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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761 EVERY NHRA RECORD COULD FALL IN AUTUMN WEATHER AT TOPEKA TOPEKA, Kan. -- Hold your breath. It's time for the encore. It's probably safe to say that no race...


Contact: NHRA Communications (818) 914-4761


TOPEKA, Kan. -- Hold your breath. It's time for the encore.

It's probably safe to say that no race on the 1996 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series schedule is as eagerly anticipated as the eighth annual, $1,473,750 Sears Craftsman Nationals, Sept. 26-29 at Heartland Park Topeka.

Just the thought of the previous NHRA national event this season at Topeka, the Western Auto Nationals presented by Slick 50, makes almost any racer or fan shake their head in amazement. Consider these milestones:

NHRA elapsed-time and speed national records were set in Top Fuel and Funny Car by big margins. The late Blaine Johnson set an elapsed- time record of 4.592 seconds and Scott Kalitta a speed record of 315.67 mph in Top Fuel. John Force set an elapsed-time record of 4.889 and Cruz Pedregon a speed record of 311.20 in Funny Car. All four records still stand in testimony to the incredible ability of the Heartland Park track to hold every bit of horsepower that crew chiefs can produce.

There were 47 300-mph runs, 17 more than the previous NHRA record for 300-mph speeds at one national event.

Joe Amato became the first Top Fuel driver in the 4.50-second range with a run of 4.595.

The Top Fuel field was the quickest in NHRA history with Gordie Bonin No. 16 at 4.846.

Force and Cruz Pedregon produced the quickest Funny Car race in NHRA history in their classic final, as Force ran 4.930 to beat Pedregon's 4.942. Force recorded a four-second pass on all eight of his runs at the event, an unprecedented feat in NHRA history.

So it's easy to see why anticipation mounts about this event. But there's reason to believe that performance at this event could do more than match the milestones set in July. It could exceed them.

The Western Auto Nationals was conducted primarily at night, but temperatures still hovered in the 80's. If cool, crisp, fall air descends upon the Midwest in late September, traction will be even better than in July.

Plus there is much more at stake in this race, the 17th of 19 events this season in the $27-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. The chase for NHRA Winston championships is tight in three of the four pro categories.

Kenny Bernstein should be near or at the top of the NHRA Winston Top Fuel point standings at this event in the Budweiser King Dragster. Bernstein became the favorite for the championship after points leader Johnson died from injuries suffered in a qualifying crash at the U.S. Nationals earlier this month.

Jim Yates is trying to hold off a desperate Warren Johnson in Pro Stock. Yates led Johnson by 129 points after 15 races this season in the McDonald's Pontiac Firebird, trying to dethrone Johnson for his first NHRA Winston championship. Johnson beat Yates in July at Topeka, and he must repeat that feat to stay in contention.

The closest race is in Pro Stock Motorcycle, which makes its only stop at Topeka this season. Defending NHRA Winston champion John Myers led Dave Schultz by just two points after 15 races.

There's also good reason to think that drivers who are out of points races will let it rip, keeping an eye on 1997. The big numbers possible at Heartland Park intimidate rivals and impress sponsors.

--Schedule: Pro qualifying starts at 3 p.m. Sept. 27 and is followed by a night-qualifying session at 7 p.m. that evening. Qualifying ends with sessions at noon and 4 p.m. Sept. 28, with final eliminations starting at 11 a.m. Sept. 29. Sportsman competition starts at 9 a.m. Sept. 26.

--Tickets: Tickets are available for the Sears Craftsman Nationals. Call (800) 43-RACES for ticket information. Tickets also can be purchased at Ticketmaster outlets.

--On TV: The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 60 minutes of live final-round competition from the Sears Craftsman Nationals at 5 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 29. -30-

Jack Durbin Motorsport News International (Moderators for "") Homepage

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , John Force , Joe Amato , Cruz Pedregon , Scott Kalitta