Baytown: Spring Nationals Sunday summary

Force captures No. 100 while Bernstein, Edwards and Treble celebrate wins at O'Reilly Spring Nationals. BAYTOWN, Texas - John Force became the third driver in auto racing history to claim 100 victories by winning the O'Reilly Spring ...

Force captures No. 100 while Bernstein, Edwards and Treble celebrate wins at O'Reilly Spring Nationals.

BAYTOWN, Texas - John Force became the third driver in auto racing history to claim 100 victories by winning the O'Reilly Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Houston Raceway Park. Force's 100th victory came with a pass of 4.991 seconds at 310.20 mph and outran Tommy Johnson Jr. who ran a slower 5.170 at 288.77.

Kenny Bernstein, Mike Edwards and Craig Treble also won their respective categories at the $1.9 million race, the fifth of 23 races in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

With the milestone victory, Force, 52, joins two other auto racing legends as the only drivers in history to earn 100 victories or more in a major motorsports series. NASCAR Winston Cup drivers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105) claimed the majority of their wins in the 1960's and '70's. Force, the most successful driver in the modern era, has scored all 100 victories in the last 15 years, an impressive feat in itself.

"I'm glad to get it over," said Force, the owner and driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. "The driver always gets all the credit, and that's why I brought (crew chief Austin) Coil here with me. I hired Coil 17 years ago and we've won all 100 of our races with Austin and Castrol GTX."

By comparison, Darrell Waltrip won 84 times during a brilliant NASCAR career, while the late Dale Earnhardt claimed 76 victories. Two of the most versatile and talented race drivers in history -- A.J. Foyt (77) and Mario Andretti (65) -- won often, but never reached the 100-win plateau.

After starting his career in 1978 with little success, Force lost nine final round decisions during a nine-year span before he won for the first time in 1987. Force made winning a habit soon after and several more victories opened the door to the first of many championships in 1990. This season Force is chasing his 12th Funny Car series crown, and 10th consecutively -- both NHRA records.

"I want to give credit to Austin Coil." Force said. "He never panics in the heat of battle, like me. He always puts this thing together with the combination of John Medlen, Jimmy Prock now, Dickie Venables and Bernie Fedderly, talking to him in the car making changes. They adapted to what it took to win."

During an 11-win season in 1993 Force won for the 36th time, and overtook Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme as the most successful Funny Car driver ever. Force enjoyed perhaps his greatest season in 1996 when he won 13 times, advanced to 16 finals in 19 races and was named Driver of the Year by a select panel of national motorsports media. He remains the only drag racer ever to receive the prestigious honor. In 2000, he passed Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden as the winningest driver in NHRA history, earning his 86th victory. He has compiled an astonishing round win-loss record of 768-255 during his career and currently holds the national performance record for a quarter-mile run at 4.731 seconds.

Force beat Dale Creasy Jr. Del Worsham, and Whit Bazemore before facing Johnson Jr. in the final round. Force often gives credit to Austin Coil, but Coil gives credit to the team that Force has compiled over the years.

"The team is doing a great job and they give us the time to concentrate on the problem at hand," Coil said. "What keeps this machine keep on rolling is just buckets of money. As long as the sponsors keep feeding John the buckets of money, he keeps spending it on his race team. Some guys are prone to try to sock it away for their old age. For all the budget meetings we've had, there isn't anything left over at the end of the year."

The win extends Force's lead in the 2002 NHRA POWERade Funny Car points. Force's 423 points leads second place Del Worsham by 83 points.

Bernstein won his 62nd career NHRA national event in Top Fuel as his Budweiser King dragster covered the quarter-mile in 4.695 at 319.37 to defeat Tony Schumacher who was late on the starting line and ran 4.900 at 304.94.

In a season where rival Larry Dixon has advanced to the final round in each of the first four races, Bernstein was able to make up some ground on Dixon. Dixon was the victim of an upset earlier in the day, losing to Mitch King in the first round.

"We got a break today when Larry went out in the first," said Bernstein, the only NHRA driver to win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. "The door opened up and it gave us a chance to make up a little room. You hope that you can take advantage of it.

By Bernstein earning the win, he closed the gap between he and Dixon to 65 POWERade points. Entering the O'Reilly Spring Nationals Bernstein trailed Dixon by 105 points. The win marks the first win in 2002, Bernstein's final year as a driver entitled 'Forever Red, A Run to Remember'.

"It doesn't make it hard (to retire)," Bernstein said. "My focus is still on winning the NHRA POWERade championship. This is only the fifth race out of 23 and we have a long way to go. The decision was made two years ago to do what we are doing now and we laid out the game plan. I'm looking to the future."

Edwards earned his 10th career Pro Stock victory with a pass of 6.892 at 199.70, edging out fellow Chevrolet Cavalier driver Kurt Johnson and his pass of 6.910 at 200.77.

"This is a great win for not only our team but for the kids that come out here and get to see this car and get to watch this thing go down the track," Edwards said. "It's been an awesome day for us. I got my first win here and got my tenth win here. It's pretty special."

Edwards becomes the fifth different Pro Stock winner in as many races joining George Marnell, Bruce Allen, Darrell Alderman and Ron Krisher as event winners. Not since 1990 and 1974 have there been five different Pro Stock winners to open the season. There have never been six different winners in Pro Stock in the first six races.

Treble picked up his second win in a row and the third of his career in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Treble's Suzuki was quicker than Geno Scali, running a 7.246 at 184.37 to Scali's Kawasaki 7.322 at 179.33. The two wins puts Treble solidly in the first place in the NHRA POWERade points standings.

"Like a wise bracket racer once told me, just do them one at a time," Treble said. "We'll take a look back at the end and when all the smoke settles, we'll see where we are at."

The next NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event is the second annual Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals, April 26-28 at Bristol Dragway in Bristol, Tenn.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Darrell Waltrip , Larry Dixon , Darrell Alderman , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Ron Krisher , Tommy Johnson , Dale Creasy Jr. , Bob Glidden , Mario Andretti , Richard Petty , Craig Treble , Bruce Allen , Mitch King , George Marnell , Austin Coil , Mike Edwards , John Medlen , A.J. Foyt , David Pearson