Commerce: GM Racing preview

COMMERCE, Ga., May 11, 2004 - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing series heads to Atlanta Dragway this weekend for the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac on May 13 -16. It is the first of three consecutive weekends in which...

COMMERCE, Ga., May 11, 2004 - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing series heads to Atlanta Dragway this weekend for the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac on May 13 -16. It is the first of three consecutive weekends in which the series will hold races, with six contests on tap over the next seven weeks.

Up until now only six races have been contested since the season opened in Pomona, Calif., on Feb. 29, and a lot will be riding on what happens during the course of the next few weeks. With the number of events and the pace of the schedule coming fast and furious, the key to success will rely heavily on diligent preparation and a little luck.

With five wins in the first six events, Greg Anderson's Pontiac Grand Am continues to lead the Pro Stock title chase. But the defending POWERade champion isn't resting on his laurels and is fully aware of how quickly the points situation can change.

"With the success we've had over the last few months, I'm certainly very proud of the team," said Anderson. "It shows you what kind of job they're doing and how hard they're working. We're doing everything we can to come out stronger every race we go to. I don't have the answer on why there's a gap right now in Pro Stock, and as soon as I think it's going to close this team keeps proving me wrong. We're not going to slow down, but I certainly expect some of these guys to pick up the pace. We're just going to enjoy this run as long as it goes."

In 28 national events since the beginning of 2003, Anderson's Pontiac has captured 17 victories and raced in 20 final rounds. Anderson has also captured 89 rounds of competition and lost only 12 times for a winning average of .881.

Anderson's Grand Am has been the No. 1 qualifier at the last 11 races in a row dating back to last September's NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Ill., and has also earned low qualifying honors at 20 of the last 29 national events (since the opening race of 2003). His average starting position during that time frame is 1.66.

Anderson has a keen knowledge of Atlanta Dragway acquired from his years of working with six-time NHRA champion Warren Johnson, whose race shop is located just down the road in Sugar Hill, Ga. The 43-year-old Anderson has never won at this venue although he's been runner-up and earned low qualifying honors at the last three races contested at this facility (2001, '02, 03).

"So far my team has done a better job with this Pontiac and getting the e.t. out of it," said Anderson. "If we can maintain that we'll be in good shape, but the rest of the field are making power gains as well. The bottom line is the best thing for this class is to keep going faster and faster.

"By midseason, the class will be as close and as tough as it ever was. Every year more and more teams are raising the bar where they go to that next level of performance. To win in this category you have to run it full bore, and more teams are making the effort to do that. Whatever you start with you try and get better every run and every day. I felt that we were able to do that last year and that momentum continues this season."

There's no place like home and that's especially true for GM Performance Parts Pontiac driver Warren Johnson. The 60-year-old Johnson is the defending champion of the Southern Nationals, defeating Greg Anderson in the finals of last year's race in an all Pontiac SC/T Grand Am final.

"With the level of competition in Pro Stock, there's no room for error on race day, so it is imperative to find the correct combination in qualifying," stated Johnson. "We don't have the luxury of time as they do in other forms of racing. For example, if the round-trackers miss the set-up, they have 500 laps to work on their car and get it right. In drag racing, we get four passes in qualifying, and if you miss the combination, you could be facing a short day on Sunday.

"In simple terms, we need to do a better job of adapting to the race track than we have so far. The performance is there, we just have to find it before it's too late to use it. We have it pinpointed to something in the springs, shocks, four-link, clutch and weight distribution, which is about all you have in a Pro Stock race car."

Johnson has won a total of five events contested at Atlanta Dragway (1986, '88, '93, '99, 2003), the most of any Pro Stock competitor in the history of the sport. He has also captured three runners-up (1990 - 91, '94) and earned low qualifying honors nine times (1984-86, '93-'95, 1997, '99-'00). However, "The Professor" is quick to discount any notion of a home-field advantage.

"Even though we'll be sleeping in our own beds, our job will be the same as it is at the nineteen other facilities on the circuit - to get down the track better than our competition," said Johnson. "The GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am team worked that plan to perfection one year ago, and we have our sights set on doing it again this year."

The current Atlanta Dragway Pro Stock elapsed-time track record is held by the six-time NHRA champion who set the mark in May 2002 with a run of 6.811 seconds. His son, Kurt Johnson, holds the speed record set last year in a Chevy Cavalier at 203.12 mph.

"I think we should be in pretty good shape," said Kurt Johnson. "We've tested at Atlanta Dragway four or five times already this year, so assuming the NHRA's track preparation doesn't do anything drastic to the racing surface, we should have a good baseline set-up. If all goes well, the biggest challenge the ACDelco Chevy Cavalier team will face is accommodating everyone and finding enough tickets to get them into the racetrack."

In Funny Car, defending NHRA POWERade and Southern Nationals champion Tony Pedregon will debut his 2004 Chevy Monte Carlo this weekend.

"We've been looking forward to getting the Monte Carlo ever since Cruz started running his in Las Vegas. We think it's going to help us aerodynamically, plus it's lighter, stronger and safer. The Monte Carlo marketing team and GM engineers have done a great job. The new Chevrolet has the downforce we need and less drag. It really stacks up with the competition and I'm really looking forward to running it this weekend."

As of May 5, the latest NHRA Manufacturer's Cup standings show Pontiac in first place with 1,180 points, Chevrolet in second place with 940 points and Dodge in third place with 280 points. The standings are based on national and divisional event performance after the first six races of the season.

Four Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car drivers occupy a position in the top 10 of the POWERade points standings. Del Worsham has been in first place since March 7 and remains there with 460 points. Tim Wilkerson is fourth with 351 points, Phil Burkart is seventh with 344 points and Tony Pedregon is 10th with 299 points.

Five Pontiac Grand Am and four Chevy Cavalier drivers currently occupy a position in the NHRA Pro Stock top 10. Greg Anderson leads in a Pontiac with five wins and 668 points, and Kurt Johnson is in second place in a Chevy Cavalier with one win and 470 points. Pontiac Grand Am driver Jason Line is in third place with 373 points, Jeg Coughlin is fourth in a Chevy Cavalier with 365 points, Warren Johnson is sixth in a Grand Am with 324 points, Dave Connolly is seventh in a Cavalier with 313 points, Bruce Allen is eighth in a Grand Am with 280 points, Jim Yates is ninth in a Grand Am with 226 points and Rickie Smith is 10th in a Cavalier with 211 points.

It's been over a year since Pro Stock Chevy Cavalier driver Tom Hammonds made his last quarter-mile pass in NHRA competition at the 2003 Mac Tool Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. In addition to challenging for a starting spot in one of the toughest categories in all of motorsports, the 37-year-old Hammonds' attention was directed to the completion of final coursework in the GM Minority Dealer Development program and the subsequent acquisition of his own GM auto dealership. On Friday, May 21, at 12:00 p.m., the former NBA and ACC college basketball standout will realize his lifelong dream with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Tom Hammonds Chevrolet in Darlington, S.C. The recently opened facility will also host a grand opening celebration on Saturday, May 22, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Qualifying highlights of the Summit Racing Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac will be telecast on ESPN on Saturday, May 15, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern. Final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, May 16, starting at 7 p.m. Eastern.

General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world's largest vehicle manufacturer, employs 325,000 people globally in its core automotive business and subsidiaries. Founded in 1908, GM has been the global automotive sales leader since 1931. GM today has manufacturing operations in 32 countries and its vehicles are sold in more than 190 countries. In 2003, GM sold more than 8.6 million cars and trucks, nearly 15 percent of the global vehicle market. GM's global headquarters is at the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit. More information on GM and its products can be found on the company's consumer website at www.gm.com.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Greg Anderson , Tom Hammonds , Tim Wilkerson , Phil Burkart , Rickie Smith , Dave Connolly