Indianapolis: Pre-race notes and quotes

NHRA NOTES & QUOTES * FREE BERNSTEIN BOBBLEHEAD: Defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein is in the home stretch of his retirement tour labeled 'Forever Red, a Run to Remember,' and will be making his final appearance as a...

NHRA NOTES & QUOTES

* FREE BERNSTEIN BOBBLEHEAD: Defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein is in the home stretch of his retirement tour labeled 'Forever Red, a Run to Remember,' and will be making his final appearance as a driver at IRP. In recognition of the support he has received from the fans at IRP over the years, a special giveaway will be implemented on Monday, Sept. 2.

The first 4,500 spectators through the gates for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals will receive a free Kenny Bernstein bobblehead doll.

* BERNSTEIN CONTINUES TO CLOSE GAP: Defending Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein won the recent Rugged Liner NHRA Nationals at Brainerd, Minn., to move within 80 points of current leader, Larry Dixon.

"We've had some momentum going for us since St. Louis. Larry (Dixon) is a good driver. He's been doing a wonderful job for the past two years and you have to be on your game when you come up against him. This battle between the two beer cars has been going on for over a year now. It's World War III every week. You just can't afford to give up any points, yet they're a great team and you're not always going to get the breaks. It's going to be a very interesting battle to the end.

"When we were 259 points down, our goal was to get it down to 100 points by Indy, and then we might have a chance at the championship. It's a good feeling going into Indy to know that you're on target and might have a chance to continue to make it a battle to the end."

* DIXON GOES FOR REPEAT: As the battle for the NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championship continues between Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team versus Kenny Bernstein and the Budweiser team, every elimination round increases in significance. Last season Dixon followed up his win at Brainerd, Minn., by winning the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals for the second time in his career. He will try and become the first Top Fuel driver to win the event in consecutive seasons since Joe Amato did it in 1987-88.

* PONTIAC'S FIRST RACE CAR ON DISPLAY AT IRP: Pontiac's earliest known race car, a 1926 boat-tail racer affectionately called "Hill Climber" by owner/driver Arnold Landvoigt, will be on display September 1-2, at the 48th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The 1926 Pontiac Hill Climber will be on display at the Pontiac-GMC display on the NHRA Manufacturer's Midway.

On August 14, 1926, Pontiac Hill Climber competed for the first time in Sherrill, N.Y., and won first in its class, taking two trophies and a $20 cash prize. Hill Climber repeated its success at the same event a year later in 1927, and continued to be raced in the Utica area until the 1930s.

* HAMMONDS REMAINS OPTIMISTIC: Former NBA forward Tom Hammonds has had his fair share of highs and lows in 2002, his first full year of competition on the NHRA circuit.

After the first five events of the season, Hammonds was in the Pro Stock Top 10 for the first time in his career. Then the Crestview, Fla., driver posted four straight DNQ's (did not qualify), dropping him to 13th in the standings. After a crew chief change following the fourth DNQ, Hammonds drove his Winnebago Chevy Cavalier to a runner-up finish at Chicago. The success was short-lived though as Hammonds had a DNQ at four of the next five events.

"Just like the NBA, the NHRA season is a long one, and you are going to have peaks and valleys," said the 35-year-old Hammonds. "If you're able to maintain an even keel through all the trials and tribulations, the outcome will work out in your favor.

"This Winnebago/GM Vehicle Care team has had its share of ups and downs this year, but we've always managed to keep our heads up, knowing things are going to turn around. We've struggled lately, but I'm confident we're going to be headed back in the right direction (going into Indy)."

* JEG FIRST TO THREE VICTORIES: Jeg Coughlin became the first Pro Stock driver to win three NHRA events this season with his win at Brainerd, Minn. He enters the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals third in the standings 10 points behind Jim Yates for second place and 35 points behind Greg Anderson who sits atop the Pro Stock standings. Coughlin's three wins have come in the last five events giving him 26 career victories. He also scored the victory at St. Louis and Seattle this year.

"It feels great to score another win," said Coughlin, the 2000 Pro Stock champion. "This class is too tight this year. It is extremely rewarding to win, and to be the only driver so far to win three events says a lot about our program. It is all about teamwork and dedication from the ground up. We have really got a lot of great momentum going. The NHRA POWERade championship is within reach and the way that we have performed over the last five races is what it is all about."

* MULDOWNEY AND GARLITS TO RACE IN MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS: NHRA racing legends Don Garlits and Shirley Muldowney will both compete in this year's Mac Tool U.S. Nationals. Both drivers competed in last season's event at IRP and qualified for eliminations. Garlits grabbed the No. 15 spot when he made his first pass ever over 300 mph and under five seconds (4.720 seconds at 303.37 mph) in his first NHRA action since 1992. Muldowney, who advanced to the semifinals at Columbus earlier this season, drove her Mac Tools dragster down the quarter-mile in 4.647, at a career-best speed of 320.20.

* THREE YEARS AND COUNTING FOR ANGELLE: By defeating Sam Hurwitz in the first round at Brainerd, Minn., defending Pro Stock Bike champion Angelle Savoie extended her NHRA record for consecutive first round wins to 43. Savoie has not lost in the first round since falling to C.J. Smith at Brainerd, in August of 1999.

* ODDS AND ENDS: There is a pattern that has developed in the Funny Car ranks over the last few years. Jim Epler was the runner-up to Frank Pedregon at the 1999 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, then won the event in 2000, defeating hometown favorite Whit Bazemore. Bazemore then won it in 2001 over Tony Pedregon after being the runner-up the year before. If the trend continues, Pedregon will visit the winner's circle at IRP for the first time in his career.

--There has not been a Dodge in the Pro Stock winner's circle at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals since three-time series champ Darrell Alderman won the event in 1991. With the resurrection of the Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T's in the category, the Dodge drought may soon end. They recently qualified six Dodge Neon's for a 16-car field at the national event in Sonoma, Calif.

* QUOTABLE: Defending Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein on the championship race between him and rival Larry Dixon: "Make no mistake, we have seven races left in the season and we can make a good battle out of the championship, but Dixon's team is tough, and realistically we will probably only be able to gain a handful of points at any given event, if that. We just can't afford to stub our toe early in the day, or he can get away from us."

--Six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson about his TV experience following his DNQ that ended a NHRA-record of qualifying for 303 straight national events: "Sitting in the television booth during eliminations, I felt like the kid who's misbehaved and been put in the penalty box. It gave me a different perspective, but I certainly don't have any ambitions to begin a new career in TV.

--Pro Stock driver Mark Pawuk on the struggles to find any extra horsepower in his GM DRCE engine for his Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am for a qualifying field usually separated from top to bottom by.025 of-a-second: "Finding adequate horsepower is a never-ending process. You have to keep inching forward or you'll fall miles behind. Not everything works. In fact about 1 percent of the things we do work and that's why our expenditures for research and development are so enormous, but you never know something's going to work until you try it."

--Six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion following his first DNQ (did not qualify) since 1987. Johnson did not make the field at Sonoma, Calif.: "If we look at it realistically, it's not a big deal. We'll just have to start on another one."

--Funny Car veteran Gary Densham on his championship hopes: "This championship isn't over. All it takes is a couple of good races and we're right back in it. Of course, that applies to a lot of teams right now. I've always said a bad day racing is better than a good day doing almost anything else. A good day racing? Well, we're expecting to have a lot more of those too."

--Densham's teammate, Tony Pedregon, views things a little differently: "I relate everything I do in a race car to boxing. You get two guys into the ring and guess what, only one is walking out. Drag racing's like that - two guys down the track, the winner advances, the loser goes home. It's about winning. It's between me or him and I'm going to do whatever I can to (get to the finish line first)."

--Pro Stock driver Larry Morgan won his first event since 1994 when he visited the winner's circle at Sonoma, Calif., earlier this year. As Dodge continues to make a move in the Pro Stock ranks, Morgan understands the work that is needed to succeed in the ultra-competitive category: "I wasn't sure if I was ever going to win again. This is such a tough category to run in. If we had a Top Fuel team, and had put the amount of work that we put into this team just to qualify, we would win almost every weekend."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Darrell Alderman , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Joe Amato , Larry Morgan , Gary Densham , Don Garlits , Sam Hurwitz , Tom Hammonds