Memphis; Winston championships on the line

MILLINGTON, Tenn. - There's nothing quite like the electric atmosphere produced when a pair of richly-tuned, nitro-burning Top Fuel dragsters pop and crackle at the starting line, awaiting the green light to flash at one of the NHRA's premier ...

MILLINGTON, Tenn. - There's nothing quite like the electric atmosphere produced when a pair of richly-tuned, nitro-burning Top Fuel dragsters pop and crackle at the starting line, awaiting the green light to flash at one of the NHRA's premier speedplants.

The explosive blast that rivets from two 6,000 horsepower dragsters marching side-by-side down the dragstrip is guaranteed to provide an extreme shot of adrenaline to even the most conservative attendees. One blink and it's over.

Top Fuel drivers engaged in this season's highly competitive championship chase must be thinking the same thing: One blink and their opportunity for attaining Winston championship glory could be all but an afterthought. Indeed, drama will be plentiful as several Top Fuel teams near the season's final hour at the 13th annual AutoZone Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Oct. 5-8, at Memphis Motorsports Park.

Few points separate three Top Fuel competitors chasing the coveted championship trophy. Two of those drivers have been down this road before; while the other hopes to attain the prestige that comes along with being an NHRA Winston champion for the first time.

Title chases in other professional categories will be intense as well. As many as three drivers are still in the hunt in Funny Car, while a pair of drivers are chasing drag racing's ultimate goal in Pro Stock Truck competition. In Pro Stock, the race is on for second place as one driver works to put the finishing touches on his first Winston championship, and could clinch at this event.

Doug Herbert, Tommy Johnson Jr., Mike Edwards and Brad Jeter are the defending event winners in their respective pro categories for the $1.8 million race, the 20th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C., held off Jim Head for the Top Fuel victory here last season in a thrilling, side-by-side tire-smoking finish. Herbert, driver of the Snap-on Tools dragster, needs a victory here to salvage what has been a tough season. Tony Schumacher, Gary Scelzi and Larry Dixon will continue their battle for the NHRA Winston championship. Past Memphis winners Joe Amato, Kenny Bernstein and Cory McClenathan are always top threats in the 6,000 horsepower category.

Johnson, from Ottumwa, Iowa, raced past Tony Pedregon for the Funny Car victory one year ago, further solidfying his position as one of NHRA's top drivers. While the two '99 finalists look forward to a rematch, other drivers, like three-time Memphis winner and current points leader John Force and Winston championship challenger Jerry Toliver, will resume their season long battle for Funny Car supremacy. Whit Bazemore, Jim Epler, Scotty Cannon and Al Hofmann also are among top drivers seeking a victory.

Edwards, from Broken Arrow, Okla., used a holeshot start to defeat Richie Stevens for the Pro Stock victory. Edwards won't have the opportunity to defend his title from behind the wheel, but will make an effort to tune his driver, Ron Krisher, to the victory. Stevens headlines the list of hopefuls, along with Winston points leader Jeg Coughlin, four-time season winner Kurt Johnson and Warren Johnson, a four-time winner at Memphis Motorsports Park.

Jeter, from Greenville, S.C., raced to the Pro Stock Truck victory over Randy Daniels. Jeter has moved on to Pro Stock competition this season, while Daniels has emerged as a Winston championship contender. Daniels has earned five victories this season as he battles defending Winston champion and current points leader Bob Panella for championship honors. Panella, a winner here in '98, also has five victories this season, including the prestigious U.S. Nationals. Other top contenders in the pickup category include Greg Stanfield, brothers Mike and John Coughlin, and Steve Johns.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Doug Herbert , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Ron Krisher , Randy Daniels , Cory McClenathan , Jerry Toliver , Mike Edwards , Steve J , Tommy Johnson Jr.