Seattle Don Lampus preview

SEATTLE (July 24) -- The most striking thing about Seattle International Raceway, the site of this weekend's Prolong Super Lubricants Northwest Nationals, is that the picturesque track lies in the shadow of majestic Mount Rainier. NHRA Rookie...

SEATTLE (July 24) -- The most striking thing about Seattle International Raceway, the site of this weekend's Prolong Super Lubricants Northwest Nationals, is that the picturesque track lies in the shadow of majestic Mount Rainier. NHRA Rookie of the Year candidate Don Lampus can relate. Despite the fact that the 36-year-old pro from Dallas is the reigning IHRA Top Fuel champion, he still feels a bit overshadowed by most of his NHRA opponents.

But, after a semifinal finish at the tour's last stop in Denver where Lampus got his first deep breath of the rarified air lingering near the top of the NHRA mountain, the affable upstart is starting to feel like he just might belong among the world's quickest and fastest drivers.

"Reaching the semifinals in Denver was certainly a high point for this ExpressAutoParts.com team," said Lampus. "Still, I'm not convinced we're at the level of the top teams just yet. Believe me, when you're one of the final four left alive at a race it's a very special feeling. You look at the ladder and realize you're in pretty good company. But we probably had a little luck along the way in Denver while some other teams struggled in the altitude.

"Now, if we can go to a sea-level track like S.I.R., stay as aggressive as we were in Denver and equal what we did there, then I'd really feel like we were onto something. I know this much; my team is capable of running with the best of them. They proved that in Denver. It might have been our first time in the semis this year but we never missed a beat. That really has me pumped up about the rest of the year."

The 2000 season marks Lampus' second full year behind the wheel of a 315-mph Top Fuel dragster. After several years on the SCORE off-road series -- where he also earned a world championship in 1996 -- Lampus slipped into a dragster full-time in the fall of 1998. He quickly raced through to the finals of an IHRA event, setting records along the way, and went on to win four races in five final rounds during his 1999 championship run. However, he knew he'd be starting at Ground Zero once he got to the NHRA.

"This is a different level of racing," said Lampus, who is currently ninth in the Winston points and a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year honors. "There are several steps between where we were at the end of last year and where Gary Scelzi and Tony Schumacher are now. We're gaining on them, step-by-step, but we have to remember that you don't wake up one day and climb Mount Rainier. You have to chip away at it a little at a time."

ESPN2 will carry the Northwest Nationals. Qualifying highlights will air from 10:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. (ET)/7:30-9:30 p.m. (PT), Saturday with a repeat at 3:30 a.m.-5:30 a.m. (ET) /12:30-2:30 a.m. (PT) Sunday. The eliminations will air from 7-9 p.m. (ET)/4-6 p.m. (PT) Sunday with a rebroadcast from 3:30-5:30 a.m. (ET)/12:30-2:30 a.m. (PT) Monday morning.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Don Lampus