Reading: Winston champions look to emerge from Keystone Nationals

MOHNTON, Pa. - If history is any indicator, Maple Grove Raceway may once again be the springboard to launching NHRA challengers into Winston Drag Racing Series champions. In the past Maple Grove Raceway has given challengers a...

MOHNTON, Pa. - If history is any indicator, Maple Grove Raceway may once again be the springboard to launching NHRA challengers into Winston Drag Racing Series champions. In the past Maple Grove Raceway has given challengers a boost in helping claim their titles. In 1996, Kenny Bernstein used a victory at the Pennsylvania quarter-mile to claim his first Top Fuel championship, making him the only driver in NHRA history to win championships in both major nitro categories. A winner's circle visit here in 1996 gave Jim Yates the momentum he needed to secure his first Winston Pro Stock championship. A 1997 victory at the ultra-quick drag strip also led Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Hines to the first of his three consecutive Winston championships. Few points separate Winston championship challengers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock Motorcycle. In Pro Stock, challenger Jeg Coughlin Jr. has managed to pull away from the rest of the field in pursuit of his first crown in the 200 mph category. As teams prepare for competition at the 16th annual NHRA Keystone Nationals, Sept. 14-17, at Maple Grove Raceway, the challengers have shown they have the stuff to lead their respective categories this season. John Force and Tony Schumacher are in position to repeat their Winston championships from '99. Coughlin and Angelle Seeling are pursuing their first-ever Winston titles. Hometown favorite Joe Amato, who won here for the first time in his career last season, hopes for a repeat in Top Fuel, while Tommy Johnson Jr., Coughlin, and Hines all have their sights set on defending their victories at the $1.9 million race, the 18th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Amato, from nearby Exeter Pa., thrilled local fans last season with a homespun victory, defeating '99 Winston champ Tony Schumacher in the final. Amato and Schumacher are in the heat of the championship battle once again, and have faced tough competition from Team Winston dragster driver Gary Scelzi. Third place points contender Larry Dixon, driver of the Don Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite dragster, is seeking his first victory at Maple Grove Raceway. Ottumwa, Iowa native Johnson defeated Ron Capps in a thrilling side-by-side finish. Capps, from Carlsbad, Calif., is still looking for his first victory of the season after four final round appearances in the U.S. Tobacco Camaro. If he's to get that victory, he'll need to deal with Funny Car points leader John Force, an eight-time winner this year in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. WWF Racing's Jerry Toliver, who's scored three victories in four finals, is looking to regain the Winston points lead after holding it for most of the season. Coughlin, an eight-time winner this season, out-powered Mark Pawuk for the Pro Stock victory here one year ago. A repeat victory here would almost assure Coughlin of his first Winston championship. Kurt Johnson and Ohio native Ron Kirsher have started to make a move with recent victories, not giving Coughlin any time to slow down. Five-time Winston champion Warren Johnson is always a top contender in his GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird. Angelle Seeling is challenging three-time Winston champ and two-time Keystone Nationals victor Matt Hines for the top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle. The two have faced each other in three final rounds this season, with Hines holding a 2-1 edge in the rivalry. Dave Schultz, Tony Mullen and Anton Brown are also top threats for victory in the two-wheel category.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Don Prudhomme , Jerry Toliver