Bristol: Round six preview

Third annual Mac Tools Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals, the sixth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in three categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships. Sportsman ...

Third annual Mac Tools Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals, the sixth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in three categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships.

Sportsman competitors in five categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championships.

Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tenn. From Interstate 81 North, take Hwy. 11E. Take the Virginia Exit 3 and Hwy. 11E will take you directly to the Dragway. From the I-81 South, take Tennessee exit 69 and go south directly to the Dragway.


Larry Dixon appears to be the favorite to win the POWERade title in the Miller Lite dragster for the second consecutive season. However, the young Brandon Bernstein has proven the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster will be a contender, especially after putting Dixon on the trailer at Phoenix and at Gainesville, Fla., en route to his two wins. Dixon has been the Top Fuel points leader for an NHRA record 28 straight events. Doug Kalitta has earned the No. 1 qualifying spot at the first five events of the season, tying an NHRA record for the most No. 1 spots to start a season and the most No. 1 Top Fuel qualifying positions in a year. Kalitta notched his first win of 2003 at Houston and would like nothing more than to put the Mac Tools dragster in the winner's circle at the Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals, like he did in 2001. Perennial Funny Car champ John Force needs a win badly to turn around his worst start since 1980 in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. The other two Ford Mustangs driven by Force's teammates, Tony Pedregon and Gary Densham, are poised to be the drivers that knock their boss of the Funny Car throne. Pedregon is trying to distance himself in the standings from the rest of the Funny Car drivers. Pedregon's win at Houston, his third victory of the season, gave him a 63-point lead in the standings over Densham. Ron Capps and Whit Bazemore both have experience in going head-to-head with Force to the end and they want to put the entire Force Racing trio in their review mirror. Pro Stock is up for grabs with anywhere from 35-45 cars showing up to qualify for the 16-car field. Greg Anderson seems to have a firm understanding of what it is going to take to keep his new Pontiac Grand Am atop the standings, and that is going rounds and ultimately winning races. Kurt Johnson's ACDelco Chevy Cavalier has two wins on the year and has moved into the points standings ahead of Anderson. The points leaders will most likely change several times throughout the year, with Anderson, K. Johnson and his father Warren and defending champion Jeg Coughlin all vying for the top spot in what is sure to be another battle to the end of the season where every round is vital.

Bristol is the only track on the 23-race circuit where 12-time champion John Force has not won a national event. He did win the inaugural NHRA Invitational that pitted Top Fuel dragsters against Funny Cars in 1999. Defending Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. also has failed to win a national event at Bristol Dragway, but, like Force, was victorious at the 1999 NHRA all-star event held there... In the three professional categories last season, five of six track records were established. The only record that remained intact was the Top Fuel elapsed time track record set by Kenny Bernstein in 2001 (4.574 seconds)....Defending event winner Warren Johnson, a six-time champion and the winningest driver in Pro Stock history, scored his lone victory of the 2002 season at Bristol, his lowest win total in a season since he won once in 1990....At an elevation of 1,475 feet, Bristol Dragway has the third highest altitude on the 23-race tour behind Denver and Las Vegas.


Larry Dixon - The defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion -- "Speed is so hard. They only clock you the last 60 feet of the run. You could have a great run up until that point. But having your engine running better than anybody else, where that speed is clocked, is difficult. We stayed after Gainesville to test, learned some things, and were able to apply the things we learned (In Las Vegas, and we won). It seems to be working."

Whit Bazemore - driver of the Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird and considered a leading contender to challenge for the Funny Car championship - "(Our team is) just trying to realize our potential and our potential is huge, it really is. If it all falls together when the stars line up, watch out, because we had a great car at the end of the 2001 season and a tremendous team and I feel we're back where we were at that time with our team. We're just working through our problems. We have unlimited potential and our intent is to realize it."

John Force - The 12-time NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion and driver of the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang who lost in the first round at three of the first five races and is off to his worst start since the 1980 season - "What can I say? We're still struggling, but it's still early in the season. We'll figure it out, though."

Gary Scelzi - driver of the Oakley Time Bomb Dodge Stratus R/T. The three-time Top Fuel champ joined Schumacher Racing prior to the start of the 2003 season and is seeking his first career victory in Funny Car after winning 25 national events in Top Fuel - "It's frustrating and it's not frustrating that we haven't won yet. It's frustrating because I know how good this team is. But I know that sometimes it takes time and you can't force it. You have to take what it gives you. And if you start to force it then it gets you all screwed up mentally, because then you're saying, 'God, why haven't we won yet? You have to let nature take its course, so to speak. And when it happens, hopefully it will come in a flood. And we'll just keep going to finals and winning and going rounds."

Del Worsham - driver of the red Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird who has two-runner up finishes on the season and is currently fourth in the POWERade Funny Car standings - "This year, it's been difficult in the normal ways but way different, and more difficult, because of the war in Iraq. We have jobs to do, and race cars to work on, but it's impossible not to be thinking of what's going on over there. We know we get the privilege and the honor to do what we do for a living only because millions of people spend good money to be entertained by us. Right now, we're really looking forward to entertaining a lot of people this weekend, and hopefully all of us can have some good old American fun while we keep our thoughts with the troops."

Johnny Gray - driver of the blue Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird who was the runner-up at the 2003 season-opener and is currently seventh in the POWERade Funny Car standings -- "To be honest with you, we're not even close to our potential yet. The real accomplishments for this team haven't happened yet, but they will. It's just a matter of time. We're qualifying better, we're far more consistent when we go to the starting line, and we're a factor. I'm sure of it. Marc Denner and Chris Cunningham are finding their way, learning how to run one of these cars. As good as this group has been, it will get better."

Greg Anderson - driver of the Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am who has two wins on the year and is second in the POWERade Pro Stock standings -- "To know the car is running at the top of the pack, and can win at any race track, is a good feeling. It is early in the season, but we are going to be tough. Don't think (that our wins are) a fluke. We have more ammunition in our belt and we are not going away."

Jim Yates - the two-time Pro Stock champion had a disappointing start to the 2003 season in his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am but showed promise at Houston, advancing to the semifinals -- "It's been frustrating to be in this position. But we know why we're here. We gambled a bit, trying to get ahead. We are trying so hard to win that we've gone out on a limb trying different things. We are running a new car, which is something we don't like to do. We ran the same engine all last year."

Gene Wilson, driver of the Team Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T, a vehicle that made its debut at the 2003 season-opener and did not qualify for the first three events of the season, missing the 16-car field at Gainesville, Fla., by one one-hundredth-of-a-second. Wilson then qualified his Stratus in the No. 15 position at the Las Vegas race but failed to qualify at the following event at Houston- "There's no secret (figuring out this new car) is going to take time. We're still not where we want to be, but the progress is there. My guys are really setting up the car well. It's all about making the car happy. When you don't have a lot of runs on a new car, you don't know what it needs in every situation. And it takes making the right series of calls to get into these very competitive fields. I think we've finally hit somewhat of a sweet spot on the car and we're going to be able to build upon that."

Ron Krisher - driver of the Valvoline Chevy Cavalier - "We've struggled a little bit this year trying to get to that success level we experienced last season. We're breaking in a new car that we continue to work on, and it's just taken us a little time to get it up to speed. It's not something we're concerned about because situations like what we're going through now will make us learn things that will be valuable as we get farther along into the season."


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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Gene Wilson , Brandon Bernstein , Johnny Gray