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Coming home always big for Team Amato READING, Pa. (Sept. 9) -- There's no place like home, and for the NHRA's all-time leader in Top Fuel championships and event victories, Joe Amato of nearby Moosic, Pa., Maple Grove Raceway and the rabid race...

Coming home always big for Team Amato

READING, Pa. (Sept. 9) -- There's no place like home, and for the NHRA's all-time leader in Top Fuel championships and event victories, Joe Amato of nearby Moosic, Pa., Maple Grove Raceway and the rabid race fans of Pennsylvania make this weekend's 18th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals feel like a family reunion.

"This is the one I always point to when the schedule comes out," the 58-year-old legend said. "You tell people what you do for a living and around here they always remember this race, so it's important for us. Plus, with all the family and friends we have that come cheer us on, you want to show them a good time and there's nothing as good as winning."

Amato retired at the end of the NHRA's Y2K season as the most decorated Top Fuel pilot ever with five series titles and 52 national event wins. Somehow, by a pair of perfect twists of fate, Amato's landmark 50th win as well as his final Top Fuel victory came at this event in front of his home state fans. It was the perfect capper to an unbelievable career.

"This is a win for all the fans," Amato said in 1999, when he finally tasted champagne on home soil after 14 years of futility. "I've been telling these people around here for years I'd get them a win and I finally did it. I would have hated to finish my driving career having never won this race. These fans up here have stuck by me and supported me for so long. They're what makes it great and I'm glad we could reward them like this."

Voted as one of the Top 10 Drivers of all-time in 2001, Amato has translated the success he enjoyed as a driver to a stellar career as a car owner, guiding new pilot Darrell Russell and his Bilstein Engine Flush System dragster to five victories and six runner-up finishes in just 41 professional-level races. Russell also is the sport's reigning Rookie of the Year.

"You always dream about competing at the top of the sport," said Russell, a successful sportsman racer who had four championships and 26 wins as an amateur. "But when Joe Amato calls and asks you to drive his car, well, words can't describe that feeling.

"I know what this race and this track means to Joe, his family, and to all the folks at Keystone Automotive Operations in Exeter. There is nothing more we'd like to do then win another one here for Amato Racing. As always, Joe has given us all the tools to win, including the best advice a guy could ask for. Now we just need to put it all together. Joe knows this track better than anyone and we certainly have a great chance to win it all."

The qualifying rounds of the 18th annual Keystone Nationals will be shown from 4-5:30 p.m. (ET), Saturday, on ESPN2. Elimination coverage will air from 4:30-7 p.m. (ET), Sunday, on ESPN2, with a rebroadcast from 3-5 a.m. (ET), on Sept. 18, also on ESPN2.

-jar-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Joe Amato