Phoenix: Pre-event notes

18th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Feb. 21-24, Firebird Raceway * John Force is the defending NHRA Funny Car champion for the 11th time overall and for the ninth consecutive season. In 2002 he will face one of the most competitive ...

18th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Feb. 21-24, Firebird Raceway

* John Force is the defending NHRA Funny Car champion for the 11th time overall and for the ninth consecutive season. In 2002 he will face one of the most competitive Funny Car fields in recent history. However, if history repeats itself, Force will be able to distance. himself from the competition when he competes at FIR His win at the 2002 season-opener in Pomona, Calif., gave the legendary driver 99 career victories. He will be aiming for the century mark in the desert, where he has experienced tremendous success The 52 year-old Force has won the last three races at FIR and seven of the last eight overall, giving him a 28-1 record at Firebird since 1994. His only loss was a first round defeat to Randy Anderson in 1998, an event rival Chuck Etchells went on to win.

* Whit Bazemore is a favorite to contend with Force for the POWERade championship. After a slow start in 2001, Bazemore finished the season strong. He was No. 1 qualifier at nine of the last 12 events, won three times in seven final rounds in those 12 races, made the three fastest Funny Car runs in NHRA history, and had a 30-9 elimination round record. Firebird Raceway has not been so kind to the 38-year-old Indianapolis driver. In his career in the desert he has four first round losses, two second round losses, and three semifinal losses with no final round appearances. He'll look to carry last year's momentum into 2002. "Of course we're shooting for the NHRA POWERade championship and feel we have as good of an opportunity that we've ever had," said Bazemore. "We have a big challenge ahead of us and a big reward if we can get it done. There are plenty of good teams in Funny Car, but Force's team has set the standard and that's why you target that team. They have been the most successful for a long time. And generally speaking, if you can beat Force you should have an upper hand on the rest of the field, all things being what they've been."

* In 1999 Tony Schumacher became the first driver to ever eclipse the 330-mph barrier with his 330.23 mph pass at Firebird Raceway. Since that pass two years ago, the mark has been reached 10 times, by a total of three drivers. Schumacher has done it twice (including the fastest speed ever recorded, 333.08), defending Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein has done it twice, and ESPN TV analyst Mike Dunn did it five times in 2001 Bernstein's mark of 332.18 is the NHRA national record since Schumacher was unable to back up his speed within the required 1 percent.

* Kenny Bernstein, Cory McClenathan, Joe Amato, Dick LaHaie and Eddie Hill are the only Top Fuel drivers to have won more than once in their career at Firebird. Each one has won twice and seven other drivers have been victorious once. Bernstein also won in a Funny Car in 1986.

* Bob Glidden is one of only 11 drivers who have a winning record against defending NHRA Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson. The pair raced 74 times before Glidden's retirement in 1997, with Glidden taking 43 victories to W.J.'s 31. The final-round record favors Glidden over Johnson, 12-6. Glidden had a less than spectacular showing in his return to competition failing to qualify at the season-opening event in Pomona, Calif. However, his 6.993 second-pass was a career-best Glidden advanced to the final round at Firebird Raceway the first six years the event existed (1985-90) winning five of them. His lone final round loss at Firebird came in 1989 to Darrell Alderman.

* John Force and Cruz Pedregon are the only two active Funny Car drivers who have won at Firebird Raceway. Gary Scelzi, who was the first driver ever to win his first two professional starts, won at Firebird in 1997 in Top Fuel. He will make his nitro-powered Funny Car debut at the desert facility during the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals. He advanced to the second round at the 2002 season-opener in Pomona, Calif.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Chuck Etchells , Bob Glidden , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Dick LaHaie