Indianapolis: U.S. Nationals preview

WHAT: 49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships. Sportsman competitors in ...

WHAT:
49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships.
Sportsman competitors in seven categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championships.

WHERE:
Indianapolis Raceway Park, Clermont, Ind. From I-465, exit Crawfordsville Road (Hwy. 136). Head west for approximately four miles through the town of Clermont. The main entrance to the facility is on the left-hand side, one-half mile past Raceway Road.

WHEN:
Wednesday through Monday, Aug. 27-Sept. 1.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
Ask any drag racer which event on the 23-race NHRA POWERade Drag Racing circuit they'd most covet a victory at and the answer overwhelmingly would be Indianapolis. The history and prestige that encompass the six-day event has built the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals into the Super Bowl of drag racing. With two-thirds of the 2003 season complete, the championship contenders have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and although many teams are gearing up for the 2004 campaign, a U.S. Nationals victory can not only make a season, but a career. In Top Fuel, the 49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals will see legendary Top Fuel driver Shirley Muldowney make her final pass down the famed Indianapolis Raceway Park quarter-mile. Muldowney captured her only title at Indy in 1982. Top Fuel points leader and Indianapolis resident Larry Dixon hopes he can pilot his Miller Lite dragster to the IRP winner's circle for the third time in his career, while second place driver Doug Kalitta looks to cut into Dixon's points lead and earn his first title at the prestigious event. Also, defending U.S. Nationals champion Tony Schumacher will aim to defend his title and win his second event of the season. Funny Car points leader Tony Pedregon enters the event with a slim 61-point advantage over rival Whit Bazemore. Pedregon hopes to drive his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang to his first Indy victory, while Bazemore, an Indianapolis resident, is seeking his Dodge to his third Indy triumph. Pedregon's teammate and defending U.S. Nationals Funny Car champion John Force will look to cut into Pedregon's points lead and win the U.S. Nationals for the fifth time in his storied career as he continues his charge towards NHRA championship No. 13. Greg Anderson has been the class of the Pro Stock category in 2003. Anderson, who won the U.S. Nationals in 2001, has already won eight events in 2003 en route to a considerable points lead over Kurt Johnson. Kurt's father and six-time category champion Warren Johnson will be a contender along with defending event winner and two-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin. In the two-wheel category, Geno Scali has surprised the drag racing community by riding his Trim-Tex Suzuki to three victories and a 174-point leader over second place rider Shawn Gann. Three-time defending series champion Angelle Savoie is mired in a slump, having lost in the first round of eliminations at four consecutive events. Another team to keep an eye on is the Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson duo of Andrew Hines and GT Tonglet. Both have advanced to a final round in 2003 and Tonglet also qualified No. 1 in Denver.

FAST FACTS:
Defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon has a 48-8 record in eliminations this season. He needs eight more round wins to tie Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson for 10th for the most round wins in one season. Last season Dixon won 57 rounds, tying him with Funny Car driver John Force for eighth on the list. Force has the all-time record with 65 round wins in 1996...Dating back to the 2001 season opener, Dixon has competed in 201 rounds of eliminations, compiling a record of 162-39 for a winning percentage of 81 percent...Current Funny Car points leader Tony Pedregon has never won the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals...Three-time Pro Stock Bike champion Angelle Savoie entered the season with six career first round losses and holds the NHRA record with 46 consecutive first round wins. This season she has matched that career total with six first round defeats, including the last four in a row. She has not won a round of competition since her semifinal finish at Columbus, Ohio, in June...Geno Scali is the sixth different rider to lead the NHRA POWERade Pro stock Bike points heading into the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals (Savoie, Matt Hines, John Myers, Dave Schultz and John Mafaro).

NOTES OF INTEREST:

The NHRA Experience - Unlike any other form of major motorsport, the NHRA grants unprecedented access to each and every one of its fans. From watching the action of 8,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragsters and the 200-mph Pro Stock action, to the unlimited access to the pit areas of the NHRA's top stars. Fans get the chance to get up-close-and-personal with drag racing icons like John Force, Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme, and Kenny Bernstein. They get the chance to meet and greet the next wave of NHRA superstars like Larry Dixon, Tony Schumacher, Darrell Russell, Tony Pedregon, Del Worsham, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie. The manufacturers midway provides an on-site shopping experience for the latest technology in the automotive aftermarket. The newest addition to the midway area is the exciting POWERade interactive display. Fans can get photographed wearing an authentic team shirt from their favorite team, meet different drivers during scheduled autograph sessions, spin the back wheel of a Top Fuel dragster to win various prizes, including a ride in a Pro Stock simulator that gives fans a taste of life on the quarter-mile.

Regarding Weather -- In drag racing weather plays a vital role as crew chiefs examine data and tune their race cars for maximum performance. Most teams have sophisticated weather stations on board their team transporters so they can access up-to-the-minute weather information as well as forecasts.

Greatest Comeback Ever? - Many fans, competitors and others in the racing industry had already discarded defending NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion John Force for another series title. Force, who has 12 titles overall with the last 10 coming consecutively, had an uncharacteristically poor performance the first half of the 2003 season. The winningest driver in NHRA history (108 victories), went 12 races before earning his first win (Denver) of the season. He then was victorious the following week (Seattle) in his fourth straight final round appearance (runner up finishes at Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis). Prior to the race in Ohio, Force was seventh in the POWERade standings, 398 points behind teammate and season-long leader Tony Pedregon. Over the next five events, Force moved into third in the standings and is 199 points behind Pedregon and 155 points out of second place, which is occupied by Force Racing rival Whit Bazemore. Unless Pedregon regains his early season form (winning six times out of the first 11 races) and Bazemore earns a couple more victories (two in six final rounds in 2003), Force could end up with his 13th Funny Car title in what would be considered the greatest comeback in NHRA history.

Kenny Bernstein Comes Out of Retirement to Sub for Injured Son-- Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein returned to the cockpit at Topeka, Kan., following his son Brandon's crash at Englishtown, N.J. which has sidelined the younger Bernstein for the remainder of 2003. At the time of the crash, Brandon was second in points with three victories on the year. Kenny showed no effects of his retirement in November of 2002. At his first event the 58-year-old Bernstein qualified No. 2 and advanced to the semifinals before losing to Doug Kalitta.

NHRA Stock on the Rise - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has been experiencing growth that is unprecedented in its 52-year history. The television coverage of the fastest form of auto racing on the planet is continuing to gain viewers and ratings in the third year of an exclusive partnership between NHRA and ESPN. That is due in large part to the innovative technology ESPN has introduced to the sensory-filled sport of 8,000 horsepower drag racing and the stellar competition that has been taking place on the quarter-mile drag strip. This also has presented an increasing amount of fan appeal, which draws new sponsors or increased support form current sponsors in various capacities. The NHRA and POWERade, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Co., joined forces prior to the 2002 season with high hopes and great expectations. The partnership has opened up new doors for marketing and advertising strategies that were not available in the past. Combining the product NHRA has to offer with the business capabilities of POWERade, the sport of drag racing is reaching new heights. The 23-race, $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing series has evolved beyond the wildest dreams of the organization's founder, 90-year-old Wally Parks, and the NHRA continues to increase its presence and influence in the world of motorsports.

ABOUT THE TRACK:
In 1958, led by Tom Binford, Frank Dickie, Roger Ward and Howard Feiber, 15 Indianapolis-area businessmen and racing professionals invested $5,000 each to fund the development of what would become Indianapolis Raceway Park. The group purchased a 267-acre farm about seven miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and developed a multi-purpose auto racing facility. The original intention in creating IRP was to design a 15-turn, 2.5-mile road course. Nearly as an afterthought, and as an insurance measure against economic problems, the investment group decided to incorporate a quarter-mile drag strip into the straightaway of the road course design. Constructed with assistance from the NHRA, the drag strip was the first of three courses to be completed, with the facility's first event held on the strip in the fall of 1960. During the 1960s U.S. Nationals at Detroit, a handshake agreement between Binford and NHRA founder Wally Parks promised that the event would move to IRP in 1961. The historic three-year pact was signed and sealed under a tree in the pits of Detroit Dragway during the 1960 U.S. Nationals, and IRP eventually became the home of the NHRA's biggest annual event. The NHRA purchased the entire facility in 1979. The first major improvement came in 1983 with the construction and dedication of Parks Tower, the four-story drag strip tower. In 1998, new grandstands, suites and a tower complex on the front straightaway were completed at the oval track at a cost of nearly $2.5 million, which included the repaving of the entire oval surface. In 2001, NHRA and IRP constructed a new drag strip racing surface, replacing the strip with a 660-foot concrete pad and laying new asphalt on the remainder of the track and shutdown area. This season IRP has begun the initial stages of a modernization plan that includes new corporate suites that are being constructed along the top of the large grandstand on the west side of the track, running parallel to the drag strip.

MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION:

* SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is scheduled for Aug. 29 at 6:30 p.m. Qualifying continues on Aug. 30 with two sessions, at 12:45 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The final two qualifying rounds will be held on Aug. 31 at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Two bonus races will be held during the event, including the Budwesier Shootout on Aug. 31 with rounds at 12:30, 2:15 and 4 p.m, and the K&N Filters Pro Bike Klash on Aug. 30, with rounds at 12:30, 2:15 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations will be held Sept. 1 at 11 a.m.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Call the NHRA at (800) 884-NHRA for ticket information. Tickets also are available at ticketmaster.com, nhra.com and irponline.com.

* TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Aug. 30. ESPN will televise two hours of qualifying highlights on Aug. 31 before ESPN2 will broadcast a three-hour qualifying show at 9:30 p.m. (ET) that will include Budweiser Shootout coverage. On Sept. 1, ESPN2 will televise five hours of eliminations beginning with two hours of early round coverage at 11 a.m. (ET) and concluding with three hours of final round coverage at 8 p.m. (ET).

* ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at nhra.com.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Shawn Gann , Geno Scali , Andrew Hines , GT Tonglet