Northwest Nationals preview

>From NHRA for Immediate Release -- Survival, Surprises Usually Emerge as Themes at Seattle Kent, Wash., -- The Northwest Nationals often is a matter of survival and surprise. The annual stop of the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in the ...

>From NHRA for Immediate Release --

Survival, Surprises Usually Emerge as Themes at Seattle

Kent, Wash., -- The Northwest Nationals often is a matter of survival and surprise. The annual stop of the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in the Pacific Northwest is a test of survival because it comes at the end of a three-races-in- three-weekends stretch, arguably the most grueling span on the schedule. Teams are fatigued, parts inventories are low and the championship chases are in full swing.

Because of the severe test that the summer swing forces upon teams, surprises usually emerge at Seattle International Raceway. The eighth annual, $1,130,050 Northwest Nationals, Aug. 4-6, should be no exception. The race is the 13th event in the 19-event, $27-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1995.

There has been at least one surprise winner the last three editions of the Northwest Nationals.

Steve Schmidt drove his Dynagear Oldsmobile Cutlass past Jim Yates for his first NHRA Pro Stock victory last year at Seattle. The victory was the final chapter of a surprising day of Pro Stock eliminations in which Dodge powerhouses Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion were eliminated before the final for the first time all season.

In 1993, Tommy Johnson Jr. earned his first career NHRA Top Fuel victory in the Team Mopar Dragster by upsetting No. 1 qualifier Cory McClenathan at the Northwest Nationals. Kurt Johnson broke through for his first career Pro Stock victory in an Oldsmobile Cutlass.

In 1992, Michael Brotherton earned his first career Top Fuel victory, a win that was full of survival and surprise. Brotherton's crew endured the fatigue accumulated from staying up all night before final eliminations to repair damage from a crash, helping Brotherton earn the surprising victory over Eddie Hill.

Performance also should be added to the mix of survival and surprise at Seattle.

Scott Kalitta produced the first 300-mph pass in Seattle International Raceway history last season with a run of 302- 72 mph in the American International Airways Dragster. kenny Bernstein also exceeded 300 with a pass of 301.60 mph in the Budweiser King Dragster.

Darrell Alderman made perhaps the most stunning pass of the event with a run of 6.994 seconds in the Team Mopar Avenger. It was only the second six-second run by an NHRA Pro Stock at the time.

Track elapsed-time and speed records fell last year in all three professional categories contested at the Northwest Nationals -- Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock. Expect a repeat performance, and maybe even a surprise record-setter, at this year's event because teams are starting to push their machines to greater limits as the stretch run toward NHRA Winston championships begins.

Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 2 pm Aug. 4 and continues with a night-qualifying session at 7 that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at noon and 4 pm Aug. 5, with final eliminations starting at 11 am Aug. 6. Sportsman competition starts at 9:15 am Aug. 4.

On TV: ESPN will televise a one-hour show of highlights from the Northwest Nationals at 6:30 (PDT) August 7.

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>From NHRA for Immediate Release --

Austin Stays Tenacious Despite Tough Top Fuel Season

Kent, Wash., -- It would be easy if this was the year that Pat Austin's tenacity started to ebb. It would be easy to understand if his patience was fraying, and he was ready to throw his hands into the sky in surrender.

Forget it.

Austin may be an uncharacteristic 14th in the NHRA Winston Top Fuel point standings after 11 races this season in the Castrol Syntec Dragster. He may be winless and have failed to qualify for three races in Top Fuel this season.

But Austin hasn't won 57 races during his career -- the second highest total in NHRA history -- by putting it in cruise control. His motivation for success remain, but he's just finding it in different places.

"Just getting my butt kicked helps," Austin said. "Just to be the best that we can be. You want to have fun in this sport. You don't want to go through life ticked off. You just do the best you can do."

Austin, from Tacoma, Wash., will try to escape his season- long Top Fuel slump at the eighth annual $1,130,050 Northwest Nationals, Aug. 4-6 at Seattle International Raceway. The race is the 13th event in the 19-event, $27- million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1995.

Austin had won just two rounds in the first seven races this season when he decided to release crew chief Dan Olson and have his father, Walt, and brother, Mike, tune his dragster. The team was forced to return to an early-season mode of tinkering, but Austin thinks it was the right decision.

"it's making a lot of horsepower," Austin said. "A win is not far away for us."

While Pat Austin admits that poor results can cause tense moments with his father and brother, he insists he will remain part of his family racing operations for his entire career.

"The family deal will never break up for us," Austin said. "Racing will never break up our family. I'll quit before that happens."

Austin also said that his dad and brother will continue to tune his dragster indefinitely after having Olson and Jim Brissette tune the car the last two years. "You see crew chiefs moving from team to team," Austin said. "I don't like that. You've got to develop a formula for success.. The guys that stay together are the ones who have success."

Walt and Mike Austin also tune the Castrol Syntec Oldsmobile Achieva Top Alcohol Funny Car driven by Pat Austin.

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>From NHRA for Immediate Release --

Clapshaw Enjoying Strong Season as Independent in Funny Car

Kent, Wash., -- When Gary Clapshaw sold his successful landfill, recycling and construction businesses three years ago for $19 million, he tried plenty of diversions to enrich his new world of free time.

He bought a ski lodge in Utah and a 65-foot sailboat. He jumped out of helicopters onto glaciers with his sons and friends and skied down the snowy precipices.

But the call of a wild, nitromethane-burning Funny Car was too hard to ignore. Ever since he customized model car kits as a kid, Clapshaw wanted to take a full-time shot at racing. He dabbles in NHRA Funny Car racing since the late 1980s, but now it was time to take the plunge.

"you're in this deep, you may as well submerge yourself," said Clapshaw, 44. "We kind of had an inkling of what we were getting into. It pulls you in subtly."

Nothing has been subtle about Clapshaw's success this season in his first full year. He has stunned many sponsored teams with his independent Fuelish Pleasure Ford Mustang, sitting in seventh in the NHRA Winston point standings after 11 races. He also won the Mid-South Nationals in mid-May at Memphis, Tenn.

The big breakthrough for Clapshaw, who is from Battle Ground, Wash., came at the Mid-South Nationals. He qualified for just three of five previous races in 1995, but crew chief Lonny Strode tuned him to a consistent victory.

"Thank God for Lonny Strode and the crew," the colorful Clapshaw said. "All I have to do is show up. They launder my suit. Basically, I'm helpless."

Gary Clapshaw admits that earlier this season he had serious second thoughts about competing full-time on the NHRA Winston Funny Car circuit as problems mounted with his Fuelish Pleasure Ford Mustang.

Clapshaw didn't qualify for the Slick 50 Nationals in Houston in mid-March and the Mac Tools Gatornationals in late March. Both races were rain-delayed, so the travel and lodging costs mounted neck-and-neck with frustration.

"I knew it was snowing all over the country," said Clapshaw, an avid skier. "I've got friends flying all over the country in a helicopter, spending time on the glaciers. I love the snow."

But Clapshaw persisted with racing, and his team emerged from its troubles at the next event, the Fram Nationals at Atlanta. He advanced to the semifinals before losing to defending NHRA Winston champion John Force.

"By the time we got to Atlanta, I told the guys, 'I'm not sure where we're headed. We may be headed home," Clapshaw said. "But I got a few laps in at Atlanta, and that was the start of where we were headed.

Clapshaw stood in the winner's circle for the first time in his NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series career at the next event, the Mid-South Nationals at Memphis, Tenn.

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>From NHRA for Immediate Release --

Seattle Victory Made Schmidt a Prime-Time Pro Stock Player

Kent, Wash., -- The weekends of wondering ended for Steve Schmidt just about one year ago at Seattle International Raceway. Schmidt, from Indianapolis, had moved from the Sportsman categories to Pro Stock racing in 1989 and enjoyed only limited success. His best finish in the NHRA Winston point standings before last year was 14th in 1993.

He always had horsepower. His company, Schmidt Automotive Competition Engines, builds some of the most powerful racing engines around. The fact only increased his bewilderment about why he had never broken into the big time of NHRA Winston Drag Racing.

"You do it for a long time and with marginal success, and you begin to wonder if you can win one," Schmidt said.

The wonder ended when Schmidt defeated Jim Yates at the 1994 Northwest Nationals for his first career victory. The win helped him finish a career-best seventh in the NHRA Winston standings last year in the Dynagear Oldsmobile Cutlass. "It was a team confidence booster," Schmidt said of his win at Seattle.

That's exactly what he needed. Schmidt raised his confidence to another level by defeating Warren Johnson this June at the Oldsmobile Springnationals. He was fifth in points after 11 races.

"I look forward to Sunday instead of being apprehensive of Sunday," Schmidt said. "I'd like to finish in the top four and win a couple of more races."

One problem that plagued Steve Schmidt early last season was requests from his engine customers for mechanical advice throughout race weekends. Schmidt spent so much time working with clients at races, even during eliminations on Sundays, that it hurt his concentration on his Dynagear Oldsmobile Cutlass. So Schmidt told his customers in May 1994 that he would be unavailable for help after the final round of qualifying Saturday.

That policy gave Schmidt more time for his program, and he responded by winning the Northwest Nationals and finishing a career-best seventh in the NHRA Winston point standings.

But this year Schmidt returned to his workaholic ways, helping many drivers who lease or buy his powerful engines. "I tried not to fall into that trap again," Schmidt said. "I think it was even worse this year. It's been a big distraction. I'm one of the guys who has to work at this to make a living. And I build engines for a living."

Even though he has won just nine rounds of eliminations in 11 races this season, you will get few arguments from any driver after saying that Steve Schmidt has one of the most powerful cars in NHRA Pro Stock racing.

Here's proof: A driver has outrun Schmidt only once this season. Warren Johnson produced a time of 7.121 seconds in the final round of the Oldsmobile Springnationals in early June at Columbus, Ohio, but Schmidt won with a 7.125 due to a superior reaction time. Schmidt recorded a quicker elapsed time than his foes in every other race he reached the finish, but he lost because of a foul start or an inferior reaction time.

"We've been fast enough all year," Schmidt said. "We just didn't do a good job on Sunday. I didn't do a good job driving sometimes."

"That ought to tell you where we could be. We should be battling for the points lead."

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Joe Brake Crest Motorsports on the World Wide Web

URL http://www.freenet.ufl.edu/~crest/

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