Topeka Nationals Preview

>From NHRA For Immediate Release: Big Schedule of Night Racing Could Produce NHRA Records at Topeka -- Topeka, Kan. -- As summer arrives on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, the searing heat forces most teams to shift into a conservative...

>From NHRA For Immediate Release:

Big Schedule of Night Racing Could Produce NHRA Records at Topeka --

Topeka, Kan. -- As summer arrives on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series, the searing heat forces most teams to shift into a conservative mode.

When air and track temperatures add a third digit, the goal shifts from setting records to simply striving for a clean pass for 1,320 feet. From domination to survival of the fittest. So much for that trend at the Western Auto Nationals. Bring on the night.

The third annual, $1,3 68,350 Western Auto Nationals presented by Slick 50, June 29-July 2 at Heartland Park Topeka, will be the only NHRA national event this season win which all professional competition will be conducted during the performance-enhancing conditions of late afternoon and evening. The race is the 10th event on the 19-event, $27- million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1995.

This will be the first NHRA national event since 1984 to be conducted primarily at night. All evening racing at Heartland Park Topeka will be illuminated by a permanent Musco lighting system, which produces 225 million candlepower. The system made a brilliant debut at the 1994 Western Auto Nationals, where it was used for one qualifying session.

The cooler temperatures of evening increase traction and enhance performance. And performance is a trademark of Heartland Park Topeka. Consider this history:

-- John Force set an NHRA elapsed-time record for Funny Car of 4.939 seconds in his Castrol GTX entry in the 1994 Sears Craftsman Nationals, a stunning mark that still stands.

-- Jim Epler became the first NHRA Funny Car driver to produce a 300-mph run with a 300.40-mph blast in the Rug Doctor Oldsmobile in October 1993.

-- Chuck Etchells became the first NHRA Funny Car driver to record a pass quicker than five seconds with a run of 4.987 in the Kendall GT-1 Dodge in October 1993.

While those records all were set in cool, fall conditions at Heartland Park Topeka, the track yielded impressive performance last June at the Western Auto Nationals on a scorching weekend.

Tommy Johnson Jr. recorded a Top Fuel pass of 4.772 seconds, 306.64-mph in the Team Mopar Dragster during triple-digit temperatures last year. John Force made a Funny Car pass of 5.029 seconds, 296.15 mph.

If Heartland Park Topeka can yield that kind of performance in the heat, the times and speeds produced on three cool summer evenings could rewrite the NHRA record book.

But there will be more to this event than quick times and fast speeds. NHRA's best performers always flex their muscles during final eliminations at the Western Auto Nationals.

Four of the five drivers who have won professional titles at this event in its first two years -- Eddie Hill and Scott Kalitta in Top Fuel, Force in Funny Car and Warren Johnson in Pro Stock -- have won an NHRA Winston Championship. And the only exception to that trend, 1994 Pro Stock winner Scott Geoffrion, has finished in the top three in the NHRA Winston standings each of the last three years.


Hofmann Zeros in on Chief Rival Force in Funny Car Race --

Topeka, Kan. -- While Al Hofmann prefers to let horsepower win his battles over NHRA Funny Car rival John Force, he can send quite a message with a raw egg, too.

Hofmann, driver of the Western Auto Pontiac Firebird, recently appeared on a segment of the popular television show "Win" with an egg in his hand. He Held the egg between his thumb and index finger and said, "This is John Force." He squeezed the egg with both hands, splattering yellow yolk and jagged eggshells everywhere. Hofmann replied with a smile, "Any questions?"

Smashed eggs. Tough talk. It's only the beginning, folks.

"As far as I'm concerned, the nightmare is over," Hofmann said. "I don't feel like I'm racing Force anymore. I feel like he's racing us."

Hofmann, from Umatilla, Fla., has a 4-2 record against Force during eliminations this season. He beat Force in the final of the Oldsmobile Springnationals earlier this month to pull into second place in the NHRA Winston point standings, 95 points behind Force. Last year at this time, Hofmann led Force by a slim margin. Talk of his first championship started. But Hofmann faded in the second half of the season, finishing third in the points.

"This year we have momentum," Hofmann said.  "This year we
have the biggest budget to test.  We're not going away.

Hofmann plans to test a new Murf McKinney-built chassis at Heartland Park Topeka in early July, shortly after the Western Auto Nationals ends at that track. Hofmann made a career-best pass of 4.975 seconds, 306.33 mph at the Mopar Parts Nationals in mid-May at Englishtown, N.J., with his current McKinney chassis, which sports a Western Auto Firebird body.

But Hofmann is testing the new chassis despite his recent success because he said his current chassis struggles in the first half of each 1,320-foot pass, before hitting stride on the top end of the racetrack. "If the new car runs as good as we think it can, I don't think anybody will be able to stay with us," Hofmann, said. "On the good tracks it can run 4.80s at 310."

The NHRA Funny Car record for elapsed-time is 4.939 seconds by Force. The record for speed is the 306.33-mph blast by Hofmann at Englishtown.

Consistency usually separates the contenders from the pretenders in any NHRA Winston Championship race. If his performance at the recent Springnationals is any indication, Al Hofmann is emerging as the No. 1 contender for the title held by John Force.

Hofmann showed stunning consistency while winning the Springnationals. His Western Auto Pontiac Firebird made four passes between 5.125 and 5.183 seconds during eliminations. And in fine style, Hofmann saved his best run -- 5.125 seconds, 299.90 mph -- for a final-round victory over John Force.


Busy Anderson Keeps Focus on Strong Finish in Top Fuel

Topeka, Kan. -- Life has been a blur lately for Shelly Anderson, and not just because she drives a 300-mph race car for a living. Anderson has performed quite a juggling act since mid-May, balancing her many duties as driver of the Western Auto Top Fuel Dragster with a torrent of requests from mainstream media throughout the country.

She was interviewed by reporters working on feature stories for The New York Times, the New York Daily News, People Magazine and the television show, "A Current Affair." She recently flew to New York to appear on the syndicated talk show, "The Maury Povich Show."

Whew. "I'm tired," Anderson said. "But I love it. That's what it's all about, getting my sponsors' name out there. They took a chance on me, and I want to show them they picked the right person."

So far Western Auto and associate sponsor Havoline look like they made a smart choice. Anderson, from Ontario, Calif., enters the third annual, $1,368,350 Western Auto Nationals presented by Slick 50, June 29-July 2 at Heartland Park Topeka, in seventh place in the NHRA Winston point standings.

Despite all the media work, Anderson remains focused on her goal this season: a top-five finish in the NHRA Winston point standings. It would be quite an improvement over her career-best 10th-place finish last year.

"I also want to win at least one," Anderson said. "We've had the car not run good at times, and me not drive good at times. We need them to come together. I think we're learning. "We've been going rounds and getting points, and that's important. But we want more."

Bring on the night: As far as Shelly Anderson is concerned, the night time is the right time for racing her Western Auto Dragster. "I love it," Anderson said. "I drive my best at night. Pedaling it, reaction time, the whole thing."

NHRA competitors only make one run at night, a Friday-night qualifying session at almost every other NHRA event. The tune-up used for the night session is much different than that used in the midday heat during final eliminations on Sundays.

"You make a Friday-night run, and you throw it away," Anderson said of most races. "It's a waste of money. "This will be nice. This will be at the same time we run the semis and the finals on Sunday."

Shelly Anderson credits a certain aspect of crew for much of her improvement this season, and it has nothing to do with wrenches or technical skill. "Everybody gets along," Anderson said. "It's a calm feeling. It's like having another family."

Or in Anderson's case, it's like having a bunch of younger brothers. Anderson, 29, is older than every one of her crew members except her father, Brad Anderson, and crew chief Ray Alley. "They're mature for their age, they work hard. Age doesn't matter. It's attitude. It's personality."


Pro Stock Contender Pawuk Ready to Loosen Reins

Topeka, Kan. -- Conservative strategies have helped Mark Pawuk quietly climb to fourth in the NHRA Winston Pro Stock Standings this season.

Those strategies also helped him win the Mid-South Nationals in early May. But Pawuk knows he must change gears to hold his spot or reach the top three. It's time for a new philosophy. It's time to go for it.

"We've always been a conservative team," Pawuk said. "I'm afraid if we stay conservative, it will bite us. We've got to become a little more risky or we'll be a firstround loser and end up where we were last year. We're lucky to be in fourth."

Pawuk, from Bath, Ohio, is just 48 points ahead of eighth- place Steve Schmidt in the tight Pro Stock points chase entering the third annual, $1,368,350 Western Auto Nationals presented by Slick 50, June 29-July 2 at Heartland Park Topeka. The race is the 10th event in the 19-event, $27- million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series in 1995.

There is a certain uneasiness for Pawuk as his Summit Oldsmobile Cutlass team, led by veteran crew chief Dave Butner, prepares to take more chances. Shedding conservative ways is tough for Pawuk, and his engine needs more horsepower

And Pawuk, unlike the powerful Team Mopar Dodges and Johnson Oldsmobile, doesn't have another team car to test new set- ups. Any major problem that arises could be tough to fix quickly, opening a trap door for Pawuk in the point standings.

"We have to find more power. Bottom line," Pawuk said. "It's really tough with one set of samples with all these pieces. But I really have a sharp team. I know they'll get it done."

When Mark Pawuk defeated Jerry Eckman in the final of the Mid-South Nationals in early May at Memphis, Tenn., there was plenty of reason for pride. After all, Pawuk earned his first victory in the Summit Oldsmobile Cutlass since February 1993, when he won the ATSCO Nationals at Phoenix.

But Pawuk had even greater reason for joy. His wins came at the last NHRA national event in which the powerful Dodge duo of Alderman and Geoffrion competed. The Dodge boys, who finished 1-2 in the NHRA Winston points last season, have been sidelined since Memphis due to criminal destruction of their racing engines.

"That's what I could say, everybody was there at Memphis," Pawuk said. "I know if it was me, I sure want to win it when all the best competition was there."

Mark Pawuk thinks the night-racing format used at the Western Auto Nationals will be great for the fans. He thinks it will make the field even more competitive. But he's not so sure that qualifying at night will help him.

"I have a real hard time driving at night," Pawuk said. "I wear contacts. "I'm also always up by 6 or 7 in the morning. I'm going to get less sleep. Even if I try to sleep in, I'm to nervous to sleep. I'm probably going to be exhausted by Sunday night.


The Third Annual Western Auto Nationals presented by Slick 50, June 29-July 2 at Heartland Park Topeka, Kansas.

Schedule -- Pro Qualifying starts at 4 p.m. Friday and is followed by a night-qualifying session at 8 p.m. Qualifying ends at 4 p.m. Saturday, with final eliminations starting at 3 p.m. Sunday. Sportsman competition starts at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Television -- ABC will televise a one-hour show of highlights from the Western Auto Nationals at 4 p.m. (CDT) July 9.


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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Al Hofmann , John Force , Chuck Etchells , Scott Geoffrion , Steve Schmidt , Tommy Johnson Jr. , Shelly Anderson