Columbus: Round eleven preview, schedule

The 39th annual Pontiac Excitement NHRA Nationals presented by Summit Racing, the 11th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade ...

The 39th annual Pontiac Excitement NHRA Nationals presented by Summit Racing, the 11th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships.
Sportsman competitors in seven categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championships.

National Trail Raceway, Hebron, Ohio. The track is located about 20 miles east of Columbus on old U.S. Highway 40, one mile north of Interstate 70 at the Kirkersville exit. From Columbus, take I-70 to Highway 158 north and follow the signs, or take I-70 to Highway 37 north to U.S. Highway 40 and follow the signs.

Thursday through Sunday, June 12-15.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
The event will feature the return of "Big Daddy" Don Garlits to National Trail Raceway. It is one of a few scheduled appearances this season for the NHRA Top Fuel legend. The 71-year-old fan-favorite is a three-time winner (1979, 1971 and 1968) of the event and will compete against today's Top Fuel stars including 2002 POWERade champion and two-time defending event winner Larry Dixon in the Miller Lite dragster. Funny Car driver Tony Pedregon plans to keep up his winning ways in his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang as he continues his pursuit of the elusive series crown, one that his boss, John Force, has had a stranglehold on for the past decade. Del Worsham, Whit Bazemore, and Gary Densham are among the Funny Car favorites for the win at Columbus. The action in Pro Stock will be heated, with hometown favorite Jeg Coughlin, current points leader Kurt Johnson, six-time champ Warren Johnson and fellow Pontiac drivers Greg Anderson, Jim Yates, and Mark Pawuk all contenders for the event win. The Pro Stock Bike riders will be nearing the half-way point of their 15-race schedule, Geno Scali along with three-time champion and as points leader Angelle Savoie, and past Columbus winners Craig Treble and Antron Brown set the pace for the two-wheel category.

FAST FACTS:
The Columbus event is tied for the third longest running event on the NHRA circuit... National Trail's Top Fuel track record for elapsed time, set at 4.572 seconds by Joe Amato in June 1998, is the oldest track record on the circuit for any pro category... Larry Dixon, who is going for his fifth straight final round appearance this season, will try and become the first Top Fuel driver to win at Columbus in three consecutive seasons. No Top Fuel driver has ever won the event in three consecutive seasons. Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudhomme and Scott Kalitta all had attempts to win three straight TF titles at National Trail but came up short, with Muldowney losing in the first round in 1978, Prudhomme losing in the second round in 1993 and Kalitta losing in the semis in 1996... Shirley Muldowney has the most TF wins at National Trail, with four... John Force, Tony Pedregon, Frank Pedregon and Ron Capps are the only active full-time Funny Car drivers who have won at National Trail...Bob Glidden (1979-'83, '87-'89) and Ronnie Sox are the only Pro Stock drivers to win the event in consecutive seasons (Sox won the event in 1970 and '71 in Dallas)... The event featured the only all-female Top Fuel final in 1982, when Muldowney defeated Lucille Lee... Only three drivers have won at this event in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, including Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme and Frank Hawley. Gary Scelzi, a TF winner here in 1997, could become the fourth this weekend should he earn his first career FC victory.

NOTES OF INTEREST:
Dave Gil Pontiac to Host Annual NHRA fanfest - Dave Gil Pontiac in Columbus, Ohio, will be holding its annual NHRA Driver fanfest on Wednesday, June 11. The festivities will take place at the dealership from 4-7 p.m. and will feature NHRA drivers, race cars, and team transporters from the GM Racing motorsports contingent. NHRA legend and three-time champion Don Garlits headlines the list of champions scheduled to attend this year's event. Defending NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion and local favorite Jeg Coughlin, six-time series champ Warren Johnson, and two-time champion Jim Yates, also are scheduled to attend. Some other drivers who are committed to the fanfest are Tommy Johnson Jr., Cory McClenathan, Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson, Dale Creasy Jr., Mark Pawuk, Troy Coughlin, Kurt Johnson, Bruce Allen, George Marnell, Mark Edwards, Ron Krisher, Greg Anderson, and Mark Whisnant.

Don Garlits Returns to National Trail Raceway - Legendary drag racer "Big Daddy" Don Garlits will return to Top Fuel competition at National Trail Raceway for the first time since 1987. The 71-year-old Garlits was named No. 1 on NHRA's 50 Greatest Drivers list in 2001. He has been competing on a limited schedule the past couple of seasons and has competed at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis the last two years, covering the quarter-mile in under five seconds at more than 300 mph for the first time in his storied career. His major innovations revolutionized the sport with his biggest being the introduction of the first successful rear-engine dragster in 1971 - the basic design remains the standard for the 330-mph machines that compete today. He is a three-time winner of the event, his last coming in 1979. During his legendary career, Garlits won three NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championships and earned 35 race victories.

Kenny Bernstein Comes Out of Retirement to Sub for Injured Son-- Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein returned to the cockpit at the O'Reilly Summer Nationals following his son Brandon's crash at Englishtown, N.J. which has most likely sidelined the younger Bernstein for the remainder of 2003. At the time of the crash, Brandon was second in points with three victories on the year. Kenny showed no effects of not driving a Top Fuel dragster since November of 2002. At his first event the 58-year-old Bernstein qualified No. 2 and advanced to the semifinals before falling to Doug Kalitta. Last year at Columbus, Bernstein was the No. 1 qualifier and set the track record for speed (323.81 mph).

Perennial Funny Car Champ Force Continues to Struggle - What's going on with 12-time Funny Car champion John Force? The NHRA icon has four first round losses and has advanced to the semifinals once in 10 events. With a three-car operation, Force's Ford Mustang is the one that is struggling. His two other drivers, Tony Pedregon and Gary Densham, currently occupy first and third place in the standings respectively and have combined for six wins on the season. Force recently moved back into the top 10 in the standings (seventh) and is 398 points behind Pedregon.

Student Leads Teacher - Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson is the former crew chief for six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson. After competing in the Pro Stock category on a limited basis from 1998-2001 (racing 21 out of 22 races in 1999), Anderson left Johnson's team and committed himself to the entire NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series beginning in 2002. After a career-best finish in the POWERade standings (No. 3), final round appearances (six), No. 1 qualifying positions (two), and won-loss record in eliminations (32-19), Anderson has established himself as a top contender for the 2003 Pro Stock crown. Anderson recently set the national record for time and speed en route to the win at Englishtown, N.J., and is currently 10 points behind Warren's son Kurt in the POWERade standings. Regarding Weather -- In drag racing weather plays a vital role as crew chiefs examine data and tune their race cars for maximum performance. Most teams have sophisticated weather stations on board their team transporters so they can access up-to-the-minute weather information as well as forecasts.

Fan Accessibility - No other major motorsport offers the kind of fan accessibility like the NHRA. Every ticket, general admission or reserved, is a pass to the pit areas of all of our professional and sportsman competitors. Fans get the opportunity to get up close and personal with their favorite drivers and teams. They get to interact with the various competitors, talk shop, or just hang out and watch the teams work. Fans have access to the pits as teams fire up their engines in preparation of their next pass down the track. With the continued growth of the NHRA, nothing helps separate the drag racing's premier sanctioning body, like fan accessibility.

Safety Safari-- These men and women are a team of professionals dedicated to making the sport safe for the competitors and keeping the action on the track moving for the fans. Spend the day or a few hours with this crew and watch as they take care of preparing the race track for competition, responding to crashes and cleaning up oil and debris on the racing surface.

ABOUT THE TRACK:
Using the premise 'build it and they will come,' Clark Rader Sr., along with sons Clark Jr. and Ben, broke ground for National Trail Raceway in the fall of 1963. It was a 320-acre facility and, at that time, was the fifth largest of its kind in the United States. In 1972, National Trail Raceway played host for the first time to the Springnationals, an event that has enjoyed strong support for more than 30 years. The Rader family built additional stands, restrooms, and a larger pit area and added more asphalt to the strip. In 1996, the NHRA purchased the track, bringing an end to the Rader era. In the last few years, the NHRA has made significant improvements to the historic facility. Some of those upgrades include the three-level timing tower and corporate suites, a TV production area, an asphalt pit area and staging lanes, concrete guardwalls that run the entire length of the racing surface and an extensive drainage project to control water runoff.

PONTIAC EXCITEMENT NHRA NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION:

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is scheduled for 4 and 7 p.m. on June 13 and will continue at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on June 14. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on June 15.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 39th annual Pontiac Excitement NHRA Nationals presented by Summit Racing. Call the NHRA at (800) 884-6472. Tickets also are available through Ticketmaster.

TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise one hour, 55 minutes of qualifying highlights at 7 p.m. (ET) on June 14. ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 4 p.m. (ET) on June 15.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Antron Brown , Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Dale Creasy Jr. , Gary Densham , Bob Glidden , Don Garlits , Craig Treble , Cory McClenathan , Scott Kalitta , Don Prudhomme , Bruce Allen , Geno Scali , Tim Wilkerson , George Marnell , Mark Whisnant , Frank Hawley , Tommy Johnson Jr.