Topeka: Summer Nationals preview

Racers looking for quick runs at O'Reilly Summer Nationals. TOPEKA, Kan. - As with every track on the National Hot Rod Association's schedule, weather can make or break a weekend of drag racing. Nitromethane-burning cars that produce 6,000 ...

Racers looking for quick runs at O'Reilly Summer Nationals.

TOPEKA, Kan. - As with every track on the National Hot Rod Association's schedule, weather can make or break a weekend of drag racing. Nitromethane-burning cars that produce 6,000 horsepower can be very particular about the atmospheric conditions.

If it's too hot, the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories can be a wicked display of tires shaking and smoke-filled lanes. If it's too cold, well, the same thing is going to happen for lack of grip on an icy surface.

But when the conditions are right and the track surface is anywhere between 60-100 degrees, watch out - especially at Heartland Park Topeka.

"Topeka can be such a fast track," Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan said. "Everything always depends on the conditions, but that track has the potential to be extremely fast. (Crew chief) Wes Cerny has a real good tune-up for that track and if it is nice and cool, then I think we could see some outstanding times. I am really looking forward to racing there."

McClenathan was born in nearby Wichita and would like to grab a victory in front of the hometown crowd at the 14th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX at Heartland Park Topeka, May 23-26. Kenny Bernstein, Tony Pedregon and Ron Krisher are the defending winners in their respective categories for the $1.8 million race, the ninth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

McClenathan has been to the final round at Topeka three times, taking home the event victory in 1994 and 1998. "It's one of my favorite tracks," McClenathan said. "We have always had good luck there. I was born in that area and I am looking forward to being there, and checking out the hospital where I was born. I don't get to spend enough time in that area, so I really like going there to race."

Being the defending event champion in the Funny Car category just adds to the reasons why Pedregon is ready to race in Kansas.

"Topeka has always been, without a doubt, one of the fastest tracks we go to," Pedregon said. "The conditions will play a big part on how the cars perform at any track, but marginal to favorable conditions at Topeka equal quick and fast times."

In addition to the victory last season, Pedregon earned the No. 1 qualifying spot in 1997 and was the runner-up in 1996. Pedregon also had the top speed last season with a run of 324.83 mph. Pedregon's team owner, John Force, clocked the quickest time of 4.797 seconds, in Oct. '99. The best run in the Top Fuel category was turned in by Mike Dunn last season, a 4.495 at 331.53 effort.

"Topeka is one of those places where we go to see just how much we can do with the clutch," Pedregon said. "We like to see exactly how much we can get out of it. We get real excited about going there and it is one of those tracks where you do look at the record books to see the times to beat."

Coming off a win at Gainesville, Fla. and No. 1 qualifying performances at Bristol, Tenn. and Englishtown, N.J., Pedregon feels more confident about defending his title at Heartland Park.

"We are at a very good point with this team," he said. "We have always had performance with this team, but only in flashes. Now, more than ever, I think we are getting more consistent and are more competitive. I am feeling more confident about our team than I have in a long time. The whole team is doing well and that really helps us as we go into a very high powered track. We are going to try and do what we can to take advantage of the conditions."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Ron Krisher , Cory McClenathan