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OSBORNE TRYING TO CONTINUE STRONG PRO STOCK COMEBACK AT HOUSTON BAYTOWN, Texas -- Other than watching races on television with his son, Mark Osborne never gave much thought this year about returning to NHRA Winston Pro Stock racing. Osborne quit in September 1996 after fielding a team and driving for three seasons, deciding to spend more time with his family and his excavation business. He had put drag racing behind him. That is until Dick Sherman called. Sherman, an NHRA sportsman racer and car owner, called Osborne in late August and persuaded him to drive for his hastily assembled Pro Stock team. Osborne returned to competition in mid-September at Reading, Pa., starting one of the most unlikely success stories of the year. "He put on a good sales job," Osborne said of Sherman's call. Osborne, from Abingdon, Va., qualified No. 1 in late September at Topeka, Kan., and was runner-up to defending Winston champion Jim Yates a week later at Memphis, Tenn. He will try to return to the winner's circle for the first time since 1995 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. On the surface, Osborne's emergence appears to be a total surprise. But a closer look at the Dick Sherman Racing Pontiac Firebird team reveals an array of talent. Osborne uses engines built by Finish Line, owned by Pro Stock racer Mike Thomas. Jimmy Oliver and Rocky Roberts, who built engines for Pro Stock standout Larry Morgan, head the Finish Line program. Crew chief Kenny Lee had worked with national-event winner Jerry Eckman. "We have some smart guys on this team," Osborne said. "When I realized how much power we had, I was really excited. Mike Thomas' people build a good motor at a fair price."