Houston Recap

BAYTOWN, Texas - SUMMIT FastNews - The 11th annual NHRA Pennzoil Nationals took place under almost ideal racing conditions, with cool temperatures, high pressure, dry air, and sunshine aplenty. The result was a complete rewrite of the Houston ...

BAYTOWN, Texas - SUMMIT FastNews - The 11th annual NHRA Pennzoil Nationals took place under almost ideal racing conditions, with cool temperatures, high pressure, dry air, and sunshine aplenty. The result was a complete rewrite of the Houston raceway track records, six new national records (some reset more than once), and lockstep movement of the two Joe Gibbs-owned cars from third to first in the points.

In Top Fuel Cory McClenathan parlayed a third place qualifying position into an event win and first place in the points defeating the number one and two points holders prior to the event enroute to the final round. McClenathan tackled second-place Larry Dixon in the first round and sent Dixon home in a very close contest, McClenathan clocked at 4.569 seconds at 320.17 mph to Dixon's 4.632 at 315.01. Then in the third round McClenathan took on points leader Jim Head, both cars losing traction and Cory Mac finding traction again while Head watched helplessly. In the final round he faced David Grubnic, who defeated McClenathan in the first round one week ago, in Gainesville, Florida. McClenathan posted the quickest (4.559 seconds) and fastest (320.74 mph) run of eliminations to defeat Grubnic, whose consistent performance gave signs of better things to come in the future.

Joe Amato was the number one qualifier and reset the national ET record to 4.539 seconds, earning a $50,000 bonus from MBNA for doing so. However, after defeating Kenny Bernstein in a very close first-round match, Amato fell victim to Grubnic's consistency, beating himself by smoking the tires.

In Funny Car, McClenathan's teammate Cruz Pedregon inherited the points lead despite the fact that he lost to his brother Tony in the semifinals. Cruz's move to the top of the ladder was aided by points leader Ron Capps' loss to Randy Anderson in the first round and Tony's defeat of second-place Chuck Etchells in the second round, combined with the 20-point bonus he earned by resetting the national ET record during qualifying. Cruz was the number one qualifier with a 4.819 second, 310.88 mph clocking. That qualified Cruz for an MBNA award of $10,000, the $50,000 prize awarded in Gainesville a week ago. Later, during eliminations, he reset the national speed record at 317.23 mph - which earned neither bonus points nor dollars, but certainly qualifies him for bragging rights in the family.

Tony marched smartly through the field, defeating all of his opponents but one by wide margins. In the final round, however, he had his hands full against his team owner John Force. Force, rebounding surprisingly well from a first-round fire and meltdown, gave Tony his toughest battle, producing the quickest-ever side-by-side Funny Car race. Force was clocked at 4.887 seconds and 310.88 mph, but Tony was even quicker and faster, 4.847 at 316.67.

In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson marched through the tightly bunched field with apparent ease, holding a tenth of a second advantage over the field most of the day. Three of his four runs were clocked at over 200 mph, and he was the only driver to achieve 200 mph speeds during eliminations. The only driver able to consistently run within 0.05 seconds of Johnson was Mike Thomas, and Thomas managed to make it through the first three rounds to face Johnson in the finals, but that 0.05-second advantage was more than enough for Johnson to hand Thomas the same fate as Johnson's first three opponents.

Two of the national records set this weekend were in the new Pro STock Truck category, where Larry Kopp posted low ET (7.635 seconds) and top speed (174.82 mph) in his Chevy S-10. But the victory doesn't always go to the swiftest and David Nickens earned the first-time winner's laurels in his Dodge Dakota.

One other national record was set this weekend - this one by long-time Federal-Mogul Funny Car racer Bob Newberry. Newberry was not seriously challenged throughout eliminations and moved the national ET record to 5.638 seconds in his final round defeat of Tate Branch.

The four-day crowd, announced as 102,500, was down a bit from prior years, possibly as a result of the very wet weather that has plagued the area since "el Nino" became a household name, or perhaps as a result of the scheduling of a second national event at Houston Raceway Park again this year. Too bad, those that stayed home missed a marvelous event, one that raised the threshold of performance in all categories.

Results provided by the FastNews Network, courtesy of Summit Racing Equipment ** http://www.summitracing.com/ **

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Newberry , Jim Head , Mike Thomas , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Ron Capps , John Force , Joe Amato , Larry Kopp , Chuck Etchells , David Grubnic , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Cory Mac , Tate Branch