Reading: Round eighteen, Maple Grove preview

WHAT: 19th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, the 18th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships. Sportsman ...

WHAT:   19th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, the 18th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships.

Sportsman competitors in seven categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championships.
WHERE:             Maple Grove Raceway, Mohnton, Pa. Track is located off the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Exit 22), 10 miles south of Reading, Pa.

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 11-14.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
As summer's heat gives way to cooler fall temperatures, the changing of the seasons in Eastern Pennsylvania not only provides a scenic backdrop, but prime racing conditions for drag racing's elite. Top Fuel points leader Larry Dixon has been a marked man for nearly two seasons. The driver of the Miller Lite dragster finds himself atop the points standings as the 2003 campaign nears its end. However, Dixon's quest for his second consecutive Top Fuel championship won't be easy as the Kalittas have teamed up to halt Dixon's title hopes. Defending event champion Doug Kalitta will have a familiar face around as cousin and two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Scott hopes to give Doug the edge to win his first title. Also, don't look past recent Mac Tools U.S. Nationals winner Tony Schumacher and his U.S. Army dragster. Two years ago at Maple Grove Raceway, Schumacher became the first driver to surpass the 333-mph mark with his 333.08-mph blast. The Funny Car chase is shaping up as a classic battle between points leader Tony Pedregon and Whit Bazemore, two fierce rivals. Pedregon, who won six of the first 12 events this season, has been winless since mid-June, while Bazemore's consistent Lee Beard tune-up has him in striking distance as both drivers aim to score their first series crown. Greg Anderson has opened up a commanding lead over second-place driver Kurt Johnson in Pro Stock after claiming eight victories in 10 final round appearances. If Anderson's performance edge continues, the North Carolinian looks sure to win his first NHRA championship. Anderson must win four of the remaining six events to pass Darrell Alderman and Jeg Coughlin for most Pro Stock victories in one season (11). In the two-wheel category, Geno Scali has raced to a solid lead over Shawn Gann and three-time champion Angelle Savoie. If Scali remains consistent, he looks certain to win his first NHRA championship. The hottest rider in the bike class might be Reggie Showers. The world's fastest amputee claimed his first career No. 1 qualifyin g position in Brainerd, Minn. in August, and won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals last weekend along with a $15,000 bonus for beating the seven quickest Pro Stock Bike competitors in the K&N Pro Bike Klash. The Philadelphia native would like nothing better than to ride his PDI Suzuki to another NHRA victory at his home track.

FAST FACTS:
Maple Grove Raceway is one of two tracks where defending Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon has yet to earn a victory in his career. At the beginning of the 2003 season there were four tracks with such a distinction, but following his victories at Seattle and Sonoma, Calif., St. Louis and Reading, Pa., are the only two NHRA venues where Dixon is winless. However, Dixon's crew chief Dick LaHaie won twice at the Pennsylvania facility (1986-'87) and team-owner Don "The Snake' Prudhomme also was victorious at Maple Grove (1991)...Funny Car driver Dean Skuza has two career wins in 13 career final round appearances. His last win was in 1998 at Maple Grove...Greg Anderson, Kurt Johnson and Jeg Coughlin are the top three Pro Stock drivers in the NHRA POWERade standings and also are the only three drivers to qualify for ever NHRA national event this season. Coughlin holds the longest consecutive qualifying streak in the category at 30 straight events...Only four different riders have ever won the Pro Stock Bike category at Maple Grove Raceway (Dave Schultz, 1993-94; John Myers, 1995; Angelle Savoie, 1996, '98, '01-'02; annd Matt Hines, '97, '99-'00).

NOTES OF INTEREST:

The NHRA Experience - Unlike any other form of major motorsport, the NHRA grants unprecedented access to each and every one of its fans. From watching the action of 8,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragsters and the 200-mph Pro Stock cars, to the unlimited access to the pit areas of the NHRA's top stars. Fans get the chance to get up-close-and-personal with drag racing icons like John Force, Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme, and Kenny Bernstein. They get the chance to meet and greet the next wave of NHRA superstars like Larry Dixon, Tony Schumacher, Darrell Russell, Tony Pedregon, Del Worsham, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie. The manufacturer midway provides an on-site shopping experience for the latest technology in the automotive aftermarket. The newest addition to the midway area is the exciting POWERade interactive display. Fans can take their picture wearing an authentic team shirt from their favorite team, meet different drivers during scheduled autograph sessions, spin the back wheel of a Top Fuel dragster to win various prizes, including a ride in a special vehicle that gives fans a taste of life on the quarter-mile by putting them track-side for a few passes.

Regarding Weather -- In drag racing weather plays a vital role as crew chiefs examine data and tune their race cars for maximum performance. Most teams have sophisticated weather stations on board their team transporters so they can access up-to-the-minute weather information as well as forecasts.

Greatest Comeback Ever? - Many fans, competitors and others in the racing industry had already discarded defending NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion John Force for another series title. Force, who has 12 titles overall with the last 10 coming consecutively, had an uncharacteristically poor performance the first half of the 2003 season. The winningest driver in NHRA history (108 victories), went 12 races before earning his first win (Denver) of the season. He then was victorious the following week (Seattle) in his fourth straight final round appearances (runner up finishes at Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis). Prior to the race in Ohio, Force was seventh in the POWERade standings, 398 points behind teammate and season-long leader Tony Pedregon. Over the next five events, Force moved into third in the standings and is 199 points behind Pedregon and 155 points out of second place, which is occupied by Force Racing rival Whit Bazemore. Unless Pedregon regains his early season form (winning six times out of the first 11 races) and Bazemore earns a couple more victories (two in six final rounds in 2003), Force could end up with his 13th Funny Car title in what could be considered the greatest comeback in NHRA history.

Kenny Bernstein Comes Out of Retirement to Sub for Injured Son-- Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein returned to the cockpit at Topeka, Kan., following his son Brandon's crash at Englishtown, N.J. which has sidelined the younger Bernstein for the remainder of 2003. At the time of the crash, Brandon was second in points with three victories on the year. Kenny showed no effects of his retirement in November of 2002. At his first event the 58-year-old Bernstein qualified No. 2 and advanced to the semifinals before falling to Doug Kalitta.

NHRA Stock on the Rise - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has been experiencing growth that is unprecedented in its 52-year history. The television coverage of the fastest form of auto racing on the planet is continuing to gain viewers and ratings in the third year of an exclusive partnership between NHRA and ESPN. That is due in large part to the innovative technology ESPN has introduced to the sensory-filled sport of 8,000 horsepower drag racing and the stellar competition that has been taking place on the quarter-mile drag strip. This also has presented an increasing amount of fan appeal, which draws new sponsors or increased support form current sponsors in various capacities. The NHRA and POWERade, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Co., joined forces prior to the 2002 season with high hopes and great expectations. The partnership has opened up new doors for marketing and advertising strategies that were not available in the past. Combining the product NHRA has to offer with the business capabilities of POWERade, the sport of drag racing is reaching new heights. The 23-race, $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing series has evolved beyond the wildest dreams of the organization's founder, 90-year-old Wally Parks, and the NHRA continues to increase its presence and influence in the world of motorsports.

ABOUT THE TRACK:
The track was a collaborative effort between Alfred Stauffer, who owned several hundred acres of farmland, and local racer George Weiler. Stauffer and Weiler, along with several members of the Eastern Custom Car Association, planned the layout and necessary facilities. A thin strip of asphalt, measuring 30-feet wide and 2,500-feet long, was laid in preparation for racers in 1962. Initially the track was a one-fifth-mile course instead of the standard quarter-mile due to the limited shutdown area. Maple Grove Raceway holds the distinction of recording many of the NHRA's most historic performances. Those memorable moments include Joe Amato and Shirley Muldowney making the first side-by-side four second Top Fuel pass (1989); the first side-by-side Top Fuel race where both drivers eclipsed 300 mph (Mike Dunn/Blaine Johnson); the first Top Fuel driver in the 4.70s (Cory McClenathan); the first Pro Stock driver in the 6.70s (Darrell Alderman); and the first Pro Stock Bike rider in the 7.00s (Matt Hines).

LUCAS OIL NHRA NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION:

* SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying will run at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 12 and will continue at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 13. Final professional eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sept. 14.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 19th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Call (610) 856-7200, or visit maplegroveraceway.com.

* TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 4 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 13. ESPN2 will televise 150 minutes of eliminations at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 14.

* ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at www.nhra.com.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Reggie Showers , Shawn Gann , Cory McClenathan , Dick LaHaie , Geno Scali