Topeka: Event preview

TOPEKA, Kan. - In seasons past, the NHRA Advance Auto Parts Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka have been all about numbers. Teams in each professional category have worked hard to produce quick and fast numbers on the track in hopes of ...

TOPEKA, Kan. - In seasons past, the NHRA Advance Auto Parts Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka have been all about numbers. Teams in each professional category have worked hard to produce quick and fast numbers on the track in hopes of gaining track performance bests, as well as NHRA national records. Take last season for example. Track records were set in every category. Defending Winston Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher clocked a 327.90 mph speed, while perennial Funny Car champion John Force slipped below the 4.80s in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, recording an incredible 4.797 second run. In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson showed that Heartland Park is among the quickest quarter-mile surfaces on the NHRA circuit when he raced his GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird to a 6.846 second blast. Drivers and teams involved in championship battles have been concerned about other numbers -- much needed Winston championship points - as they continue to pursue excellence in their categories. Teams in several pro categories need a win to improve their spot in the Winston Top 10. While record-setting performances and championship positioning will be a part of the quest for some, every team will be trying to improve the numbers in their win column. Many will be looking for their first national event winner's circle appearance, while others will be working hard for a return visit. Certainly, the stakes will be high on all fronts at the 12th annual NHRA Advance Auto Parts Nationals, Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at Heartland Park Topeka. Doug Herbert, Force, Mike Edwards and Bob Panella are the defending winners of the $1.9 million race, the 19th of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Herbert, from Cherryville, N.C., powered his Snap-on Tools dragster to the victory here one year ago when final round foe Joe Amato's dragster lost traction. Herbert, who finished seventh in the Winston points standings last year with four victories, would like to claim a victory to salvage a lackluster 2000 season that has included 10 first round losses. Amato, a winner at this event in 1990, also needs a victory to increase his current position in the Winston points standings. It will be a crucial event for Schumacher, Gary Scelzi and Larry Dixon, as they are locked in an intense three-way battle for the Winston championship. Yorba Linda, Calif.'s Force, NHRA's career win leader with 89 national event titles, earned his third victory at this event last year, defeating Tommy Johnson, Jr. in the final. Both drivers will be among the favorites this year, along with WWF Racing's tag-team of Jerry Toliver and Jim Epler, Whit Bazemore, '98 Topeka winner Ron Capps and '99 NHRA Rookie of the Year Scotty Cannon. Edwards, from Broken Arrow, Okla., used a holeshot start to defeat Troy Coughlin for the Pro Stock title one year ago. Edwards will not defend his championship behind the wheel this year, but could make the correct tuning decisions to aid Ron Krisher's Eagle One Pontiac Firebird to the victory. The hottest Pro Stock driver of the year has been Winston points leader Jeg Coughlin, an eight-time winner, including the prestigious U.S. Nationals. Kurt Johnson has been quick lately in his AC Delco Chevy Camaro, as has Mark Pawuk in his Summit Racing Firebird. Panella, from Stockton, Calif., also was a record-setter here last year in his winning effort over Larry Kopp. The victory here propelled the Chevy S-10 driver on to his first Winston championship. He'll need to defend his title if he's to repeat as Winston champion as several top drivers are in hot pursuit, including five-time season winner Randy Daniels, also an S-10 driver. John and Mike Coughlin, Greg Stanfield, and Augusta, Kan's Todd Patterson are also top contenders for the victory.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Ron Krisher , Larry Kopp , Randy Daniels , Mike Coughlin , Greg Stanfield , Jerry Toliver , Mike Edwards