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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 TOP PERFORMERS ALWAYS PUT ON QUITE A SHOW AT SONOMA SONOMA, Calif. -- Maybe it's the smooth, fast track at Sears Point Raceway. Maybe it's the sense of urgency as the...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761

TOP PERFORMERS ALWAYS PUT ON QUITE A SHOW AT SONOMA SONOMA, Calif. -- Maybe it's the smooth, fast track at Sears Point Raceway. Maybe it's the sense of urgency as the NHRA season plunges into its second half. Maybe it's the spectacular scenery of the Wine Country. For whatever reason, the Autolite Nationals has coaxed the best from the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series the last few years. Only elite drivers have found spots in the final rounds during the annual trip to picturesque Sears Point Raceway. That trend should continue at the 10th annual, $1,205,700 Autolite Nationals, July 25-27 at Sears Point Raceway. The race is the 13th event of the 22-event, $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1997. The tradition of excellence at Sears Point continued last year. Five of the six finalists in the three professional categories ended up in the top three in the NHRA Winston point standings. Top Fuel runner-up Kenny Bernstein won the NHRA Winston championship. Funny Car winner Cruz Pedregon was third, and runner-up John Force breezed to his sixth NHRA Winston Funny Car championship. Pro Stock winner Warren Johnson and runner-up Mike Edwards ended up second and third, respectively, at the end of the season. The only exception was Top Fuel winner Blaine Johnson, who led the points when he suffered fatal injuries in a qualifying accident in late August at Indianapolis. He finished fifth in the final point standings. Four of the six finalists in 1995 ended up in the top two in points, and Top Fuel driver Scott Kalitta, Force and Pro Stock driver Darrell Alderman all paved their path to Winston championships in 1994 with victories at Sears Point. A strong showing at Sonoma is essential this year for Top Fuel standout Joe Amato, second in the NHRA Winston point standings. Amato has qualified No. 1 at six events, posted the top speed at five events and recorded the low elapsed time at seven events, leading those performance categories in Top Fuel. He is tied with rookie Gary Scelzi with four victories. But Amato still trails Scelzi by 175 points. Pedregon, Whit Bazemore, Chuck Etchells and Randy Anderson also need victories at Sears Point to have any chance of catching Force for the championship. Force led second-place Pedregon by 188 points after 11 races. Pedregon was only 45 points ahead of fifth-place Randy Anderson, as none of the pursuers have emerged as a strong title challenger to Force. Jim Yates and Warren Johnson are solid picks as finalists in Pro Stock. They're first and second, respectively, in the standings as Yates leads by just 20 points. One driver out of contention for a Winston championship also will gain quite a bit of attention during this event, Tom Hammonds. Hammonds, a power forward with the Denver Nuggets, is racing in Pro Stock until returning to NBA training camp in September. This is his second summer of NHRA Pro Stock competition, which he plans to pursue full-time after his NBA career ends. *Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3 p.m. July 25 and is followed by a night-qualifying session at 7 p.m. that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at noon and 4 p.m. July 26, with final eliminations starting at 11 a.m. July 27. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 8:15 a.m. July 25. *Tickets: Tickets are available for the Autolite Nationals. Call Sears Point Raceway at (800) 870-7223 to order tickets. Tickets also can be purchased at all BASS Tickets outlets. *On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of live, final-round competition from the Autolite Nationals at 4 p.m. (PDT) July 27. ESPN2 also will show two hours of live, Friday-night qualifying at 7 p.m. (PDT) July 25. -30-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Darrell Alderman , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Chuck Etchells , Cruz Pedregon , Scott Kalitta , Tom Hammonds , Mike Edwards