Houston; more milestone runs expected

BAYTOWN, Texas - Certain tracks on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series circuit seem to bring out the best in race cars that produce 6,000 horsepower and cover quarter-mile distances in less than five seconds at more than 320 mph. Certainly, the...

BAYTOWN, Texas - Certain tracks on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series circuit seem to bring out the best in race cars that produce 6,000 horsepower and cover quarter-mile distances in less than five seconds at more than 320 mph.

Certainly, the ultra-quick Houston Raceway Park has earned a reputation for being one of the quickest and fastest quarter-mile dragstrips on the planet.

Just ask Larry Dixon and Gary Scelzi.

Both drivers will shed sly grins when asked about their favorite memories concerning HRP. The two drivers were behind the wheel of the two quickest Top Fuel rides in 1999. Both of those memorable runs took place at HRP. Dixon became the first NHRA driver to steer a Top Fuel dragster to a run quicker than 4.5 seconds. His milestone run of 4.486 seconds in the Don Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite dragster was one of the highlights here last April. Scelzi, driving the Team Winston dragster, bettered that effort with a 4.480 second run during the event held here in late October. Scelzi's track record performance also stands as the NHRA national elapsed time record.

NHRA teams will be seeking more milestone performances during the 13th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil, April 13-16, at Houston Raceway Park.

Doug Herbert, John Force, Kurt Johnson and Mark Osborne are the defending winners of the $1.8 million race, the fifth of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C., claimed a $100,000 bonus from Winston with his victory here one year ago, defeating Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel final. Schumacher, who claimed the Winston championship in '99, leads the host of hopefuls this season. Veterans Kenny Bernstein and Joe Amato, along with two-time series champion Scelzi and first-time 4.40s runner Dixon are also among top contenders for the event.

Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., drove his familiar Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to the Funny Car win here last year, topping teammate Tony Pedregon, driver of the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang. Force and Pedregon will be among the challengers for the Funny Car win, along with WWF Racing's Jerry Toliver and Jim Epler, Kendall Camaro driver Whit Bazemore and former Houston winner Al Hofmann.

Johnson, from Lawrenceville, Ga., powered his AC Delco Camaro to the Pro Stock victory, defeating fellow Camaro driver Mike Edwards. Johnson, along with his five-time champion father Warren, who holds both track performance marks at HRP, are among the leaders for a victory this season. Winston points leader Jeg Coughlin Jr. opened the season with victories at Pomona, Calif. and Phoenix and looks primed to make a run at the Winston championship. Jim Yates, Richie Stevens, Mark Pawuk and Tom Martino are also near the top of the list of pre-event favorites.

Former Pro Stock standout Osborne, from Abingdon, Va., outran Bob Panella for the Pro Stock Truck victory here in '99. While Osborne sits out the 2000 season, Panella is poised to make a strong run at defending his Winston championship in the category. Other top truck contenders include Brad Jeter, Rob Slavinski, Todd Patterson and local favorite Bo Nickens.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Brad Jeter , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Jim Epler , Al Hofmann , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Todd Patterson , Tom Martino , Jerry Toliver , Mike Edwards