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* FORCE WANTS STRONGER PERFORMANCE IN SECOND HALF: John Force, 10-time NHRA Winston Funny Car champion, entered the second half of the NHRA's 50th anniversary season with a commanding lead in the points standings. Despite the success, Force wants...

* FORCE WANTS STRONGER PERFORMANCE IN SECOND HALF: John Force, 10-time NHRA Winston Funny Car champion, entered the second half of the NHRA's 50th anniversary season with a commanding lead in the points standings. Despite the success, Force wants more.

"My car has struggled," said the 52-year-old Force. "If you look at the facts, the competition has beat itself. But anytime you have the points lead, you're happy. (Teammate) Tony (Pedregon's) car seems to be back, but (teammate Gary) Densham's car is struggling. (Crew chief Jimmy) Prock makes horsepower that's controllable in a dragster and we have to create some things to go with that to make the car better. Part of that combination has gone over to Tony's car, so we are really mixing the three.

"We want to perform. We're trying to get an 11th Winston championship. Tony has knocked me out of two wins, but I'm not mad about that. We promised the fans that we would race, and we're doing that. We're just looking to keep our consistency, keep Tony's car on track, and if we can get Densham's car back where it belongs, maybe it can help me win a championship."

* WINSTON CHAMP JEG COUGHLIN ON NEW CHEVY CAVALIER: "We're happy with the Cavalier and the whole development program," said the 31-year old Coughlin. "We've changed from a Don Ness chassis to a Jerry Bickel chassis. Our program has had some issues this year. When we hit the setup 100-percent right, we're running with the best cars out there, and when we don't, we're just a couple of hundredths off. We're earning what we're getting.

"We've lost 10 of the 13 races and of those 10, six or seven of them were lost by a hundredth of a second. They've been tough losses because they've been so close. The team has been working real hard on getting prepared for our test session and we're using advice from Bickel.

"We're not out of the championship hunt yet. A lot of the teams out there at this point are starting to settle for something else other than the championship, but we're still focused. We're only a few rounds back from Warren (Johnson) and that's nothing this year. We won last year by 15 or 16 rounds, but Warren has done a good job on building on everyone else's weaknesses and with his wealth of knowledge in Pro Stock along with his hard work, it has paid off this year. We just haven't been able to make it happen yet. That's the distinct difference between this year and last season."

* RON CAPPS ON COMPETITIVE 2001 FUNNY CAR SEASON: "I truly expected to be leading the Winston points right now based on what we have done in the past and the fact that we added a second car and Tommy (Johnson Jr.)," said Capps. "I'm sitting sixth right now in the points, but I was in second place a few races ago. The season was going pretty good until we didn't qualify (Madison, Ill.), but you can't win championships when you have weekends like that.

"That's not to say we are out of it though. We let some crucial races get away from us. Not just Don Prudhomme Racing, but the whole class. We all let John Force get away from us. Gainesville was the worst. As bad as he was running, he still got to the winner's circle. It's pretty bunched up right now, and it's going to be tough through these summer months because some of these guys run well (all the time). It took a 4.97 to get in the show in Madison. This class is as tough as it's ever been in history, as tough as any class ever."

* DEFENDING EVENT WINNER KURT JOHNSON'S UP & DOWN SEASON: "Since the (season-opening) Pomona win, everything has been downhill," said Johnson, who last year set a career-best for wins in a season with six. "We have been deeply investigating how to get the new Chevy Cavalier to run quicker. We thought we had it, then we didn't. It ran fast on occasion but had no consistency. Also, a bunch of bad luck has hurt us.

"We hope to have all the gremlins out of our system and run the second half of the season anew. You learn from experience, and we hope we will be more prepared for (the remainder of the season). We have been through so many dilemmas and frustrating problems after winning in Pomona, that we have covered all our bases - power, setup, and car reaction - going into the second half. In terms of the Winston points standings, it depends on what those above me do. We are going to try and put as many points on the board at every race and let the numbers fall. As close as it is, you can't look over your shoulder; you'd better be looking ahead."

* ETCHELLS AND EPLER LOOK TO TURN AROUND FUNNY CAR SEASON: Funny Car veteran Jim Epler joined Chuck Etchells Racing prior to the 2001 season. Epler was coming off a career-best top five finish in the Winston standings in 2000 and joining and veteran racing team with Etchells. The duo had great hopes for the upcoming year. Things did not start off as smooth as they had planned.

"The first half of the season has been quite an education," said Epler. "We came into the year looking to run as one team, setting up both cars identically in order to derive the maximum benefit. Although that sounds good on paper, it just did not work out the way we would have liked. Our efforts were also hurt by other issues, such as having to train inexperienced crewmembers and get them up to speed while trying to race. It's not for lack of effort or dedication. We simply went in a direction that unfortunately didn't work out.

"The upside of all this is that we learned an incredible amount, and we're going to use that knowledge to get things turned around for the rest of the year. We had high expectations at the start of the season that we've obviously had to revise, but this Etchells Racing team still has a lot of things to accomplish in 2001."

"Although the sponsorship issues did have a major impact on our team, there were other factors contributing to our slow start," said the 46-year-old Etchells. "For example, adding the second car turned out to be a bigger undertaking than I thought it would be. So in addition to the financial concerns, we had personnel matters to address. Factoring in the second car, every problem we had to deal with was multiplied times two.

"But we prefer to see this as a learning experience, and we are making progress. I believe it has improved our team from top to bottom. We've all learned and grown from this, which will pay dividends down the road.

"I cautioned Sunoco that it might take us until Englishtown (N.J. in May) to get the team back up to speed, because we weren't even close to being ready to race. In retrospect, I was probably overly optimistic, and should have added on a race or two. We're basically trying to play catch-up with a field that has a six-month head start.

"If I had to grade our season so far, I would grade it a Z, the absolute last letter of the alphabet for our early-season sponsor situations, while giving ourselves and our performance a D. However, we refuse to look back. We know we are not as bad as we've looked, and we have goals that we plan to accomplish."

* BERNSTEIN AND DIXON EXPECTING A FIGHT TO THE FINISH: As the second half of the 2001 NHRA Winston Drag Racing season surges on, five-time Winston champ Kenny Bernstein and his Budweiser dragster and Larry Dixon and the Don Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite dragster, both expect a tough battle throughout the rest of the season for Top Fuel supremacy.

"We need to go rounds, and rounds, and rounds," said the 56-year-old Bernstein. "I don't know if we can sustain this run we have had. We're going to try; you would think we would be able to. It's a pretty torrid pace, winning four races and six No. 1 qualifying spots. I look for it to be very tough. Dixon is very good, and (Gary) Scelzi is back in the hunt, though I never did rule them out. And (Mike) Dunn, (Doug) Kalitta, and (Darrell) Russell are all right there."

"Our performance has been there," said the 33-year-old Dixon. "We have only qualified out of the top three twice all year. That tells you how strong our car is. If Bernstein continues to win like he has, he'll be hard to beat. Scelzi has shown some muscle lately. I hope we can stay in the middle of the points chase. I like our chances."

* LEONG JOINS ETCHELLS RACING FOR SECOND HALF OF 2001: Team owner Chuck Etchells has announced that veteran tuner Roland Leong would be joining the Etchells Racing Team beginning with the recent Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals in Pomona, Calif. In his capacity as crew chief on Jim Epler's Racing Champions/Matco Tools Camaro, Leong will work alongside current team members Terry Manzer and Larry Meyer.

"We're excited to welcome Roland Leong to the Etchells Racing Team," stated Etchells. "We knew that in order for our program to continue to grow and prosper, we would need to add another senior member. Unfortunately, due to our well-documented problems, we had been unable to do so until now. It was also very important to find someone who would work well with the people we already had in place, which should not be a problem with Roland.

"I believe we now have the foundation in place to give Roland, Terry and Larry the tools they need to get the job done. Naturally, our long-term goal is the Winston Championship, and we have taken a major step in that direction today."

Leong has been a fixture in the world of NHRA Winston Drag Racing virtually since the sport's inception, following a long and successful stint as the owner of the legendary 'Hawaiian' race cars with an equally productive tenure as a crew chief, most recently with Ron Capps.

"My theory about racing these cars is to take it one run at a time," said Leong. "Learning what the car wants and likes. That's why (John) Force does so well, taking the experience and information from so many runs and using it to his advantage. Some people expect miracles overnight, and although that can happen, long-term success is often the result of hard work and time, and that is how I'll approach my job here."

-NHRA-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Jim Epler , Ron Capps , John Force , Chuck Etchells , Don Prudhomme