Memphis; Challenges of seeking victory

FINALLY, A WIN FOR SARVER: After successful careers in short track stock car racing and go kart racing, Bruce Sarver finally conquered drag racing. After posting two runner-up finishes in his only final round appearances during a three year...

FINALLY, A WIN FOR SARVER: After successful careers in short track stock car racing and go kart racing, Bruce Sarver finally conquered drag racing. After posting two runner-up finishes in his only final round appearances during a three year stint in Top Fuel competition, the Bakersfield, Calif. driver broke through for his first NHRA victory three weeks ago at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa. in a Funny Car.

Sarver, driving the Alan Johnson-owned and tuned Pontiac Firebird, outran the U.S. Tobacco Chevy Camaro of Ron Capps in the final. "It hasn't sunk in yet, but it's a pretty cool feeling," said Sarver, who logged more than 200 kart wins and was a top late model stock car competitor in NASCAR's Winston Racing Series. "Drag racing has been a challenge and when you make mistakes, this sport will humble you instantly, and I have been humbled a lot. It's a dream come true."

JOHNSON HOPES TO CLOSE OUT 2000 PRO STOCK CAMPAIGN WITH MORE WINS MILLINGTON, Tenn. - There's no secret formula behind Kurt Johnson's plan for the remainder of the 2000 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series season. No special recipe for success.

The Lawrenceville, Ga. driver wants to take the direct approach. With the chances of winning his first Winston championship all but gone in a yellow and black blur, Johnson has focused his efforts toward the next best thing: second place.

And to remain in that position he'll do whatever it takes. For now, winning races seems to fit the bill. Johnson has taken a knack to it. He's claimed victories in Denver, Sonoma, Calif., Brainerd, Minn. and most recently in Reading, Pa. Those victories have vaulted him into second place in the Winston Top 10 -- 425 behind leader Jeg Coughlin and 52 ahead of third place Ron Krisher.

A victory at the 13th annual AutoZone Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Oct. 5-8, at Memphis Motorsports Park, would help him as he chases his season-ending goal. The $1.8 million race is the 20th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Johnson admits that this is one of his best seasons ever, ranking up there with 1993, his Winston Rookie of the Year season when he finished second in points after recording three victories in seven final rounds.

But he can't take all the credit. He says his AC Delco Camaro has responded well to each set of conditions at the different race tracks on the NHRA circuit.

"It seems to be a pretty special car," said Johnson, runner-up at Memphis in 1998. "I've never won four races in a year, so it must be a good one." Heck, if not for the runaway performance of the Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile Cutlass, which has visited winner's circle eight times this season, Johnson could be celebrating his first title.

But, as his proud five-time champion father Warren insists, that championship will come in time. Maybe even as early as next year.

"Kurt's team has taken a while to gel, but it looks like they're on course," said the elder Johnson. "They should be ready for next year."

UPSET NATIONALS: Pro Stock competition at the Memphis Motorsports Park was filled with first round upsets in '99, including a very rare one: No. 16 qualifier Larry Nance, of NBA fame, defeated top qualifier Warren Johnson. That race set the tone for the rest of the first round, which also saw No. 10 qualifier Tony Gillig outrun No. 7 seed Mike Thomas; No. 11 George Marnell beat No. 6 Allen Johnson; and Jeg Coughlin, the 14th quickest, use a holeshot to beat No. 3 qualifier and brother Troy Coughlin.

PANELLA SEEKS ANOTHER MEMPHIS WIN: Memphis Motorsports Park will always be a special place for Bob Panella.

It was here in 1998 that he had his breakthrough event, defeating Brad Jeter in a very close all Chevy S-10 affair for his first Pro Stock Truck victory. It was a race that let the Pro Stock Truck world know that Panella would be a top contender for seasons to come. It was a race that gave the Stockton, Calif. racer a ton of confidence.

Last season he was the event's top qualifier and advanced to the semifinals, where Jeter enacted some revenge from the previous year. However the performance led Panella on to seal his first Winston title.

As Panella returns to the quick Tennessee quarter-mile this season, he can reflect on how far he's come in the new pro category. Now one of the established category dominators, he's looking to close on his second NHRA Winston championship.

All he needs to do is hold off a late season charge from a determined Randy Daniels. Daniels, who also drives an S-10, trails Panella, a five-time winner, partly due to an untimely DNQ at the season-opening event in Pomona, Calif. Daniels, from Grantsboro, N.C., also has five victories this season and has had some success at Memphis too, posting a runner-up finish here last season.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Tony Gillig , Mike Thomas , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Bob Panella , Brad Jeter , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Ron Capps , Ron Krisher , Allen Johnson , Larry Nance