CLERMONT, Ind. - In the beginning, it was known simply as The Nationals. Over the years, an NHRA scrapbook dedicated to the blossoming event started filling with many of the most important moments in the sport, crowning achievements, emotional ...
CLERMONT, Ind. - In the beginning, it was known simply as The Nationals. Over the years, an NHRA scrapbook dedicated to the blossoming event started filling with many of the most important moments in the sport, crowning achievements, emotional victories and milestone performances. For many, the race has evolved into much more than an annual contest of speed.
Today, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals reigns as the sport's single-most prestigious affair, complete with all the drama and pomp and circumstance afforded to any major event in any sport. The history of the event alone produces goosebumps on those who seek to become a part of the mystique.
More than 1,000 competitors will descend on Indianapolis this Labor Day weekend to be part of the spectacle that is the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Racers representing locations throughout the world will be vying for the highly regarded winner's trophies, or "Wallys", as they are affectionately referred to by racers.
To win the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Aug. 28-Sept. 2, at Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP), is more than a victory -- it's a crowning achievement for any drag racer's career.
"It is the biggest drag race in the world," said Don Garlits, an eight-time Top Fuel winner at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, who last year was voted the No. 1 driver in the history of the NHRA. "It means everything. It sets a driver's career."
Whether it's the NBA Finals, the NFL's Super Bowl or the World Series for Major League Baseball, every major sport has its marquee series, game, or event, and for the NHRA, the six-day event at IRP is the one race every driver wants to win.
"It's the most important race in the sport," Garlits added. "As I look back and reminisce on all of the drivers who won Indy, just about everybody parlayed it into a career, especially after the race moved to Indianapolis. It wasn't the U.S. Nationals until it moved to Indianapolis, it was just the Nationals. I'd say it's like winning golf's U.S. Open."
Throughout the years fans at IRP have seen drag racing legends like Garlits, Shirley Muldowney and Don "the Snake" Prudhomme visit the winner's circle at the famed event and etch their name into the annals of the 51-year history of the NHRA.
Garlits began his historic run at Indianapolis with back-to-back runner-up finishes from 1962-'63, then went on to win the race for the first time in 1964. He followed with wins in '67, '68, '75, and '78. He created much of his legend as the world's greatest drag racer during a magical three-year victory march at Indy from 1984-'86. Prudhomme visited the winner's circle there seven times in Funny Car, while Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden was victorious at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals nine times in 15 final round appearances.
A win at the celebrated event, the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, can make a career for many competitors, even if they never again score a victory on the touring circuit. Earning an event championship trophy at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals is like winning the lottery of drag racing.
Despite earning three Top Fuel championships during her illustrious career behind the wheel, Muldowney ranks her Mac Tools U.S. Nationals victory as her sweetest moment in the sport.
"My win at Indy (1982) has meant everything to me over the years," said Muldowney, a pioneer for women in motorsports. "I'm thankful for all the championships, but people remember that race a lot. That was everything and probably still is. I think it is so important that every racer and every fan that attends the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals puts that Indianapolis race at the top of their preferred list."
Last year during the NHRA's 50th Anniversary season, those in attendance were treated to Garlits returning to action on the IRP quarter-mile seeking his first career 300-mph pass in under five-seconds, which he accomplished in dramatic fashion while qualifying for the 16-car field. Muldowney also qualified for the field, clocking a career-best performance in her dragster to secure a spot in eliminations.
This year Garlits, Muldowney, and 73-year-old Top Fuel veteran Chris Karamesines are expected to return to action at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, hoping to add more milestone performances and continue to build the event's legacy. The three veterans will chase their share of the $2.2 million purse alongside defending Top Fuel winner and current points leader Larry Dixon and defending Top Fuel series champion Kenny Bernstein, a three-time Indy winner who would like to add one more Mac Tools U.S. Nationals title to his career stats before hanging up his driving suit for good.
Dixon, who has had a phenomenal season in his Miller Lite dragster, would like to win the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals for a third time, to fully complete his championship quest, which by mid-season included seven victories and 10 final round appearances. For Dixon, a noted student of the sport who cherishes NHRA history and feels lucky to be a part of it, winning this event is the ultimate achievement.
"My dad never did the full tour, but (the U.S. Nationals) was the one race we went to every year," said the 35-year-old Dixon. "Everybody that was somebody showed up for that race because it was 'The
Nationals' and that said it all. We'd drive from Southern California and it would take us three days to tow my dad's car back there, and we were all piled into a station wagon. But it was the race of the year for anybody that was in a fuel car. In the beginning of time there was only one race, The Nationals, and it still carries that type of feeling. There's more money up for grabs, and more prestige than any other race we run. The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals is our Daytona 500."
However, in Dixon's eyes the race is much bigger than even NASCAR's premier event.
"If you could pick only one race that you were ever going to win in your whole life, it would be Indy," added Dixon. "When I started driving, Indy was one of the races that I wanted to do good at. I think it's the only race that I ever won, and I've won twice now, that has brought tears to my eyes. That race means so much to me and my family and to be able to do well there, with all the history, that race means more to me than any other race we go to."
MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS QUICK FACTS:
WHAT: Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the 17th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series for 2002.
WHERE: Indianapolis Raceway Park, Clermont, Ind.
WHEN: Aug. 28-Sept. 2, 2002.
PURSE: More than $2.2 million in prize money and contingency.
CATEGORIES OF COMPETITION: Four pro categories including Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. All seven NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series categories, including Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Competition Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Stock and Stock.
DEFENDING WINNERS: Larry Dixon (Top Fuel); Whit Bazemore (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); and Angelle Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. on Aug. 30, continuing at 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 and at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Sept. 1. Final eliminations begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sept 2. Eliminations for the K&N Filters Pro Bike Klash will be held at 12:30, 2:15 and 4:45 p.m. on Aug. 31. The elimination rounds for the Budweiser Shootout will be held at 12:30, 2:15 and 4 p.m. on Sept. 1.
TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at noon (ET) on Aug. 31. ESPN2 will have two broadcasts on Sept. 1 beginning with a three-hour qualifying show at 1 p.m. (ET) and continuing with additional qualifying highlights and Budweiser Shootout coverage during a 150-minute show at 9:30 p.m. (ET). On Sept. 2, 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 4:30 p.m. (ET).
TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 48th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. For additional ticket information call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available through Ticketmaster, at ticketmaster.com and nhra.com.
ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at nhra.com.