O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka Pre-event quotes Kenny Bernstein - six-time NHRA champion and retired driver of the Budweiser King dragster, who will return to action for the immediate future while his son Brandon begins the...
O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka
Kenny Bernstein - six-time NHRA champion and retired driver of the Budweiser King dragster, who will return to action for the immediate future while his son Brandon begins the recovery process for lower back injuries he suffered during a crash last weekend in Englishtown, N.J. - "We are obviously all very relieved things turned out the way they did if an accident like this had to happen. Of course, I'm sick that he had to go through something like this so soon into his career but all things considered at this point, we realize it could have been much worse. It's hard to say how long it will be, whether it's surgery or rehab, it will be two to three months. That's to be normal again. I don't know if that's to jump back in a race car again. I know this, there is absolutely no reason at all that I can think of to rush Brandon back into the car. He's out of the [championship] deal now for sure. It might be considerably longer than three months for him to be racing again. His long-term health is the main concern."
Larry Dixon - the driver of the Miller Lite dragster and the 2002 NHRA POWERade top Fuel champion. The Indianapolis resident moved into the points lead following his win at the 2002 season-opener at Pomona, Calif., and did not relinquish the lead for 28 consecutive events, an NHRA record. He dropped to second in the standings for one event, but moved back atop the POWERade standings following his win at Atlanta - "You just have to be leading the point standings after (the season finale at) Pomona (Calif.). It doesn't matter where you collect them, just so long as you collect them. My crew chief, Dick LaHaie, won the championship in 1987 and didn't lead the points until after the semifinals of the last race of the year when he beat Joe Amato, who had led the standings for most of the season. But LaHaie went rounds all year and moved into the lead after Pomona and won the championship. That's when you need to lead the standings."
Doug Herbert - driver of the Snap-on Tools dragster who has finished in the top 10 for four straight years, three times in seventh and one in ninth - "We are getting our tune-up figured out to where we should be able to win any race at any given time. Our engine is running a lot better. We are working together better. We are going in the right direction. Compared to last year, our performance is like night and day. Realistically, we are a top five car and at this particular point we probably aren't ready to beat (Larry) Dixon day in and day out. We just want to keep improving at each race. We're definitely going in the right direction. Everything is coming together. But nothing ever happens as quickly as you want."
Tony Schumacher - driver of the U.S. Army dragster and the 1999 NHRA Top Fuel champion. A sluggish start to the season for Schumacher saw him post four first round losses in the last five races. However, his slump his rock bottom when he failed to qualify at Englishtown, N.J. last weekend, ending a streak of 102 consecutive starts, dating back to the 1998 event in Reading, Pa. - "Extremely disappointing is all I can say. I would never have imagined that we could not get down the track and get in the show. For some reason, we just could not get a handle on the track. I feel horrible for the entire Army team. They deserve much better than this. As hard as it may be, you have to take this experience and learn from it. It happens to the best of teams. Look at what happened to Larry Dixon last year in St. Louis. He didn't qualify and went on to win the championship. Once the initial shock wears off, we'll pick up our bootstraps and move on. That's all you can do in reality."
Tony Pedregon - driver of the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang, arguably the most dominant Funny Car on the 2003 NHRA tour. He was runner-up to teammate and boss John Force for the POWERade championship last season - "The difference (between this year and last), I think, is that we've proved that we can win even when he don't have the fastest car. That's the secret to John's success. With (crew chiefs) Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, he's been able to win rounds even when his car has struggled. Now, I think we have the same situation on our team with (crew chiefs) John Medlen and Dickie Venables. I think, that they've developed the same kind of relationship as Austin and Bernie. Look around the pits. Everybody has budget; everybody has big financing. So what is it that makes the difference? It's people, and right now I think I have the best people backing me up."
Del Worsham - driver of the red Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird. Worsham was the runner-up at two of the first five events before winning at Bristol, Tenn. - "We're not the only ones looking up at (points leader) Tony (Pedregon's) team. So far, they're the class of the field, but it's a long year and you can't win the championship in one weekend. You can't hit a five run homer, you can't score a 10-point touchdown, there aren't any five point shots in basketball, and you can't pick up six rounds in one weekend. You just have to grind it out, and win rounds every weekend. The key is just being consistent. If you told me we could be fighting for the POWERade championship on the last weekend, but we'd be in that position with 10 runner-ups and no wins, I'd take it. We're out here to win rounds, but I'll admit that winning races is a lot more fun."
Scotty Cannon - driver of the Oakley Pontiac Firebird started racing full-time on the NHRA circuit in 1999 and is seeking his first career NHRA win. The season has it's first back-to-back-to-back segment of 2003 beginning with the race at Englishtown, N.J., then Topeka, Kan., and Chicago - "I believe the more laps you can make, the sooner (things will come together). That's why I think it's a good thing for the three races to be back-to-back. It wears out the guys pretty much, but it does help keep up the momentum. We can all stay focused and we actually can work on the car and beat it up three races in a row. I'll be staying on the road with the car, living with the guys. That should help us to get in the groove and actually make something happen."
Johnny Gray - driver of the blue Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird and teammates with Del Worsham - "We went through a little drought in terms of round wins for two races, but we have our confidence back now. When you go out in the first round two races in a row, your guys tend to get that worried look going on Sunday morning. We cured that deal in Bristol and Atlanta, and I think we're ready to win some more rounds. I'm awfully proud that Worsham Racing and the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen team have two the top cars right now. In the NHRA Funny Car class today, that's not easy to do."
Whit Bazemore - driver of the Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T who has consistently won rounds this season, including his first victory at Englishtown last weekend- "We've had a good year so far. We've had one little problem area that's cost us rounds and races. And that's smoking the tires almost at the hit of the throttle. Our weakness compared to our main competition appears to be in the first 300 feet. Beyond that, our Matco Tools Dodge has nearly always been the strongest car. I know (crew chief) Lee (Beard) and the guys are addressing this problem. We're not allowing ourselves to be frustrated because the championship usually goes to the person who wins the most rounds and not necessarily the most races. If we continue to win rounds we'll put ourselves in a position to win races. And we have. And we're consistently in that position."
Gary Densham - driver of the AAA Ford Mustang owned by John Force. Densham joined Force Racing at the beginning of the 2001 season and scored his first career win later that year. It was his first victory in 244 career starts. He finished a career-best fourth in the 2002 final standings - "Once you've had success like we had last year, it changes your expectations. Now, we expect to be a contender every week."
Gary Scelzi - driver of the Oakley Time Bomb Dodge Stratus R/T for Schumacher Racing - "Things went so smoothly in the beginning of the year and we had such a consistent race car and we raced very well. But we started to have a few problems in Gainesville (Fla.) and obviously Las Vegas, where we had that catastrophic explosion. We tested after Vegas and again after Houston, and we learned what parts we needed to have. So, sink, swim, or go for your gun, we have to use these new tools and get going."
Greg Anderson - driver of the Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am and current POWERade points leader - "Because of everything we were trying to accomplish over the winter, we didn't get a lot of testing time on engine parts. I knew at the (season-opener) that we would be a little behind the eight ball. With the parts and pieces and people we've put in place, plus the new shop, I was confident that by midseason we could contend for the POWERade championship. The surprise is that we've started out as good as we have. We're way ahead of schedule so you can understand why I have high hopes. The SC/T Grand Am is every bit as good as the Chevrolet I raced last year. The Pontiac seems to have more downforce down the track, it's real comfortable to drive and when we get into the hot, sticky months when we'll be racing on greasy tracks, we think that's where the advantages of the Grand Am will play out."
Kurt Johnson - driver of the ACDelco Chevy Cavalier - "We're looking toward next year already. We have to make plans for new cars and stuff like that, but as far keeping the performance where it needs to be, we're planning two, three, four races ahead. As far as long-term goals, you have to have a good eight or nine months as well. It takes a little bit of both worlds. Unfortunately, on some of our long-term objectives, we won't know if we made the right decisions until nine months goes by. But we have great team at the track with Kevin Horst and Joe Cottle, and a tremendous group back at the shop that provides us with great horsepower and terrific race cars. We'll just take it day by day right now, and when we go to the races, we'll take it run by run and hope things work out."
Warren Johnson - driver of the GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am and six-time NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion - "Right now, I'd have to give our team a B-plus. We're not making perfect runs every time, and we're not the quickest or the fastest car out there, but we're competitive. That means we're racing well, but we have some work to do on the car and our set-ups. We also need to do a better job adapting to the conditions. But since we're still in a position to win races, and have done so twice, you can't grade it too low."