Las Vegas: Round five preview

LAS VEGAS TEAM OWNER KEN BLACK BRINGS FULL HOUSE OF TALENT TO THE STRIP AT LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY LAS VEGAS -- Hillary Will remembers the first time she met Ken Black. Black, team owner for the elite Summit Racing Equipment Pro Stock duo of...

LAS VEGAS TEAM OWNER KEN BLACK BRINGS FULL HOUSE OF TALENT TO THE STRIP AT LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

LAS VEGAS -- Hillary Will remembers the first time she met Ken Black. Black, team owner for the elite Summit Racing Equipment Pro Stock duo of Greg Anderson and Jason Line, was looking for a talented driver for his new Top Fuel dragster he planned to field for the 2006 POWERade Series season.

But Will hadn't applied for the job. The then-25-year-old dreamed of becoming a professional driver and expected to put a few more years in behind the wheel of her Girl Power Top Alcohol dragster before scoring a professional ride. Then came the phone call from crew chief Jim Oberhofer. A meeting soon followed, at the POWERade Series event in Brainerd, Minn. That night she had the job.

Black remembers the first time he met Will, too -- just like he readily recalls the first time he worked with Anderson and Line. As a successful Las Vegas businessman who built Vegas General Construction into a multi-million-dollar business, Black could sit back and wait to hear progress reports from the powerhouse team that has already brought him a three-time and defending world championship in Anderson, and looks to bring more success in the future.

Instead, Black takes an approach that is common to team owners involved in NHRA. He crosses the country to attend every event, like the drivers he personally chooses for their character, personality and willing to work. When the sport's best teams pull into The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway April 6-9 for the NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals, the fifth of 23 events in the $50 million POWERade Series, Black will be there too. Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Whit Bazemore (Funny Car) and Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) are the defending event winners of the $1.7 million race which will be telecast on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD.

"Ken's spending a lot of money, so I wondered if he would put a lot of pressure on me to do everything right, right now," said Will, who made her professional debut in Pomona, Calif. in February. She won her first national event in Las Vegas last year in Top Alcohol Dragster. "But he hasn't at all. >From the beginning he just said 'try your best and that's all you can do.' He knows there's a learning curve and I give 100 percent every time I go up to the starting line. I couldn't ask for a better team owner."

Black admires his drivers for their dedication to working on the cars as well as driving.

"They're hard workers," Black said. "So many times in motorsports, the drivers are just paid drivers. But with our team, (Anderson, Line and Will) are all integral parts of the team. Jason and Greg put in work after-hours at the shop working on motors. Hillary answers the phone (at Kalitta Motorsports' shop in Ypsilanti, Mich.), books their travel arrangements and packs her own chutes at the track."

Black's dedication to the hands-on approach is mirrored by his wife Judy, who made her own sacrifices so her husband could race after the couple married in 1967.

"She had sheets on the windows for quite a while," said Ken, who shares team owner responsibilities with his wife and son Kenny. Ken made his first passes down the quarter mile in a '64 Chevy -- but it was Kenny's idea to create a professional team for the POWERade tour.

Like Will, Anderson cites his team owner's dedication, and his sponsor, for his success.

"(Ken) is the best team owner that anyone could ever have," said Anderson, who has four career wins at The Strip, including two at his sponsor's title event in the spring. "He has a level head and a very calming influence that keeps us all grounded."

Although the two are teammates, Anderson and Line will battle each other and a league of other strong drivers for the NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals title -- including the father-son duo of Warren and Kurt Johnson and 22-year-old Erica Enders, who last fall became the first woman to advance to a final round in Pro Stock. She did it again last month in Gainesville.

In Top Fuel, Larry Dixon is the driver to watch. Dixon and Anderson top the charts for most career victories in Las Vegas with four each -- and last spring Dixon earned team owner Don "the Snake" Prudhomme his 100th career victory when he made it to the winner's circle in his Miller Lite dragster. Other top contenders include Melanie Troxel, who leads the POWERade point standings with four consecutive final round appearances in as many races, and her Don Schumacher Racing teammate, three-time and defending world champion Tony Schumacher, who pocketed a hefty payroll at The Strip last October by winning the race, the $100,000 Budweiser Shootout and clinching the POWERade Series crown.

Ron Capps, winner of the last two events, has made a strong start to the season after posting a runner-up finish to his teammate Gary Scelzi in last year's historic Funny Car world championship points chase. Other drivers to watch out for include 13-time world champion John Force and his teammates, Robert Hight and Eric Medlen, and defending event winner Whit Bazemore.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3 and 6 p.m. on April 7, and noon and 3 p.m. on April 8. Pre-race ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. on April 9, followed by the first session of professional eliminations at 11 a.m.

TICKETS: For tickets, call Las Vegas Motor Speedway at (702) 644-4444 or the NHRA, at (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets are also available at LVMS.com or nhra.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying at 8 p.m. (ET) on April 8. ESPN2 will telecast NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute weekly news magazine show, at 11:30 a.m. (ET) and televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET) on April 9.

-nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Jason Line , Eric Medlen , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight , Hillary Will