Bristol: Winston Showdown preview

BRISTOL, Tenn. - No doubt, bragging rights will be up for grabs at the second annual Winston Showdown, the only NHRA-sanctioned event to feature eliminations contested between Top Fuel and Funny Car entries. Last season Funny Car dominator John ...

BRISTOL, Tenn. - No doubt, bragging rights will be up for grabs at the second annual Winston Showdown, the only NHRA-sanctioned event to feature eliminations contested between Top Fuel and Funny Car entries. Last season Funny Car dominator John Force waltzed through NHRA's all-star event, claiming an emotional victory not only for his team, but for his category, too.

Since that time, Top Fuel drivers have been eating a large helping of humble pie.

Top Fuel dragsters, sleek and slender rails equipped with large rear wings and a 6,000 horsepower engine, are capable of 4.40-second times with speeds approaching 330 mph in a quarter-mile. In drag racing lore, they have been considered king when it comes to maximum performance.

While the short-wheelbase Funny Car has an identical 6,000-horsepower engine, it has long been a fan-favorite for its unpredictable nature and outrageous body styles and paint schemes. Funny Cars, however, have traditionally taken a backseat to the consistently quicker and faster Top Fuel dragsters.

That's why Force's victory was so sweet for the Funny Car contingent. And why the $742,000 event has become so personal for Top Fuel drivers: they're ready to make a statement of their own.

At Bristol Dragway, July 7-9, Top Fuel competitors will battle Funny Car competitors for one of the most lucrative paydays in professional drag racing.

Money and bonus opportunities aside, this race is about pride. Last July Force left five defeated dragsters in the wake of his 'Superman'-themed Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. His machine outperformed dragsters driven by Cristen Powell, Jim Head, Doug Kalitta, Cory McClenathan and Bob Vandergriff to claim the $200,000 winner's share of the unique eliminator.

Force has a tough mission ahead if he's to repeat. Drivers already qualified for the event include Gary Scelzi and Larry Dixon, both multi-time Top Fuel winners this season. Defending Winston champion Tony Schumacher and five-time Winston champ Kenny Bernstein lead the top dragster entries guaranteed a starting spot. Mike Dunn is also going to compete in the event, subbing for Joe Amato in the Dynomax dragster. Amato will miss the event as he recuperates from recent eye surgery. WWF Racing's Jerry Toliver and Jim Epler, along with Whit Bazemore, Tommy Johnson Jr., Tony Pedregon, Del Worsham and Frank Pedregon, will join Force as the top Funny Car entries. Two positions for each category will be filled during open qualifying to complete the special 24-car field.

Jeg Coughlin, Matt Hines and Randy Daniels also are defending winners in their respective categories at the $782,000 event, NHRA's all-star race. Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio, captured the $50,000 Pro Stock portion of the event, defeating older brother Troy in an all Jeg's final round. The six-time season winner will try to defend his title in his familiar yellow and black Oldsmobile Cutlass, while a talented field tries to stop his winning ways. Defending Winston champion Warren Johnson headlines other Pro Stock drivers already qualified. Two first-time winners, Ron Krisher and V. Gaines, are firmly in the 16-car field, while Rickie Smith, Mark Pawuk, Jim Yates, Kurt Johnson and Richie Stevens are guaranteed starting positions. Six Pro Stock positions will be filled during open qualifying.

Hines, from Trinidad, Colo., rode his Eagle One Suzuki to the $10,000 Pro Stock Motorcycle payday last year, defeating bike legend Dave Schultz. Both riders are pre-qualified and among early season winners in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Other riders who have clinched a berth include Suzuki riders Angelle Seeling, Antron Brown, Tony Mullen and Craig Treble. Eight positions will be filled during open qualifying.

Grantsboro, N.C.'s Daniels took the $15,000 Pro Stock Truck win last year, defeating Brad Jeter in a battle of Chevy S-10s. Daniels has been outstanding this season, winning five times. He'll be a favorite to repeat, while defending series champ Bob Panella is once again at the top of the Winston point standings and among truck drivers pre-entered for the 8-truck field. John Coughlin, Steve Johns and Larry Kopp also have clinched automatic berths, while two positions will be filled during open qualifying. Several format changes have been added to the Winston Showdown this season.

Eliminations for the 24-car Top Fuel-Funny Car field will begin Saturday evening. Of the 12 losing drivers, four (two from each category) will be reinserted into Sunday's eliminations to give the Top Fuel-Funny Car field a 16-car lineup. To accommodate Saturday evening eliminations for Top Fuel-Funny Car, those competitors will receive only three qualifying attempts. The handicap starting system for Top Fuel-Funny Car will be generated from the first 12 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series events of the 2000 season. To establish the handicap, the average ET of the top six dragster and top six funny car qualifiers from each event will be calculated. The handicap will be the difference between the two. The NHRA oildown policy will be in effect for the event (monetary fines only, points will not be deducted).

To ensure parity among the two categories, Funny Car drivers will once again receive a starting line handicap in qualifying and eliminations. Despite the starting line adjustment, the competition was very close last season, as statistics showed an equal number of round victories for dragsters and funny cars.

The Winston Showdown has 11 years of history and three different names. In 1988, the Winston All-Stars raced at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas. The following year, the event moved to Rockingham, N.C., and became known as the Winston Invitational. In 1999, the event moved to Bristol Dragway in Bristol, Tenn., and took the name of the Winston Showdown.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is scheduled for 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on July 7 and continues at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on July 8. First round of Top Fuel-Funny Car eliminations begin at 5 p.m. on July 8. Professional eliminations continue at 11 a.m. on July 9.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the second annual Winston Showdown. Call (423) 764-1161, or Ticketmaster for ticket information.

ON TV: ESPN2 will provide two hours of eliminations coverage on July 9 at 9:30 p.m. (ET). ESPN2 also will televise two hours of qualifying highlights on July 8 at 10 p.m. (ET).

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Antron Brown , Frank Pedregon , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Ron Krisher , Larry Kopp , Randy Daniels , Craig Treble , Cory McClenathan , Rickie Smith , Jerry Toliver , Steve J , Cristen Powell