FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 NEWCOMERS COULD CONTEND IMMEDIATELY AS SEASON OPENS AT POMONA POMONA, Calif. -- The list of usual suspects could make it tough for Kenny Bernstein and John Force...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761
NEWCOMERS COULD CONTEND IMMEDIATELY AS SEASON OPENS AT POMONA
POMONA, Calif. -- The list of usual suspects could make it tough for Kenny Bernstein and John Force to repeat as NHRA Winston champions in 1997.
The new faces could make it even tougher.
A strong rookie class could race to prominence quickly at the 37th annual, $1,546,100 Chief Auto Parts Winternationals, Jan. 30- Feb. 2 at Pomona Raceway. The race opens the 22-event, $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1997.
Gary Scelzi might be the most watched and talked-about rookie in the series this season. He ascends to Top Fuel and succeeds the late Blaine Johnson as the driver for Johnson Racing after a successful career in a Federal-Mogul Dragster and Federal-Mogul Funny Car.
Scelzi, from Fresno, Calif., will drive a car tuned by standout crew chief Alan Johnson, whose significant mechanical arsenal has been expanded by major sponsorship from Team Winston. Alan Johnson tuned his brother Blaine to three victories and the lead in the NHRA Winston point standings before Blaine's fatal accident last August at the U.S. Nationals.
Cristen Powell is another rookie to watch in Top Fuel. Powell, a 17-year-old high school senior from Portland, Ore., moves to drag racing's quickest and fastest category after a stunning, 15-month apprenticeship in a Federal-Mogul Dragster. She showed skill and experience beyond her years last season while setting an NHRA elapsed-time national record.
Force must look over his shoulder at Ron Capps and Randy Anderson.
Capps, from Carlsbad, Calif., is no stranger to pro competition. He raced part-time in Top Fuel in 1995 and 1996, pulling off a major upset to win the 1995 Northwest Nationals in Top Fuel with the low- budget RPR Racing team. But Capps moves to Funny Car in a Chevrolet Camaro owned by legendary former driver Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and well-funded by major sponsors Copenhagen and MBNA.
Anderson, from Ontario, Calif., moves to Funny Car this season in the Parts America Pontiac Firebird as a teammate to his younger sister, Shelly Anderson, driver of the Parts America Dragster.
Randy Anderson won NHRA Winston Top Alcohol Funny Car titles in 1993 and 1994. That experience, data shared with his sister's team and the tuning of new crew chief Larry Frazier should accelerate Anderson's adjustment to a 4.9-second, 305-mph race car.
Jim Yates also will face a stern challenge from a long list of contenders as he tries to defend his NHRA Winston Pro Stock title. That list starts with three-time Winston champion Warren Johnson and grew longer with the return of the Dodge boys, Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion.
Geoffrion has raced in just four events since May 1994 and Alderman none as the Dodge team was stunted by vandalism during a shop break-in. New team owner and noted engine builder Dale Eicke helped guide Alderman to a 6.98-second pass during testing earlier this month.
*Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 2 p.m. Jan. 30, one of only two pro sessions on a Thursday this season. Qualifying continues with a session at 2 p.m. Jan. 31 and ends with sessions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Feb. 1. Final eliminations start at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 2. Sportsman competition starts at 8 a.m. Jan. 30.
*Tickets: Tickets are available for the Chief Auto Parts Winternationals. Call NHRA at (818) 914-4761 for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased at Ticketmaster outlets throughout Southern California. To order through Ticketmaster, call (213) 480- 3232, (714) 740-2000, (805) 583-8700 or (619) 220-TIXS.
*On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 90 minutes of live final-round competition from the Chief Auto Parts Winternationals at 4 p.m. (PST) Feb. 2. TNN will televise 30 minutes of live first-round coverage during "NHRA Today" at 10:30 a.m. (PST) Feb. 2.