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Jan 28, 2004

The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals celebrates 50 years on Labor Day in 2004 (courtesy NHRA marketing)

Throughout the 53 years of NHRA racing, the number of national events sanctioned by the largest motorsports organization in the world has varied. But one thing has never changed. The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park crowns its event champions with the most coveted trophies in drag racing.
There was a time when the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals was simply referred to as The Nationals. It was the only national event on the schedule. It was the first race that brought a nation of racers together in one spot, competing for the ultimate in bragging rights.
Now, 50 years later, the race still holds the same sentiments.
There are 23 national events on the schedule as the quickest form of motorsport racing blazes into 20 major U.S. cities each season. The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals will be held Sept. 1-6, at Indianapolis Raceway Park. It is the 18th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. ESPN and its family of networks will air more than 10 hours of U.S. Nationals race coverage throughout Labor Day weekend.
If a driver has a wish list, winning the U.S. Nationals is always at the top.
"If you could pick only one race that you were ever going to win in your entire life, it would be Indy," said Larry Dixon, two-time NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion and two-time U.S. Nationals winner. "When I started driving, Indy was one of the races that I wanted to do well at. I think it's the only race that I ever won that brought tears to my eyes. That race means so much to my family and me and to be able to do well there, with all the history, is very special.
"That race means more to me than any other race we go to."
Dixon may be the son of a racer and may even call Indianapolis home. Dixon isn't, however, the only driver to hold the U.S. Nationals in such high esteem.
The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals has meant different things for different people. The common beliefs are what bring everyone together in Indianapolis each season.
No other race in the history of the NHRA has brought racers together for so many consecutive seasons. No other race has produced such key moments - not just key moments in Indianapolis, but key moments in NHRA history. No other NHRA national event lasts longer and requires more energy and focus from a race team. No other race attracts 1,000 competitors every year. Those attributes belong to one race - the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

The season may begin and end at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway. The national records may fall at tracks such as Old Bridge Township Raceway Park (Englishtown, N.J.) and Maple Grove Raceway (Reading, Pa.). But the season is defined by winning or losing in Indianapolis.
Greg Anderson earned the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championship in 2003. He also has two U.S. Nationals victories to his credit. He said winning at Indy just once wasn't enough.
"Your toughest critics are bound to consider your first Indy win a fluke until you come back and validate the original win with a second victory," Anderson said. "Indy means that much to people that they put more emphasis on your performance there. No one can say that we didn't earn the second win. I won the championship, but I wanted to have Indy on the list of wins in the same season. If you win the championship but don't win Indy, it still feels like you left something on the table." Racers are already looking ahead to the anniversary celebration and Indianapolis Raceway Park is preparing for the biggest, most prestigious race in NHRA history too. The facility has undergone a three-part upgrade that modernized the facility over the last few years. Some of the improvements include adding new corporate suites, resurfacing the track and increasing the length of the concrete launch pad at the starting line.
The U.S. Nationals will continue to be one of the most important stops on the NHRA circuit. This year, however, means just a little more. Drivers who have not graced the stage in winner's circle in Indy before will be trying a little more in 2004. Winning the 50th annual event will surely be something to tell future generations about.



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