Denver: Round 13 preview

WIN EASES HERBERT'S RECOVERY AS NHRA POWERade SERIES ENTERS GRUELING WESTERN SWING MORRISON, Colo. - From the outside it looked like all the elements were there. Most were. Doug Herbert and his Top Fuel dragster team lined...


MORRISON, Colo. - From the outside it looked like all the elements were there. Most were.

Doug Herbert and his Top Fuel dragster team lined up for photos, smiles wide and arms raised in a victory salute that never gets stale. That happiness wasn't faked. Herbert had just broken a 10-month winless spell and with the win in Norwalk gave himself some breathing room with a 131-point cushion between his eighth-place current seed and Morgan Lucas, who sits in the No. 11 spot currently and is 32 points outside the cut for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Herbert's 10-year-old daughter Jessie had never before been to the winner's circle with her father and without a doubt, this one was cause to celebrate. This title at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, already a somber event due to the death of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta just one week before, was the first Herbert had won since his own sons died in an auto accident near their home in January. After their deaths, Herbert, determined to win for his sons, named his 2008 NHRA POWERade Series world championship title quest the "For My Boys" tour.

Unfortunately, ambition and intention alone don't win races. Until Norwalk, Herbert had yet to reach a final round this season. Then the spell broke with a holeshot. Herbert comes to Denver for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals July 11-13 at Bandimere Speedway with a budding momentum that's crucial for success in the famed Western Swing, the grueling three-races-in-three-weeks trek from Denver to Seattle to Sonoma, Calif. He defeated a win-hungry Brandon Bernstein and a faster Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster with a quicker reaction time in Ohio.

Herbert wouldn't have wanted to escape from the significance of that winner's circle in Norwalk, as difficult as the transition from grief to the future can be. It's that story, one of grief and recovery that follows Herbert this year.

"It was an emotional day," Herbert said. "Last year James came to the race with me, and as fun and satisfying as (the win) was, it was kind of sad too...I guess what I try and do is try to concentrate on the fun times I've had with my boys and Scott Kalitta. When you think about that, that really seems to be the best thing to help get me through. I'm not particularly a super-religious person necessarily, but I think going through what I've been through, it's giving me some faith in God. I think you really just have to believe, especially at a time like this."

Recovery has come in the form of a packed NHRA POWERade Series schedule, time with family, his daughter and his sons' friends, and several new projects, including the foundation he started in his sons' honor (BRAKES - Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe).

He's also decided that 330.63 mph (the career best he set in Phoenix three years ago) isn't fast enough.

Herbert, his father Chet, a drag racing legend and one of the original drivers in Southern California, and assorted friends intend to attack the world land speed record at Bonneville Speed Week in 2009 at the Salt Flats in Bonneville, Utah. They're building a car at Herbert's North Carolina shop, with his father contributing key engineering work.

"My dad has built a bunch of cars to go to Bonneville since the early 1950s," Herbert said. "I just decided I wanted to do something that was different, that a lot of other people aren't doing...Going to Bonneville is kind of an out-of-the-box kind of thing. We're building the car from scratch, the engines we're building, the wheels; it's an original hot-rodding thing."

Meanwhile he appreciates the hectic schedule of the NHRA POWERade Series and the Western Swing.

"It's going to be a good three weeks," Herbert said. "We'll just continue to work on the momentum. I kind of like back-to-back races. We can focus on the race and don't have time to really worry about a bunch of other stuff. We're too busy being at the race; working on the (race cars)."

As are the rest of the drivers of the NHRA POWERade Series. Although Herbert was an emotional favorite to win in Norwalk, every team - except that of U.S. Army Top Fuel dynamo Tony Schumacher, who became the first driver to secure his spot in the playoffs - needs a win. Near the top are category rookie Antron Brown and his teammate Rod Fuller, who pose a serious threat to "the Sarge," as does two-time champion Larry Dixon. Hillary Will, one of the most popular drivers in the Series, had just won her first Top Fuel event before the death of Kalitta, her teammate, and looks for a quick rebound in his honor with her Kalitta Racing Top Fuel teammates Doug Kalitta and Dave Grubnic.

In Funny Car, independent team owner/driver Tim Wilkerson, with an assist from Don Prudhomme Racing, continues his dream season as a surprise points leader, with the Pedregon brothers, Tony and Cruz, and the John Force Racing powerhouse of John and Ashley Force, Robert Hight and Mike Neff close behind.

Pro Stock has seen a return to grace for Greg Anderson, the three-time NHRA POWERade Series world champion who wants to regain his throne after two years of finishing second. His teammate Jason Line is in the hunt, and the young Dave Connolly is scratching his way back into contention after missing the first five races of the season due to sponsorship woes. He's only 54 points out of the Top 10 spots that will battle for the championship title. Kurt Johnson can't be ruled out - he's in second place with two wins on the season entering Denver.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines leads with two wins so far in 2008 but there's no discarding new Don Schumacher Racing rider Chip Ellis or defending NHRA POWERade Series world champion Matt Smith, currently in second and third place, respectively.

Expect a special spotlight on defending event winners Fuller, Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Allen Johnson, who won this race for his title sponsor last year, and Smith.

The 29th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals near Denver is the 13th of 24 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, televised on ESPN2 HD. In the interest of safety, for the first time in NHRA history competition in Top Fuel and Funny Car will be contested at a distance of 1,000 feet, instead of the traditional 1,320 feet. Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle and all Lucas Oil Series sportsman categories will continue to compete in the full quarter-mile. National record performances in Top Fuel and Funny Car will not be officially recorded, and bonus points for setting national elapsed time records in the two nitro categories will not be available.

* SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. on Friday, July 11. Qualifying continues at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 12 and final eliminations begin at noon on Sunday, July 13.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. Call (800) 664-UWIN or check for details.

* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 12. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 13. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise the race beginning at 8 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 13.

* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in four categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA POWERade Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 10 a.m. on July 11, with eliminations starting on July 12 at 9 a.m.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Scott Kalitta , Don Prudhomme , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Brandon Bernstein , Allen Johnson , Morgan Lucas , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , Don Schumacher , Chip Ellis , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , Hillary Will , Dave Connolly , Mike Neff