Sonoma Top Fuel Preview

WACKY NHRA TOP FUEL CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE RAGES AMONG TOP 10 SONOMA, Calif. - Usually, there's only two. At the most, three. This season, however, you have to count the contenders for the NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship using both hands. As...

WACKY NHRA TOP FUEL CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE RAGES AMONG TOP 10

SONOMA, Calif. - Usually, there's only two. At the most, three. This season, however, you have to count the contenders for the NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship using both hands.

As the professional drag racing tour makes the turn and moves into August - with 13 races complete -- not only is there not a clear cut candidate for the championship emerging from the pack; there's not two, three, four, or even five. At this point, there's about 10 drivers who have a legitimate shot at winning the fabled trophy. Talk about parity. Among the many candidates is veteran Joe Amato, who owns the most NHRA Top Fuel championships (five) during a career that has produced 49 victories - the most in his category.

The 55-year-old Exeter, Pa. driver has won four times this season and is consistently among the quickest and fastest. Amato's efforts, in any other season stellar by comparison, have only netted his Tenneco Dragster a third place spot in the ultra-competitive Winston point standings. Team Mopar driver Mike Dunn, a three-time winner this season, leads the chase with 866 points. Kenny Bernstein, who has yet to record a victory this season, is second, followed by Amato, two-time defending Winston champ Gary Scelzi, rising star Doug Herbert and young speedsters Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon.

Defending Autolite Nationals winner Doug Kalitta is eight in his Connie Kalitta-owned Kitty Hawk dragster, just ahead of ninth place Cory McClenathan, the 1997 Autolite Nationals victor.

Bob Vandergriff, runner-up at the inaugural Winston Showdown, NHRA's all-star event, is 10th, a mere 196 points out of first. Comparatively, Funny Car leader John Force holds a 294 point advantage in the standings over second place driver Tony Pedregon.

To be blunt, it's nuts out there.

"There's been some competitive battles waged over the years in Top Fuel, but I can't remember anything like this," said Amato in preparation for at the 12th annual Autolite Nationals, Aug. 6-8, at Sears Point Raceway. The $1.2 million race is the 14th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"Put us all in a bag, shake it up real good, and dump us out at the Finals in Pomona," continued Amato, who trails Dunn's point lead by 26. "The one that lands closest to the big trophy gets it. That's about the way it looks right now. With the way things have been going, it's anybody's ballgame at this point."

Amato, a winner at Sears Point Raceway in 1988 and 1991, lost to eventual runner-up Bruce Sarver in last season's first round.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Bruce Sarver , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Doug Kalitta , Bob Vandergriff