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NHRA Summit Sport Compact Series Set To Begin 2004 Campaign at California Dragway FONTANA, Calif. - Now in its fourth season, the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Series continues to expand into new markets and venues, as the California Dragway will be...

NHRA Summit Sport Compact Series Set To Begin 2004 Campaign at California Dragway

FONTANA, Calif. - Now in its fourth season, the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Series continues to expand into new markets and venues, as the California Dragway will be the host for the Nitto California NHRA Sport Compact Nationals presented by Import Tuner, March 13-14.

This is the first of 10 events in the $2.1 million NHRA Summit Sport Compact Series for 2004. It is also the first time that California Speedway -- known mostly for producing great oval races for NASCAR and the Indy Racing League, among others -- will host an NHRA sanctioned drag race. Prior to the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Series season-opener, the track has had great success hosting NHRA's popular Street Legal Program.

Drivers such as George Ioannou, last season' Pro RWD champion from the Bullish Racing team, in the 2002 StreetGlow Toyota Solara, will have a difficult challenge ahead with the expectation for greater competitiveness in all five race categories this season. Ioannou, a Clifton, N.J. native, won four races, a category best, en route to his first NHRA championship in 2003.

"I'm very confident with the changes that the team made with the car (in the offseason) and that they will go in a positive direction and hopefully I can fulfill some of the expectations being put on my shoulders for this year," said Ioannou. "We're expecting that everyone made improvements to their programs and everyone is a threat."

One driver trying to overtake the champ will be Stephan Papadakis. Papadakis has already encountered a setback early this year, crashing his Honda Civic into the wall during pre-season testing at Phoenix in early February.

"I always push the cars the same way that we do the engineering on the car," Papadakis said. "It's unfortunate that we had the accident, but we're going to get this thing fixed and actually make some changes to the car to strengthen it to run the quicker E.T.'s that we know we can run."

Pro FWD emerged as its own category in '03, creating the current five-category system. Nelson Hoyos appears to be the driver to beat entering the season-opener, after he paced the class, finishing in the winner's circle seven times last year.

"I'm looking forward to defending the championship," Hoyos said. "We have a fresh new team and I have a brand new car with a brand new engine program, so I'll be relieved when I get the first run under my belt in Fontana."

Ed Bergenholtz, who made two exhibition passes at the K&N Filters Winternationals and posted a personal best E.T. of 8.190 and speed of 184 mph, has high expectations for the Pro FWD season.

"Taking what we've learned at the Winternationals and our consistency there, we're going to make a couple of subtle changes that should dip us into the sevens," Bergenholtz said. "We were really stressed getting ready for the Winternationals, being the only car there representing the Summit Sport Compact Series, so we should actually be a bit more relaxed as we get set for Fontana."

More than a half-dozen drivers joined Modified during the offseason looking to capture a "Wally" trophy, but in order to do so they will have to catch up to 2003 champion Cesar Febus. A finalist seven times in 2003, Febus won six of those races and for a time held the record for time and speed after a dominating run in South Florida early in the season. The other drivers in the category will get a head start on the defending champ, as Febus won't be ready to race until the second event of the season at Moroso Motorsports Park in Palm Beach, Fla.

Gary Gardella looks to follow up his record setting year in Turbo Magazine Hot Rod, where he set the E.T. and speed marks (8.45 seconds and 180.31-mph). Gardella, in his Honda Civic, will try to hold off 2003 Turbo Magazine Hot Rod Champion Marty Ladwig's Pontiac Sunfire and Mike Crawford's Dodge SRT-4.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Fontana, but I don't care where we are, we're ready to race and break records again this season," Gardella said.

Last season's Turbo Magazine Rookie of the Year, Leslie Durst, became the first Honda Tuning All Motor racer to travel the NHRA quarter-mile in under 10-seconds and accomplished the feat on her home turf at the 2003 Mazda NHRA Sport Compact World Finals at Pomona. She will be looking to jump ahead of last year's champion Scott Mohler and runner-up Ken Scheepers.

"I feel a littler bit of pressure this year because now there is a target on my back," Durst said. "This year is going to be all about having a good time and putting on a good show for all the fans."

In addition to the entertainment value on the track, there will be a number of fan friendly activities away from the racing. The popular NHRA Stylefest will feature many of the lifestyle elements that have made sport compact drag racing one of the fastest growing segments in motorsports. NHRA Stylefest will include a car show with up to 500 automobiles on display. In addition, Stylefest will include the NHRA Xtreme Car Audio Competition, DJs and local talent performances, the extreme sports exhibition and the NHRA Xtreme Bikini Jam presented by Modified Magazine.

-nhra-

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