Millington: Mid-South Nationals preview

15th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, the 19th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in three categories earn points leading to 2002 NHRA POWERade championships. Memphis Motorsports Park,...

15th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, the 19th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in three categories earn points leading to 2002 NHRA POWERade championships.

Memphis Motorsports Park, Millington, Tenn. Track is located 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.

O'REILLY 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 15th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals by calling (866) 407-7333, or (901) 358-7223, or visit memphismotorsportspark.com.

TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 21. ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 4 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 22.

NEWS FLASH: NHRA TELEVISION UPDATE

ESPN has announced the following programming schedule additions for the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series:

* An additional 30 minutes of coverage has been added to Sunday's telecast of the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals from Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park. The three-and-one-half hour show will begin at 3:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN.

* A 90-minute repeat of final round coverage for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals from Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., will air on Thursday, Sept. 19, from 2:30-4 p.m. (ET) on ESPN2.

HAMMONDS EXCITED ABOUT POST-NBA CAREER, ON AND OFF TRACK: Tom Hammonds learned a long time ago how important it was to plan for the future, as well as the value of hard work and commitment. Hammonds' unwavering dedication to his personal goals have made it possible for him to realize two lifelong objectives; playing basketball in the NBA and racing as a Pro Stock competitor on the 23-event NHRA POWERade tour. Now with the backing of the GM Minority Dealer Development program, the 35-year-old driver of the Winnebago/GM Vehicle Care Chevrolet Cavalier will soon realize another dream - the opportunity to be come a GM dealer.

"Owning a car dealership is something I've always wanted," said Hammonds. "When I was growing up in Crestview, (Fla.), I was the detail manager at an automobile dealership, so I've been around the car business a long time. I knew from the very start that owning a dealership was something I wanted to do and having the opportunity to open my own dealership is a dream come true for me. This is not just something for myself. It's for my family and their future.

"The Academy basically covers the entire ins and outs of running a dealership. From the detail shop, to the parts department, to the service department, to the used and new cars, to the accounting office, every aspect of running a dealership that you have to know is covered. That's one thing about it, GM is making a substantial investment in our training and making sure we're doing things the right way. It's been an outstanding learning experience."

FIGHT TO THE FINISH FOR PRO STOCK CROWN: In what has become the most competitive category on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, and arguably among any form of motorsports, it appears the battle for Pro Stock supremacy will last until the season finale at Pomona, Calif. There have been 12 different winners in 17 races with third place driver Jeg Coughlin scoring a category-leading four wins. Six different drivers have sat atop the point standings and after 17 races this year, 74 points separate the top three drivers.

"It's coming down to the 11th hour and we feel we have the experience to pull it out," said two-time series champ Jim Yates, the current points leader. "What we have to focus on is to do our job and win rounds. We know the competition is so tough that one of the guys we're in contention with has a good chance of getting beat. The parity is incredible."

HERBERT SETS SIGHTS ON KALITTA AND RUSSELL: Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert is trying for a career-best finish in the NHRA POWERade standings this season. Herbert's best finish in the final order behind the wheel of his Snap-on Tools dragster was seventh, which he has done twice (1999, 2001). When the Cherryville, N.C. driver arrives in Memphis, there will be five races remaining in the 23-event schedule and Herbert is aiming for a top five points finish.

"We need to win some rounds at each of the remaining races if we're going to catch Russell," said the 34-year-old Herbert. "We need to get to at least the semifinals in the rest of the races for us to have a chance of passing Russell. I think we can get there. That's our team goal right now, but we'd better start soon. We're running out of time."

CANNON ON VERGE OF FIRST WIN: Scotty Cannon had high expectations when he began competing on the NHRA circuit in 1999. In his first year of competition, the Lyman, S.C., resident finished 11th in the final standings in his Oakley Pontiac Firebird and won the NHRA Rookie of the Year. Prior to the 2002 season, Cannon joined Forces with Schumacher Racing giving team owner Don Schumacher a formidable Funny Car duo with Cannon and Whit Bazemore. Cannon now seems to be on track to finish a career-best in the standings and on the verge of winning his first national event. He has two runner-up finishes this season. In his first final round appearance this season Cannon lost traction in his 6,000 horsepower machine and watched as Del Worsham drove to the finish line at Route 66 Raceway. But it's the second final round appearance Cannon will not forget. At St. Louis in June, Cannon lined up against defending Funny Car champ John Force in the final. Force left tire smoke everywhere on the start but got the win as the anxious Cannon left before the green light and was disqualified.

"We've been knocking and knocking at the door and we need to open it soon," said Cannon. "We're running out of races and it's time to push forward and be aggressive. It's not the time to hold back. We have the talent and resources to get into winner's circle, we just haven't put all of the pieces together on the same weekend. There are a lot of what ifs out there, but I don't look back. All I know is that we have a very talented team led by Zippy (crew chief Mike Neff) and if we keep on working hard and stay positive, that victory will come."

ODDS AND ENDS: Only one driver in each of the top three NHRA categories has ever won back-to-back events at Memphis Motorsports Park. Lori Johns won the Top Fuel event in 1990-91, John Force captured the Funny car crown in 1996-97 and Warren Johnson scored consecutive Pro Stock wins in 1992-93.

--30 year Funny Car veteran Gary Densham and Pro Stock competitor George Marnell both won their first career national event at last year's O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals.

--The 2003 O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals will feature Pro Stock Bike competing in their event, bringing the total number of races for the two-wheel category to 15.

--Three drivers have won at Memphis Motorsports Park in both Top Fuel and Funny Car: Kenny Bernstein (TF, 2001; FC, 1989); Tommy Johnson Jr. (TF, 1994; FC, 1999); and current ESPN analyst Mike Dunn (TF, 1996; FC, 1991).

QUOTABLE: Current NHRA POWERade Funny Car points leader John Force on what he would do with the $400,000 payout that comes for winning the POWERade Funny Car crown: "That's what they asked me in 1992 and you know what happened then? Cruz (Pedregon) won five races in a row and we lost the title. Hadn't been for that, we'd be going for 13 (championships)-in-a-row instead of 10. So don't even ask me. There are too many good race teams out there and too many races (remaining on the calendar). Ask me when we get to Pomona (Calif., for the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California Finals)."

--1992 NHRA Funny car champion Cruz Pedregon on his return to his first full year of competition since 1998: "We've had some struggles this season. We're starting to prove what this Advance Auto Parts Pontiac Firebird is really capable of. We have established a turning point and we are all ready to race (the remainder of the schedule)."

--Tony Pedregon who has finished second in the final standings three times ('96, '97, '99), all to his boss and team owner John Force, who he started driving for in 1996: "When John hired me to drive in 1996, my goal, really, was to be competitive. I just wanted to compete at the top level. After that, you want to win a race and then you want to make the Top 10. Well, we won a race and were No. 2 my first year. So then, naturally, your expectations become elevated. We've done just about everything now except win the championship. I'm a competitive person. John knows that. He knows that my ultimate goal is to be where he is now."

--Don Prudhomme on the idea that his Miller Lite dragster driven by current points leader Larry Dixon may win the NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championship: "We are a long way away from that happening and we still have a lot of work to do. I can't think in terms of how special it would be. I am thinking in terms of working toward getting the job done. We're working toward that. In this game, you can't build your hopes up that high because it could slap you right in the face and let you down. We went from just killing everybody to all of the sudden not even qualifying. Then some other things happened. But I went home with the same attitude I had when we won a race. I feel like we give it our all, and there you are. We are a long way from (a championship) and I don't even think in those terms."

-www.nhra.com.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Densham , Scotty Cannon , Cruz Pedregon , Don Prudhomme , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff , Tommy Johnson Jr. , Lori Johns