Gateway: The season's halfway point report

Winston Championship Alarm Sounding Loud as NHRA Teams Hit Season's Halfway Point at Sears Craftsman Nationals in St. Louis MADISON, Ill. - The chase for 2001 Winston championships will take on a new perspective as the NHRA Winston Drag Racing...

Winston Championship Alarm Sounding Loud as NHRA Teams Hit Season's Halfway Point at Sears Craftsman Nationals in St. Louis

MADISON, Ill. - The chase for 2001 Winston championships will take on a new perspective as the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series reaches the official halfway point of the season at state-of-the-art Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis.

Points races are intense in every professional category, with top-five contenders separated by only a handful of points.

Certainly, the fourth annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals, June 21-24, will sound an alarm throughout the pit area for drivers who are within striking distance of Winston championship glory, but need several good finishes to make a strong run at the title. With 12 races remaining on the schedule, drivers will be able to evaluate their positions and develop an appropriate strategy for the second half of the season.

Gary Scelzi, Jerry Toliver, Ron Krisher, Matt Hines and John Coughlin are the defending pro category winners of the $1.9 million race, the 12th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Scelzi came out on top in a tire-smoking thriller against Kenny Bernstein to take the Top Fuel win. Scelzi, a three-time Winston champ, is looking to regain his winning form after a slow start to the 2001 season and keep his winning streak going at Gateway (won the last three). Bernstein, meanwhile, is challenging for the Winston championship in a revitalized Budweiser King dragster, tuned by new crew chief Tim Richards. Bernstein is in a tight points battle with leader Mike Dunn, driver of the Yankee Racing dragster and Larry Dixon, who pilots the Miller Lite dragster. Rookie Darrell Russell and '99 series champ Tony Schumacher are also top pre-race favorites.

Toliver scored the Funny Car win here a year ago over Dean Skuza. Since then, Toliver hasn't been to the Winner's Circle. While he hopes to end his winless drought, current points leader John Force, the '99 winner at this event, is looking to put the finishing touches on a record 11th Winston championship. Ron Capps, the '97 winner here, Bruce Sarver, Del Worsham and Whit Bazemore are among drivers challenging to end Force's championship reign.

Krisher was impressive in Pro Stock here one year ago, earning top qualifying honors and taking the final round victory over upstart Greg Anderson. While Krisher has struggled to find the magic from a successful 2000, Anderson has been impressive winning once in two final rounds. However, the race for the Winston championship is just like the old days, as Warren Johnson ('97 winner) and Jim Yates ('99 winner) have renewed their rivalry for top honors in the 200-mph category. Mark Pawuk is also among the championship hopefuls. Defending Winston champion Jeg Coughlin, Richie Stevens and Kurt Johnson ('98 winner) also are among the top contenders.

Hines scored the Pro Stock Motorcycle victory over Angelle Savoie in a battle of Suzukis. Hines, who is seeking his fourth Winston championship, is off to a hot start in 2001 with two wins in four final round appearances. Defending series champ Savoie, the '99 winner here, holds the Gateway track record for elapsed time, at 7.274 seconds. Other top contenders in the two-wheel category include Antron Brown, GT Tonglet, Steve Johnson and Geno Scali.

Coughlin, the oldest of the four racing brothers, captured the Pro Stock Truck win, using a holeshot start to edge Bob Panella's powerful Chevy S-10 in a photo finish. While Panella seeks his third straight Winston championship this season, he's being challenged by a couple of fellow S-10 drivers, including Randy Daniels and Greg Stanfield, who recently lowered the national elapsed time record for the category to 7.395 seconds.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying begins at 4:15 and 7:45 p.m. on June 22 and will continue at 11:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. on June 23. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on June 24.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the fifth annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals. Call Gateway International Raceway at (618) 482-2495, or Ticketmaster for ticket information. Tickets also are available at nhra.com.

TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET) on June 24. ESPN2 also will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (ET) on June 23.

ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at www.nhra.com.

-NHRA-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Bruce Sarver , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Dean Skuza , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Ron Krisher , Randy Daniels , Greg Stanfield , Geno Scali , Tim Richards , Jerry Toliver , Steve Johnson , GT Tonglet