Sonoma: Round fifteen preview, schedule

WHAT: 16th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals, the 15th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships. Sportsman competitors...

WHAT:
16th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals, the 15th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in four categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships.
Sportsman competitors in seven categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championships.

WHERE:
Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, Calif. The track is located at Highways 37 and 121.

WHEN:
Friday through Sunday, Aug. 1-3.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
The final event of a pivotal three-races-in-three-weeks, which has become known as the West Coast Swing, the FRAM-Autolite Nationals will conclude a grueling stretch of competition which will separate the contenders from the pretenders. Doug Kalitta has had success at Infineon Raceway, having the distinction as being the only Top Fuel driver to win consecutive events at Infineon Raceway with three consecutive wins between 1998-'00. Kalitta will need another victory in wine country to aid his quest toward the POWERade crown. Kalitta and the Mac Tools team have dreams of denying Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team back-to-back championships. Funny Car's Tony Pedregon has been dominant all season but his first win at Infineon Raceway would be ideal as rivals Whit Bazemore, who won at Sonoma in 1999, and 2001 winner Del Worsham, make their push toward the top of the standings. The past few seasons have produced some surprise winners in Pro Stock, but as the second half of the 2003 schedule begins, Greg Anderson and Kurt Johnson will face stiff competition from six-time champion Warren Johnson, and defending NHRA POWERade champ Jeg Couglin Jr., who won eight of the last 12 events in 2003 en route to the crown. The Pro Stock Bike category will make its second appearance at Infineon Raceway. Current points leader Geno Scali and three-time champ Angelle Savoie continue their season-long battle toward the title in the two-wheel category. Defending event winner Craig Treble figures to break out of his slump while the Harley-Davidson duo of GT Tonglet and Andrew Hines continue to improve atop their bikes.

FAST FACTS:
Infineon Raceway is one of four tracks where Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon has yet to win an event in the Miller Lite dragster. Team-owner Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme is the only driver to win at Sonoma in both Top Fuel (1992) and Funny Car (1989)...Doug Kalitta is the only Top Fuel driver to win consecutive events at Infineon Raceway (1998-'00)...John Force's six career victories at Sonoma leads all NHRA competitors...Darrell Alderman is the last repeat winner at Sonoma in Pro Stock (1990-'91).

NOTES OF INTEREST:

The NHRA Experience - Unlike any other form of major motorsport, the NHRA grants unprecedented access to each and every one of its fans. From watching the action of 8,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragsters and the 200-mph Pro Stock action, to the unlimited access to the pit areas of the NHRA's top stars. Fans get the chance to get up-close-and-personal with drag racing icons like John Force, Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme, and Kenny Bernstein. They get the chance to meet and greet the next wave of NHRA superstars like Larry Dixon, Tony Schumacher, Darrell Russell, Tony Pedregon, Del Worsham, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie. The manufacturer midway provides an on-site shopping experience for the latest technology in the automotive aftermarket. The newest addition to the midway area is the exciting POWERade interactive display. Fans can take their picture wearing an authentic team shirt from their favorite team, meet different drivers during scheduled autograph sessions, spin the back wheel of a Top Fuel dragster to win various prizes, including a ride in a Pro Stock simulator that gives fans a taste of life on the quarter-mile. All this adds up to a day of great fun with memories to last a lifetime.

Kenny Bernstein Comes Out of Retirement to Sub for Injured Son-- Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein returned to the cockpit at Topeka, Kan., following his son Brandon's crash at Englishtown, N.J. which has sidelined the younger Bernstein for the remainder of 2003. At the time of the crash, Brandon was second in points with three victories on the year. Kenny showed no effects of his retirement in November of 2002. At his first event the 58-year-old Bernstein qualified No. 2 and advanced to the semifinals before falling to Doug Kalitta.

NHRA Stock on the Rise - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has been experiencing growth that is unprecedented in its 52-year history. The television coverage of the fastest form of auto racing on the planet is continuing to gain viewers and ratings in the third year of an exclusive partnership between NHRA and ESPN. That is due in large part to the innovative technology ESPN has introduced to the sensory-filled sport of 8,000 horsepower drag racing and the stellar competition that has been taking place on the quarter-mile drag strip. This also has presented an increasing amount of fan appeal, which draws new sponsors or increased support form current sponsors in various capacities. The NHRA and POWERade, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Co., joined forces prior to the 2002 season with high hopes and great expectations. The partnership has opened up new doors for marketing and advertising strategies that were not available in the past. Combining the product NHRA has to offer with the business capabilities of POWERade, the sport of drag racing is reaching new heights. The 23-race, $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing series has evolved beyond the wildest dreams of the organization's founder, 90-year-old Wally Parks, and the NHRA continues to increase its presence and influence in the world of motorsports.

Regarding Weather -- In drag racing weather plays a vital role as crew chiefs examine data and tune their race cars for maximum performance. Most teams have sophisticated weather stations on board their team transporters so they can access up-to-the-minute weather information as well as forecasts.

Safety Safari-- These men and women are a team of professionals dedicated to making the sport safe for the competitors and keeping the action on the track moving for the fans. Spend the day or a few hours with this crew and watch as they take care of preparing the race track for competition, responding to crashes and cleaning up oil and debris on the racing surface.

ABOUT THE TRACK:
In 1968, a twisting 12-turn, 2.53-mile road course and quarter-mile drag strip were carved into the scenic Sonoma Valley and Sears Point Raceway was born. Over the past 34 years, the facility has developed into one of the premier motorsports and entertainment venues in the world, hosting events from NHRA POWERade Drag Racing to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The raceway completed a comprehensive $50 million modernization plan in 2002 that included a new concrete launch pad (660 feet), separation of the drag strip from the road course and creation of a new permanent grandstand that offers sweeping views of the racing action. More than 9,000,000 cubic yards of dirt was moved during the two-year project, which began in September, 2000. The drag strip opened to rave reviews in 2002 as three track records were set at the FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals, and the Pro Stock Bike class recorded the second quickest elapsed time in NHRA history. The facility also reached another milestone in 2002 when it partnered with Infineon Technologies, giving the Munich (Germany)-based company naming rights to the raceway. The facility is now called Infineon Raceway and the strategic partnership will span 10 years. Infineon Technologies is one of the world's leading semiconductor manufacturers and has its North American base in the Silicon Valley.

FRAM-AUTOLITE NHRA NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION

* SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying will run at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on August 1 and will continue at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on August 2. Final eliminations begin at noon on August 3.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 16th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals. Call (800) 870-RACE (7223), Ticketmaster, or visit ticketmaster.com for ticket information.

* TELEVISION: ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 8 p.m. (ET) on August 2. ESPN will televise one hour of early eliminations at 5 p.m. (ET) on August 3 and ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET) on August 3.

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

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Darrell Alderman , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Craig Treble , Geno Scali , Andrew Hines , GT Tonglet