Joliet II: Creasy Jr has high hopes for victory

JOILET, Ill. - Dale Creasy Jr. will never be accused of being an overnight sensation. That is one thing the Funny Car pilot will never be called - ever. Creasy will have been in more than 100 NHRA national events when he brings the Craftsman...

JOILET, Ill. - Dale Creasy Jr. will never be accused of being an overnight sensation. That is one thing the Funny Car pilot will never be called - ever.

Creasy will have been in more than 100 NHRA national events when he brings the Craftsman Tools Pontiac Firebird to the outskirts of Chicago in September. He has yet to snag his first professional victory, but that has not discouraged the Lansing, Ill., resident.

"We are a baby-steps kind of team," Creasy said. "We are trying to learn what to do, then how to do it well, and then how to do it well consistently. Every once in a while, we sneak up on somebody."

Creasy and the team would like nothing more than to sneak up on the entire Funny Car field at the second annual Craftsman 75th Anniversary Nationals, Sept. 26-29, at Route 66 Raceway. Kenny Bernstein, Whit Bazemore and Warren Johnson are the defending winners in their respective pro categories at the $1.9 million race, the 20th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Not only will Creasy be in the event sponsor's car, but also he will be racing in front of numerous friends and family members.

"I think racing at my home track and the sponsor's home track is a great opportunity for everyone to come out and see what we do," Creasy said. "Some of the Craftsman people watch our races on TV and a few have come out to other events, but this time we are going to have a big hospitality area next to our pit area. They will have a chance to get an up-close view of what the team has to do to get this race car on the track.

"There is a little extra pressure knowing everyone is going to be there, but I think there is a lot of pressure at every NHRA event, so I can't worry too much about that. But really, if there wasn't any pressure, I don't think I would be involved with racing."

Creasy has been racing with the NHRA since 1997, and he has failed to qualify for more than half of the events he entered. This season, however, the team has shown signs of great improvement. Last year they DNQ'd in 17 of 19 events he attended. This season, Creasy has qualified for all but three races, winning a couple of rounds along the way, including a first round match with Ron Capps last weekend in Memphis, Tenn.

"Actually, this has been a pretty good year for us because we are qualifying pretty well. Much better than we have in the past couple of years," Creasy said. "Things are progressing. I have had a better race car this year than I have in the past, and that is making me more confident as a driver every time we pull up to the starting line."

Creasy has not been driving in Funny Car competition for very long, but he has been working within the sport for more than 20 years. Thinking about winning is tough to avoid.

"I try not to think about what it would be like to get that first win," Creasy said. "But we do think about it. I don't know how I will react, but it will be good for all of us. My dad has been in racing for a long time and we've been close, but we haven't won at an NHRA national event yet. If we keep working like we are, it will come. I call it cautious optimism, and that is what drag racing is all about.

"I love racing. I like the speed and I am constantly challenged. It is always a battle with the cars and every race track. I really enjoy what I am doing."

Winning the battle at Route 66 Raceway would be the ultimate prize for the Creasy family. "We are going to be racing in front of a lot of friends and family and we want to do well there," Creasy said. "We ran well in the first race at Route 66 Raceway this season, but we just got out-run in the first round. We want to turn that around and maybe beat one or two guys, especially since this is the first time Craftsman has sponsored that race. That is big for them and it's big for us. There is going to be added exposure, but pressure comes with that. We're OK about that. That's just the name of the game."

FAN FAVORITE CANNON STILL SEEKING FIRST WIN JOILET, Ill. - Funny Car driver Scotty Cannon and his radical mohawk haircut made quite an impression in 1999 when he first began to compete in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Not only did the hard-working and dedicated former Pro Mod champ become an instant favorite with the fans, he immediately challenged perennial series champion John Force to a lucrative match race to prove he was a serious contender.

Although the match race never materialized, Cannon went on to win the 1999 NHRA Rookie of the Year, finishing 11th in the final standings. In 2000 Cannon seemed to be heading in the right direction with one runner-up finish, a winning record in elimination rounds, and a career-best sixth place finish in the final standings. However, in 2001, the Oakley Racing team experienced some problems. They posted two DNQs (did not qualify), suffered 16 first round losses, and managed to win only six rounds of competition all year for a 12th place finish at the end of the season.

Following the conclusion of the 2001 season, Cannon joined forces with Chicago resident Don Schumacher and Schumacher Racing.

The outspoken Lyman, S.C. resident will try and give his Chicago-based team owner a win at his home track when competes in the second annual Craftsman 75th Anniversary Nationals presented by Racing Champions, Sept. 26-29, at the spectacular Route 66 Raceway. The $2 million race is the 20th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

"We've been knocking and knocking at the door and we need to open it soon," said Cannon. "We're running out of races and it's time to push forward and be aggressive. It's not the time to hold back. We have the talent and resources to get into winner's circle, we just haven't put all of the pieces together on the same weekend.

"We've had the performance to win. But we just haven't gotten the right break at the right time. Whit went through the same thing and then all of a sudden everything started to click and he won two straight races. That's encouraging for us because our combinations our similar and I truly feel we also have the talent to put a string of wins together."

The addition of Cannon gave Schumacher Racing a formidable two-car Funny Car team with Cannon and Whit Bazemore, who finished second in the 2001 standings to Force, plus the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster driven by Don's son, Tony.

"We just need time because I think we have the right program," said Cannon. "The key is someone like Don Schumacher stepping up to the plate and putting the whole program together. To me, that was the key to this whole deal. Outside of having our big sponsors, the key has been Don having the guts to invest this kind of money and good sponsors. He has got a lot of good people in this program."

The partnership started off slow, but now both teams are firmly among the Top 10 as Cannon seems to be approaching his first career win on the NHRA tour. He has two runner-up finishes on the season, including one at Route 66 Raceway in June. His other final round appearance was a heartbreaking loss to Force at St. Louis. As Force lost traction almost instantly, Cannon made a clean pass but was disqualified for leaving the starting line before the green light activated.

"No excuses, I messed up," said Cannon, following the loss at St. Louis. "The guys were supportive of me afterwards and I can't tell you how much that meant to me. They knew I was trying with all of my heart. This is a team that sticks together through thick and thin."

With this season's championship realistically out of reach, Cannon will continue to pursue that first win and hopefully use the knowledge from a two-car team to eventually score the NHRA POWERade championship.

"I didn't plan (on being on a two-car team)," said Cannon. "I wasn't aiming for this. But after three years of learning the business and the ropes, I've learned that the direction that this sport has taken us in has led us to create two and three-car teams. If you want to run for a championship, it is a no-brainer. You are going to have to do it with a two or three-car team. That is just my opinion."

THE SECOND TIME COULD BE A CHARM AT ROUTE 66 RACEWAY JOILET, Ill. - The National Hot Rod Association has 23 national events on a schedule that spans 10 months each year. Three tracks, Route 66 Raceway, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Pomona (Calif.) Raceway are lucky enough to host two events each year. The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series will be at each of those tracks in three of the final four events of the season.

Route 66 Raceway outside of Chicago will play host to the second annual Craftsman 75th Anniversary Nationals, Sept. 26-29, at Route 66 Raceway. Kenny Bernstein, Whit Bazemore and Warren Johnson are the defending winners in their respective pro categories at the $1.9 million race, the 20th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Just because the tracks are the same, doesn't mean the competitors can just cruise through the event. Kenny Bernstein is the only pro driver to win the 2001 fall event in Joilet, followed by a 2002 win at Route 66 Raceway in June.

"The tracks we see twice, generally, we see them under two totally different times of the year," Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell said. "So it's as if you're going to a different track anyway. I don't know that anyone gains an advantage, even the guy that wins one of them, because we all have to work just as hard to race the track and the conditions as we do at any other stop on the tour."

Russell may not have an advantage on the setup for the Bilstein Engine Flush Dragster, but he does have one mentally. All three tracks are at the top of list of favorite tracks.

"The nice thing is that the tracks we race at multiple times are all great race tracks," Russell said. "Chicago was our first real 'Supertrack.' That huge arena is so awesome. I can tell you when you're sitting in your car and they pull you through the tunnel and you come out into that huge bowl-shaped arena, you get goosebumps every time.

"I'm still awestruck by that place. I haven't won there yet, but I know the track is capable of quick times whether it's the spring or the fall."

Greg Anderson, driver of the Vegas General Construction Chevy Cavalier, is competing for his first Pro Stock championship. He is in the top three of the standings, where he, Jim Yates and Jeg Coughlin are separated by 83 points. Anderson said going to the same track twice could prove to be more of a challenge than anything else.

"The weather is cooling down and we are going to start seeing some good conditions and better air at the tracks that we close the season out with," Anderson said. "We are also going to some of the better tracks on the schedule which means that instead of having 16-20 cars running well, you are more likely to see 25-30 cars running well. Better tracks help the weaker teams. The more experienced teams excel at the hot, greasy tracks.

"We are going to have more cars capable of qualifying because we are headed to some racer-friendly tracks. At those tracks, you aren't just looking out for the Warren Johnson, Jeg Coughlin or Jim Yates' teams. There can be a lot of spoilers at the upcoming tracks, starting with Route 66 Raceway."

Anderson started running a full schedule of events this season, so he is going to the same track twice for the first time.

"Having raced there already this season, I would like to think that I am going to be better prepared to be at those tracks," Anderson said. "But so will everyone else. You need any information you can get from each track, so being there once already this season will help a little. There are so many quality cars out there, it's not just three or four cars. It is a knockdown, drag-out brawl. You can get seriously whooped in any round very easily.

"The parity is great for the fans, especially at the great tracks we are headed to. But I'm going to have to drink a lot of milk before the season is over because this is giving me ulcers."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Greg Anderson , Dale Creasy Jr. , Scotty Cannon , Don Schumacher