Somona: Teams fight for championships

SONOMA, Calif. - The peaceful calm and serenity of the beautiful Napa Valley wine country will be momentarily disrupted when the three-day earthquake of 6,000 horsepower, nitromethane burning Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars known as the NHRA ...

SONOMA, Calif. - The peaceful calm and serenity of the beautiful Napa Valley wine country will be momentarily disrupted when the three-day earthquake of 6,000 horsepower, nitromethane burning Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars known as the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series rolls into Sears Point Raceway.

As the four-race west coast swing wraps up in Northern California, the 2001 championship picture will come into focus as the teams head down the home stretch towards championship glory in this, NHRA's 50th Anniversary season.

Last season's Winston champions look to move into a position to strike as three consecutive weeks of racing will conclude with the 14th running of the Fram-Autolite NHRA Nationals, Aug. 3-5, at Sears Point Raceway.

Doug Kalitta, John Force and Kurt Johnson are the defending pro category winners of the $1.7 million race, the 16th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Kalitta, the three-time defending event winner, used a starting line advantage to knock off Larry Dixon in an exciting tire-smoking final round race for his 12th consecutive round win at Sears Point. Kalitta will need a strong performance in the rolling hills of Northern California if he wants to close ground on points leader Kenny Bernstein in his Budweiser King dragster. Bernstein is after his second career Winston Top Fuel championship, but hasn't been to the final round at Sears Point since 1996. A number of drivers look to continue Bernstein's absence from the Sears Point winner's circle, including Kalitta, who is chasing his fourth consecutive victory at the event, Larry Dixon in his Don Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite dragster, and Gary Scelzi in his Team Winston dragster.

Force crept closer to his record-tying 10th Winston championship by recording his 88th career national event victory when teammate Tony Pedregon fouled at the start handing Force the title. The lively Force appears poised to claim his record 11th Winston championship and would like nothing better than to extend his already commanding points lead with a Sonoma victory. If Del Worsham, Bruce Sarver and Whit Bazemore plan to chase down Force, Sonoma would be the perfect place to begin their charge toward the championship.

Johnson notched his second victory of the season en route to a dominating second half of the 2000 season, which saw him charge to second in the points, as he outran Allen Johnson's Dodge in the Pro Stock final. Parity has ruled the door-slammers so far in NHRA's 50th Anniversary season, seeing seven different drivers celebrate at day's end. Johnson, along with his father Warren, a five-time Winston champion, defending series champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. and two-time Winston champ Jim Yates will clash until one driver is left standing with the trophy and the points lead.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is set to begin at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 3 and will continue at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 4. Final professional eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Aug. 5.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 14th annual Fram-Autolite NHRA Nationals. Call Sears Point Raceway at (800) 870-RACE or Ticketmaster for ticket information. Tickets are also available at nhra.com.

TELEVISION: ESPN will feature two hours of early round elimination coverage on Aug. 5 from 4-6 p.m. (ET), and ESPN2 will air one hour of final round coverage at 11 p.m. (ET). ESPN2 will also run two hours of qualifying highlights on Aug. 4 at 10 p.m. (ET).

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Sarver , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Don Prudhomme , Allen Johnson