Madison: Race under the lights

NHRA Powerade Series Teams Prepare to Race Under The Lights at Gateway International Raceway as Season Hits Midway Point MADISON, Ill. - In the high-octane world of auto racing, there's nothing quite like the electric atmosphere produced when a...

NHRA Powerade Series Teams Prepare to Race Under The Lights at Gateway International Raceway as Season Hits Midway Point

MADISON, Ill. - In the high-octane world of auto racing, there's nothing quite like the electric atmosphere produced when a pair of richly tuned, nitro-burning Top Fuel dragsters cackle at the starting line, awaiting the green light to flash at one of the NHRA's premier stadiums of speed.

The explosive blast that roars from two 6,000-horsepower dragsters thundering side by side toward the finish line is guaranteed to provide an extreme shot of adrenaline to even the most conservative attendees.

One blink and it's over.

The dramatic spectacle is even more intense when the racing is conducted at night, under sparkling stadium lights.

Triangles of fire rage from four sets of header pipes and glimmers of color deflect from all points as flashbulbs from hundreds of cameras add extra illumination to the surreal moment. The two dragsters, aggressively arched as thousands of pounds of downforce on each end keep the machines planted to the asphalt, leave only a trail of vapor and wake of jolted fans in the distance.

For three spectacular nights at state-of-the-art Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis, legions of fans who crave 335-mph blasts that last less than four-and-a-half seconds -- and long for the glory days when nighttime drag racing was a weekly standard across America -- will get both at the eighth annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals, June 25-27.

Doug Kalitta, Del Worsham, Ron Krisher and Geno Scali are the defending winners of the $1.8 million race, the 12th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. ESPN2 will provide television coverage of the event, which marks the official halfway point of the season.

Funny Car ace Worsham, red-hot driver of the red Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevrolet Monte Carlo, hopes to defend his title at one of his favorite tracks. The Southern California native defeated category icon John Force in a memorable final round last season at the western Illinois track and needs a victory this year to hold firmly to his position as the POWERade Series points leader.

Like most drivers who have a tendency to lose track of time during the whirlwind POWERade Series tour, Worsham can't believe the season's midway point has slipped in quietly through the backdoor. For the first time in his career, he is entering the back stretch in position to win the championship title.

"We've maintained all along that our goal heading into the first race of the year in Pomona was to put ourselves in a solid position and stay there," Worsham said. "We never had a goal of being in first place for X amount of races, or anything like that. We just wanted to win enough rounds and enough races to be right in the mix as the season wore on, to give ourselves a chance to make a run at the championship when the season is coming to a close. We've done that so far, and our only focus right now is to keep doing it. It's fantastic to win races -- there's nothing better -- but it's just as important to consistently go rounds."

Worsham, who has earned 17 victories since joining the circuit full time in 1991, says racing at night offers NHRA Funny Car teams -- highly accustomed to an 11 a.m. Sunday start -- a much different perspective.

"One of the things I remember most about winning in St. Louis last year was that it was totally dark by the time we got to the semifinals," Worsham said. "It was pretty weird, racing totally under the lights like that. Fortunately, the lights at Gateway are great, so there's no problem with visibility or anything. We're just used to racing the final round in late afternoon or around sunset, so running most of the race at night was really unique."

In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson would like nothing more than to race to the nighttime victory in his GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am. Johnson, who won the inaugural race at Gateway in 1997 and another in 2001, needs a strong performance to improve on his eighth-place points standing. The six-time NHRA World Champion also needs a victory to keep his streak of winning at least one race per season for the last 22 years alive.

"Although the first half of the season hasn't produced the results we expect, we have been working nonstop to better our program," said Johnson, the winningest Pro Stock driver in NHRA history with 92 victories. "I am excited about several items we are working on for the second half that should increase our performance. I guarantee our showing in the second half will be more like what the fans have come to expect from us."

In the competitive world of Pro Stock, Johnson will be one of more than 30 competitors trying to qualify for 16 available starting spots on Sunday night. He says the cooler temperatures will afford racers a more accepting track surface while at the same time provide the fans with exciting runs and a welcome escape from the smoldering heat of the day.

"Racing at night provides benefits for both the fans and competitors," Johnson added. "The racers are able to take advantage of a cool, consistent race track, while the fans get to watch in relative comfort. Especially considering we are in the middle of a Midwestern summer."

· SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is scheduled for 5 and 8 p.m. on June 25 and will continue at 5 and 8 p.m. on June 26. Final eliminations begin at 4:30 p.m. on June 27.

· TICKETS: Tickets are available for the eighth annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals. Call Gateway International Raceway at (866) 35-SPEED. Tickets also are available through Ticketmaster.

· TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (ET) on June 26. ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 9 p.m. (ET) on June 27.

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


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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , John Force , Doug Kalitta , Ron Krisher , Geno Scali