Brainerd: Round sixteen preview

WHAT: 22nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, the 16th 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...

WHAT:
22nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, the 16th 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.

WHERE:
Brainerd International Raceway, Brainerd, Minn. Track is located a few miles north of the Brainerd area off Highway 371. The track is located on the east side of the highway.

WHEN:
Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 14-17.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
Defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team are in the driver's seat in the race toward the 2003 NHRA POWERade championship. The Indianapolis resident has a 310-point advantage over his closest competitor in the standings, Doug Kalitta. Kalitta has been impressive but has had a hard time cutting into Dixon's lead following the Miller Lite teams three consecutive victories on the famed Western Swing. Last year's event winner, Kenny Bernstein, is trying to regain his winning ways as he finishes out the 2003 season in the Budweiser dragster for his son Brandon. Brandon will remain sidelined until 2004 following the injuries he sustained in a crash at Englishtown, N.J., but recently made his first visit back to the drag strip (Denver) to support the Budweiser team. Current Funny Car points leader Tony Pedregon and rival Whit Bazemore can feel the pressure being applied by 12-time champion and defending event winner John Force. Force has made his move toward the top of the standings recently, and Brainerd is one of his favorite facilities with 10 career victories there in 11 final round appearances. Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson returns to his native Minnesota with a lead in the POWERade standings and arguably the quickest and most consistent car in the 200-mph category. Anderson will be challenged by friend and former Minnesota resident Kurt Johnson and two-time series champ and the defending event winner Jeg Coughlin, who is coming off his first win of the season and will try and make a second half surge like last year. Geno Scali's only career victory entering the 2003 season was his win at Brainerd last year. The Chicago native has three victories this season and is the leading contender for the 2003 POWERade title. Three-time champion Angelle Savoie won't surrender her crown easily and the Vance & Hines two-bike team is on the verge of putting a Harley-Davidson in the winner's circle for the first time in NHRA history.

FAST FACTS:
Defending Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon comes to Brainerd with a 17-1 elimination record in the Miller Lite dragster with four victories in the past five events...Dixon is one victory shy of tying the NHRA record for most Top Fuel wins in one season (nine: Dixon, 2002; Gary Scelzi, 2000) with eight races remaining on the 2003 schedule... He also is one victory away from tying the record for consecutive Top Fuel victories (four)...Dixon, a two time winner at Brainerd (1999, 2001), has amassed a 103-20 record in eliminations, dating back to the 2002 season opener. He has appeared in 25 final rounds in the last 38 races, winning 17 of them and has led the NHRA POWERade point standings following 37 of those 38 races...Current Funny Car points leader Tony Pedregon lost in the first round at all three races that comprise the Western Swing (Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma, Calif.). Last season Pedregon had five first round losses, all occurring in the first 12 races of the season. He lost in the opening round at consecutive races only once (Columbus, Ohio and St. Louis) all year, his last first round losses of the 2002 season....After leading the Funny Car point standings following his win at Phoenix, the second race of the season, Ron Capps has gone 11-13 in elimination rounds, leaving him in sixth place in the standings...Defending Pro Stock Bike champion Angelle Savoie entered the 2002 season with six first round losses in her eight years of NHRA competition. She has five this season, including the last three in a row, nearly doubling her career total.

NOTES OF INTEREST:
The NHRA Experience - Unlike any other form of major motorsport, the NHRA grants unprecedented access to each and every one of its fans. From watching the action of 8,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragsters and the 200-mph Pro Stock action, to the unlimited access to the pit areas of the NHRA's top stars. Fans get the chance to get up-close-and-personal with drag racing icons like John Force, Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme, and Kenny Bernstein. They get the chance to meet and greet the next wave of NHRA superstars like Larry Dixon, Tony Schumacher, Darrell Russell, Tony Pedregon, Del Worsham, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie. The manufacturer midway provides an on-site shopping experience for the latest technology in the automotive aftermarket. The newest addition to the midway area is the exciting POWERade interactive display. Fans can take their picture wearing an authentic team shirt from their favorite team, meet different drivers during scheduled autograph sessions, spin the back wheel of a Top Fuel dragster to win various prizes, including a ride in a Pro Stock simulator that gives fans a taste of life on the quarter-mile. All this adds up to a day of great fun with memories to last a lifetime.

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.

Greatest Comeback Ever? - Many fans, competitors and others in the racing industry had already discarded defending NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion John Force for another series title. Force, who has 12 titles overall with the last 10 coming consecutively, had an uncharacteristically poor performance the first half of the 2003 season. The winningest driver in NHRA history (108 victories), went 12 races before earning his first win (Denver) of the season. He then was victorious the following week (Seattle) in his fourth straight final round appearances (runner up finishes at Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis). Prior to the race in Ohio, Force was seventh in the POWERade standings, 398 points behind teammate and season-long leader Tony Pedregon. Over the next five events, Force moved into third in the standings and is 199 points behind Pedregon and 155 points out of second place, which is occupied by Force Racing rival Whit Bazemore. Unless Pedregon regains his early season form (winning six times out of the first 11 races) and Bazemore earns a couple more victories (two in six final rounds in 2003), Force could end up with his 13th Funny Car title in what could be considered the greatest comeback in NHRA history.

Kenny Bernstein Comes Out of Retirement to Sub for Injured Son-- Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein returned to the cockpit at Topeka, Kan., following his son Brandon's crash at Englishtown, N.J. which has sidelined the younger Bernstein for the remainder of 2003. At the time of the crash, Brandon was second in points with three victories on the year. Kenny showed no effects of his retirement in November of 2002. At his first event the 58-year-old Bernstein qualified No. 2 and advanced to the semifinals before falling to Doug Kalitta.

NHRA Stock on the Rise - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has been experiencing growth that is unprecedented in its 52-year history. The television coverage of the fastest form of auto racing on the planet is continuing to gain viewers and ratings in the third year of an exclusive partnership between NHRA and ESPN. That is due in large part to the innovative technology ESPN has introduced to the sensory-filled sport of 8,000 horsepower drag racing and the stellar competition that has been taking place on the quarter-mile drag strip. This also has presented an increasing amount of fan appeal, which draws new sponsors or increased support form current sponsors in various capacities. The NHRA and POWERade, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Co., joined forces prior to the 2002 season with high hopes and great expectations. The partnership has opened up new doors for marketing and advertising strategies that were not available in the past. Combining the product NHRA has to offer with the business capabilities of POWERade, the sport of drag racing is reaching new heights. The 23-race, $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing series has evolved beyond the wildest dreams of the organization's founder, 90-year-old Wally Parks, and the NHRA continues to increase its presence and influence in the world of motorsports.

ABOUT THE TRACK:
Originally opened in 1968 as Donnybrooke Speedway, the track was renamed Brainerd International Raceway in 1973. From 1968 to 1976, road racing was the main motorsports activity at BIR. The NHRA expanded its national event schedule in 1977 and ventured north to Brainerd International Raceway. In 1983, professional motorcycle racing was added to the facility's season program. The 800-acre facility is adjacent to North Long Lake and is located 120 miles north of the Twin Cities, 110 miles from Duluth, Minn., and 135 miles from Fargo, N.D. Brainerd International Raceway has a three-mile, 10 turn road course, and the main straight-away serves as the drag strip during NHRA events. A go-kart track is located off of the main road past the main entrance bridge.

LUCAS OIL NHRA NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION:

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is scheduled for 2:45 and 5:45 p.m. on Aug. 15 and will continue at 12:15 and 3:15 p.m. on Aug. 16. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Aug. 17.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 22nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. For ticket information call (866) 444-4455. Tickets are also available at nhra.com.

TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (ET) on Aug. 16. ESPN will televise one hour of early round eliminations coverage at 6 p.m. (ET) on Aug. 17 and ESPN2 will televise 150 minutes of eliminations at 10 p.m. (ET) on Aug. 17. NHRA 2Day will air at 11 a.m. (ET) on Aug. 17.

ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at nhra.com.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Geno Scali