Madison: Gateway Arch marks the halfway point of season

MADISON, Ill. - Don't look now, but the 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season is half over...kind of. The 23-race schedule prevents an exact mid-season point, but if there was such a thing, the Sears Craftsman Nationals would be it. The 12th event...

MADISON, Ill. - Don't look now, but the 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season is half over...kind of. The 23-race schedule prevents an exact mid-season point, but if there was such a thing, the Sears Craftsman Nationals would be it. The 12th event of the season is held a hop, skip and a jump away from the historic Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis.

The Arch is the 'Gateway to the West' and the Craftsman Nationals can be the 'Gateway to a championship' if the cards are dealt correctly.

This is the time of year when teams have to take stock in what they have accomplished so far and what else they can do before the annual awards ceremony honors the NHRA POWERade champions in November.

"Every year, no matter what, this race sneaks up on you," Funny Car driver Del Worsham said. "The first three or four races of the season just crawl by because we have extra weeks off between them. Then before you know it, we're in St. Louis and it always takes up by surprise. The St. Louis event has really taken on an identity as the halfway point. If you have goals before the season, St. Louis is where you check them and get your first good idea of how you're doing. If you're behind the pace, it's time to step on it."

Worsham and the rest of the NHRA POWERade championship chasers will be checking their goals during the seventh annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals, June 27-29, at Gateway International Raceway. Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie are the defending winners of the $1.8 million race. It is the 12th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher knows all about being in another gear. The driver of the U.S. Army dragster found himself No. 10 in the Top Fuel point standings after the first 10 events of the season. He lost in the first round five times and failed to qualify for an event for the first time in 102 national events. The Army team hired a new crew chief, Alan Johnson, just before the Chicago event. Schumacher won that race, moved into the No. 8 place in the standings and is now looking to win more.

"We have to kick into a higher gear than normal because we are much further behind than we ever expected to be," Schumacher said. "We have a car that is capable of winning a lot of races. Our crew chief has proven that he can win. I would know, he has beaten me in the final round a few times.

"We are more than 400 points behind (Top Fuel leader Larry Dixon) and that is enormous. That is a lot of points to make up, but the way this car is running, it is possible. It is unlikely we can catch him, but the very idea that it is possible is what gives you motivation. Everyone likes to bet on the long shot."

Worsham and the Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird team sit in the No. 4 spot of the Funny Car standings after the first 10 events of the season. Worsham has scored one victory in three final round appearances. The stop in St. Louis has become one of the Worsham team's favorite stops on the tour.

"In just a few short years, the St. Louis race has become one of our favorites, despite how hot the weather can get," Worsham said. "We don't really like running in such warm conditions, but St. Louis is one of the only tracks that we run where we're literally in the downtown area of a major city. In St. Louis we can see the skyline and the Arch from the track. Being so close allows our team to do some things we don't normally get to do, like going to a St. Louis Cardinals game, eating great food on The Hill and having Imo's Pizza delivered right to our pit at the track."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Del Worsham , John Force , Tony Schumacher