St. Louis: Nighttime Nitro excitement!

MADISON, Ill. - The sport of drag racing will take a nostalgic step back in time when more than 600 of the nation's baddest hot rods gather under evening skies on a long stretch of asphalt near the banks of the Mississippi river. National Hot...

MADISON, Ill. - The sport of drag racing will take a nostalgic step back in time when more than 600 of the nation's baddest hot rods gather under evening skies on a long stretch of asphalt near the banks of the Mississippi river.

National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) drag racing teams from all corners of the U.S. will decide who has the quickest and fastest machine on the planet. Indeed, there is nothing quite like it in professional drag racing. Three nights guaranteed to showcase a spectacular display of fire, speed and brilliant streaks of color will radiate professional category qualifying and eliminations that will be held exclusively under the lights at the Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 22-24, at Gateway International Raceway. Final eliminations will be held on Saturday night, instead of NHRA's traditional Sunday afternoon format. As the event marking the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series' mid-season point, the stakes will be high for NHRA teams working to gain position for the season's second half as they continue to pursue Winston championship glory. Winston championship battles are intense in several NHRA professional categories, as only a few points separate the top challengers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock Truck. The race will provide competitors in Pro Stock an opportunity to chase down runaway performer Jeg Coughlin Jr. He's been dominant in early season events and has built a sizable lead in the 200-mph category. Certainly, all NHRA pro teams will be working hard to better their positions for the final stretch run of the championship chase at the quarter-mile track located just east of metropolitan St. Louis. Gary Scelzi, John Force, Jim Yates, Angelle Seeling and Bob Panella are the defending winners in their respective pro categories at the $1.8 million race, the 12th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Scelzi, from Fresno, Calif., outran defending Winston champion Tony Schumacher for his second-straight Top Fuel victory here last season. The two drivers are involved in a close battle for the 2000 Winston championship, as Scelzi leads the Winston point standings by a narrow margin over Schumacher, the defending Winston champion. Other top threats for the victory include two-time season winner Larry Dixon, along with other season winners Kenny Bernstein and Doug Kalitta. Five-time Winston champion Joe Amato won this event in 1997. Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., defeated teammate Tony Pedregon for the Funny Car win here one year ago. Both drivers are among the pre-race favorites, which also include '98 winner Frank Pedregon and '97 winner Ron Capps. The WWF Racing tag-team of Winston points leader Jerry Toliver and Las Vegas winner Jim Epler will seek to put the 'Smackdown' on the competition. Whit Bazemore, Scotty Cannon, Al Hofmann and home-state favorite Tim Wilkerson also are among top entries in the short wheelbase 6,000 horsepower category. Yates, from Alexandria, Va., took the photo-finish victory over Allen Johnson in Pro Stock, adding his first win at Gateway to his career total of 22. Two-time series champ Yates is among many competitors in the category chasing runaway Winston points leader Coughlin. The driver of the Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile Cutlass has won six of the first seven events in the category this season. Other top threats to win in the category include Richie Stevens, Columbus, Ohio winner Mark Pawuk and five-time Winston Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson, driver of the GM Performance Pontiac Firebird. New Orleans' Seeling edged No. 1 qualifier Matt Hines for the Pro Stock Motorcycle victory last year. The two riders will once again lead the two-wheel category into competition. Other favorites include Gatornationals winner Dave Schultz, who recently debuted the new Suzuki Hayabusa body design, Team 23 riders Antron Brown and Tony Mullen and Team Scream Suzuki rider Craig Treble. Panella, from Stockton, Calif., defeated Mark Osborne for the Pro Stock Truck victory in a battle of Chevy S-10s. Defending Winston champion Panella will return to defend his title, while category rivals and fellow S-10 drivers Randy Daniels and Greg Stanfield seek to defeat the defending champion. Other favorites include Mike and John Coughlin, and GMC Sonoma drivers Rick Jones and John Lingenfelter. Hometown truck owner Jerry Haas also will have his S-10 entered in the event.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Frank Pedregon , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Randy Daniels , John Lingenfelter , Scotty Cannon , Craig Treble , Allen Johnson , Jerry Haas , Jerry Toliver