Las Vegas II: Penultimate round preview

TOP FUEL UPSTART FULLER HOPES TO GIVE HOMETOWN LAS VEGAS FANS SOMETHING TO CHEER FOR AT THE STRIP LAS VEGAS -- Many performers have excelled at just the right moment in time under the bright lights in Las Vegas and made the transformation from...

TOP FUEL UPSTART FULLER HOPES TO GIVE HOMETOWN LAS VEGAS FANS SOMETHING TO CHEER FOR AT THE STRIP

LAS VEGAS -- Many performers have excelled at just the right moment in time under the bright lights in Las Vegas and made the transformation from just another face in the crowd to instant celebrity.

Liberace, Wayne Newton, Siegfried and Roy, The Blue Man Group, and Charro are just a few entertainers who took advantage of Las Vegas' glitter and found fame.

"Hot Rod" Fuller, Las Vegas resident and NHRA Top Fuel standout, hopes to add his name to that list. However, Fuller's performances -- which will come in 4.4-second bursts at more than 320 mph -- won't take place on a stage on the traditional Vegas Strip.

Fuller will entertain his hometown fans at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Fuller hopes to celebrate a victory in front of his friends and family at the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals, Oct. 20-23 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The $1.8 million race, which will be televised on ESPN2, is the 22nd of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series for 2005. The defending winners of the event include Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel); Gary Scelzi (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Fuller, a virtual unknown when he made his first start at The Strip in April, feels certain that this time around more of the Las Vegas fan base is going to be cheering him on.

"At the first race in Las Vegas this year I don't think a lot of people knew who I was and maybe didn't take me or the team for real," said Fuller, who drives the Valvoline dragster for Houston-based team owner David Powers. "We did pretty well at that race in qualifying and I think we turned some heads. Since then I think our performance on the track has shown that we're really one of the top teams out there. It's funny, because now I am getting a lot of attention and being recognized a lot more in the Vegas area and this town has really got behind me. I'm doing a lot of media interviews and it's been a lot of fun. I love this area and I really want to do my best to represent Las Vegas when I'm on the track."

At the event here in April, Fuller qualified No. 4 and had a tough first round draw in defending world champion Tony Schumacher, who qualified an uncharacteristic 13th. Schumacher took the first round win, but Fuller feels his team rounded the corner at that race and started to gain respect for their potential.

"More people are recognizing me now," Fuller said. "There are a lot of fans out there who love Tony Schumacher, but there are also a lot of fans who love to pull for the underdog. We have picked up a lot of those fans. I think with the job that (crew chief) Lee Beard and (assistant crew chief) Rob Flynn are doing each week, we are proving that we can run with anybody."

It's been a long road to drag racing's big time for Fuller, who actually made his Top Fuel debut a decade ago. He drove part-time in 1995 and 1996 for John Mitchell's Montana Express and attended nine races over those two seasons with little success. After his first shot at Top Fuel was a bust, he regrouped and showcased his driving talents in NHRA's Lucas Oil Series for sportsman racers. He raced to 13 victories in Super Comp and Super Gas and also claimed two divisional championships. For his efforts, Fuller was named the Sportsman "Driver of the Decade" for the 0x285890s. At the beginning of this season he added another chapter to his racing history by partnering with Houston-based home builder David Powers, himself a former Top Fuel drag racer. With a newly-signed three-year contract with Powers to run the full NHRA schedule with sponsorship from Valvoline already signed and sealed, Fuller is very optimistic about his future in the sport.

"I consider this to be my first real season in Top Fuel," Fuller said. "When I drove back in the mid-0x285890s, we were just out there trying to qualify. This year we won a race and went to three finals and worked our way into the top 10. I think when we made that first final round some teams may have thought it was a fluke. But then we went to another final, and when we won at Memphis, that really showed everyone that we have a consistently fast race car. It also feels good to get into the POWERade Top 10 even though we've only ran half the races."

Racing a 15-event schedule this season, Fuller and his team have been able to capitalize on their opportunities. He posted a runner-up finish at Bristol in only the fifth start for the team. He followed that effort with another runner-up finish at Chicago in June and scored an impressive first career victory at Memphis, where he qualified third and defeated Larry Dixon in the semifinals and Tony Schumacher in the final. With a semifinal effort at Dallas last weekend, Fuller likes his chances at the upcoming event at The Strip.

"I think we have a great shot at winning this race," Fuller said. "In the spring all of the casinos had me at the bottom of the list of Top Fuel drivers with the longest odds to win. I don't think that will happen again this time. If it does, I am not a betting man, but I think I might put a few dollars down."

POWERADE SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP UPDATE: Two of four NHRA POWERade Series world championship titles can be secured at the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals. In Top Fuel, Schumacher needs only to make a qualifying attempt on Friday to claim his second consecutive and third overall world championship crown. The U.S. Army dragster pilot has earned seven victories and 10 No. 1 qualifying efforts during the season, and needs only a 139-point lead at the conclusion of the event to win the title. He currently leads Larry Dixon by 268 points.

In Pro Stock, Anderson needs to qualify eighth or better to secure his third consecutive POWERade Series world championship. The driver of the Summit Racing Pontiac GTO owned by Las Vegas resident Ken Black has earned eight victories this season and enters the race with a 244-point lead over Kurt Johnson. Like Schumacher, Anderson needs to exit the race with a lead of at least 139 points to clinch the championship.

Things could get interesting in Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

John Force is seeking championship No. 14 in Funny Car and currently holds a 36-point lead over defending event winner Scelzi. Lurking within striking distance is Ron Capps, 57 points behind Force in third. Top-rated rookie Robert Hight is fourth overall, 104 points back.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines is trying to win his second consecutive title and holds a 42-point advantage over his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate GT Tonglet.

RECORD BREAKER: Schumacher, who has advanced to the last five Top Fuel finals and won the last three events, can tie two longstanding NHRA Top Fuel single-season records with a successful weekend at The Strip: consecutive victories in a season (4, held by Scott Kalitta, 0x285894 and Cory McClenathan, 0x285897) and consecutive final round appearances in a season (6, held by Kalitta, '94, McClenathan, '97, and Larry Dixon, 0x285802). Schumacher has one victory in three final round appearances at The Strip in his career.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for noon and 3:30 on Friday, Oct. 21 and Saturday, Oct. 22. Budweiser Shootout rounds are scheduled for 1:30, 3:15 and 4:50 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals. Call The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at (702) 644-4444, or check online at lvms.com or tickets.com.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Cory McClenathan , Scott Kalitta , Andrew Hines , GT Tonglet , Chip Ellis , David Powers , Robert Hight , Ken Black