Sonoma: Round 15 preview

BROWN AND SAMPEY AMONG TOP CONTENDERS FOR POWERADE SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP AS TALENTED PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FIELD RACES INTO INFINEON SONOMA, Calif. -- With half of the 15-race season complete, less than 90 points separate the top six ...

BROWN AND SAMPEY AMONG TOP CONTENDERS FOR POWERADE SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP AS TALENTED PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FIELD RACES INTO INFINEON

SONOMA, Calif. -- With half of the 15-race season complete, less than 90 points separate the top six contenders for the NHRA POWERade world championship in Pro Stock Motorcycle. The seventh rider is only 104 points out of the lead.

What has become a nail-biting professional eliminator in 2005, Pro Stock Motorcycle is shaping up to offer a breathtaking points finish. Seven different riders have accounted for victories in the first eight events. The current series points leader, GT Tonglet, holds a one point advantage over second place rider Antron Brown. The category's only two-time winner this season, Ryan Schnitz, is only a few rounds out of the top spot and charging fast on his Team Muzzy Buell. The defending series champion, Andrew Hines, hasn't won a race yet on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, but has managed to firmly position himself in the top five for most of the season.

"Right now the competition is unreal," said Brown, who has posted two runner-up finishes in addition to a victory at Englishtown, N.J. "The field is at least seven-deep, and realistically more than that. If you don't have your act together on race day, you are going to go home early."

Brown and his U.S. Army Suzuki teammate, Angelle Sampey, a three-time world champion and defending Infineon winner, will lead the two-wheel warriors into action at the 18th annual FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals, July 29-31 at Infineon Raceway. The $1.5 million race, which will be televised on ESPN2, is the 15th of 23 events in the POWERade Drag Racing Series and the ninth of 15 for Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors.

Sampey, the winningest female racer in NHRA history with 36 victories, agrees with Brown.

"There's really no room for error," Sampey said. "The rider of the most consistent bike is going to win every race because the competition is so close. I am just so thankful to be one of the winners. We won a race and went from ninth to third in the points just like that. That just shows you how tough the competition is this year."

In last year's Pro Stock Motorcycle final round at Infineon, Sampey defeated Brown in a memorable final round meeting. In fact, she has beat her teammate four times in final round appearances, including this season at St. Louis. The two ultra-competitive riders are good friends away from the track, and through their friendship like to have a little fun with personal wagers whenever they square off against each other in eliminations.

"We push each other so hard," Brown said. "And we always have a little side bet riding on each race when we meet head-to-head. At St. Louis when she beat me in the final I had to pamper her, help her up the steps and fan her. I can tell you that was no fun. When she loses the bet she is going to be in serious trouble."

Sampey says that Brown usually beats her if they meet in early elimination rounds, but for some reason she has found the edge in their final round encounters.

"We are very close away from the track; he's like my brother," Sampey said. "But for some reason when we race I usually do very well against him, especially in final rounds. I think it's because I don't feel any pressure because I know no matter what the U.S. Army team is going to win."

And speaking of winning, both riders say just attending the event in the beautiful Sonoma wine country is a win-win situation for every Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor, no matter the outcome on the track.

"I love Sonoma because it's a bikers race track," Brown said. "We have a large turnout of fans there who really love Pro Stock Motorcycle racing. Last year we ran really quick all weekend, so you know it's a fast race track. Besides that it's just a really cool place to go."

Said Sampey: "The support the bikes get from the fans at Sonoma is great. Not only is it an awesome track with two really smooth and equal lanes, is one of my favorite places to visit on the circuit because there's so much to do away from the racetrack."

But before the two can enjoy all that the Bay Area has to offer, they have a little work to attend to at Infineon Raceway.

"We want to be consistent and take it round by round to try and win the championship," Brown said. "Having two bikes out there really helps because with each run we get double the information (track data). Hopefully that will help us down the stretch to gain an edge because the competition isn't going to let up."

In Top Fuel, defending event winner Doug Kalitta has posted four victories in his Mac Tools dragster during his career at Infineon Raceway, including three in a row from 1998-2000. Other drivers to watch include points leader Tony Schumacher in his U.S. Army dragster, Seattle winner Brandon Bernstein in his Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster and Miller Lite dragster driver Larry Dixon, whose crew chief Dick LaHaie is the man to beat when the temperatures soar. Kalitta's teammates -- two time series champ Scott Kalitta and recent first-time winner Dave Grubnic -- also may figure into the final round eliminations picture on Sunday at Infineon.

Other defending event winners include Tim Wilkerson in Funny Car and Greg Anderson in Pro Stock.

Rookie driver Robert Hight is leading the series standings in Funny Car, while his boss and teammate John Force is working hard to earn a 14th world championship crown. Past Infineon winners Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps, along with Seattle winner Eric Medlen and Winternationals winner Tommy Johnson Jr. also are among the favorites.

Anderson, who became the first Pro Stock driver to sweep the Western Swing here last year, hopes to add another win to his trophy case here in 2005. Series points leader Warren Johnson, who will retire from full-time driving at the end of the season, hopes to make his last stop at Infineon a special one. Other Pro Stock favorites include Dave Connolly, Jason Line, Seattle winner Kurt Johnson, Jim Yates and Jeg Coughlin.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:45 and 6:45 p.m. on July 29. Qualifying continues at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on July 30. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on July 31.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals. Call Infineon Raceway at (800) 870-RACE (7223) for ticket information, or check online at ticketmaster.com.

ON TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying of the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals at 8 p.m. (ET) on July 30. ESPN2 will televise three hours of final eliminations coverage beginning at 9 p.m. (ET) on July 31.

-nhra-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Scott Kalitta , Dick LaHaie , Tim Wilkerson , Brandon Bernstein , Ryan Schnitz , Andrew Hines , Eric Medlen , GT Tonglet , Robert Hight , Angelle Sampey , Dave Connolly , Tommy Johnson Jr.