Topeka: Racers anticipate holiday race

Racers Looking forward to holiday race at Heartland Park Topeka. TOPEKA, Kan. - Memorial Day has become more than just a three-day weekend that celebrates the veterans who have served with the United States military. It has become the time of...

Racers Looking forward to holiday race at Heartland Park Topeka.

TOPEKA, Kan. - Memorial Day has become more than just a three-day weekend that celebrates the veterans who have served with the United States military. It has become the time of year when summer begins, families spend time with each other cooking up favorites on the grill with the sound of racing in the background.

Racing has become as much a part of the weekend as barbecued items. While the Indy 500 dominated the weekend throughout the years, the NHRA also has gotten into the holiday spirit.

Drag racers in three professional categories will be aiming to take home the holiday event victory at the 14th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX at Heartland Park Topeka, May 23-26. Kenny Bernstein, Tony Pedregon and Ron Krisher are the defending winners in their respective categories for the $1.8 million race, the ninth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

The NHRA has not always featured an event on Memorial Day weekend, but Pro Stock driver Jim Yates said he is glad to see the quarter-milers get into the action.

"Racing gets a lot of attention that weekend and it is appropriate that the NHRA should have an event that day," said Yates, driver of the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am. "There is going to be a lot of motorsports fans tuned into racing between our drag racing event, the Winston Cup event and the Indy 500. Racing is the talk of the town and it gets a lot of attention because everyone is in the motorsports mood.

"Memorial Day kicks of the summer and even though we race in some of the winter months, racing is a summer activity and that race kicks off the heart of our season."

Whit Bazemore's season started off with three first round losses in the first four events of the year. If the lack-luster performance had continued for the Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird team, Bazemore might be more willing to take the three days off. Now, however, he wants as much seat time as he can get. Bazemore is coming off back-to-back wins in Bristol and Atlanta and is looking to use the momentum to roll the POWERade series points lead.

"It would be nice to have a three-day weekend off, but if you have a job and you have to work on the holiday weekend, driving a Funny Car is not a bad way to spend the time," Bazemore said. "While I would love to be able to spend time with my friends floating down a river, I would rather be racing no matter what."

Bazemore said he can remember watching all the motorsports action from the pits of the drag racers when he was growing up.

"We have sporadically raced during the holiday weekend in the past, and I can remember when we had the Cajun Nationals (Baton Rouge, La.)," Bazemore said. "I used to watch the Indy 500 with my dad and Joe Amato and Kenny Bernstein in their trailers. It's an exciting weekend for racing and it is good for the NHRA to have a presence during the weekend."

One driver who is very pleased with the Memorial Day race is Tony Schumacher. Driving the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster, his team has even more motivation to grab the victory at Heartland Park Topeka.

"It's great for our sponsor that we race that weekend. We have the Army on our team and it is a good way to be a part of Memorial Day," Schumacher said. "There are only three days that I don't want to race on; Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day. I think it is great that we race on Memorial Day. People look forward to that weekend and there is no reason why we shouldn't be a part of it."

Between the motorsports coverage on television and the food that is widely associated with the three-day break, Schumacher said fans will be full and happy by the end of the day.

"We don't even need to worry about competing with the other racing series that are going on that weekend because we are the second biggest motorsport in the nation and people want to be entertained throughout the three-day holiday weekend," Schumacher said. "Our drag races are fun, outdoor events that make for an exciting spectator sport. That is a spectator weekend. People want to enjoy the holiday."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Joe Amato , Ron Krisher