NHRA WINSTON CHAMPIONSHIP QUEST BEGINS AT AUTOZONE WINTERNATIONALS POMONA, Calif. -- The winterlong party for teams who celebrated 1998 NHRA Winston championships is over. Pull down the glittery streamers; box up the noise-makers and...
NHRA WINSTON CHAMPIONSHIP QUEST BEGINS AT AUTOZONE WINTERNATIONALS
POMONA, Calif. -- The winterlong party for teams who celebrated 1998 NHRA Winston championships is over. Pull down the glittery streamers; box up the noise-makers and funny looking hats. Polish the trophy and put it in the glass case.
It's time to get back to work.
There's a certain excitement in the air with the beginning of each season. Every NHRA team enters the new year with an umblemished record, fresh parts, renewed enthusiasm and new hope. Championship chatter is high throughout the pit area. Before the first winners are crowned, every team is a title contender.
The long journey for NHRA teams pursuing Winston championships begins at the season-opening 39th annual AutoZone Winternationals, Feb. 4-7 at Pomona Raceway. The $1.7-million race opens the 22-event, $40-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1999.
Two-time defending champion Gary Scelzi, from Fresno, Calif., continues to set the pace in Top Fuel. Powered by a late season charge in 1998, Scelzi and team owner Alan Johnson combined forces to catapult Team Winston to a second-straight title. No doubt, Scelzi and Johnson will be serious threats for a third Winston championship.
Scelzi's biggest challenge for the crown will come from veterans Cory McClenathan and Joe Amato, two drivers who were serious contenders in 1998. McClenathan hopes to begin a winning trend that will lead to his first Winston championship, while Amato is hungry for an unprecedented sixth title.
Eight-time Winston champion John Force, of Yorba Linda, Calif., hopes to continue his winning ways in Funny Car in 1999 and close out his decade of dominance with style. Force will debut his technologically advanced Ford Mustang body and set his sights on title No. 9.
Standing in Force's way will be gritty Ron Capps, driver of the Copenhagen Chevrolet Camaro and defending winner of this event, and Cruz Pedregon, pilot of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird. In addition, southern drag racing icon Scotty Cannon will make his much-anticipated debut in NHRA Funny Car competition.
Warren Johnson, from Buford, Ga., hopes to better his impressive 1998 showing with an outstanding 1999. Johnson, driving the GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird, earned nine wins while dominating the field last year and claiming a fourth Winston championship.
Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Kurt Johnson will be top title challengers, and two-time Winston champion Jim Yates, a winner here to open the season last year, hopes to regain his championship winning form.
Pro Stock Truck will make its debut at the AutoZone Winternationals. Defending champion Larry Kopp, from Baltimore, will be among the top Chevrolet S-10 drivers. Brad Jeter, Bob Panella and Mark Osborne hope to earn a victory for Chevy, while Todd Patterson and Bo Nickens head Team Mopar's efforts in powerful Dodge Dakotas. Roy Hill will lead the Ford Ranger charge.