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DRIVERS LOOKING TO GET A GRIP ON WINSTON CHAMPIONSHIP SONOMA, Calif. - NHRA competitors can't let the cool breeze from the San Pablo Bay and the overall tranquility of Northern California cause them to lose focus. The competition will...

DRIVERS LOOKING TO GET A GRIP ON WINSTON CHAMPIONSHIP

SONOMA, Calif. - NHRA competitors can't let the cool breeze from the San Pablo Bay and the overall tranquility of Northern California cause them to lose focus. The competition will be fierce as drivers enter the second half of the season in search of NHRA Winston championship glory. With four of the five points races up for grabs, anybody can leave Sonoma within striking distance of the coveted championship. Only eight-time NHRA Winston Funny Car champion John Force has a commanding Winston points lead over his competitors.

Many drivers will also be looking to maintain the recent record-setting trend that has occurred this season. Track records have been set at an unbelievable pace. Top Fuelers will definitely be aiming for the late Blaine Johnson's elapsed time track record of 4.614 seconds, set back in 1996. Force will be looking to improve on his e.t. track record of 4.980 seconds, also set in '96. Doug Kalitta, Cruz Pedregon, and Warren Johnson are the defending winners in their respective professional categories at the 12th annual NHRA Autolite Nationals. The $1.2 million race is the 14th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Kalitta, from Ann Arbor, Mich., defeated upstart Bruce Sarver from the No. 1 qualifying position last season for what remains as the only victory of his career. Kalitta, driving the Kitty Hawk dragster, will try for a repeat performance, but will face tough opposition from the defending Winston champion Gary Scelzi, four time season winner Joe Amato, Budweiser King dragster driver Kenny Bernstein, and the only driver ever to exceed the 330-mph barrier, Tony Schumacher.

Pedregon, from Camarillo, Calif., defeated Whit Bazemore in a close race down the quarter-mile last season. Pedregon raced for the Joe Gibbs-owned Funny Car team until May of this season when the duo parted ways. Pedregon has since purchased his own team and debuted a car at the Winston Showdown in Bristol, Tenn. Other top Funny Car challengers include the legendary Force, Force's teammate Tony Pedregon, C. Pedregon's replacement Tommy Johnson Jr. and recent Seattle winner Del Worsham.

Buford, Ga.'s Johnson added another victory to his already impressive season here one year ago, when his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird coasted to victory when underdog V. Gaines fouled at the line. Johnson is looking to become the NHRA's all-time winningest driver by surpassing Bob Glidden's record of 85 national event victories.. Kurt Johnson, Troy and Jeg Coughlin and Allen Johnson are also among favored drivers in the category.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Bob Glidden , Cruz Pedregon , Allen Johnson , Tommy Johnson Jr.