Memphis: Mid-South Nationals preview

WHAT: 16th annual O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals, the 19th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships. Sportsman ...

WHAT:
16th annual O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals, the 19th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships.
Sportsman competitors in five categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championships.

WHERE:
Memphis Motorsports Park, Millington, Tenn. Track is located at 5500 Taylor Forge Road. From I-240, drive north on Highway 51. Turn right on Barrett Parkway, turn right on Raleigh-Millington Road, turn right on Fite Road and then right on Taylor Forge Road.

WHEN:
Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 18-21.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
After suffering a spectacular crash in the final round of the 2000 O'Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals and being disqualified for crossing the center line, Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team attained some revenge at Memphis Motorsports Park in 2002. Dixon defeated Tony Schumacher in the final round for his eighth win of the season. Dixon has been as dominant this season as he was in 2002 and will be the favorite for the victory at Memphis. Doug Kalitta, Tony Schumacher and the impressive nitro-rookie David Baca will all try and stop Dixon from moving closer to his second straight NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championship. Tony Pedregon, the defending event winner in Funny Car, has been mired in a second-half slump following an impressive beginning to the 2003 season, but still finds himself atop the standings. Pedregon has been engaged in a season-long battle with rival Whit Bazemore as the two drivers try and become the first Funny Car competitor other than John Force to win a series title since 1992. Force returns to one of his favorite cities as he plays the unfamiliar role of 'blocker' with hopes of helping his teammate Pedregon. Bazemore's teammate, Gary Scelzi, earned his first victory in a Funny Car (Sonoma, Calif.) and will try and add to that total and build on the momentum his team has generated in the second half of the season. Greg Anderson has distanced himself from the rest of the Pro Stock field and seems a lock for his first career NHRA championship. Anderson continues to crave victories and has had the dominant car in the competitive field. Anderson will have to drive past last year's event winner and two-time defending Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin, in addition to Kurt Johnson, who has been among the category point leaders all season, and the always dangerous Warren Johnson. Reggie Showers is coming off his first career victory in the Pro Stock Bike category and with renowned crew chief George Bryce tuning the Suzuki, Showers is primed for another win. Three-time series champ An gelle Savoie will try and rebound from a disappointing mid-season performance and will join Shawn Gann as the two riders try to move closer in the standings to points leader Geno Scali.

FAST FACTS:
Lori Johns is the only Top Fuel driver to win back-to-back events at Memphis (1990-'91)...The last three Memphis event winners in Top Fuel have gone on to win the championship (Larry Dixon, Kenny Bernstein, and Gary Scelzi)...Bernstein and Tommy Johnson Jr. have won at Memphis in both Top Fuel and Funny Car...Jeg Coughlin and Warren Johnson are the only two Pro Stock drivers with more than one career victory at Memphis...Pro Stock Bikes have not competed at Memphis Motorsports Park since 1999 and have only ran at Memphis three times prior to that ('88, '97-'98)...Angelle Savoie has won twice in the four times the Pro Stock Bike category has been at Memphis (1998-'99).

NOTES OF INTEREST:
The NHRA Experience - Unlike any other form of major motorsport, the NHRA grants unprecedented access to each and every one of its fans. From watching the action of 6,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragsters and the 200-mph Pro Stock cars, to the unlimited access to the pit areas of the NHRA's top stars. Fans get the chance to get up-close-and-personal with drag racing icons like John Force, Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme, and Kenny Bernstein. They get the chance to meet and greet the next wave of NHRA superstars like Larry Dixon, Tony Schumacher, Darrell Russell, Tony Pedregon, Del Worsham, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie. The manufacturer midway provides an on-site shopping experience for the latest technology in the automotive aftermarket. The newest addition to the midway area is the exciting POWERade interactive display. Fans can take their picture wearing an authentic team shirt from their favorite team, meet different drivers during scheduled autograph sessions, spin the back wheel of a Top Fuel dragster to win various prizes, including a ride in a special vehicle that gives fans a taste of life on the quarter-mile by putting them track-side for a few passes.

Regarding Weather -- In drag racing weather plays a vital role as crew chiefs examine data and tune their race cars for maximum performance. Most teams have sophisticated weather stations on board their team transporters so they can access up-to-the-minute weather information as well as forecasts.

Greatest Comeback Ever? - Many fans, competitors and others in the racing industry had already discarded defending NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion John Force for another series title. Force, who has 12 titles overall with the last 10 coming consecutively, had an uncharacteristically poor performance the first half of the 2003 season. The winningest driver in NHRA history (108 victories), went 12 races before earning his first win (Denver) of the season. He then was victorious the following week (Seattle) in his fourth straight final round appearances (runner up finishes at Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis). Prior to the race in Ohio, Force was seventh in the POWERade standings, 398 points behind teammate and season-long leader Tony Pedregon. Force has catapulted into third in the standings behind Pedregon and Whit Bazemroe. Unless Pedregon regains his early season form (winning six times out of the first 11 races) and Bazemore earns a couple more victories (two in six final rounds in 2003), Force could end up with his 13th Funny Car title in what could be considered the greatest comeback in NHRA history.

Kenny Bernstein Comes Out of Retirement to Sub for Injured Son-- Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein returned to the cockpit at Topeka, Kan., following his son Brandon's crash at Englishtown, N.J. which has sidelined the younger Bernstein for the remainder of 2003. At the time of the crash, Brandon was second in points with three victories on the year. Kenny showed no effects of his retirement in November of 2002. At his first event the 58-year-old Bernstein qualified No. 2 and advanced to the semifinals before falling to Doug Kalitta.

NHRA Stock on the Rise - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has been experiencing growth that is unprecedented in its 52-year history. The television coverage of the fastest form of auto racing on the planet is continuing to gain viewers and ratings in the third year of an exclusive partnership between NHRA and ESPN. That is due in large part to the innovative technology ESPN has introduced to the sensory-filled sport of 6,000 horsepower drag racing and the stellar competition that has been taking place on the quarter-mile drag strip. This also has presented an increasing amount of fan appeal, which draws new sponsors or increased support form current sponsors in various capacities. The NHRA and POWERade, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Co., joined forces prior to the 2002 season with high hopes and great expectations. The partnership has opened up new doors for marketing and advertising strategies that were not available in the past. Combining the product NHRA has to offer with the business capabilities of POWERade, the sport of drag racing is reaching new heights. The 23-race, $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing series has evolved beyond the wildest dreams of the organization's founder, 90-year-old Wally Parks, and the NHRA continues to increase its presence and influence in the world of motorsports.

ABOUT THE TRACK:
In 1986, Memphis businessman Ed Gatlin, along with a group of investors, bought 400 acres and built the Memphis International Motorsports Park. The facility included a quarter-mile drag strip with an adjacent road course, a dirt track and a go-Kart track. There is a 1.77-mile road course attached to the drag strip, which is used as the road course straightaway. The pro pit area holds more than 350 cars, and the total pit area holds more than 500 vehicles. In 1996, Memphis International Motorsports Park was purchased by Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, Calif., (GPALB). In 1997, the word 'International' was dropped from the facility name. A three-quarter-mile paved oval was added in 1997. The paved oval was built on the site of the old dirt track, and a new dirt track replaced the go-Kart track. Also in 1997, GPALB was acquired by Dover Downs Entertainment, Inc. In 1998, a three-quarter-mile oval track with all four turns banked at 11 degrees was built. The oval track has seating for 35,000 with 14 executive suites and a covered garage area for 50 cars on the infield. Renovated before the 1998 season, the quarter-mile dirt oval features seating for 4,000 spectators and a pit area for up to 175 cars.

O'REILLY NHRA MID-SOUTH NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION:

* SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying will run at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 20 and will continue at 11:30 and 3 p.m. on Sept. 21. Final professional eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sept. 22.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 16th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals by calling (866) 407-7333, or visit memphismotorsportspark.com.

* TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 3:30 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 20. ESPN will televise two hours of eliminations at 1 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 21.

* ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at www.nhra.com.

-nhra-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Reggie Showers , Shawn Gann , David Baca , Geno Scali , George Bryce , Tommy Johnson Jr. , Lori Johns