FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 FIELD IS WIDE OPEN AS NHRA COMES TO GATEWAY FOR INAUGURAL RACE MADISON, Ill. -- It's only fitting that a most unpredictable NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series season...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761
FIELD IS WIDE OPEN AS NHRA COMES TO GATEWAY FOR INAUGURAL RACE
MADISON, Ill. -- It's only fitting that a most unpredictable NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series season is reaching its halfway point with the inaugural Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway. Through the first half of the season, it's been tough to predict a winner in the four professional categories at each event, as deep fields have created parity in NHRA competition. If it's that tough to guess a winner at long-standing events on the circuit, picking champions for the first NHRA national event at Gateway could be quite a tricky task. Expect the unexpected at the $1,468,950 Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 26-29 at Gateway, a state-of-the-art facility located minutes from St. Louis. The race is the 11th event of the 22-event, $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1997. Through nine events this season, seven different drivers have won in Funny Car. Five have won in both Top Fuel and Pro Stock. And three riders have won in Pro Stock Motorcycle, which has been contested at five races. Many past NHRA Winston champions are on the winner's list, such as Joe Amato, Kenny Bernstein and Scott Kalitta in Top Fuel, John Force in Funny Car, Warren Johnson and Jim Yates in Pro Stock, and Dave Schultz and John Myers in Pro Stock Motorcycle. But new winners have emerged, such as points leader Gary Scelzi in Top Fuel, Randy Anderson, Whit Bazemore and Kenji Okazaki in Funny Car, and Tom Martino in Pro Stock. That parity, combined with team's lack of experience on the smooth, fast track at Gateway, could make this one of the most wide-open races of the season. While it may be tough to predict winners, one thing is certain at this event: Top performance will be necessary for victory. Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers will need all 5,500 horsepower that their engines generate en route to 300-mph finishes, and Pro Stock drivers can't leave any of their 1,200 horsepower in a tool box or parts bin. The Top Fuel winner at six of the first nine NHRA national events this season covered the quarter-mile in the 4.6-second range during the final round. That happened at only one of the first nine races last season. A big performance jump also has occurred in Pro Stock. The winner at seven of the first nine races this year has needed a six-second pass to win. No winner recorded a six-second run in the final at the first nine races of 1996. The point standings remain tight at the top in two of the four pro categories. Yates leads archrival Johnson by just 33 points in Pro Stock after nine races. Matt Hines is 87 points ahead of Myers in Pro Stock Motorcycle. While Scelzi and Force have sizable leads in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively, there's quite a tight pack of drivers beneath them. Only 114 points separate third-place Bernstein from eight-place Bruce Sarver in Top Fuel, and there are just 57 points between second-place Anderson and sixth-place Tony Pedregon in Funny Car. *Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3:30 p.m. June 27 and continues at 7:30 p.m. that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. June 28. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. June 29. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 10 a.m. June 26. *Tickets: Tickets are available for the Sears Craftsman Nationals. Call (888) 82-SPEED. Tickets also are available at MetroTix outlets. *On TV: ABC will televise one hour of highlights from the Sears Craftsman Nationals at 4 p.m. (CDT) July 6. -30-