Houston Top Fuel notebook

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 SLICK 50 NATIONALS TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK *Happy birthday: March 22 will be a special day for Cristen Powell, as she celebrates her 18th birthday at Houston Raceway...


Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761

SLICK 50 NATIONALS TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK *Happy birthday: March 22 will be a special day for Cristen Powell, as she celebrates her 18th birthday at Houston Raceway Park.

"This is the place I want to be on my birthday," Powell said.

She spent her 16th and 17th birthdays at a dragstrip, too. Powell was undergoing NHRA licensing at Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School in Gainesville, Fla., on her 16th birthday, and she was racing a Federal-Mogul Dragster in an NHRA Southeast Division race at Orlando, Fla., on her 17th birthday.

*Balancing act: Sometimes it's easy to forget that Cristen Powell is just 17 years old. She shows remarkable maturity for her age, and was graceful and accomodating to a deluge of fans and media at the first three races of this season.

It's clear that Powell loves every second of the Top Fuel experience. But she also wants to remain a kid for a while.

"That's all I want, is balance," Powell said. "Now that it's starting to balance out, I can step back and see how lucky I am.

"I love it, but sometimes I just need a bit of time to hang out with my friends. I am only 17."

*Snoopy power: Joe Amato appears to have the strongest Top Fuel dragster entering the Slick 50 Nationals, if his performance two weeks ago at the Mac Tools Gatornationals is any indication.

Amato dominated the event at Gainesville Raceway, beating Mike Dunn in the final and qualifying No. 1 at 4.597 seconds, 316.12 mph in the Keystone Automotive Warehouse Dragster. His qualifying time and speed were the best of the event, and he climbed to second in the NHRA Winston point standings, 41 points behind Gary Scelzi.

Amato, whose good-luck charm is the cartoon character Snoopy, was the top qualifier for the first time since July 1995, when he was No. 1 at the Western Auto Nationals presented by Slick 50 at Topeka, Kan.

*Tough times: A tough start to the 1997 season got even worse for Larry Dixon at the Mac Tools Gatornationals when he failed to qualify for the first time in his career in the Miller Lite Dragster.

Dixon, from San Diego, had qualified for all 40 races he entered since starting his Top Fuel career in 1995. He is winless in two rounds of eliminations in the dragster owned by the legendary Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and is 14th in the NHRA Winston point standings.

*The split: When Eddie Hill pulled to the starting line at Gainesville Raceway two weeks ago, it was his first NHRA national event in a decade without Fuzzy Carter as his crew chief.

Hill and Carter ended their tuning partnership just before the Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 6-9 at Gainesville, Fla. Carter has tuned Hill's Top Fuel dragster since 1987. Longtime Hill associate Bill Shacklett took over as crew chief, but Hill will continue to make many major tuning decisions.

The Pennzoil Dragster team has struggled since winning the NHRA Winston championship in 1993, as Hill has finished 11th, sixth and 10th, respectively, in the last three seasons. This season has been no better. Hill is tied for 15th in the NHRA Winston point standings.

In his first race without Carter, Hill qualified 15th and lost in the first round to Cory McClenathan.

*TJ back on track: Tommy Johnson Jr. has returned to Top Fuel in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series with a full sponsorship from Demand Flow Racing.

Johnson, from Ottumwa, Iowa, raced a limited schedule last season after losing his sponsorship at the end of the 1995 season. He finished a career-best eighth in the NHRA Winston point standings in 1995.

Johnson unveiled his new Demand Flow dragster two weeks at the Mac Tools Gatornationals, qualifying 13th and losing in the first round to Kenny Bernstein.

*Lofty goals: Cristen Powell may be a Top Fuel rookie, but she already has her eyes on the ultimate prize -- the NHRA Winston title.

"We want to win the championship," Powell said. "That's why we're out here. We have proper funding, we have a great crew. I feel like I can drive the car."

*Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3 p.m. March 21 and continues at 7 p.m. that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. March 22. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. March 23. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 10 a.m. March 20.

*Tickets: Tickets are available for the Slick 50 Nationals. Call Houston Raceway Park at (281) 383-2666 or check the track's World Wide Web site at http://www.houstonraceway.com for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased from Ticketmaster. To order through Ticketmaster, call (713) 629-3700.

*On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of live, final-round competition from the Slick 50 Nationals at 4 p.m. (CST) March 23. ESPN2 also will televise Friday-night qualifying with a two-hour, same-day show starting at 11:30 p.m. (CST) March 21. All-day, live coverage of final eliminations will be shown on pay-per-view from 10:30-6 p.m. (CST) March 23. The telecast costs $14.95. Viewers must order the programming through their satellite or cable provider.

*On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.goracing.com/nhra/ offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics and driver biographies. -30- 3/11/97-HT2-042

Jack Durbin indy500@freenet.tlh.fl.us Motorsport News International jackd@motorsport.com (Moderators for "rec.autos.sport.info") Homepage http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/users/indy500/index.html

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Cory McClenathan , Frank Hawley , Tommy Johnson Jr. , Cristen Powell