Memphis Top Fuel notebook

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761 PENNZOIL NATIONALS PRESENTED BY AUTOZONE TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK *Buddies: You won't hear any trash-talking between Gary Scelzi and Cory McClenathan as they battle for the...


Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761

PENNZOIL NATIONALS PRESENTED BY AUTOZONE TOP FUEL NOTEBOOK *Buddies: You won't hear any trash-talking between Gary Scelzi and Cory McClenathan as they battle for the NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship this season: They're good friends. The friendship blossomed last fall, when Scelzi was selected to replace the late Blaine Johnson as driver of the Team Winston Dragster. "When this deal was first announced with Team Winston, Cory and (Top Fuel driver) Mike Dunn were the only two guys who came up to me and said, 'Hey, welcome to Top Fuel. You're going to have a great time, and I think you deserve to be here.' "You can't hate a guy like that. Cory has been good to me." But McClenathan said his friendship with Scelzi ends when they compete on the track. "When those two red cars get together, we don't bring a knife to a gun fight," McClenathan said. "When you see us on the starting line, we may be friends, but for the few short seconds of a run, we don't even know each other." Said Scelzi, "It's war." *Lessons learned: Cory McClenathan has been in two NHRA Winston Top Fuel title chases before this season, as he finished runner-up to Joe Amato in 1992 and to Scott Kalitta in 1995. The loss to Amato in 1992 was especially painful, as Cory Mac lost by just 92 points. That was 92 points under the old system, which awarded 100 points for a qualifying attempt. McClenathan skipped the national event in Montreal that season due to low finances for his independent Mac Attack team. One qualifying attempt at that race would have provided enough points for a Winston championship. The lessons from that title run still linger with McClenathan. "The first thing I learned from that is to go to all the events," McClenathan said, laughing. "I think the biggest thing is to be consistent. That's what I could have learned from 1992, a consistent car and a little bit of luck can win, and it has been this year." McClenathan insists that he wouldn't be crushed by finishing second for the third time during his seven-year Top Fuel career. "Boy, always a bridesmaid, never a bride," McClenathan said. "Does that sound good? Well, I thought about that. I think if we have a chance to win this championship, we're going to do the best job we can. But finishing second in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing points is not a bad thing." *New chief for the King: Lee Beard guided driver Kenny Bernstein to a runner-up finish at the Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals on Sept. 14 in his debut as crew chief of the Budweiser King Dragster. Beard replaced Dale Armstrong, who parted company with Bernstein on Sept. 8 after nearly 16 years as crew chief. Beard tuned the late Gary Ormsby to the NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship in 1989 and tuned for Cory McClenathan from 1994-96. Beard joined the Carquest Top Fuel team of driver Bruce Sarver at the start of this season as crew chief. Top Fuel driver Scott Kalitta thinks the arrival of Beard could revitalize defending NHRA Winston champion Bernstein, fifth in the point standings. "You wonder how that is going to pan out," Kalitta said. "Lee is no dummy. He jumped right in here and ran 4.68 on his second lap with the team. He's a consistent, conservative guy. "Will he take it to the next level and try right away to take it to the low 4.60's or high 4.50's? Or will he be happy to maintain a consistent high-60's thing? Don't know. He's capable of doing either. We'll see." Beard's move to Bernstein's team surprised many, considering Beard was close to launching a Funny Car team with Pennzoil providing sponsorship and budding Top Fuel standout Tony Schumacher as driver. "I didn't get (to Reading) in the best frame of mind," Beard said. "I had worked extremely hard on raising the financing and assembling what was to be my own team and to bow out of that was a real big decision for me. "I spent a tremendous amount of money on that project, and there probably isn't another guy out here who would have said no to that deal. It was a very strong program, but it wasn't what I thought it was going to take to make a run for the championship, and I wouldn't want to do it any other way." *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 or (888) 82-SPEED. Tickets also are available at Ticketmaster outlets. *On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics and driver biographies.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Cory McClenathan , Scott Kalitta , Cory Mac