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Pennzoil stable of drivers looking for break-through race in Chicago CHICAGO (May 27) -- Competitors in the world of professional drag racing usually start small, toiling away the years in the unheralded sportsman ranks where endless hours are...

Pennzoil stable of drivers looking for break-through race in Chicago

CHICAGO (May 27) -- Competitors in the world of professional drag racing usually start small, toiling away the years in the unheralded sportsman ranks where endless hours are spent accumulating experience and horsepower-building prowess. Just the simple dream of reaching the professional ranks of the National Hot Rod Association and actually winning a national event is enough to drive the majority of the country's 35,000 sportsman-class drivers.

As the Second Annual Fram Nationals roll into town June 3-6 at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., it is a foregone conclusion that several more drag racing dreams will be realized at this year's event, just as they were last year for Pennzoil Pro Stock driver Mike Thomas. The 46-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn. won the first NHRA national event of his 8-year pro career at the Inaugural Route 66 Nationals and returns to town as the event's defending champion.

"Last year was such a big win for me that words really can't describe it sufficiently," said Thomas. "I've been drag racing for 30 years and I've seen a lot of people in Victory Lane getting a trophy. I always hoped I'd get to that podium one day. When it finally happened it was almost overwhelming. It suddenly seemed that all of those weekends I spent racing, all of the million of miles I've traveled and all of the money I've spent trying to get to that point were worthwhile."

Thomas had tasted success before. As a sportsman-level driver, he had driven a 1966 Nova to three national Super Stock records, 15 event wins and the bracket's first nine-second lap. "Nothing compares to your first national win," Thomas said. "It was huge for my team and big for my sponsor Pennzoil. It had been awhile since they had a car in Victory Lane. Now I just want to do it again and again at every race we go to. If we repeat in Chicago, I'm moving there."

Thomas has successfully qualified for six of eight races in 1999 and has logged three elimination round wins. He is currently in 14th place in the Winston points standings.

Eddie Hill, the pilot of the Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster, arrives at Route 66 Raceway on an incredible hot streak. Over the last two events Hill has been a picture of consistency, logging lap after lap of super-competitive times and personal-best top speeds.

"I've been around this game for a long time," said the 63-year-old Hill, who has been drag racing for over 43 years. "And I know consistency is the key to success. This Pennzoil car has been so consistent lately. The elimination wins are coming at an easier clip these days and I can't wait to put four good laps together on Race Day and take home a trophy.

"We had a great semifinal run in Atlanta and then had six laps in the 4.5-4.6 second range in E-Town, all of which were over 300 mph. We even reset out career-best speed to 322 mph.

"After looking over my data from the last race we had in Chicago, I see we had the same sort of results at Route 66 Raceway. After qualifying No. 3, we had the second best run of the day on Sunday, including all four rounds of eliminations, only to lose by 0.007 of a second. It was one of those races where you find it hard to get too upset.

"This year we're hunting for the title. I think we have the car to get us there and I can't wait to get back to racing. All of these great laps we've been having are leading us somewhere. I hope it's the Winner's Circle in Chicago."

Hill leads the team in the Winston championship points race, occupying the No. 10 spot.

Bruce Allen, the pilot of The Outlaw Fuel Additives Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird, enters Chicago brimming with confidence after solid showings at the NHRA's last two stops in Englishtown, N.J., and Atlanta. The Outlaw crew seems to have found the correct set-up for their new Don Ness car and are finally reaching a steady level of competitiveness.

"The car is better now than it's ever been," Allen said. "We're all exceptionally anxious to get her out on the track again. For the first time in a long time I'm excited about racing. I really think we can start winning rounds and get back to fighting it out with the best teams.

"Last year in Chicago was a blast. The track is awesome and it seems like the fans were so geared up for the race. There are so many drag racing fans in that area and you could tell they were psyched about finally having a national event in their own backyard. We qualified in second place, which was our best start of the season, and went to the semis before losing to my teammate Mike Thomas, who went on to win the race. It was a great weekend for us and hopefully we can say that again after this trip."

Allen has competed in three elimination sessions this season. He has recorded one individual round win and is currently in 19th place in the Winston points standings.

Mike Ferderer, the sportsman driver of the Pennzoil Super Gas Grand Prix and the Gumout Super Comp Dragster, has two more chances to claim points at national events and Chicago is next on the list, making this race vitally important to the 1998 Super Gas Driver of the Year.

"If I can add a win in Chicago to the other races where I've been fortunate enough to have some success this year (four wins in seven races), then this could be a championship year for me," said Ferderer, who currently leads Div. 6 and is No. 3 in the country. "The cars are running flawlessly and there is no reason to think we can't go some rounds here. I'm ready."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Thomas , Bruce Allen