Topeka: Round nine preview

WITH STRONG START TO '09 SEASON, EDWARDS DRIVING CAR TO BEAT IN PRO STOCK AS FULL THROTTLE SERIES HEADS TO TOPEKA TOPEKA, Kan. - If the Pro Stock performance that was put on display by Mike Edwards and his workaholic ART/Young Life Pontiac GXP...


TOPEKA, Kan. - If the Pro Stock performance that was put on display by Mike Edwards and his workaholic ART/Young Life Pontiac GXP teammates at Bristol Dragway two weeks ago is a preview of what's to come for his fellow competitors in the 200 mph category, those respective teams better get to work.

And they better get to work fast.

At Bristol's Thunder Valley Nationals, Edwards' driving was near perfect. His GXP's setup was flawless. He left his competition in his dust all weekend. He was the No. 1 qualifier. He won the race. And just for good measure, he set the low elapsed time for the event in his final-round victory over three-time series champ Greg Anderson.

It was all in a day's work for this very humble and highly spiritual self-confessed total gear head from Oklahoma who now heads to Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas for the O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals, May 29-31. He will try to keep the momentum going so he can improve on his third place position in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Pro Stock points order. Hillary Will (Top Fuel); John Force (Funny Car); and Ron Krisher (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the event, which will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD.

Edwards had been making waves and turning heads early in the season in spurts, taking three No. 1 qualifying positions, a runner-up finish at the season-opener in Pomona, Calif. and a victory in mid-April in Atlanta.

However, his flashes of brilliance before his exclamation point victory at Bristol were tempered with a few moments of futility. After being recognized by his peers as having the car to beat with No. 1 qualifying performances at Phoenix, Gainesville and Las Vegas, he lost all three races in the second round. At St. Louis he qualified second but lost in the first round to Justin Humphreys on a red-light start.

Heading into Bristol he decided to focus intensely on his driving and had his team work overtime to find more horsepower. The results were immediate.

"I had been struggling with my driving and I felt like I gave a couple of races away," Edwards said. "I have been qualifying No. 1 and felt like I let my team down a few times. We have just tested, tested and tested and worked countless hours at this. I have the best group of guys in the world. Finally all the hard work is paying off and the results are showing."

Edwards knows if he is to sustain his run for the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship that is the effort he's going to need during the stretch run of the regular season and for the six-race playoffs, the Countdown to 1. Series leader Jeg Coughlin has raced out to a good lead with three victories in his Chevy Cobalt, while Line has also been impressive in his Summit Racing GXP with two wins. Anderson is starting to get on the fast track in his Summit Pontiac as well.

"I don't know if people realize how hard it is to do well in this class," said Edwards, whose best series points finish in his 15-year career is third (1996). "I respect Greg (Anderson) and Jason (Line) and those are the guys you want to beat because they've been up there so long, just like Warren and Kurt (Johnson) too. To beat those guys ... I never dreamed I would be as competitive in this class and run like this. It's an awesome feeling."

In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher is back to his winning ways in the category despite having a brand new team in the pits. He has raced to three victories in his U.S. Army dragster with new crew chief Mike Green calling the shots. However, Schumacher has never won at Heartland Park. Brandon Bernstein and Cory McClenathan are multiple-time winners at the Kansas track and will be among the favorites during the weekend.

Del Worsham is riding a two-race winning streak behind the wheel of his new Al-Anabi Racing Toyota Solara and is making a serious move up the Funny Car points order. He trails three-time season winner and series leader Ron Capps by 57 points. Capps, who drives the NAPA Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing, is a two-time winner at Topeka. The only other active Funny Car drivers who have won at HPT are nine-time winner John Force, four-time winner Cruz Pedregon and three-time winner Tony Pedregon. All three will be among the favorites to win, in addition to Ashley Force Hood, Jack Beckman and Tim Wilkerson.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 29, and 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 30. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 31.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals by calling Heartland Park Topeka at (800) 43-RACES (72237) or via

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 8 p.m. (ET) on Saturday May 30. On Sunday, May 31, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will feature NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET), and three hours of eliminations coverage at 4 p.m. (ET).

LUCAS OIL SERIES: The O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals also will feature competition in eight categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on May 29. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on May 30.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Brandon Bernstein , Don Schumacher , Hillary Will , Justin Humphreys , Mike Edwards