Houston Race Report

HERBERT, FORCE, JOHNSON, OSBORNE WIN O'REILLY NATIONALS AT HOUSTON RACEWAY PARK BAYTOWN, Texas -- Doug Herbert became $150,000 richer Sunday, and that's no bull. Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C., outran Tony Schumacher in...

HERBERT, FORCE, JOHNSON, OSBORNE WIN O'REILLY NATIONALS AT HOUSTON RACEWAY PARK BAYTOWN, Texas -- Doug Herbert became $150,000 richer Sunday, and that's no bull. Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C., outran Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel final at the 12th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil and became the first NHRA driver to win the $100,000 Winston No Bull Challenge, a special bonus offered by R.J. Reynolds. Herbert, who pocketed an additional $50,000 in race winnings, became eligible for the bonus through a pre-race drawing. "What a lucky break for the folks at Winston to pull my number out of that deal two weeks in a row," said Herbert, who also had an opportunity to claim the lucrative bonus at the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., but lost to Mike Dunn in the final. "I don't know what the odds are on pulling my number at two straight events, but I think I'm going to go to Vegas." John Force, Kurt Johnson and Mark Osborne were also winners at the $1.7 million race, the fourth of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Herbert powered his Snap-on Tools dragster to a 4.657 second, 309.56 mph run to earn his second career victory. Schumacher remained winless with a fifth career runner-up, as his Exide Batteries dragster lost traction and limped across the finish line at 7.631 at 119.14. Herbert said he wasn't even thinking about dollar signs as he staged his dragster for the final round match-up. "When you get in the car the last thing you're thinking about is the money," Herbert said. "All you're focused on is getting the win. The money is great, we can definitely use it. Heck, I've already spent it. I spent it at the last race." Herbert defeated an all-star cast that included Doug Kalitta, Joe Amato and Cory McClenathan to advance to the final and collect his record payday. "Some days you're the windshield and other days you're the bug," said Herbert, who owns an automotive parts warehouse. "Today, we were the windshield." Herbert attributes his team's fast turnaround to the addition of new crew chief Dick LaHaie, the 1987 NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion. "I had a talk with Dick LaHaie over a year ago and he said he would like to come racing with me because he liked my style," said Herbert, a four-time IHRA Top Fuel champion. "He knows how to win. Before he came to work for me he was my hero. He's impressive. When he came on board I knew we were going to be competitive in NHRA. It's unbelievable how our team has turned around." With the victory, Herbert moved to second in the Winston standings, 32 points behind leader Mike Dunn. He also earns a guaranteed start in the inaugural Winston Showdown, July 8-10 at Bristol Dragway. Herbert says he's looking forward to that race. "I've always had great success racing in Bristol," Herbert said. "I've celebrated a lot of victories in that town during my IHRA days. For some reason it always seems to be good to me. It'll be a new track, but we've got a good handle on the atmospheric conditions there and we'll be ready. I'm glad NHRA, Winston and the folks at Speedway Motorsports are bringing Thunder Valley back. That's going to be one heck of a happening. I can't wait." The only other Top Fuel driver happier than Herbert was drag racing history-maker Larry Dixon. The Miller Lite dragster driver collected 20 bonus points for setting a national elapsed time record to earn the No. 1 qualifying position. Dixon's milestone elapsed time of 4.486 seconds ended a season-long debate over which Top Fuel team would be the first to break the 4.50 second barrier. "That was an awesome pass," Dixon said following the run. "The car carried the wheels past the 60-foot mark, it was really hauling. When the front wheels came down they smoked just like a landing 747 jetliner. At that point I was just hanging on because I knew it was going to be really quick. When I heard it was a 4.48 I was as happy as I've ever been. I mean, that's history. I'm just honored to be in a position to drive a car for an innovative crew chief like Dale Armstrong." Defending Winston Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi's slump continued as the Team Winston dragster failed to qualify. It was the first DNQ for Scelzi in his professional career and it was the first time since 1994 (Eddie Hill, ATSCO Nationals) that a defending Winston champion failed to qualify for eliminations. Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., had another dominating weekend in Funny Car, increasing his Winston points lead with a third straight victory, worth $65,000. Force, who lowered the Funny Car national elapsed time record to 4.788 seconds during eliminations, drove his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a final round victory over teammate Tony Pedregon. "We had a pretty good old hound dog this weekend," said Force, whose payday included a $10,000 bonus from the MBNA World Record Club. "She ran real consistent all day. We got the win, the record and increased our points lead. That's the way you like to finish a weekend." There was some controversy before the final, as Pedregon's team was slow coming to the staging lanes. They hurried to the starting line at the last minute and made the call. Force said he was not going to run until his competitor pulled to the line. "We struggled a little to make the call and so did Tony's guys," Force said. "We got there before they did and waited for them. I told Austin (Coil, crew chief) not to start the engine until they got there because we wanted to give the fans a race. When he made it, we lined up and raced." Force, who defeated Bob Gilbertson, Dean Skuza and Del Worsham to advance to the final, ran 4.878 at 307.02 to earn the victory, while Pedregon lost traction at the start in his Castrol Syntec Mustang and slowed to a 13.630 at 69.25. Force collected the maximum 138 points available at an NHRA event and increased his Winston points lead to 129 over closest challenger Pedregon. Force's quick start is beginning to resemble his magical 1996 season, when he dominated with 13 victories. "I love all my competitors but they're mad right now," Force said. "I don't know what to say? They kicked us out last year with the new body and we still beat 'em. Everybody can talk about the new body, but that's not it. Since we've put Alan Johnson heads on the car it's really been one fast hot rod. I mean, we're running 4.80s when we drop a cylinder. That's just incredible. The name of the game is money. These guys are going to figure it out eventually." Johnson, from Lawrenceville, Ga., increased his Winston Pro Stock points lead with his second victory of the season. The AC Delco Chevrolet Camaro driver ran 6.969 at 199.14, defeating Mike Edwards, who ran 7.009 at 197.77, also in a Camaro. "I was intense today and knew I had the car underneath me and if I did my job we could get the win," Johnson said. "Luckily we put enough numbers together and had the power under the hood to win today." Abingdon, Va.'s Osborne claimed his second Pro Stock Truck victory, outrunning fellow Chevrolet S-10 driver Bob Panella in the final round. Osborne covered the distance in 7.647 at 176.01, crossing the finish line in front of Panella, who ran 7.681 at 175.32. "That was a tough final because Panella's the Mike Edwards of Pro Stock Truck, you can't spot him anything or he'll beat you," said Osborne, who increased his Winston points lead to 80 over Brad Jeter. "We've got some momentum right now and we want to carry that on to the next race. Our main goal is to win every race we enter in our Chevy S-10." The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event is the third annual Castrol Nationals presented by O'Reilly Auto Parts, April 22-25 at the Texas Motorplex.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Brad Jeter , Kurt Johnson , Bob Gilbertson , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Cory McClenathan , Dick LaHaie , Mike Edwards