Teams set for record assault on Houston Raceway Park

BAYTOWN, Texas - Certain quarter-mile stretches on the NHRA circuit seem to arouse an extra sense of excitement and anticipation among the sport's competitors. Houston Raceway Park is one of those tracks. Known for housing one of the quickest...

BAYTOWN, Texas - Certain quarter-mile stretches on the NHRA circuit seem to arouse an extra sense of excitement and anticipation among the sport's competitors. Houston Raceway Park is one of those tracks.

Known for housing one of the quickest drag strips in the country, HRP has the ability to make NHRA teams take it to the next level.

Team Winston driver Gary Scelzi can attest to this. Scelzi's 4.480 second pass down the ultra-quick track in his Alan Johnson-tuned Team Winston dragster back in 1999 marks the quickest pass ever recorded in NHRA history.

Fellow Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon blasted his Miller Lite dragster down the stretch in 4.486 to give him the second quickest pass in the NHRA's 50-year existence. Of the 10 quickest runs ever made down the quarter-mile, six, including the top two, have been performed at HRP.

As the NHRA's 50th Anniversary season continues and race teams get a better handle on the tune-up for their 6,000 horsepower vehicles, expectations are high as teams prepare for the 14th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil, March 22-25, at Houston Raceway Park.

Dixon, Bob Gilbertson, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Randy Daniels are the defending event winners of the $1.8 million event, the fourth of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Dixon, from Indianapolis, defeated the 1999 Winston Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher, from Park Ridge, Ill., in a thrilling side-by-side race to the finish line last season. For Dixon to repeat he will have to hold off a slew of drivers aiming for the crown, including Hockley, Texas, resident Darrell Russell, who continues his impressive rookie campaign after earning a victory in his first professional start back in February. Schumacher, three-time Winston champion Gary Scelzi, Yankee dragster driver Mike Dunn, Bud King Kenny Bernstein and Doug Kalitta will all be looking to make a move in the Winston standings.

Gilbertson, from Gastonia, N.C., entered eliminations as the No. 16 qualifier and went on to score his first career national event victory when Jerry Toliver left the line early in the final round. Gilbertson's win came after a stunning first round upset of 10-time Winston champion John Force followed by two more disqualifications that sent him to the finale. Force, Toliver, Bruce Sarver, and Don Prudhomme Racing teammates Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. are all serious contenders for the Funny Car title.

Columbus, Ohio's, Coughlin continued his early season dominance here one year ago by defeating Jim Yates in the Pro Stock final for his fourth win in five races. This season has been tougher as competitors in the door-slammer category make the proper adjustments to the new Pontiac Grand Ams. Chevy Cavaliers and Dodge R/Ts that have been introduced into the category. Coughlin, Mark Pawuk, the father-son combo of Warren and Kurt Johnson, and teammates Ron Krisher and Mike Edwards lead the charge in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock ranks.

Daniels, from Grantsboro, N.C., defeated fellow Chevy S-10 driver Bob Panella in the Pro Stock Truck final in what proved to be one of many elimination meetings between the rivals. Daniels and Panella are facing challenges for truck supremacy from a host of other drivers including Greg Stanfield, Jeff Gracia, and Scott Perin.

Defending Winston champion Angelle Savoie will continue her Pro Stock Motorcycle title defense against a strong field of competitors led by three-time series champ Matt Hines. Antron Brown, Tony Mullen and Craig Treble will all be aiming for the top of the two-wheel category.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2 and 4:45 p.m. on March 23 and continue at 11 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. on March 24. Final professional eliminations start at 11 a.m. on March 25.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 14th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil. Call (281) 383-7223, or Ticketmaster for ticket information.

ON TV: ESPN2 will provide three hours of eliminations coverage on March 25 at 6 p.m. (ET). In addition, ESPN2 will also televise two hours of qualifying highlights on March 24 at 8:30 p.m. (ET). -NHRA

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Bruce Sarver , Matt Hines , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Bob Gilbertson , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Ron Krisher , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , Don Prudhomme , Jerry Toliver , Mike Edwards , Tommy Johnson Jr.