's trophy as he did at Route 66 in June, as would last year's winner Ron Krisher.

The points battle in Pro Stock Truck is between last season's top two competitors as two-time series champ Bob Panella holds an 84 point lead over Randy Daniels and his Bailey Truck Chevy S-10. Others competing for the event win include Panella's teammate Jeff Gracia, Mike Coughlin, who has been impressive lately winning the last two events, and Todd Patterson in his hot-running Dodge Dakota.

* SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is set to begin at 3 and 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28 and will continue at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29. Final professional eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the inaugural NHRA Nationals. Call Route 66 Raceway at (815) 727-7223, or Ticketmaster for ticket information. Tickets also available at nhra.com

* TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise 90 minutes of early round coverage at 6 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 30 and 90 minutes of final round coverage at 8:30 p.m. (ET). ESPN2 will also televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 29.

-NHRA-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Bruce Sarver , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , Mike Coughlin , Don Prudhomme , Mike Edwards , Tommy Johnson Jr.