Phoenix Force scores 82nd victory...

CHANDLER, Ariz. - Nine-time NHRA Winston champion John Force moved closer to Bob Glidden's all-time win record with his victory Sunday at the 16th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at Firebird International Raceway. Funny Car driver Force,...

CHANDLER, Ariz. - Nine-time NHRA Winston champion John Force moved closer to Bob Glidden's all-time win record with his victory Sunday at the 16th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at Firebird International Raceway. Funny Car driver Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., sped down the track in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in 4.933 seconds at 195.90 mph in the finale against Ron Capps. Capps lost traction in his U.S. Tobacco Chevrolet Camaro and slowed to a 8.196 at 101.89. It was Force's 82nd career victory, three behind Glidden's mark of 85. It was also the sixth victory for Force in the last seven NHRA events held at FIR.

"Yeah, I want to (break the record)," said Force. "But it is just a record that just keeps you pushing ahead like 'I got to do it, I got to do it'. I would like to have that record because everywhere you walk into someone will say the winningest guy in the history of all the sports Bob Glidden. Maybe someone will say that about me and maybe they wont. But, I'm going to keep trying."

Force drove past Johnny Gray, Scotty Cannon and Jerry Toliver en route to his 128th career final round appearance. Force dedicated the victory to the late Funny Car competitor Trip Shumake, a Phoenix resident, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident late last year. Force wore a button with a picture of Shumake on it on his firesuit throughout the day.

"I had a lot of friends riding with me," said Force. "You need help when everything else is screwing up. I'm giving Trip's wife and daughter this trophy. I was able to come back here to Arizona in front of the fans where it would mean something. It just got into my head that I'd like to win and when I was given the button I think it gave me some extra motivation. It was just really a shocker when Trip was killed. He was one heck of a guy and a great race car driver. It makes you value every day." Tony Schumacher and Jeg Coughlin were also the winners in their respective categories at the $1.5 million race, the second of 24 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Defending NHRA Winston Top Fuel champ Schumacher, from Park Ridge, Ill., lost traction early and sped to a 5.095 at 289.57 pass. It was enough to hold off upstart Bob Vandergriff who lost power in his Vandergriff Motorsports dragster and ran a 5.421 at 243.77. The win moves Schumacher into the Winston points lead, 15 ahead of Scelzi.

"I thought I was in big trouble," said Schumacher. "Vandergriff had a problem. Something went wrong on that car because he should've had that race. I went out there and smoked the tires and I though, 'Not now'. I was able to get the front end off the ground and I just pedaled it when I didn't see him down the track. Something went wrong in his car and he had no power in it."

Schumacher defeated Don Lampus, Melanie Troxel and Gary Scelzi in his Exide Batteries dragster on his way to his final round showdown with Vandergriff. It was the second straight final round appearance for Schumacher who lost the season opening AutoZone Winternationals to Scelzi.

"Scelzi was running great and we knew it was going to be a tough run," said Schumacher. "Beating him was as exciting as winning the whole race. But you don't get a trophy for beating Scelzi although you should. Maybe in the future you will. Right now I want to dominate. I am here to win every single round every time. That's what it takes to win a championship. We don't want to give up any rounds. I want all the trophies. That is what this sport is about." Doug Herbert became the first NHRA driver to oil down the track during

eliminations in his first round victory. He was fined $1000 and lost 10 NHRA Winston championship points. He also oiled down the track in the second round for total of $2000 in fines and 20 championship points. Vandergriff, Johnny Gray, Capps and Tony Pedregon were also penalized on Sunday for oildown violations.

Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio, defeated Mark Pawuk in the Pro Stock final for his second straight victory of the year. His pass of 6.961 at 198.44 was enough to hold off Pawuk's pass of 7.081 at 195.90. Coughlin defeated Larry Morgan, Warren Johnson and Ron Krisher on the way to the final round.

"We're extremely pleased with the day," said Coughlin. "I can't wait to get home and get the cars out and ready to run them in the low 6.80s in Gainesville. You can't give up any round. We have had a two-to-three-to-four race struggle before and we surely hope not to see that in 2000. In the start of the season we have run in the top five every time. We have to be consistent and be up for every challenge."

The next event in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series is the 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 16-19, in Gainesville, Fla.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Jeg Coughlin , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Ron Krisher , Scotty Cannon , Bob Glidden , Melanie Troxel , Johnny Gray , Don Lampus , Jerry Toliver , Bob Vandergriff