Houston: Battle lines drawn

BAYTOWN, Texas - The battle lines have been drawn. At stake: drag racing's biggest prize -- the coveted NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship. With few points remaining to be earned during the 2000 season, the drama and excitement...

BAYTOWN, Texas - The battle lines have been drawn. At stake: drag racing's biggest prize -- the coveted NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship. With few points remaining to be earned during the 2000 season, the drama and excitement in the 6,000 horsepower category is at an all-time high. Gary Scelzi leads the chase, and appears poised to claim his third Winston title. Feeding off the energy produced by the competition in Top Fuel, the action in Pro Stock Motorcycle is close as well, as several riders are chasing Winston championship glory. Current points leader Angelle Seeling is attempting to become only the second female in NHRA history to win a pro category championship. Meanwhile, three-time defending series champ Matt Hines has other plans. In Funny Car and Pro Stock, a collection of drivers are scrambling for second place honors, as John Force is close to clinching his 10th Winston title and Jeg Coughlin has already claimed his first Pro Stock championship trophy. Certainly, there are many 300-mph story lines that will develop and unfold at the fourth annual Matco Tools SuperNationals presented by Racing Champions, Oct. 26-29, at Houston Raceway Park. With the opportunity looming for record-setting performances at the quick Texas quarter-mile, teams will be working hard to earn valuable bonus points holeshot start to defeat Tom Martino. While both drivers hope for a rematch, two-time HRP race winner Jeg Coughlin Jr. will be seeking another victory so he can break Darrell Alderman's season-win record of 11. Kurt and Warren Johnson, Jim Yates, Mark Pawuk and Richie Stevens also are among the top contenders in the 200-mph category. Hometown favorite Mullen, who lives in Houston, claimed his first career Pro Stock Motorcycle victory here last fall, outrunning veteran Dave Schultz in a quarter-mile battle between Suzukis. Mullen hopes for another winning performance as he tries to improve on his Winston points position. While Winston Championship implications surround Seeling and Hines, Antron Brown will try to keep the momentum alive as he has been one of the hottest riders during the last few months. FORCE CLOSING IN ON 10TH WINSTON TITLE, TAKING NOTHING FOR GRANTED BAYTOWN, Texas - Jerry Toliver and his WWF Racing Pontiac Firebird capped off the '99 season with a victory in Pomona, Calif., and then exploded onto the scene in 2000, winning two of the first three national events. John Force-critics were convinced that the nine-time Winston champ was losing his strangle-hold on the series title. Oh how the critics have been silenced. Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., regained his championship form and, after dropping to fifth in the points early in the season, has reclaimed his familiar position atop the Winston standings with his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Force has strung together an impressive season collecting nine wins during the year, boosting his career victory total to 90, an ongoing record for national event wins. Force will be looking to add to that win total and collect his seventh career victory at Houston Raceway Park, when he competes in the fourth annual Matco Tools SuperNationals presented by Racing Champions, Oct. 26-29, in the Lone Star state. The $1.8 million race is the 22nd of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. "It's not over," Force said of the points race. "We're in better shape now than we were two months ago but all it takes is for (Toliver) to get on a roll and us to get in a slump and the lead is gone. That's what cost us the championship in 1992. We thought the race was over and went into test mode."

* SARVER SEEKING MORE WINS, PLANNING TOWARDS 2001: After picking up his first career victory at the Keystone Nationals in September, Bruce Sarver was hoping to build on momentum as the season came to a close. Sarver then suffered a first round loss in Topeka, Kan., followed by a second round defeat by eventual race-winner Ron Capps in Memphis, Tenn. "The guys have been super motivated and we finally have real good energy throughout the whole team," said Sarver, who hopes to add a second career victory in Houston. "We've had really good runs and have done well. For the guys, getting their first Funny Car win with all the struggles they have had is very rewarding for them. We are finally a normal team now and maybe even above average. Everything we are doing now is to get us ready to go after the championship next year."

SCELZI LEADS, BUT REALIZES IT'S NOT OVER: Gary Scelzi emerged from the Top Fuel mayhem at Memphis Motorsports Park with the Winston points lead. But despite the ill fortunes of rivals Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon, who were involved in separate spectacular crashes at the Tennessee quarter-mile, the two-time champ isn't chalking up the 2000 Winston crown as his just yet. Schumacher's status for the Matco Tools SuperNationals is still being evaluated by medical officials, and may not be completely certain until qualifying begins on Friday, Oct. 27. Schumacher received a fractured left Fibula and a broken bone in his right ankle when his dragster went out of control and crashed during a qualifying attempt. Dixon suffered a fractured left ankle when his dragster suffered a blowover during his final round match with Scelzi and is planning to compete in Houston. Scelzi left Memphis with a 126 point lead over Schumacher. Dixon is third, 223 points behind the leader.

"It would be nothing for Tony or Larry to come back in Houston and win, and I could go out in the first round," Scelzi said. "You just never know. We're not taking anything for granted. If those guys can get healthy, their cars are running well enough to win some races. As long as there's points left and races left, somebody else can win. I'm a realist, I understand what can happen."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Bruce Sarver , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Darrell Alderman , Mark Pawuk , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Tom Martino , Jerry Toliver