FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761 SEARS CRAFTSMAN NATIONALS FUNNY CAR NOTEBOOK *Looking good: John Force's lead over second-place Whit Bazemore grew to 194 points after winning the Pioneer Electronics...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (626) 914-4761
SEARS CRAFTSMAN NATIONALS FUNNY CAR NOTEBOOK *Looking good: John Force's lead over second-place Whit Bazemore grew to 194 points after winning the Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals earlier this month at Reading, Pa., in the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. It's Force's biggest gap since leading by 195 after the Sears Craftsman Nationals in late June at Madison, Ill. Bazemore lost to Cruz Pedregon in the quarterfinals at Reading in the Team Winston Ford Mustang. "In order for us to win the Winston championship now, Force will have to lose early, and we will have to win at least once," Bazemore said. "So, mathematically it's still possible, but I'd say it's a long shot at this point." Said Funny Car rival Chuck Etchells: "There's always a chance for Whit to catch him, but I think it's doubtful. It will be hard to make up more than a round a race on Force." But Topeka is one place where Bazemore could make the chase interesting. He earned his first career victory at the Western Auto Parts America Nationals in May at Heartland Park Topeka. "I'm looking forward to going to Topeka because it's such a good track," Bazemore said. "We smoked the tires in five of our six runs at Reading. At Topeka, we should be able to run our Team Winston car up to its potential, with some runs in the 4.90's at more than 310 mph. That's what we'll be looking for." *No cakewalk: It's safe to say that Funny Car was the least- competitive of the four professional categories in 1996, as John Force dominated with 13 victories in 19 races en route to his sixth NHRA Winston championship. Funny Car has undergone a complete reversal this year, becoming arguably the toughest, most-competitive pro category. Nine drivers have won at least one race, and four have won two or more. Force was the only Funny Car driver to win more than one race last year, as only seven drivers won a race. One of the reasons behind the new depth of the category is the emergence of Whit Bazemore as a Funny Car star. Bazemore has earned all four of his career victories this season. The rapid development of rookies Randy Anderson and Ron Capps also has made it tough for any driver to dominate. "Force has had a resurgence in recent weeks, Capps is a lot stronger and (Chuck) Etchells is running really well," Bazemore said. "There just aren't any free rounds." Said Force: "It's different out there. All of these guys can throw a number at you. "Like at the U.S. Nationals, who was it that beat me? (Tim) Wilkerson, right? I'm going up in smoke, and I see him out there, and I figure he's running a 5.2 or a 5.3. I get back to my pit and see that he ran a 5.0, and I say to (crew chief Austin) Coil, 'How did he run a 5.0?' And Coil says: 'Where have you been? He's been running 5.0's all year." *The ultimate barometer: Chuck Etchells is third in the NHRA Winston standings, 74 points ahead of fourth-place Tony Pedregon and 119 ahead fifth-place Cruz Pedregon. But he insists that he's not keeping a keen watch on the Pedregon brothers or the standings. "The goal is to try and win races," Etchells said. "The points will take care of themselves. That's kind of how we look at it. "We always look at the No. 1 guy. We never look anywhere but No. 1 to see where we're at." *Second chance: Tom Hoover continued his return from open-heart surgery by climbing from 15th to 14th place in the NHRA Winston point standings at the U.S. Nationals. He kept that position after the Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals earlier this month at Reading, Pa. Hoover, from Minneapolis, underwent a quadruple heart bypass the first week in April after feeling numbness in his arm at the Slick 50 Nationals in late March near Houston. His recovery reached a zenith when he won the Pontiac Excitement Nationals in mid-June at Columbus, Ohio, just nine weeks after surgery. He missed four races during his recuperation, but won at Columbus in just his second race back in the Pioneer Electronics Dodge Avenger. "I do appreciate the little things right now," Hoover said. "I feel better. Everything is flowing right now. The way the car runs, and as competitive as the team is right now, anything can happen this year. It's going to be a player before the year is over." *Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3 p.m. Sept. 26 and continues at 7 p.m. that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at noon and 4 p.m. Sept. 27. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. Sept. 28. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 9 a.m. Sept. 25. *Tickets: Tickets are available for the Sears Craftsman Nationals. Call Heartland Park Topeka at (800) 43-RACES. Tickets also are available at Ticketmaster outlets throughout the Midwest. *On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 90 minutes of live, final-round competition from the Sears Craftsman Nationals at 4:30 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 28. TNN also will televise one hour of live, first-round competition at 11 a.m. (CDT) that day. *On the Web: The NHRA home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.goracing.com/nhra/ offers more information about NHRA Winston Drag Racing, including qualifying and eliminations results, news, point standings, statistics and driver biographies. -30-