Joliet: Lucas Oil Products NHRA Nationals preview

Summer Heat Brings Different Strategy for NHRA Teams as They Prepare for Lucas Oil Products NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway JOLIET, Ill. - While most of the attention during the early stages of the 2001 NHRA Winston Drag Racing campaign has...

Summer Heat Brings Different Strategy for NHRA Teams as They Prepare for Lucas Oil Products NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway

JOLIET, Ill. - While most of the attention during the early stages of the 2001 NHRA Winston Drag Racing campaign has focused on high-powered performances, teams will shift their concentration to more serious matters as the season drifts into the heat of the summer.

While the crisp, cool weather of spring presented an inviting platform for earth-shaking performances and history-making milestone runs, the heat and humidity of summer isn't as receptive to such lethal combinations. Crew chiefs will be forced to incorporate a different strategy, detuning their ultra-fast machines to some degree, while trying to attain a more conservative, consistent setup.

Teams will direct even more of their attention to race strategy. The emphasis will be geared toward getting the racecar downtrack on every run, thus earning as many valuable points as possible to get in position to make a charge for an elusive NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series championship. It'll be all about survival when the contenders are separated from the pretenders during the chase for Winston championship glory at the fourth annual Lucas Oil Products NHRA Nationals, May 31-June 3 at state-of-the-art Route 66 Raceway.

Gary Scelzi, John Force, Ron Krisher, Antron Brown and Bob Panella are the defending winners of the $2 million race, the 10th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Scelzi completed one of the most dramatic comebacks in NHRA history here last year, winning the race after rebounding from two separate incidents during qualifying and eliminations. His Team Winston crew worked overtime to rebuild his dragster for eliminations after he suffered a crash and spectacular engine explosion. Scelzi went on to defeat Larry Dixon in a close final round. This season the two drivers are among many locked in an intense battle for the Winston championship. Other top contenders include hometown favorite Tony Schumacher, of nearby Park Ridge, '98 winner Kenny Bernstein and '99 winner Mike Dunn, driver of the Yankee dragster.

Force claimed perhaps his greatest victory here one year ago, defeating Jerry Toliver in the Funny Car final. With the win, Force became NHRA's all-time win leader. Force, who has since increased his career win total to 94, once again leads the Funny Car pack and is searching for his 11th career Winston championship. Standing in his way are the Don Prudhomme-tandem of Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr., along with Whit Bazemore, teammate Tony Pedregon, Del Worsham and Scotty Cannon.

Krisher drove to his first-career NHRA victory in his Eagle One Pontiac, defeating Troy Coughlin in the final. Both drivers are among the favorites once again, along with defending series champion Jeg Coughlin, current points leader Mark Pawuk, Warren Johnson and two-time series champion Jim Yates.

Brown defeated Craig Treble in a battle of Suzukis for the Pro Stock Motorcycle crown. Both riders will be among many trying to chase down defending series champ Angelle Savoie, rider of the Team Winston Suzuki. Three-time champion Matt Hines, another pre-race favorite in the two-wheel category, is a two-time winner at Chicago.

Panella claimed the Pro Stock Truck victory over arch-rival and fellow Chevy S-10 driver Randy Daniels here one year ago. While those two drivers hope for a repeat final round match this season, several new threats have emerged in the category, including Greg Stanfield and GMC Sonoma driver Jeff Gracia.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is set to begin at 4 and 6:45 p.m. on June 1 and will continue at 12:10 a.m. and 2:50 p.m. on June 2. Final professional eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on June 3.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the fourth annual Lucas Oil Products NHRA Nationals. Call Route 66 Raceway at (815) 722-5500, or Ticketmaster for ticket information. Tickets also available at

* TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET) on June 3. ESPN2 also will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 9 p.m. (ET) on June 2.

ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at


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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Ron Krisher , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , Scotty Cannon , Craig Treble , Don Prudhomme , Greg Stanfield , Jerry Toliver , Tommy Johnson Jr.