Brandon Bernstein - rookie driver of the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster had won three of the first eight races and was contending for POWERade Top Fuel title before a crash at Englishtown, N.J., ended his season prematurely. Bernstein suffered a ...
Brandon Bernstein - rookie driver of the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster had won three of the first eight races and was contending for POWERade Top Fuel title before a crash at Englishtown, N.J., ended his season prematurely. Bernstein suffered a broken back after his dragster went out of control and made contact with the guard wall. His father, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Kenny, assumed the driving responsibilities for the remainder of the season - "I really miss driving the car and being on the road with the team. I'm very disappointed to have the season start off so well and then it's over in the blink of an eye. It's a very tough way to go. But it could be a lot worse. I'm very lucky, definitely. The doctor said (the injury) is a severe break. Most of the time when he sees an injury like this, the patient is paralyzed."
Kenny Bernstein - the current driver of the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster and a six-time champion (two Top Fuel, four Funny Car) overall. The 58-year-old Bernstein retired following the 2002 season and returned to competition following his son Brandon's injury - "I never wanted to be back behind the wheel of the race car this way. But as a team we made the decision to continue to race for our fans, sponsors, and Brandon. I am just a substitute for him. As soon as he is medically cleared he wants to get back in the cockpit and we'll be happy to see him well enough to race again. If you ask me whether I missed driving and competing, the answer is a resounding yes. I look at the decision to retire, now in retrospect, and I understand why Michael Jordan and Mario Lemieux and all those guys came back. They missed it."
Scott Kalitta - the two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion (1994-'95) is coming out of retirement and will drive the Mac Tools/Jesse James dragster, joining cousin Doug Kalitta in the Top Fuel ranks for Kalitta Motorsports. S. Kalitta will debut the new dragster at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis over Labor Day weekend - "I definitely think we can win a couple of races in 2003. Let's face it, I am not going to contend for the championship this year, but it will be fun to go out there and knock off some of the better cars and maybe help Doug go more rounds. With Mac Tools and Jesse James on board, we should make noise, loud and often."
Tony Schumacher -- driver of the U.S. Army dragster has met defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon in three consecutive events since bringing on Alan Johnson as the crew chief. After holding off Dixon in the final round at Chicago for the win, Schumacher was eliminated by Dixon at Columbus, Ohio and St. Louis - "Larry and his team are tough competitors, but so is this Army team. We'll be back real strong come Denver. Alan Johnson is one of the best crew chiefs in the business. He'll get this Army car running the way it needs to and then look out. (The West Coast swing) will be an important part of the schedule for all of us. It can be pretty grueling. There will be three wins up for grabs and we'll be out to get them all."
John Force - driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang and the defending NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion. Force has been mired in a season-long slump which he has started to break out of recently. After slipping to 12th in the POWERade standings, Force earned much needed points when he established a national record for elapsed time (4.721 seconds) at Chicago and then a runner-up finish at Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis, which moved him into sixth place in the point standings, his highest position of the season - "Everybody had me dead and buried. But, bottom line, we made a lot of changes to our old race car and then I made a lot of changes to how I'm driving it. I got tired of people coming up and asking me 'What's wrong? Are you retiring? Are you stepping aside for (teammate) Tony (Pedregon)?' We weren't doing any of that. For one thing, there are a lot of good teams out there. Heck, I've got enough trouble just beating my own guys (Pedregon and Gary Densham). But, bottom line, we made big changes this year, everything from the chassis to the engine to the sponsor and it's just taken some time to get it right."
Tony Pedregon - driver of the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang and the leading contender for the NHRA POWERade Funny Car championship. If Pedregon wins the series title, he would join his older brother Cruz as the only two drivers other than John Force to win the Funny Car title since 1990 - "The important thing, and (team owner) John (Force) is quick to remind me of it, is that if we win the POWERade championship, we win the championship for Castrol and Ford. If John doesn't do it, then it is up to me, and if neither of us can do it, it's up to (teammate Gary) Densham. And, like John said, if somebody can beat all three of us and win the championship, well, then, our hat's off to them."
Whit Bazemore - driver of the Matco Tools Dodge Stratus and a contender for the 2003 NHRA POWERade Funny Car championship. Bazemore was the first Funny Car driver to run quicker than five seconds at Bandimere Speedway (2000) and has two wins in three final round appearances and has been the top qualifier four times at the mountainside facility - "We have a tremendous team and there's no question that we're going to have more success this season. It is a long year and we have a great opportunity ahead of us. We'll have more success and hopefully win some more races this year and we'll just take it one round at a time. The championship? If things are meant to be, they're meant to be. You work hard, you prepare the car and the team, you dig deep and do the very best you can all the time, and then the rest has to fall into place. The championship is something we have a huge desire to win and we've made a commitment to win it and that's all you can do."
Scotty Cannon - driver of the Oakley Pontiac Firebird and the 1999 NHRA Rookie of the Year. Cannon was the No. 1 qualifier at Denver last season and was the runner-up at the picturesque facility in 2000. The 41-year-old Funny Car pilot has struggled in 2002 and is seeking his first career NHRA victory - "We are making headway in our setup and performance but it's always tough when you don't qualify in the top half of the field (of 16) and have to face (one of the top qualified cars) in the first round. We just have to continue to work on the setup. That's what (crew chief) Phil (Shuler) and I are doing, and we'll just keep on working until we get it right."
Del Worsham - driver of the red Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird and recent winner at st. Louis, his second win of the year in his fourth final round appearance-- "I hate to sound like a cliche machine, but we really have to focus on qualifying well, then winning one round at a time. If we look at Tony Pedregon, and see him 17 rounds ahead of us, your instinct is going to be just to write it off. Well, he's going to be hard for anyone to catch for the championship, but we have to do everything possible to finish as high in the points as we can. So the immediate goal is to (continue to move up in the standings). We've finished third in the points for two straight seasons, and finishing any lower than that is not acceptable to us. Our guys want to improve, every day, and that's our goal. (Now) we'll see if we can catch Whit Bazemore for second. While all that's going on, maybe (points leader) Tony Pedregon's freight train will hit a few bumps."
Johnny Gray - driver of the blue Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird made his first two final round appearances of his career this season (Pomona 1 and Atlanta) but has struggled since- "We've got a great tuning group, and they're as smart as anyone out here. The best part is, we're still getting better as we go, even though we have decades of experience. Between the (team-owning) Worshams, (co-crew chiefs) Chris Cunningham, Marc Denner, and Garry Kennedy, we don't have anybody who has an inflexible attitude. All of them share ideas and all of them listen. That sort of creativity can win you a race. You usually have to tune on the fly, make quick adjustments as the weather changes, and try to out-think the track rather than overpower it. We have the people who can do that."
Allen Johnson - driver of the Team Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T has two runner-up finishes this season anhd currently occupies the No. 6 spot in the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock standings. Johnson was the runner-up at last year's Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals -- "We have always run well up there. The Hemi engine seems to react well to the lighter air. We have become a little more consistent in these last few races - but, we're going to test a lot in Denver and try and get better. We have a great race day car with the new Stratus, and we're not out of this points race yet."
Darrell Aldeman - driver of the Team Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T and teammates with Allen Johnson. Alderman, a three-time NHRA Pro Stock champion, enters Denver in 10th place in the POWERade standings and was the runner up at Englishtown, N.J. earlier this year -- "There's always added pressure when you go to Denver. Once we get qualified out there, we usually seem to go some rounds. And you always want to do well in front of all the Mopar guys."
Arnie Karp - driver of the Artisan Home Entertainment Pontiac Firebird. An Alcohol Funny Car driver in the 1980s, Karp made his nitro-powered Funny Car debut at Chicago in June as the third car for Worsham Racing, becoming teammates with Del Worsham and Johnny Gray - "Before we joined the tour, there were already more Funny Cars entering the races than slots in the (16-car) field, so it's not like we walked into an easy deal. And now, with us in the mix, it's even tougher. There's no doubt some good cars are not going to be racing (during eliminations) on Sundays for the rest of the year, and we're just honored to be involved in it. We'll do our best to make the Worshams, and Artisan Home Entertainment, proud of us."
Kurt Johnson - driver of the ACDelco Chevy Cavalier. The Mopar Mile-High Nationals is the first of three races on consecutive weekends - "Any way you look at it, racing on three consecutive weekends is tough. Fortunately, we're in a better position than most of our competitors. Our ACDelco Cavalier has been performing well, the crew is really clicking, and we're going rounds on a consistent basis, which certainly makes it easier. The hardest part of these back-to-back-to-back races is being away from your family. Between traveling and working on the car, you barely have time to go home, unpack and do the laundry before you're getting ready to leave again. It's the one part of racing that you never get used to, but you learn to live with it."
Greg Anderson - driver of the Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am and a contender for the NHRA Pro Stock championship. Anderson, the former crew chief for six-time Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson, will be making his third trip to Bandimere, losing in the second round on the first two occasions (1999, 2002) - "Really, I think it is too early to talk about points. I may be leading, but Kurt (Johnson) and Warren (Johnson) are breathing down my neck. And look at what Jeggie (Coughlin) did last year. Truthfully, I think this points race is just about to heat up. The 'Western Swing' (three straight races in Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma, Calif) is really going to sort things out. I think that once we get past those three races, then it should be narrowed down to about five guys who could walk away with the title. I just hope I am one of them. Then I will start worrying about points."
Larry Morgan - driver of the Team Mopar Dodge Neon has competed at every event of the 2003 season and qualified for eliminations at St. louis, the first time he has done so in nearly a year, dating back to his win at Sonoma, Calif., last year - "I'm so proud of all the guys who have been working on this thing at the shop. It's just been a big boost for our program. It's going to help all of our programs as well. We've struggled for so long, now we finally feel that we've moved forward. We're going to continue this pace and the next two to three races -- we ought to be real good. I'm happy for Mopar because we have so many cars in the program as well. We want this thing to be good for everyone - and that's the direction we're headed."
Warren Johnson - driver of the GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am and a six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion. Johnson is the winningest driver in Pro Stock history and has three career victories at Bandimere Speedway (2001, 1991, 1984) - "Overall, I would give our team a C (grade) for the first half (of the 2003 season). Obviously, missing the show in Joliet (Ill.) was the low point, with the two wins in Pomona and Atlanta being the other side of the pendulum. We have to improve on our ability to get down the race track consistently, including qualifying. We made progress in that area in Columbus, where we qualified fourth and were among the quickest cars in eliminations. In addition, we are looking at ways to further increase our performance during the second half."
Gene Wilson - teammate of Larry Morgan and driver of the Team Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T. Wilson was the winner of the 2002 Automobile Club Road to the Future Award winner, given annually to the NHRA's top rookie. Wilson, who finished ninth in last season's standings and had three runner-up finishes, has struggled in 2003. The 30-year-old Georgia native posted 10 DNQ's in the first 12 races after failing to qualify for eliminations a total of seven times in 2002 - "Everybody on this team is giving 110 percent. It's just a matter of time now. It is kind of tough when you suffer through not qualifying, especially when everyone is giving such an effort. We're going to pull through it. We found some stuff in the motor and we're going to correct those problems. We're going to put some of that Larry Morgan horsepower in the winner's circle soon."
Craig Treble - rider of the Matco Tools Suzuki who finished a career-best in the POWERade point standings last season and ihas struggled in his race towards the 2003 POWERade Pro Stock Bike title. After winning four events in six final round appearances last year, Treble is seeking his first win after runner-up finishes at Houston and Englishtown, N.J. - "I know whatever is wrong with the bike is probably staring at us right in the face. We just have to dig in and find it. It is really frustrating because we do have a fast bike and plenty of data on how to run it in the summer heat, but something somewhere is causing us to be inconsistent. Our goal is to win the POWERade championship this year, so we need to get back on track and run at our potential. I am extremely frustrated at this point. We have tons of power, we have good equipment, and we know how to win races, but it just isn't happening right now with this bike. I have run better and been more of a threat with lesser equipment, so I just hate where we are at right now."
Fred Collis - rider of the Area 51 Motorsports Suzuki is competing in his first full season on the NHRA circuit. The former AMA ProStar champion won his first career NHRA event at Columbus, Ohio, and also was the No. 1 qualifier at the event - "We planned on coming to the NHRA to be a player in the championship hunt. It was pretty frustrating the first few races. We were qualifying OK, but I was having some problems with the lights (on the Christmas Tree). We just didn't get a break. I feel like us winning is going to be something that is going to happen over and over again. At least I plan on it."