Baytown: Spring Nationals notes of interest, schedule

16th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals, the fifth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships. Sportsman competitors in...

16th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals, the fifth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four 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.

Houston Raceway Park, Baytown, Texas.
Thursday through Sunday, April 10-13.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Defending Top Fuel winner Kenny Bernstein may be watching from the sidelines this season, but his son Brandon appears to ready to challenge for the POWERade crown in his rookie campaign behind the wheel of the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster. To get there though, he must take on the defending Top Fuel champion, Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team. Dixon will try and erase the memories of last year's first round loss, one of only three all season long. John Force hopes to build on his past success at HRP and make up some ground in the POWERade standings. Force's teammates, Tony Pedregon and Gary Densham, will challenge for the crown, as will Funny Car veterans Ron Capps, Del Worsham and Whit Bazemore. The competition level in Pro Stock remains at an all-time high, with an average of 35-40 cars vying for 16 qualifying positions. Every driver that qualifies for eliminations is considered a threat to visit winner's circle. Craig Treble has his sights set on his first NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Bike championship and is a favorite for the title. Defending series champ, Angelle Savoie won her first race with new teammate Antron Brown and wants to keep the heat on. Reggie Showers and Shawn Gann also are poised to challenge for supremacy in the two-wheel category.

FAST FACTS: No Top Fuel driver has ever won the O'Reilly Spring Nationals two years in a row. Bob Glidden is the only Pro Stock driver to win back-to-back spring races at HRP. He accomplished the feat at the first two spring events held at the Houston facility (1988-89)...Of the 15 O'Reilly Spring Nationals at HRP, Force Racing has accounted for eight Funny Car wins. John Force has six career victories, including his historic 100th last year, while teammate Tony Pedregon has two wins (both drivers also won one of the four fall events that used to be held at HRP giving them 10 wins out of 19 events at Houston)...Warren Johnson leads all Pro Stock competitors with four career wins at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals. Bob Glidden earned three victories and defending event winner Mike Edwards has two. Six other drivers have won once....Mark Pawuk (1992), Edwards (1996) and Tom Martino (1997) all scored their first career Pro Stock win at HRP.

NOTES OF INTEREST:

Passing the Budweiser Torch - Last season Kenny Bernstein ended a driving career that saw him etch his name into the NHRA record books numerous times. The first driver to eclipse the 300-mph barrier and the only driver to ever win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, Bernstein handed the keys to the famed Budweiser dragster to his son Brandon for the 2003 season and beyond. The younger Bernstein wasted no time in getting acclimated with the winning ways of the Budweiser team, visiting the winner's circle in his second and third professional starts. After earning the Division 7 Top Alcohol Dragster crown in 2001, the younger Bernstein spent the entire 2002 season as a crewmember on his father's team, learning the intricacies of a nitromethane-powered dragster. It took him only two professional starts before scoring his first Top Fuel win, and with crew chief Tim Richards making all the tuning decisions, the younger Bernstein is well positioned to challenge the rest of the field for Top Fuel supremacy.

The Next Force? - Who will it be? Will there be another? Maybe not, but someone will be the driver to eventually dethrone the king. Force, winner of 12 NHRA POWERade championships and the last 10 in a row, didn't clinch the 2002 crown until the semifinals of the last race of the year. His teammate, Tony Pedregon presented him with quite a challenge. Tony's brother Cruz, is the only other driver other than Force to win a Funny Car title since 1990. Del Worsham, who finished No. 3 in last season's standings, joins T. Pedregon as one of the young drivers aiming for the top. The 32-year-old racing veteran has 11 career wins and is a favorite to knock off Force. Whit Bazemore is another candidate to replace Force as the Funny Car champ. The outspoken Indianapolis resident won back-to-back races (Bristol, Tenn., and Atlanta) which placed him among the top three, before a slump took him out of contention in 2002. After a final-round appearance in Las Vegas, Bazemore is back in the top three of the standings.

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 is considered a top contender for the 2003 Pro Stock crown. Johnson won the 2003 season-opener at Pomona, Calif., while Anderson lost in the semifinals. At the season's next event at Phoenix, Anderson scored the win in his Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am, while Johnson and his GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am were eliminated in the first round. Anderson added a victory in Las Vegas and remains atop the standings, 101 points ahead of his former employer.

Can Angelle win a fourth title? - Defending POWERade Pro Stock Bike champion Angelle Savoie had an interesting offseason following her third straight NHRA title. She and longtime crew chief George Bryce had a mutual parting with Savoie announcing she would join fellow three-time champ Matt Hines on the sideline for the 2003 season. Surprisingly, the day after announcing her intentions to not compete this year, Savoie joined forces with friend and family member (through marriage) Antron Brown to form a two-bike team for this year's run at the title. Savoie quickly put to rest her skeptics at the season-opener for the two-wheelers, blasting her way to the No. 1 qualifying position, then earning the win on her new bike at the very first event with her new team. Savoie already is the winningest female in NHRA history (29 career wins) and is tied with the legendary Shirley Muldowney with the most NHRA championships earned by a female competitor. She wants her fourth crown, and is off to a good start.

Who's Next? - With the retirement of Kenny Bernstein from the Top Fuel ranks, there are two current full-time drivers that have achieved Top Fuel supremacy. Defending NHRA POWERade champion Larry Dixon scored his first series crown last season in his Miller Lite dragster, while Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army team won the points battle in 1999. Dixon and Schumacher are among the leading candidates to rule the 330-mph category for many years to come. Other contenders include the young Brandon Bernstein, who needed only two races to earn his first professional win. With the consistent tuning of crew chief Tim Richards, B. Bernstein looks to become the first father-son combination to win Top Fuel championships. Darrell Russell also is a legitimate threat to contend. The Houston native won his first professional start (2001), and was the runner-up at his next start en route to Rookie of the Year honors. He finished No. 6 in the final standings and looks to improve on that in 2003 and beyond. Top Fuel veteran Cory McClenathan is trying to use his experience to outlast the young crop of drivers trying to secure their place in history. After finishing No. 2 on four occasions, and in the No. 3 spot twice in the final standings, McClenathan wants his title now.

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.

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.

O'REILLY SPRING NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION

* SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:15 and 6:30 p.m. on April 11 and 10 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. on April 12. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. April 13.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 16th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals. Call Houston Raceway Park at (281) 383-RACE, or call Ticketmaster for ticket information.

* ON TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage of the O'Reilly Spring Nationals at 10 p.m. (ET) on April 12. ESPN2 will televise two hours of eliminations coverage on April 13 at 5 p.m. (ET). ESPN2 will televise NHRA 2Day, a 30-minute event preview show, on April 13 at 11 a.m. (ET).

* ON THE WEB: NHRA media department press releases are available on the Internet at www.nhra.com.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Antron Brown , Matt Hines , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Reggie Showers , Shawn Gann , Gary Densham , Bob Glidden , Craig Treble , Cory McClenathan , Tom Martino , George Bryce , Brandon Bernstein , Tim Richards , Mike Edwards