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JOLIET, Ill. -- Route 66 Raceway passed the initiation with flying colors. Now, one year later, the spectacular quarter-mile near Chicago that hosted a near-capacity crowd during its first national event can proudly remove its...

JOLIET, Ill. -- Route 66 Raceway passed the initiation with flying colors. Now, one year later, the spectacular quarter-mile near Chicago that hosted a near-capacity crowd during its first national event can proudly remove its label as a rookie drag strip on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series circuit. The state-of-the-art facility is quickly moving to the top of the order in facility bragging rights. NHRA teams will test the track's limits once again at the second annual FRAM Route 66 Nationals, June 3-6. The $1.8 million race is the ninth of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. One thing is certain. Track records in every category will fall. National records may be in jeopardy as well as teams strive for levels of high performance not yet seen in straightline motorsports. More importantly, competitors in all five NHRA pro categories -- Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock Truck -- will be working hard to improve their position in the Winston point standings. Kenny Bernstein, Whit Bazemore, Mike Thomas, Matt Hines and Larry Kopp are the defending event winners in their respective pro categories. Bernstein, from Lake Forest, Calif., defeated Gary Scelzi in a tire-smoking, pedaling match for the Top Fuel victory last year. Bernstein and Scelzi are among top candidates looking for a win this year. Mike Dunn, Cory McClenathan, Joe Amato, Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon are also strong contenders in the 6,000 horsepower category. Bazemore, from Indianapolis, captured the Funny Car victory here one year ago, defeating young Del Worsham in the final. Bazemore, now driving for team owner Chuck Etchells, is still searching for his first victory of the season. John Force and teammate Tony Pedregon have accounted for every win in Funny Car in 1999 in their identically-prepared Ford Mustangs. Tim Wilkerson, Dean Skuza and Ron Capps are also top contenders in the category. Knoxville, Tenn.'s Thomas earned his first career Pro Stock victory at the inaugural event here last year, defeating Warren Johnson in a final round triumph the Pennzoil Pontiac driver will forever cherish. A trio of Johnsons -- Kurt, Warren and Allen -- have grabbed all Pro Stock headlines in 1999. Jeg and Troy Coughlin, Richie Stevens, Jim Yates and Tom Martino are serious threats to win as well. Hines, from Trinidad, Colo., claimed an easy Pro Stock Motorcycle win here in 1998 when final round foe Angelle Seeling left the starting line too early. Hines hopes his Eagle One Suzuki has the power to hold off a determined Seeling this season. Antron Brown, John Smith and Greg Underdahl are also emerging as championship contenders. Baltimore's Kopp, driving a Chevrolet S-10, dominated Team Mopar's Bill Henderson in the Pro Stock Truck final last year. A trio of Chevrolet drivers are stealing the show in '99. S-10 pilots Mark Osborne, Brad Jeter and Bob Panella have made several final round appearances and are looking for more. Dodge Dakota drivers Craig Eaton and Todd Patterson would like to get a win for Team Mopar.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Mike Thomas , Matt Hines , Troy Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Todd Patterson , Chuck Etchells , Cory McClenathan , Tom Martino , Tim Wilkerson