FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761 NEW-LOOK MEMPHIS RACE TO FEATURE TOP PERFORMANCE, TITLE RACES MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- Without question, no event in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series has changed more...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761
NEW-LOOK MEMPHIS RACE TO FEATURE TOP PERFORMANCE, TITLE RACES MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- Without question, no event in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series has changed more this year than the Pennzoil Nationals presented by AutoZone. The NHRA's annual stop in western Tennessee took place in May or June for the last nine years, and the sweltering heat of late spring often kept this event from being one of the true performance carnivals on the circuit. This event also didn't have a huge impact on the NHRA Winston championship picture because more than half the season remained after the race ended. Well, forget the past. A new era of performance and championship chases will start at the 10th annual, $1,476,850 Pennzoil Nationals presented by AutoZone, Oct. 2-5 at Memphis Motorsports Park. The race is the 19th event of the 22-event, $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1997. The most obvious change at this year's event will be performance. The scoreboards at the finish line should flash previously unseen numbers at Memphis. In Top Fuel, the late Blaine Johnson set a stunning elapsed-time track record of 4.665 seconds and Scott Kalitta set a speed track record of 310.23 in oppressive heat last June. Those records should fall quickly if cool, autumn weather prevails. Joe Amato must be considered the prime candidate for record-setting performance in Top Fuel. He recorded the quickest time in NHRA history, 4.562 seconds, in mid-August at Brainerd, Minn., in the Keystone Automotive Warehouse Dragster and set an NHRA speed national record of 318.24 mph during hot conditions on Labor Day weekend at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. It's almost certain that the Funny Car track records of 5.060, 304.05 will crumble. After all, the top nine drivers in the field at Indianapolis were quicker than 5.06, and eight drivers were faster than 304 mph. Defending NHRA Winston champion John Force recorded a career-best speed of 312.93 mph at Indianapolis in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Scott Geoffrion's Pro Stock track records of 7.037, 196.33 also should become history as Warren Johnson has cracked the 6.80-second and 200-mph barriers this spring in his GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird. Both Pro Stock Motorcycle records will fall. That's the safest bet of the weekend, as the bikes are racing at this event for the first time since the inaugural in 1988. The Pennzoil Nationals presented by AutoZone also will play a pivotal role in the NHRA Winston championship race for the first time. Only three races remain after this event, putting pressure on competitors trying to catch points leaders Gary Scelzi in Top Fuel, Force in Funny Car, Jim Yates in Pro Stock and Matt Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle. This race has come at the perfect time for one of those pursuers, Cory McClenathan. He is second in the Top Fuel point standings in the McDonald's Dragster, 153 points behind Scelzi. But Cory Mac has won this event twice since 1992, and another victory could help fuel his title charge. In Pro Stock, Johnson also needs to continue his success at Memphis to have any chance of catching Yates, who leads by 144 points. Second-place Johnson has won this event three times since 1991, including last year. *Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3 p.m. Oct. 3 and continues at 7 p.m. that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at noon and 4 p.m. Oct. 4. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. Oct. 5. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 10 a.m. Oct. 2. *Tickets: Tickets are available for the Pennzoil Nationals presented by AutoZone. Call Memphis Motorsports Park at (901) 358-7223. *On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of same-day, final-round competition from the Pennzoil Nationals presented by AutoZone at 7:30 p.m. (CDT) Oct. 5. ESPN2 also will show two hours of live, Friday-evening qualifying at 7 p.m. (CDT) Oct. 3. -30- 9/5/97-MT1-143