Sonoma: Pre-race schedule and notes

15th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals, Aug. 2-4, Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, Calif. * RUSSELL GOES FOR WEST COAST SWING SWEEP: With a victory at this weekend's FRAM-Autolite Nationals, Darrell Russell could become the fourth driver in NHRA ...

15th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals,
Aug. 2-4, Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, Calif.

* RUSSELL GOES FOR WEST COAST SWING SWEEP: With a victory at this weekend's FRAM-Autolite Nationals, Darrell Russell could become the fourth driver in NHRA history to sweep the West Coast Swing, since the three races have been contested in consecutive weeks (1989). The last driver to accomplish the hat trick was Cory McClenathan in 1997. John Force did it in 1994 and Russell's team owner, Joe Amato, did it for the first time in 1991. Amato had the most recent opportunity to claim the West Coast Swing sweep in 1999, but lost in the first round to Mike Dunn at Infineon Raceway.

* NEW TRACK, NEW NAME: When NHRA teams make their third and final stop on the grueling West Coast Swing, they will find a new drag strip constructed at the Sonoma, Calif. multi-purpose motorsports complex once known as Sears Point Raceway, recently renamed Infineon Raceway.

Infineon Raceway features a new quarter-mile track surface, built exclusively for drag racing as part of a facility-wide $50 million modernization plan, which began Sept. 13, 2000. The new track features a 660-foot concrete launch pad, new Musco lighting system for night racing and a new state-of-the-art Compulink timing system. The drag strip, once part of a main straightaway on the road course, is now enclosed within its own walls, just east of the road course. In addition, a new grandstand with luxury suites has been erected on the west side of the track.

The extended concrete launch pad, combined with the sea-level conditions, could combine to produce record times and speeds in several NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series categories.

* FORCE ON FUNNY CAR COMPETITION: Defending Funny Car champion John Force has won nine straight NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series titles and 11 in the past 12 seasons. Even though he leads the point standings once again, the Yorba Linda, Calif. resident is still weary of the competition.

"This is the most competitive group of Funny Cars I've seen since (Kenny) Bernstein and (Don) Prudhomme and (Raymond) Beadle and Ed 'the Ace' (McCulloch) back in the '80s," Force said. "Any car that qualifies has a chance to win."

* WORSHAM EYEING FORCE'S TITLE: Funny Car driver Del Worsham is a 32-year-old NHRA veteran. After capturing Rookie of the Year honors n 1991, Worsham and his Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird have become one of the dominant cars on the NHRA circuit. Despite his recent success and three wins on the year, Worsham still knows that John Force and his three Ford Mustangs are the cars to beat.

"We're trying to win a championship and we took a step in that direction with the victory (at Denver)," said Worsham. "If we're going to capture the POWERade championship then we need to win those close races, show these guys we can race with them and get closer to those (Force-owned) Castrol cars. We did a great job (at Denver), we closed the points gap and that's what we have to do every week."

Worsham is the defending winner of the FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals.

* BERNSTEIN MAKING IT INTERESTING: Larry Dixon began the 2002 season in remarkable fashion, winning seven of 10 final rounds in the first 12 races. He built such a commanding lead in the standings that many had already handed Dixon and the Miller Lite Racing team the series crown. However, defending Top Fuel champion Kenny Bernstein was able to capitalize on back-to-back poor performances by Dixon (DNQ at St. Louis; first round loss at Denver) and cut the lead to 119 points. At Seattle, Bernstein qualified No. 1 and posted a runner-up finish to trim the margin to 97.

"We are hopeful that we can make a good run at the championship for the rest of the season," said the 57-year-old Bernstein, who is in the middle of his "Forever Red" retirement tour. "But I do want to emphasize that Dixon has a strong team and they'll get it all together again real soon. In the meantime there's another armada of teams out there that are gathering steam and making it tough to get to winner's circle. We're just happy to be on the positive side, gaining points."

* ALDERMAN GOES FOR NO. 4 AT INFINEON: Three of Darrell Alderman's 28 career NHRA Pro Stock victories have come at Infineon Raceway (1990, '91 and '94), one of the Kentucky driver's favorite race tracks on the NHRA POWERade tour. Alderman, Warren Johnson and Jim Yates are tied for most victories in the 200 mph category at Infineon Raceway with three apiece.

Alderman, a three-time NHRA Pro Stock champion, drove the last Dodge machine to the Pro Stock winner's circle at Infineon in '94 when he faced teammate Scott Geoffrion in an all-Mopar final. The last driver to compete in a Pro Stock final at the Northern California quarter-mile in a Dodge was Allen Johnson, who finished runner-up to Kurt Johnson in 2000.

Both drivers have been hot this season in their respective Neons, and could challenge for the victory at Infineon Raceway. Alderman has claimed one victory in three final round appearances and Johnson has posted one victory in two finals, most recently a runner-up effort at Denver.

* KALITTA'S TRACK: Doug Kalitta, who won three consecutive Top Fuel titles at Infineon Raceway from 1998-2000, hopes to return to his winning ways this season at the scenic multi-purpose race facility just north of San Francisco. His streak was stopped last year by part-time racer Tim Gibson, who upset Kalitta in the opening round.

A victory could be a major motivator for Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools dragster, who has had serious problems in early rounds this season, advancing past the second round for only the second time this season at Denver. His only other semifinal appearance took place at Phoenix in the second race of the year. Otherwise he has posted eight second round losses and four first round exits.

"We've had some success at this track in the past and hopefully this will be the weekend that turns our season around," said Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools dragster. "We've been having problems getting past second round lately and we would like to go four rounds on Sunday."

FRAM-AUTOLITE NHRA NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION:

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying will run at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on August 2 and will continue at 11:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. on August 3. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on August 4.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 15th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals. Call (800) 870-RACE (7223), Ticketmaster, or visit ticketmaster.com for ticket information.

TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 9 p.m. (ET) on August 3. ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET) on August 4.

ON THE WEB: NHRA news, photos and driver information available at www.nhra.com.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , John Force , Joe Amato , Doug Kalitta , Cory McClenathan , Scott Geoffrion , Allen Johnson