FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761 OKAZAKI BECOMES FUNNY CAR FORCE WITH BIG VICTORIES THIS SEASON MOHNTON, Pa. -- The transformation from object of curiosity to contender finally has come for Kenji ...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761
OKAZAKI BECOMES FUNNY CAR FORCE WITH BIG VICTORIES THIS SEASON
MOHNTON, Pa. -- The transformation from object of curiosity to contender finally has come for Kenji Okazaki. Okazaki, from Tokyo, always has been a fan favorite since his Funny Car debut in 1992, the first Japanese driver to earn an NHRA pro license. He gained respect by finishing runner-up to John Force at the 1993 U.S. Nationals and Al Hofmann in the 1994 Big Bud Shootout special event. But there were no trips to the winner's circle. That began to gnaw at Okazaki. "I was wondering about that for a long time," Okazaki said. "We knew it was coming." Okazaki's first win, and the corresponding respect from his peers, came at the Mopar Parts Nationals in May at Englishtown, N.J. He proved that victory was no fluke by winning the Big Bud Shootout in late August during the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, driving his Mooneyes Dodge Avenger past Chuck Etchells, John Force and Tony Pedregon. That recent success makes Okazaki a contender for another win at the 13th annual, $1,562,150 Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals, Sept. 11-14 at scenic Maple Grove Raceway. The race is the 17th event of the 22-event, $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1997. Despite the victories, the learning process never stops for Okazaki. He now must find the consistency needed to land a spot in the top five of the NHRA Winston point standings and stay there. He is eighth entering this event, just 46 points from fifth. Okazaki's learning curve may be shorter than most because of lessons learned from crew chief and car owner Jim Dunn. There's almost nothing in drag racing that Dunn hasn't done or seen since he started his career as a driver in the 1950s in Southern California. "He's a great teacher," Okazaki said. "I cannot do this without him. He's a great master."