FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761 PIONEER ELECTRONICS KEYSTONE NATIONALS FUNNY CAR NOTEBOOK *Road warrior: Traveling to and from 22 races around the country can take a toll on NHRA Winston Drag Racing...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761
PIONEER ELECTRONICS KEYSTONE NATIONALS FUNNY CAR NOTEBOOK *Road warrior: Traveling to and from 22 races around the country can take a toll on NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series competitors and crew members. But that schedule is a joyride compared to the arduous travel plans of Kenji Okazaki. Besides traveling the entire NHRA circuit, Okazaki returns to his home in Tokyo about once every two months for business and to see friends. Okazaki owns a company that finds vintage Mopar muscle cars in the United States and exports them for wealthy Japanese buyers. The long trips to Japan sometimes create a morale boost for Okazaki. "I feel kind of comfortable once in a while going home because sometimes there is stuff in Japan that get me pumped up for the next race in the U.S. It works out once in a while. Not every week." *Getting a handle: John Force didn't repeat as U.S. Nationals champion earlier this month, but the performance of his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang showed that crew chiefs Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly are close to having a solid grasp of their new engine combination. Coil and Fedderly decided to change Force's engine setup this spring, as they were concerned at the 310-mph speeds routinely recorded by their rivals. Force's mechanical braintrust thought they might lose the horsepower battle. Force struggled, as he was winless from late February until winning the Champion Auto Stores Nationals last month at Brainerd, Minn. Further proof of the engine combination's promise came during the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, where Force qualified No. 1 at 4.935 seconds. He also recorded a career-best speed of 312.93 mph, the second-fastest by a Funny Car in NHRA history. Drag racing wisdom states that top speed is the purest indicator of horsepower. If so, it appears that Coil and Fedderly are returning Force to the top of the tower of power. *No time to party: Kenji Okazaki didn't have much time to celebrate his victory in the Big Bud Shootout earlier this month at Indianapolis despite earning the largest paycheck of his career, $100,000. "The money of course goes back to the race car," Okazaki said. "I don't think that we'll have a party tonight because we're going to have to come back and try to do the same thing on Monday." Okazaki failed in his bid to win the U.S. Nationals title the next day, losing to John Force in the quarterfinals. A sweep of both events would have increased Okazaki's weekend jackpot to $235,000. *Second chance: Tom Hoover continued his return from open-heart surgery by climbing from 15th to 14th place in the NHRA Winston point standings at the U.S. Nationals. Hoover, from Minneapolis, underwent a quadruple heart bypass the first week in April after feeling numbness in his arm at the Slick 50 Nationals in late March near Houston. His recovery reached a zenith when he won the Pontiac Excitement Nationals in mid-June at Columbus, Ohio, just nine weeks after surgery. He missed four races during his recuperation, but won at Columbus in just his second race back in the Pioneer Electronics Dodge Avenger. "I do appreciate the little things right now," Hoover said. "I feel better. Everything is flowing right now. The way the car runs, and as competitive as the team is right now, anything can happen this year. It's going to be a player before the year is over." *Join the club: Ron Capps became the 11th member of the Castrol 4-Second Club for Funny Cars with a 4.958-second pass in the Copenhagen Chevrolet Camaro during qualifying at the U.S. Nationals. Capps, from San Diego, earned a $1,000 bonus. Kenji Okazaki also recorded his first career four-second pass at Indianapolis, 4.972, in the Mooneyes Dodge Avenger during a final-round victory over Tony Pedregon in the Big Bud Shootout special event. But Okazaki didn't become the 12th member of the Castrol club because his pass occurred during the Shootout final, which doesn't count toward records because it's the third pass of the day for the two finalists. All other Funny Car drivers only receive two passes that day. *Etchells has it covered: Chuck Etchells unveiled The Wallcoverings Association as an associate sponsor of his Kendall Dodge Avenger at the U.S. Nationals. The Wallcoverings Association, based in Chicago, represents 150 manufacturers, distributors and suppliers in the wallcoverings industry. The Wallcoverings Association will sponsor Etchells for the rest of the 1997 season. Etchells, from Putnam, Conn., is president of Union Roto-Graving Inc., a leading supplier of print cylinders for the wallcoverings industry. *Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3 p.m. Sept. 12 and continues at 7 p.m. that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at noon and 4 p.m. Sept. 13. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. Sept. 14. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 11. *Tickets: Tickets are available for the Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals. Call Maple Grove Raceway at (610) 856-7200. *On TV: TNN will televise 90 minutes of live, final-round competition from the Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 14. TNN also will televise one hour of live, first-round competition at 11 a.m. (EDT) Sept. 14. *On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.goracing.com/nhra/ offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics and driver biographies. -30- 9/3/97-RP3-140