RT66 race recap

JOLIET - Race Recap by Larry Sullivan JOLIET, Ill. - SUMMIT FastNews - The NHRA has been seeking a race venue near Chicago for years and with the inauguration of the Route 66 Raceway just south of Joliet, their dreams came true. Near-record...

JOLIET - Race Recap

by Larry Sullivan

JOLIET, Ill. - SUMMIT FastNews - The NHRA has been seeking a race venue near Chicago for years and with the inauguration of the Route 66 Raceway just south of Joliet, their dreams came true. Near-record crowds, estimated at 135,000, filled the new facility for the four-day Fram Route 66 Nationals, and the facility and the racing Sunday exceeded everyone's expectations.

Kenny Bernstein, with Louie the Lizard along for the ride, won a tire-smoking, backpedaling race with Gary Scelzi to take the Top Fuel victory.

"The starting line was good, perhaps too good," said Bernstein. "It shook the tires, the first time all weekend. I got back on it and they lit up again. I told myself, 'Squeeze the throttle!' and it hooked up again. Usually when you do all that, you just stop out there and give up."

Of the new race track, he said, "What a beautiful house this is. This takes our sport to a new level."

The win was Bernstein's 20th as a Top Fuel driver and brought his career total to 50 wins in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

Whit Bazemore drove the Winston Racing Mustang to victory in the Funny Car category with four exceptional runs in the summer-like heat Sunday. Bazemore's worst run Sunday was better than the best by any of the other sixteen drivers in eliminations, with a 4.96 second elapsed time and a speed over 300 mph in the semifinals and a 5.001 at 297.42 mph to defeat a tire-smoking Del Worsham in the finals.

The win was Bazemore's first of the 1998 season and he clutched his trophy tightly afterward. "These little guys are a little hard to come by - and expensive. I'm going to hold on to him."

Of the competition, Bazemore offered, "Funny Car is real competitive right now. It's the most competitive it's been since I started racing."

Mike Thomas drove around Warren Johnson on the second half of the track to take the Pro Stock victory, something rarely seen as Johnson's top-end power and speed are legendary. Johnson left first and appeared headed for victory, but lost momentum in the second half of the run and Thomas won with a 7.024 second, 196.39 mph clocking to Johnson's slowing 7.075 at 194.80 mph.

"It's not normal to drive around Warren," said Thomas, "To drive around him on the back half of the track - I wouldn't have it any other way."

Matt Hines returned to his dominant form in Pro Stock Bike, defeating a redlighting Angelle Seeling in the final round for his fourth win of the 1998 season out of five outings for the motorcycles. Seeling won the other after Hines had a mechanical failure in the first round. Hines posted impressive times in the heat of the day Sunday, with an event-low 7,294 second elapsed time in the second round of eliminations and a 7.296 at 184.02 mph in the final round.

Afterward he credited his father and crew chief, Byron Hines, who predicted the low elapsed times. "He knows how to read the air and conditions, and the bike is so easy to ride - it's just easy to predict."

The first winner at the event was Larry Kopp, who defeated Bill Henderson Saturday to take his third event win in the fledgling Pro Stock Truck category.

In Sportsman competition:

Shawn Bowen defeated Bobby Taylor in Federal-Mogul Dragster, 5.607 at 249.30 mph to Taylor's 5.675 at 248.98.

John Lawson won a pyrrhic victory in Federal-Mogul Funny Car, his car bursting into flames as he neared the finish line after defeating a tire-smoking Marc White. Lawson was clocked at 5.880 seconds, 225.75 mph, his car severely damaged in the ensuing inferno. Lawson was not seriously injured, his first words after catching his breath, "Did I win?"

Dave Dupps defeated Bob Andrews to take the Competition Eliminator trophy.

Dan Fletcher outran Joseph LoCicero to take the Super Stock title.

Scott Welborn overcame Dave Young's quicker reaction time to win Stock Eliminator.

Joseph Mezquita drove his natural gas-powered dragster to victory over Edmond Richardson in Super Comp.

Lynn Ellison bested Charles Slegler for the Super Gas trophy.

Results provided by the FastNews Network, courtesy of Summit Racing Equipment ** http://www.summitracing.com/ **

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas , Matt Hines , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Gary Scelzi , Larry Kopp , Dan Fletcher