Columbus: Unpredictable winners add drama and thrills

KIRKERSVILLE, Ohio - In seasons past the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series' annual stop in central Ohio has featured plenty of surprises. First-time winners, drivers ending long winless droughts and newcomers making statements to their ...

KIRKERSVILLE, Ohio - In seasons past the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series' annual stop in central Ohio has featured plenty of surprises. First-time winners, drivers ending long winless droughts and newcomers making statements to their well-established veteran foes has been the recurring trend. Last season rookies Phil Burkart and John Coughlin scored first-time victories in their respective categories, Funny Car and Pro Stock Truck. In '98, Frank Pedregon, one of three drag racing brothers, earned his first Funny Car victory. Funny Car pioneer Tom Hoover posted a victory from the No. 16 qualifying position in '97, while Pro Stock newcomer Tom Martino continued to impress with his second victory of his rookie season. Pro Stock journeyman Chuck Harris claimed his first and only victory here in 1996. Several notable drivers would like to see that trend continue this season at the 36th annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit Racing, June 15-18, at National Trail Raceway, just east of Ohio's capital city of Columbus, including hometown favorite Troy Coughlin, still seeking his first Pro Stock victory. The Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile driver has never won in seven final round attempts during his three-year career. Fan-favorite Scotty Cannon, one of the marquee Funny Car drivers despite a winless record, is making tremendous gains this season in his wild Oakley machine. The Lyman, S.C. driver is currently sixth in the Winston point standings, and appears ready to make his first appearance in the winner's circle. Other drivers who have been knocking on the door to victory this season include Funny Car rookie Todd Paton, Pro Stock Truck rookie Greg Stanfield and revitalized Pro Stock racer Ron Krisher, currently sixth in Pro Stock points. Doug Herbert, Burkart, Warren Johnson, Antron Brown and J. Coughlin are the respective winners in their pro categories at the $1.9 million race, the 11th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C., drove his Snap-on Tools dragster to a close victory over Bob Vandergriff at this event one year ago. While both drivers seek a return to the final this season to jump-start their 2000 campaigns, defending Winston champion Tony Schumacher, two-time series champ and current points leader Gary Scelzi and two-time season winner Larry Dixon are the pre-race favorites. Budweiser King driver Kenny Bernstein, who scored a victory at Las Vegas in April, is a winner in both Top Fuel (1998) and Funny Car (1985) at the Ohio quarter-mile track. Funny Car rookie Burkart earned his first career victory in his Nitro Fish Pontiac here last season, defeating Tim Wilkerson in the final. Canadian Paton has moved into the driver's seat for the Nitro Fish and will look to defend Burkart's title. Nine-time Winston champion John Force and two-time season winner Jerry Toliver have developed quite a rivalry this season and will lead all challengers for the race victory. There has been a different Funny Car winner at this event since 1994, including some memorable upsets, including rookie F. Pedregon in 1998 and No. 16 qualifier Hoover in 1997. Jim Epler, Whit Bazemore, Cannon and Tony Pedregon are also among pre-race favorites. Johnson, from Buford, Ga., defeated hometown favorite Jeg Coughlin for the Pro Stock victory last year. The roles have been reversed for much of 2000, as Coughlin has dominated the category in his Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile Cutlass, winning six of the first seven races. Other top Pro Stock favorites include Jeg's brother Troy, Kurt Johnson, Richie Stevens, '97 event winner Tom Martino and two-time series champion Jim Yates. Chesterfield, N.J.'s Brown rode his Team 23 Suzuki to the Pro Stock Motorcycle victory, outrunning veteran Dave Schultz in a close finish. Brown and Schultz will be among the event's top contenders, battling current Winston points leader Angelle Seeling for the victory. Seeling, rider of the Team Winston Suzuki, has posted two victories this season. Three-time defending series champ Matt Hines, a winner here in 1997 and '98, also will be in the hunt for a victory. Coughlin, one of four brothers in the Jeg's racing empire, scored his first Pro Stock Truck victory at his home track, defeating Brad Jeter in a battle between Chevy S-10s. Coughlin will try to defend his title this season, while brother Mike is among those trying to take it away. Category dominators this season have been defending champion Bob Panella and fellow S-10 driver Randy Daniels. Other truck favorites include Chevy drivers Greg Stanfield and Steve Johns and GMC Sonoma drivers Rick Jones and John Lingenfelter.'

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Antron Brown , Frank Pedregon , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Ron Krisher , Randy Daniels , John Lingenfelter , Scotty Cannon , Todd Paton , Greg Stanfield , Tom Martino , Tim Wilkerson , Phil Burkart , Jerry Toliver , Bob Vandergriff , Steve J