Topeka: Summer Nationals notes, schedule

15th annual O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX, the ninth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in three categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade ...

15th annual O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX, the ninth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in three 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.

Heartland Park Topeka, Topeka, Kan. From Kansas City, take the Kansas Turnpike (I-70) to the Topeka Boulevard exit and travel south to the track. From Wichita, take the Kansas Turnpike (I-335) to the Topeka Boulevard exit and travel south to the track.

Thursday through Sunday, May 22-25.

WHAT TO EXPECT:

Larry Dixon is leading the Top Fuel points chase and a winning performance in New Jersey by Doug Kalitta has put the Mac Tools driver into position as Dixon's top challenger for the '03 crown. Doug Herbert and Darrell Russell are intent on jumping into championship contention. Kenny Bernstein will be back in the driver's seat, hoping to play spoiler, while he subs for his son Brandon, who will be out of action for 3-4 months after receiving lower back injuries during a first round crash last weekend. Perennial Funny Car champion John Force has been mired in an early season slump, but with the amount of success Force Racing has had at HPT, any one of the three Ford Mustangs could be in the winner's circle, especially Tony Pedregon who has won the last two events at Topeka. A win at Topeka would be a big boost to the chances of Whit Bazemore, Del Worsham and Ron Capps, who all have plans to dethrone Force atop the Funny Car standings by season's end. Greg Anderson, Kurt Johnson and Warren Johnson have jumped out to an early lead in the Pro Stock standings, each one having led the points chase at some time during the year. Former series champions Jeg Coughlin, Darrell Alderman, and Jim Yates headline a field of contenders that also includes last year's event winner, Troy Coughlin.

The O'Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX will be the first major event for Heartland Park Topeka under the new ownership of Ray Irwin....Force Racing has won six of the last seven O'Reilly Summer Nationals, with team-owner John Force winning four times ('96-97, '99-00) and Tony Pedregon winning twice ('01-02)....No Top Fuel driver has ever won the O'Reilly Summer Nationals two years in a row.

Notes of Interest:

Kenny Bernstein Comes Out of Retirement to Sub for Injured Son-- Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein will return to the cockpit at the O'Reilly Summer Nationals while his son Brandon begins the recovery process from lower back injuries suffered following a spectacular crash during the opening round of eliminations at last weekend's K&N Filters NHRA SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J. The elder Bernstein is expected to sub for Brandon until the rookie phenom receives a medical clearance to return to action. At the time of the crash, Brandon was second in points with three victories on the year. With an expected 2-3 month recovery period, Brandon's title hopes for his rookie season have been put on hold.

Perennial Funny Car Champ Force Continues to Struggle - What's going on with 12-time Funny Car champion John Force? The NHRA icon has three first round losses and has advanced to the semifinals once in eight events. With a three-car operation, Force's Ford Mustang is the one that is struggling. His two other drivers, Tony Pedregon and Gary Densham, currently occupy first and fourth place in the standings respectively and have combined for five wins in seven races. Force recently moved back into the top 10 in the standings (eighth) and is 317 points behind Pedregon.

Student Leads Teacher - Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson is the former crew chief for six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson. After competing in the Pro Stock category on a limited basis from 1998-2001 (racing 21 out of 22 races in 1999), Anderson left Johnson's team and committed himself to the entire NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series beginning in 2002. After a career-best finish in the POWERade standings (No. 3), final round appearances (six), No. 1 qualifying positions (two), and won-loss record in eliminations (32-19), Anderson has established himself as a top contender for the 2003 Pro Stock crown. With a national-record setting winning performance in Englishtown, N.J., Anderson currently leads the Pro Stock standings, 88 points ahead of his former employer.

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.

Fan Accessibility - No other major motorsport offers the kind of fan accessibility like the NHRA. Every ticket, general admission or reserved, is a pass to the pit areas of all of our professional and sportsman competitors. Fans get the opportunity to get up close and personal with their favorite drivers and teams. They get to interact with the various competitors, talk shop, or just hang out and watch the teams work. Fans have access to the pits as teams fire up their engines in preparation of their next pass down the track. With the continued growth of the NHRA, nothing helps separate the drag racing's premier sanctioning body, like fan accessibility.

Safety Safari-- These men and women are a team of professionals dedicated to making the sport safe for the competitors and keeping the action on the track moving for the fans. Spend the day or a few hours with this crew and watch as they take care of preparing the race track for competition, responding to crashes and cleaning up oil and debris on the racing surface.

ABOUT THE TRACK:

Located on 750 acres, Heartland Park Topeka offers a 2.5-mile Grand Prix road course, a 1.625-mile Club Course, a 1.75-mile stock car road course, a state-of-the-art quarter-mile drag strip, a nine-tenths mile off road dirt course, a three-eighths mile dirt oval, numerous test track configurations and a paddock for 600 race cars. Originally proposed in 1985 as a venue to attract young residents, HPT first opened in 1989. The initial $22 million construction project took more that a year to complete and was the first major motorsports facility to be built in North America since 1968. HPT was the site of record breaking performances in the Funny Car category. In 1993, Chuck Etchells and Jim Epler became the first Funny Car drivers to run in the four second range and reach 300 mph, respectively. In 1994, night racing became possible when HPT installed their MUSCO lighting system. Major improvements to the drag strip took place in 2000, when the concrete launching pad was extended from 300 feet to half-track. In addition to the concrete pad extension, the asphalt areas were repaved. In April, 2003, businessman Raymond Irwin purchased HPT and promptly signed a multi-year agreement with the NHRA to remain in Topeka.

O'REILLY SUMMER NHRA NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is scheduled for 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. on May 23 and will continue at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on May 24. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on May 25.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 15th annual O'Reilly Summer NHRA Nationals presented by Castrol GTX. Call Heartland Park Topeka at (800) 43-RACES. Tickets are also available through Ticketmaster.

TELEVISION: ESPN will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 5 p.m. (ET) on May 24. ESPN2 will televise 150 minutes of eliminations at 3:30 p.m. (ET) on May 26.

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

-nhra-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Chuck Etchells , Gary Densham