Columbus: Pre event quotes

QUOTABLE: Larry Dixon - driver of the Miller Lite dragster and the defending event winner at National Trail Raceway. The 2002 NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion has led the standings following 32 of the past 33 races, advancing to 21 final rounds...

QUOTABLE:

Larry Dixon - driver of the Miller Lite dragster and the defending event winner at National Trail Raceway. The 2002 NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion has led the standings following 32 of the past 33 races, advancing to 21 final rounds in that span - "I think we have a pretty focused group; everybody on our team, the same team as last year. It's just business, nobody is caught up in this or that, we won a championship last year, won a bunch of races last year. You try and go into every race doing the best you can and if you can go some late rounds, get to the finals, and win it, great. You get another win, get some points, and go to the next one. You can't control anything. Everybody was talking about the beer wars, then Brandon gets hurt and now there aren't any beer wars. The same thing could've happened to me in Bristol. You don't know. You don't have any control over those types of situations. You just go out there and you try and race hard and if you go to all the races and do well, you should be able to be there at the end. If you do better than everybody else, than you end up the POWERade champion, and if you don't, then you got work to do for next year. Try and keep it pretty basic, pretty simple."

Brandon Bernstein - Top Fuel rookie standout was second in the standings and actually led the points chase following a win at Bristol, Tenn., earlier this season. Bernstein won in his second career start (Phoenix) and was in title contention before an accident at Englishtown, N.J. ended his rookie campaign. His father, Kenny, will race in the seat of the famed Budweiser dragster the remainder of the season - "I'm still in a lot of pain in my spine. It's very uncomfortable to be in a brace from your waist to neck, and still very painful. I have to be in the brace 24 hours a day and the most difficult adjustment is trying to get comfortable to sleep. The latest update from the doctor is that we're in a holding pattern. He looked at my spine, and the area of concern is the ligament that attaches to the back of the spine that keeps it straight. If the ligament is still intact we sit tight and the bones will heal back and we continue to wear the brace for another 10 to 12 weeks. If the ligament is not intact, we do surgery. That's a 50 -50 shot. don't know if surgery is a step back, it's just a wild card. It's still good news that I'll have full recovery. It will take six months for a full recovery. That's all the way into November. It looks most likely that it will be the 2004 season for me to be back racing. I don't want to chance getting back in too early, I might as well take the whole season to heal."

Doug Herbert - driver of the Snap-on Tools dragster and a two time winner at Columbus ('93, '99). Herbert will be giving away a race-ready Top Fuel dragster to a fan following the 2003 season-finale at Pomona, Calif. Contestants can enter the promotion at herbertperformance.com and all customers of Doug Herbert Performance are automatically entered upon purchase of a product - "We don't know yet if we are going to give away this year's car or last year's car, but either way we know we're going to give away a complete, ready-to-run Top Fuel car that's run 4.5 seconds. The car will be worth about $150,000. The car will have everything. We'll even start it. We'll figure out a way to get the car to the winner. Whoever wins it can take it home, come to our shop in Cherryville (N.C.) and pick it up or, if they want, we'll deliver it to their front door."

Tony Pedregon - driver of the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang has led the POWERade point standings all season and been the No. 1 qualifier a category-leading four times - "If anything, what qualifying No. 1 does is maybe it puts a little bigger target on your back. The bonus check is nice and you get a couple more points, but the reality of the situation is that everyone wants to take out No. 1, whether it's the No. 1 qualifier or it's the guy who's No. 1 in points. Our goal hasn't changed. We came out here to win the title. We came close last year, but a lot of teams have come close. I do think that last year's experience, challenging John (Force) at the end, made us a better race team. I know it taught me some things that I think will help us this year."

Gary Densham - driver of the Automobile Club Ford Mustang and a retired teacher who taught shop for 30 years in Southern California - "I can't go to a single race, it seems, without having an ex-student come up to me and say, 'Hey, Mr. Densham, do you remember me? I was in your class in '84 and here are my wife and kids and my new pickup and I work for John Jones Ford over here and thank you very much'. A lot of teachers influence their students, but how many ever get a chance to reconnect with them like that? I've never had a 'back to school night' or an open house that I didn't have a parent come up and say, 'If it hadn't been for your class, Johnny would have dropped out of school'. That's the reward for me. Whatever happens on the track is a bonus."

Whit Bazemore - driver of the Matco Tools Dodge Stratus and contender for the POWERade Funny Car championship has advanced to three straight final rounds, winning twice and moving within 36 points of leader Tony Pedregon in the standings - "We are contending for the championship stronger that we've ever contended before. The aerodynamics of the Stratus is very, very good. It is one of the main reasons we've been so successful this year. We're very excited and grateful to have Dodge involved. Tony has a great team over there and it seems that the only time you can beat them is when they beat themselves."

Gary Scelzi - the three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion who pilots the Oakley Dodge Stratus who recently made the fastest Funny Car pass in NHRA history (328.06 mph). He ran within the required one percent of the speed to establish an NHRA record - "(NHRA) doesn't give us any points for speed, but it's great for Dodge and (Mopar aerodynamics engineer) Terry DeKoninck and all the other engineers at Dodge. It makes us feel good about all the work they have done in the wind tunnel and all the work that (Whit Bazemore's crew chief) Lee Beard and (Scelzi's crew chief) Mike Neff have done. We knew the Dodge could do those things. We thought it would happen sooner, but it did happen. It outran the other guys by a bunch, and that's what we've been trying to do - hurt their feelings."

Johnny Gray - driver of the blue Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird - "We're (10) races into the season, and it's about impossible to miss the fact we've been up and down. But the good news is that's a lot better than just plain down. At least we've had some serious ups, and we feel we're on the edge of having some more. I think it's a long process, for a team to learn how to win and learn how to run consistently, week after week. We've made so much progress this year, and although we haven't won a race yet, we have two final round appearances to show for it. I just think, as we move ahead, this team will build on that and the success will come more often, without all the big valleys between the peaks."

Scotty Cannon - driver of the Oakley Chevy Camaro is seeking his first NHRA victory and has struggled in the early part of 2003 - "We were told to treat every run like a test run; swing for the fence every time. That's the way our sponsors do it, that's the way we're doing it. And that's what we're going to do."

Tommy Johnson Jr. - driver of the blue Skoal Racing Chevy Camaro was the runner-up at the Chicago race recently, extend a recent run of consistency - "Everything we've said earlier in the year is beginning to happen. (Crew chief) Mike (Green) is fine-tuning the combination and it's really coming around. The performance is where it needs to be and now we have to work on consistency. We believe we should be able to qualify among the top half of the field and contend for the race win. This is the most competitive I've been in my three years (with Prudhomme Racing)."

Jeg Coughlin - driver of the Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier and the defending NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion. He won eight of the last 12 races of the 2002 season en route to the title - "We have built some good momentum over the past three races and we are excited about carrying it to the next race at our home track (National Trail Raceway). We came on strong last year toward the end of the season to win the NHRA POWERade championship. Things are a little bit different this year and we are ahead of where we were last year in the points at this time. But our team is more than capable of stringing together a series of wins to put us back on top. We always look forward to coming back to race at National Trail. To come to an event where you have 350-plus JEG'S Mail Order associates, friends, fans and family cheering you on is extremely exciting and makes you dig deeper to win in your backyard."

Troy Coughlin driver of the Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier and another hometown favorite at National Trail Raceway -- "Our team has probably made more runs down the track at National Trail Raceway than any other team. We don't look at it as an advantage by any means. We just want to be prepared when we race in our backyard in front of our hometown fans."

Warren Johnson - driver of the GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am and six-time NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion - "Kurt (Johnson), Greg (Anderson), myself and Jeggie (Coughlin) on occasion, there have been about three to five cars that have shown the potential to make a championship run. Now it's a matter of Kurt and I staying consistent to get the job done. At the same time, we've been working extremely hard on the performance side of both cars since the end of the last third of last year. It's been a slow process, but now that we've got the performance end of it established with our existing equipment, we're starting to work on new parts and pieces. Hopefully that will enable us to pick up the pace even more as we approach midyear."

Greg Anderson - driver of the Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am and a top contender for the 2003 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock title. Anderson recently completed an impressive "sweep" at Englishtown, N.J.: qualifying No. 1, setting low E.T. and top speed of the event, and winning the race. In the process, Anderson established a national record for both time and speed (6.670 seconds, 207.18 mph) and reclaimed the lead in the POWERade Pro Stock standings from Kurt Johnson- "I am telling you right now I am living the dream. I have everything: a great race car, a great team owner (Ken Black), a great crew, and a great family. Winning is what we come here to do, but to come out here and dominate the way we did (at Englishtown) is very satisfying. It is satisfying because we are seeing the result of all the hard work we put in to this race program. The result of all the late nights and sacrifices that everyone on this team makes. Kurt and I are going to have some great battles all the way to the end, and neither one of us will back down. I can guarantee you that. Kurt and I are like brothers. We spent a lot of time together when I worked for (Kurt's father) Warren and there's no one I enjoy racing more. I know that Johnson team is going to be right there every step of the way. It's going to be a blast."

Ron Krisher - driver of the Valvoline Chevy Cavalier. Krisher recently failed to qualify for Pro Stock eliminations for the first time in 76 consecutive events, ending the longest qualifying streak among active drivers. Following the DNQ, Krisher ran a new Cavalier at Englishtown, N.J., and immediately ran a career-best E.T. (6.727 seconds) and speed (205.41 mph) - "The only thing we know for certain is that this race car is going to be pretty darn fast. We dropped our old engine in this car and it's like night and day. Once everyone on the team learns about this new Cavalier, and I get more comfortable driving it, it's going to be even faster."

Gene Wilson - driver of the Team Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T and the 2002 winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award, given annually to the season's top rookie. Wilson has been struggling in 2003, posting six DNQ's and two first round losses in the first eight events of the season - "We are proud to run the Dodge Stratus, we've just been struggling in the setup area. I know it has taken a while to get there, but we have made some big strides with the setup. We have put our minds together and worked on this thing and everyone is following in the same direction."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Gary Densham , Scotty Cannon , Gene Wilson , Brandon Bernstein , Johnny Gray , Ken Black , Mike Neff , Tommy Johnson Jr.