Brainerd: Round sixteen preview, schedule

21st annual Rugged Liner NHRA Nationals, Aug. 15-18, Brainerd International Raceway, Brainerd, Minn. DRIVER AUTOGRAPH SESSION: Pro Motorsports, an auto racing memorabilia retail store, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary with a ...

21st annual Rugged Liner NHRA Nationals, Aug. 15-18, Brainerd International Raceway, Brainerd, Minn.

DRIVER AUTOGRAPH SESSION: Pro Motorsports, an auto racing memorabilia retail store, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary with a driver autograph session at their Mall of America location. The session is scheduled for Wed., Aug. 14, from 5-7 p.m.

Pro Motorsports will be donating a portion of the sales from that evening to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities organization. Visit www.promotorsports.com for more details.

BRAINERD POINTS TOWARD 12TH CHAMPIONSHIP: NHRA icon John Force scored his 102nd career win recently and enters the Rugged Liners NHRA Nationals atop the Funny Car standings once again. >From the year of his first NHRA Funny Car championship (1990) through the 2002 season, Force has gone to Brainerd in the points lead every year. He has left Brainerd atop the standings 12 of the 13 seasons dating back to '90. The only time he was not atop the standings after Brainerd was 1998 when Ron Capps had a 31 point lead following his win at the Minnesota facility. Force would eventually overtake Capps for the championship. Cruz Pedregon is the only driver to overtake Force in the standings after Brainerd and win the championship (1992).

In the past five years, Force has held the lead by an average of 180 points. His smallest lead was in 1997 when he led Ron Capps by 11 points and then, starting with Brainerd, went on to win four of the final eight events en route to the championship.

"I'm just excited to be able to race (with everyone in the field)," said Force. "These young kids, they're coming after me but as long as I can do my job, I'm going to be out here. I just love it."

DIXON AND BERNSTEIN FIGHT TO THE FINISH: After Larry Dixon drove his Don Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite dragster to seven wins in the first 11 races, the race to the Top Fuel crown looked over. But after a disappointing stretch that saw Dixon post a DNQ (St. Louis), followed by a first round loss, his point lead has shrunk from more than 259 to 98 over rival Kenny Bernstein entering Brainerd. After both drivers were eliminated in the second round of competition, due to qualifying No. 1, Dixon managed to increase his lead by one point.

"We'll just go on to the next race," said Dixon, who is seeking his first NHRA POWERade championship. "It's not leaps and bounds (gaining one point), but anytime you can gain anything is better than nothing."

"We were in a pretty bad funk when we lost in the second round (at Sonoma, Calif.)," said Bernstein, the defending Top Fuel champ. "We were afraid we had set the stage for Larry to gain a substantial amount of points. We did a whole lot of racing for no appreciable change in points. But it obviously could have been worse. The good news is we're still in a good position to continue to challenge for the championship."

KRISHER STANDS ALONE: With Warren Johnson posting a DNQ (did not qualify) at Sonoma, Calif., Ron Krisher is the only Pro Stock driver to qualify his Eagle One Chevy Cavalier at every e3vent this season. He also is the category's current leader for consecutive qualified events (62), dating back to the 1999 season-finale at Pomona, Calif.

JEG MAKING A RUN: In the last four events Jeg Coughlin has won twice, advanced to the semifinals of another, and was eliminated in the first round of the other. Despite the first round loss, Coughlin's recent performance in his Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier has vaulted him from sixth in the standings to third. He is 66 points behind leader Jim Yates and 52 points behind Greg Anderson for second.

"We are looking forward to continuing our charge to the top in Brainerd," said Coughlin, the 2000 Pro Stock champion. "Our goal is to be in the top spot by the end of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals (at Indianapolis)."

HAMMONDS READY FOR CHALLENGES: Former NBA power forward Tom Hammonds has been struggling ever since his runner-up finish at Route 66 Raceway outside of Chicago in June. In the five races following Chicago, Hammonds has four DNQ's (did not qualify) and a second round loss.

"I've been on teams that have lost 15 games in a row, and others where our talent didn't quite measure up to the bigger name organizations," said Hammonds. "But in each case, we never threw in the towel. Our approach was to play each game as if it was a championship final, putting 110 percent. The same goes for this Winnebago/GM Vehicle Care team.

"We knew coming into this season that we faced an uphill battle. We might not have the budget or the experience of some of our competitors, but no one can top our work ethic. We've had our share of successes, as well as some low points, but we are as determined as ever. We know we have the right parts in place and are committed to doing what it takes to get our Cavalier into the winner's circle."

DODGE RETURNING TO PRO STOCK LIMELIGHT: Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T driver Larry Morgan raced to his first Pro Stock win in more than eight years as he defeated Greg Anderson in the final at Sonoma, Calif. Dodge vehicles have been making a comeback and have experienced success this season in the Pro Stock category. Morgan scored his first win since 1994 in his first Pro Stock final since 1997 and joins teammate Darrell Alderman and fellow-Dodge driver Allen Johnson as the three drivers to put a Neon in the winner's circle this season. Alderman is a three-time champ and one of the winningest drivers in the category's history, but had not earned a victory since 1997 until his win at Gainesville, Fla. Johnson scored his second career win and first since 1999. For the first time since the early 1970s, six Hemi-powered Pro Stockers qualified for a 16-car field at the recent FRAM Autolite Nationals in Northern California.

"We are starting to see the fruits of our labor," said Brett Fischer, Damiler Chrysler drag racing program manager. "We debuted the Hemi engine at the beginning of the 2000 NHRA season, and came out with the Neon halfway through the 2001, so this is quite gratifying. I have to hand it to our Mopar engineers and all of our race teams; they have done a tremendous job getting Mopar to this point."

THREE YEARS AND COUNTING FOR ANGELLE: Defending NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Angelle Savoie has not lost in the first round of competition since falling to C.J. Smith in 1999 at Brainerd. She has won an NHRA-record 42 first round matchups since that '99 upset and will look to extend the streak at the Rugged Liner NHRA Nationals.

ODDS AND ENDS: Cory McClenathan is third in the Top Fuel standings without winning a race this season in his Centennial Batteries dragster. He is the only driver in the top six without a victory but has used consistency and two runner-up finishes to remain among the category leaders.

--Dean Skuza has his Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus in a season-best eighth position in the Funny Car standings. Skuza is the only driver in the Top 10 not to belong to a multi-car team.

--Two-time series champ and current Pro Stock points leader Jim Yates remains winless in 2002. The only other driver in the Top 10 who has yet to score a victory on the year is Mark Whisnant (No. 10).

--Force Racing has won nine of the 15 national events on the year, giving them the top three spots in the standings. Either John Force or teammate Gary Densham has led the Funny Car standings all season.

QUOTEABLE: Doug Herbert prior to competing at Sonoma where he captured his first win since July of 2001:"I want to win races. We're getting closer to the leaders, but we aren't quite there yet."

-- Funny Car driver Ron Capps on the competitiveness of the category prior to his runner-up finish to John Force at Sonoma, Calif.: "You never know who is going to win anymore. Everybody in this category is so good."

-- Tony Pedregon on crew chief John Medlen returning to the team after missing the Seattle race due to medical reasons. Medlen and Pedregon have been together at every event since the duo joined Force Racing in 1996. In Medlen's absence, co-crew chief Dickie Venables guided Pedregon to the win at Seattle: "Dickie did a great job. He proved beyond a doubt that he can handle the pressure and the situation. But Medlen is the anchor on this team and we need his experience down the stretch."

SCHEDULE:
Thursday, Aug. 15
Qualifying and sportsman eliminations, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 16
Qualifying and sportsman time trials, 9:15 a.m. to 8p.m.

PROFESSIONAL QUALIFYING SESSIONS at 2:45 and 5:45 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 17
Qualifying and sportsman time trials 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
PROFESSIONAL QUALIFYING SESSIONS at 11:15 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 18
FINAL ELIMINATIONS begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION: Saturday, Aug. 17, ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET) Sunday, Aug. 18, ESPN2 will televise two hours of final round coverage at 9 p.m. (ET)

TICKETS: For tickets call Brainerd International Raceway, (810) 249-5530. Tickets also are available at nhra.com.

-nhra-

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Ron Capps , John Force , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Larry Morgan , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Don Prudhomme , Tom Hammonds , Allen Johnson , Mark Whisnant , John Medlen