Norwalk: Round 12 preview

FORMER NBA STARS NANCE AND HAMMONDS FIND HOME WITH NHRA POWERade SERIES NORWALK, Ohio - The NBA's first-ever Slam Dunk champion will return to Summit Racing Motorsports Park for the second year in a row in Pro Stock, the deceivingly competitive...

FORMER NBA STARS NANCE AND HAMMONDS FIND HOME WITH NHRA POWERade SERIES

NORWALK, Ohio - The NBA's first-ever Slam Dunk champion will return to Summit Racing Motorsports Park for the second year in a row in Pro Stock, the deceivingly competitive category where every thousandth of a second is a tease - the difference between racing on Sunday and packing up for home.

Larry Nance, of the Cleveland Cavaliers, will field his Blaster Products Chevy Cobalt at the Second annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals June 26-29, at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. It's the 12th of 24 events in the NHRA POWERade Series Countdown to the Championship.

Nance has been called the lynchpin veteran to the Cavaliers' young talent that ushered in arguably the most successful era in franchise history. 'Leapin' Larry' proved there was more to his game than style, averaging 17 points per game in the pros after a stellar college career at Clemson University, and with the help of Brad Daugherty and Mark Price, carried the Cavaliers to the playoffs every year that group played together, except for one.

Nance began his drag racing career as an owner in 1986, farming his Camaro out to a driver who was willing to compete with it while Nance played for the Phoenix Suns. Two years after his retirement, he started driving on his own.

"I think (the NBA and NHRA) are a lot alike," Nance said. "(But in drag racing) you rely on a machine, and you've got more parts on a car that could go wrong, instead of teammates, which are a whole lot more reliable."

In both, practice is required, Nance said.

"I think drag racing is very competitive and basketball is very competitive," Nance said. "And when we as basketball players are programmed to compete every day, we compete in practice and everything we've ever done. I've been programmed like that all my life. When you get out (of the NBA), you still want to compete. Drag racing allows me to do that."

Nance is in search of a sponsor that will allow him to compete fulltime, and partner with the Alzheimer's Foundation in honor of his mother. In the meantime, Nance, who still lives near Cleveland, will send his oldest child Casey to college, and watch sons Larry Jr. and Pete play basketball with his wife Jaynee.

He is one of two former NBA stars trying to make their way into the difficult-to-crack Pro Stock class. Tom Hammonds, who is taking a break from the NHRA POWERade Series until the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in August, began the 2008 season but has struggled.

Both Nance and Hammonds entered drag racing long before their retirement from the NBA; Hammonds from the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2001, and Nance from the Cavaliers in 1994. Hammonds' first car was a truck, a 1972 Chevy.

"I took some beatings just (from) running my mouth," said Hammonds, who raced near his Crestview, Fla. home. "In my mind I thought I was going 200 mph. Now I really do 200 mph."

The number one question fans ask Hammonds now is, strangely, the same fans asked him while he was still with the NBA - "How do I fit in the car? That's still the No. 1 question, no matter where I go."

Nance knows the brick wall that is the remarkably deep talent pool of Pro Stock. Also seeking to make the qualifying field in Norwalk will be Elyria, Ohio's Dave Connolly, who has defied setback upon setback to once again be a credible threat for the 2008 NHRA POWERade Series world championship title, and Jeg Coughlin, the three-time and world champion whose Chevy Cobalt flies the colors of his family business, JEGS Mail Order. Connolly won the inaugural race in Norwalk last year. Teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line are the sponsor favorites with their Summit Racing Pontiac GXPs and both are former world champions as well.

In Norwalk, the eight best drivers from the past season will compete for the $50,000 K&N Filters Horsepower Challenge, a race-within-a-race special bonus event for Pro Stock drivers.

In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher stands a fair chance of defending his 2007 event title in Norwalk, while David Powers Motorsports teammates Antron Brown and Rod Fuller will try to stop him. Also in the qualifying order will be Hillary Will, who became the third woman so far in 2008 to win an NHRA POWERade Series event with her first pro win, in Topeka.

Funny Car is yet another ultra-competitive category with surprise leader Tim Wilkerson, an independent team owner/driver from Springfield, Ill., out front of a hungry pack with three victories this season. Look for a strong stand by John Force Racing's four entries, piloted by John Force, his daughter Ashley, Robert Hight and rookie Mike Neff, a former crew chief. Brothers Tony and Cruz Pedregon should also threaten for the win, despite several setbacks (in the form of explosions) for Tony so far this year.

A manufacturers' battle is shaping up in Pro Stock Motorcycle, with Andrew Hines' Harley-Davidson, and the Buells ridden by defending NHRA POWERade Series world champion Matt Smith, Matt Guidera and Chris Rivas. It's only a matter of time before a charge by the Suzuki contingent could shake up the point standings.

* SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 27. Qualifying continues at 12:10 p.m. and 2:05 p.m. on Saturday, June 28 and final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 29.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. Call (419) 668-5555 or check www.tix.com.

* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 28. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 29. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise the race beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 29.

* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in six categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA POWERade Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 9 a.m. on June 26, with eliminations starting on June 27 at 8:30 a.m.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Tom Hammonds , Tim Wilkerson , Chris Rivas , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , David Powers , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , Matt Guidera , Hillary Will , Dave Connolly , Larry Nance , Mike Neff