Sears Point Nationals preview

>From NHRA for Immediate Release -- Drivers Often Use Sears Point as Springboard for Championships Sonoma, Calif., -- Sears Point Raceway can provide one of the stiffest tests for drivers on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. And for...

>From NHRA for Immediate Release --

Drivers Often Use Sears Point as Springboard for Championships

Sonoma, Calif., -- Sears Point Raceway can provide one of the stiffest tests for drivers on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. And for some reason, at least one driver always passes and stands at the head of the class at the end of the season.

At least one of the winners in the professional categories at all seven previous editions of the Autolite Nationals has gone on to win an NHRA Winston championship that season.

Expect that trend to continue at the eighth annual $1,101,600 Autolite Nationals, July 28-30 at picturesque Sears Point Raceway. The race is the 12th event in the 19- event, $27-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1995.

But it won't be easy for anyone. The Autolite Nationals provides a challenge to NHRA on many fronts.

First, the event is the second race in the brutal, three- races-in-three-weekends stretch. This is the only time all season that NHRA competitors race at national events on three consecutive weekends, and the constant whirl of travel, hotel rooms, fast food and late nights in the pits test the budgets and patience of even the most experienced teams.

Second, teams often damage many parts at the preceding race, the Mopar parts Mile-High Nationals at Denver. That race is conducted at 5,830 feet, and the oxygen-robbing altitude forces all teams to use a special, unfamiliar engine combination.

Third, the searing summer sun can play tricks on teams and change track conditions almost hourly at any racetrack. Sear Point is no exception, as devising the proper tune-up for hot conditions can be a riddle that only few teams can solve.

But championship teams find a way to win at Sears Point. In fact, twice this decade all three pro winners have won a championship the same season.

Last year, Scott Kalitta, John Force and Darrell Alderman won at Sears Point to extend winning streaks. All three drivers won the NHRA Winston championship -- Kalitta in Top Fuel, Force in Funny Car and Alderman in Pro Stock. The Autolite Nationals was one of just three races last season in which all three eventual pro champions won titles.

In 1991, Joe Amato won in Top Fuel, Force in Funny Car and Alderman in Pro Stock at the Autolite Nationals. All three won Winston championships that year.

A victory at Sonoma could go a long way toward ensuring a Winston championship this season, as no driver has been able to establish a dominant lead. Cory McClenathan led Kalitta by just three points after 10 races in Top Fuel. Force had the most comfortable lead of any pro competitor, but a 118- point margin over Al Hofmann is nothing to relax about. Warren Johnson led Jim Yates by just 28 points in Pro Stock.

Schedule -- Pro qualifying starts at 2 pm July 28 and continues with a night-qualifying session at 7 that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at 4 pm July 29, with final eliminations starting at 11 am July 30. Sportsman competition starts at 8:30 am July 28.

ESPN will televise a one-hour show of highlights from the Autolite Nationals 5 pm (PDT) July 31.

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>From NHRA for Immediate Release --

Vacation Helps McClenathan Escape Pressure of Points Lead

Sonoma, Calf., -- It may sound impossible, but Cory McClenathan found a way to forget about drag racing during one of the tightest point races in recent NHRA Top Fuel History. He found a way to forget about leading the NHRA Winston points in the McDonald's Dragster. Found a way to forget about times, speeds and hard-charging rival Scott Kalitta.

All it took was a pole, a hook and some water.

McClenathan, from Anaheim, Calif., escaped the pressure- filled world of NHRA Winston Drag Racing in early July and took a planned summer vacation to Idaho for a week of fishing and relaxation. "I turned off the phone," McClenathan said. "It was nice to get away and not think about the points lead and my driving, which hasn't been that great lately.

"I feel a lot of pressure. It's harder to lead. I'm thinking about points more than I normally would at this time of the year."

With good reason. McClenathan never has led the NHRA Winston points this deep into a season during his five-year career in Top Fuel. He led Kalitta by just three points after 10 of 19 races and has a career-best three victories this season.

And now it's time to go back to work. A rested McClenathan will try to keep his lead in the NHRA Winston point standings during the grueling summer stretch of three races in three weekends. The middle race in that span is the eighth annual, $1,101,600 Autolite Nationals, July 28-30 at scenic Sears Point Raceway.

"I'm looking forward to the end of the year," McClenathan said. "That's when we usually do better. We need to stay focused and consistent with the race car."

Cory McClenathan's success from late April through early July attracted the attention of the national motorsports media. "Cory Mac" finished fourth in the second-quarter voting for the prestigious Driver of the Year award. He won the Mid-South Nationals, May 4-7 at Memphis, Tenn., and the Virginia is for Lovers Nationals, June 1-4 at Richmond, Va., during the second quarter of the Driver of the Year calendar.

Cory McClenathan would love to win an NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship for he and his crew. But there's one guy he would really like to hold the championship trophy.

"To win the championship for Joe Gibbs in his first year would be awesome," McClenathan said.

Former National Football League coach Gibbs formed an NHRA Winston Drag Racing Team last fall, landed sponsorship from McDonald's and hired McClenathan to drive the team's Top Fuel Dragster, Cruz Pedregon to drive a Pontiac Firebird Funny Car and Jim Yates to drive a Pontiac Firebird Pro Stock this season.

On Television -- ESPN will televise a one-hour show of highlights from the Autolite Nationals at 5 pm (PDT) July 31.

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>From NHRA for Immediate Release --

Pedregon Concentrates on Challenging Force in Stretch Runs

Sonoma, Calif., -- If Cruz Pedregon is to overtake point leader John Force and win his second NHRA Winston Funny Car championship, he's going to do it his way. There will be no T-shirts. No slogans. No marquee matchups in lights against rivals such as Force, Al Hofmann, Chuck Etchells and K.C. Spurlock.

"Forget all this macho stuff," Pedregon said. "I want to stay away from (Force) until the final. We're better off making a few runs before we face him. I'm hoping that Etchells, Hofmann, Spurlock and Force just beat each other up on that side of the ladder. They can have that rivalry, and printing T-shirts about the nightmare being over, and on this side of the ladder we'll just keep chalking up points."

Pedregon, from Camarillo, Calif., will continue to try and gain ground on Force at the eighth annual, $1,101,600 Autolite Nationals, July 28-30 at Sears Point Raceway. The race is the 12th event in the 19-event, $27-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1995.

While Pedregon won three of the first 10 races this season in the McDonald's Pontiac Firebird, he sat third in the NHRA Winston point standing behind Force and Hofmann. But Pedregon can take comfort knowing that he traditionally surges in the second half of the season. He captured the championship as a rookie in 1992 by winning five of the six last national events.

And Pedregon and the McDonald's team owned by former NFL coach Joe Gibbs will adopt a more aggressive style during the second half of the season with one aim: toppling Force. It hasn't been an easy task this year, as Pedregon has a 1-2 record against Force through 10 races.

"We have got to beat that Castrol car," Pedregon said. "I'm not overlooking Hofmann. But we have to beat Force, whether in the first round or the last round."

Top Tuner -- Cruz Pedregon has won six times in the 15 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series national events since September 1994, a record matched only by defending Winston champion John Force.

It's no mystery that Pedregon's success coincides with the tenure of Bob Brandt as his crew chief. Brandt joined the McDonald's team last August, and the team improved immediately. Brandt tuned for Don "The Snake" Prudhomme when he won four consecutive NHRA Winston Funny Car Championships from 1975-78

"We're jelling," Pedregon said. "It will be interesting to see what happens in this stretch run."

Cruz Pedregon was plagued by inconsistency earlier this season, as he lost in the first round at the Mid-South Nationals in early May, followed with a victory at the Mopar Parts Nationals and followed that with a quarterfinal-round loss at the Virginia is for Lovers Nationals. Pedregon attributes the up-and-down results to a clutch problem that affected many teams. The composition of clutch discs changed earlier this season, sending many teams into a tailspin.

But Pedregon thinks the McDonald's team has found a cure. "The disc material is something we think we can go the distance with," Pedregon said. "We can handle it when a disc doesn't act the way we want."

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Joe Brake Crest Motorsports URL http://www.freenet.ufl.edu/~crest/

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