January 29, 2003

LVMS test entries

TOP FUEL
Rhonda Hartman-Smith
John Smith
C.J. Nelson
Scott Weis
Melanie Troxel
Darrell Russell
Doug Kalitta
Jim Head
David Grubnic
Cory McClenathan
Clay Millican
Andrew Cowin

FUNNY CAR
Scotty Cannon
Tommy Johnson, Jr.
Gary Scelzi – 3 Time NHRA Top Fuel Champion
Bob Gilbertson
Whit Bazemore

PRO STOCK
Jeg Coughlin, Jr. – 2002 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Champion
Troy Coughlin
J.R. Carr
V. Gaines
Alan Johnson
Darrell Alderman
Larry Morgan

TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
Bucky Austin – 2002 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Division 6 Champion
Steve Gasparelli – 2002 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Division 7 Champion
Doug Gordon
Lauren Jones
Jeff Carrol
Joe Powell
Steve Haight

TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER
Duane Shields – 2002 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Division 7 Champion / National Championship Runner-Up
Brandon Johnson – 2002 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Division 6 Champion
Robert Perkins
John Haley
Fred Notzka

Plus: More than 100 racers in Pro Mod, Pro Stock Bike, Sport Compact Series and NHRA Lucas Oil Series Sportsman Classes.


Tuscon testing final report
Beautiful weather and a great track makes for another outstanding weekend of testing at Tucson’s Southwestern International Raceway. I always enjoy my time down at SIR. They treat the racers and the fans (the stands were packed btw) with respect and always put on a good show.

Track prep is another plus here at SIR. NHRA Electronics Guru Jeff Foster was on hand to calibrate the timing system and ensure that the test sessions went off without a hitch. The crew at SIR is as professional as they come and know their business, from the starter to the rescue workers and everybody in between. Since testing in Las Vegas began last year, there has been a slight drop in car counts from the professional categories, but despite that, it is still a show well worth attgending. Thank you to the owners and crew of Southwestern International Raceway for providing this great facility for the racers and the fans. If you ever get the chance, make sure you check out this gem in Division Seven.

Notable:
Bob Glidden had a great first weekend testing with the "Cowboy" Mark Pawuk. They were very consistant and ran similar numbers to George Marnell all weekend.

Cruz and team were under alot of stress according to a few different observers at Tucson. The team under new crew chief Rob Flynn seem to struggle and did not get into the fours. It will be interesting to see how they fair at Vegas if they test more.

A number of teams left early Sunday to partake in Super Bowl festivities, most notable the Bud camp after a huge grenade in Sunday's first test run.

Team CSK was very happy with Johnny Gray's outing and even Worsham had a bit of a smile on his face after their final test day. That team is heading back to their shop to do all required maintenance before the Winternat's.

Don Schumacher's team had only Tony and the Army of One at Tucson. They were testing the new PSI roots blower and were very happy with the results.

Next weekend look for many more teams to test at Vegas as they count down to Pomona February 6-9. Stay tuned right here as we have a bunch of stuff coming up in the next week, including final testing results and pictures, exclusive interviews with teams and a preview to the 2003 Powerade season.

The following lists each driver's best performance for the weekend:

TOP FUEL
Tony Schumacher 4.610 305.22
Rhonda Hartman-Smith 4.639 319.14
Doug Herbert 4.648 310.48
Brandon Bernstein 4.730 313.95
Clay Millican 4.903 256.70


John Smith 5.891 154.33

FUNNY CAR


Johnny Gray 4.879 315.27 Del Worsham 4.936 306.33
John Force 4.899 316.08
Gary Densham 4.920 298.60
Dean Skuza 5.036 261.67


Tony Pedregon 5.071 231.20
Dean Skuza 5.160 230.21


Cruz Pedregon 5.207 253.33

PRO STOCK
George Marnell 7.070 194.07


Mark Pawuk 7.078 194.83


January 27, 2003

Tuscon Testing

Photos © speedzone magazine and Mark King
Numbers today are from Drag Race Central.

Bob Glidden is crew Chiefing for Mark Pawuk this year. Pawuk is looking for a big improvement over last year as he did not get past the first round all season marking the first time since 1987 he failed to get into the second round of eliminations.
As of yet there is no plans for Bob to get into the drivers seat.

Only alcohol car testing was Cy Chesterman.

No Pro Mods on site on Saturday.

 

Pro Stock
Mark Pawuk 7.078 194.83


George Marnell 7.106 194.49

Funny Car
Johnny Gray 4.879 315.27
Gary Densham 4.920 298.60


John Force 4.923 312.22
Del Worsham 4.936 306.33
Dean Skuza 5.036 261.67

Tony Pedregon 5.071 231.20
Dean Skuza 5.160 230.21


Cruz Pedregon 10.256 80.49

Top Fuel

Tony Schumacher 4.610 305.22
Doug Herbert 4.648 310.48

Brandon Bernstein 4.730 313.95
John Smith 5.891 154.33

Rhonda Hartman-Smith 8.829 100.87

Clay Millican 6.288 141.13


Cy Chesterman

January 23, 2003

Bailey to debut new dragster for 2003 season
Rich Bailey of ProMotion Motorsports has announced that he will take delivery of a new Top Dragster currently being built by EVN (Eickmann-Van Ness) Race Cars of Salem Oregon. The 250" wheelbase car will be powered by a 580 CI Chevrolet engine, injected on alcohol, prepared by Louthan Competition of Brooks Oregon. The paint scheme was designed
in-house by ProMotion Motorsports Design and the red, white and blue colors will be applied by Gary Lewis. The lettering will be provided by Supervinyl Signs.

Bailey has re-signed Capitol Auto Group, one of Oregon's largest new car dealerships, as the car's title sponsor and will continue to receive product
support from product sponsors Royal Purple Motor Oil, Louthan Competition, and Supervinyl Signs. Capitol sells Chevrolet, Cadillac, Toyota and Subaru at their Salem location and Honda at their McMinnville location.

The Salem Oregon based race team which consists of Bailey, Jeff DesChamps, Jason Stowell and Tim Wilson, will compete in the Top Comp Class at NHRA Division 6, Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events. The car will be displayed at schools and selected events for the National Race Against Drugs program.


January 20, 2003

Phoenix testing wraps up

story courtesy nhra.com & Mark King of DeepStage.net

Top Fuel rookie Brandon Bernstein recorded the quickest and fastest pass Sunday at the 2003 NHRA National Time Trials at Firebird International Raceway.

Bernstein blasted the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster down the track in 4.581 seconds at 323.12 mph on his third and final pass of the day to set the standard in the category.

"That run was just awesome," said the 30-year-old Bernstein. "(Crew chief) Tim Richards and the guys had the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster smoking down the track. I didn't want to lift (off the throttle). That is the quickest and fastest I've ever gone. It was amazing.

"Our goal coming to this test session was to get the car race-ready and to get me comfortable inside the car. After three days I'm getting that comfort feeling. I'll just keep getting more comfortable after the test session in Tucson (Ariz.) next weekend."

Defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon had the best pass of the weekend during the second day of the test session as he prepares to try and become the first Top Fuel driver to defend his series crown since Gary Scelzi (1997-'98). Dixon's Miller Lite dragster made it down the quarter-mile drag strip in 4.558 at 322.73, despite shutting the engine off well before the finish line.

Whit Bazemore made the best Funny Car pass of the weekend, notching the low E.T. and top speed at the Friday test session. Bazemore powered his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T through the clocks in 4.820 at 320.89. Bazemore also was impressive in his two runs on Sunday, earning times of 4.856 and 4.902.

"We're pretty happy so far because we have been competitive and consistent," said Bazemore. "During the off season we tried to address some of the problems we had and we have made progress. We made a good start this weekend.

"We are staying here to test for the next five days and we are going to try some new technology on the new Dodge Stratus. We feel pretty good heading to Pomona (Calif.) for the season-opener. It's a long year and we still have a lot of work to do."


Paul Romine only makes one decent run out of five attempts (4.71).


David Grubnic makes one run out of four attempts (4.78).

Here are the best runs of the weekend for Top Fuel

Friday: Larry Dixon 4.55 @ 322

Saturday: Tony Schumacher 4.56 @ 316

Sunday: Brandon Bernstein: 4.58 @ 323, Tony Schumacher 4.58 @ 304, Doug Herbert 4.62 @ 300 & 4.64 @ 292

Other notable TF happenings: David Baca makes three runs between 4.70 and 4.80 during the weekend...

Gene Davis is the only new pilot out there. One licensing attempt, 5.24 @ 256...

Dixon smokes the tire every run Sunday.

 

 

 

 

Best and notables for Funny Car:

Friday: Gary Scelzi 4.91 @ 292

Saturday:
Whit Bazemore 4.82 @ 320 & 4.88 @ 318
Gary Densham: 4.82 @ 315 & 4.91 @ 306
John Force 4.83 @ 313 & 4.91 @ 313
Tony P. 4.91 @ 304
Frank P. 4.94 @ 257


Ron Capps


Tommy Johnson Jr.


Del Worsham

Sunday: Gary Densham and Tony Pedregon 4.83’s, Force 4.83 Johnnie Gray 4.84, Ron Capps 4.85, Gary Scelzi 4.85 Tommy Johnson 4.85 and Whit Bazemore 4.85. Team Force made seven strong runs out of nine attempts. Whit Bazemore made four strong runs out of four attempts. Del Worsham struggled all weekend, no four second passes. Johnny Gray had only one good run. Dean Skuza did not run in the fours all weekend but did run 310mph. Frank Pedregon made one good run out of three attempts. Scotty Cannon smoked the tires every attempt. Gary Scelzi made two good runs out of six attempts. Ron Capps made only one good run all weekend, same for Tommy Johnson Jr.


Bob Bode smoked the tires on all (four or five) his full run attempts.

No Pro Stock at Phoenix, but most that were testing in Florida ran real fast!

Craig Treble ran the wheels off his bikes. He had numerous runs in the 7.teens.

A few teams are sticking around to test all week at Phoenix, and then are heading to Tucson where Speedzone Magazine will be, to keep you up to date.


Niver

SpeedZone has an in-depth interview with Calgary’s Rick Distefano HERE. He tested extensively at Phoenix as he debuted his gorgeous '53 Corvette Pro Mod. As well, we talk to Don and Dean Skuza about their 2003 season. Check back often!


January 19, 2003

More exclusive photos from Phoenix courtesy Mark King of DeepStage.net

Pro Mod
-Distefano ran a couple half track runs no full passes in beautiful new McAmis Corvette.

Top Fuel
- Dixon ran the best of the weekend a 4.55 @ 322.
- Tony Schumacher ran a 4.56 @ 316.
- Baca struggled and most others good to half track only.


Funny Car
- Whit Bazemore ran a 4.82 @ 320.
- From the Force camp Densham ran a best of 4.82 @ 315.
- Snake's Funny cars never had good runs, Scelzi struggled.


Top Alcohol Dragster
- Morgan Lucas (with the Lucas paint) ran 5.51 @ 256.


Top Alcohol Funny Car
- Jay Payne ran a 5.64 @ 257.

For more see nhra.com & dragracecentral.com


January 17, 2003


Scelzi ran a 4.91 @291
Dixon ran an early shut off 4.64 @ 264


More to come

Kurt Johnson testing
During pre-season testing in Florida, Kurt Johnson ran quicker than the current NHRA records for elapsed time and top speed on several runs with a best of 6.716 at 205.01 mph.

Kurt quoted as saying "This is a great way to break in our ACDelco Cavalier's new paint job," said Johnson. "We brought it to Bradenton to make sure it was fast before the official unveiling in Pomona, and after taking a few runs to get adapted to this racetrack, we ran a 6.74, a 6.72 and a 6.71 with the top speed on the last two runs over 205 mph. When you click this baby in high gear, the front end feels like it's going to come back off the ground, charging all the way to the finish line.
"The weather here is perfect for Pro Stock. The air is crisp, the barometer is high, and the temperature yesterday reached a high of 65 degrees. We may not see these conditions at any time during the year, but the important thing is that our ACDelco Cavalier is faster than everyone else. That's all that matters."



To go along with Divsion six banquet awards posted in SpeedZone Magazine (print version), here is a link to Div's. 1 through 4 award banquet winners.

http://www.dragracecentral.com/SeriesIndex.asp?Series=DRAG-SUMMIT

Here is Division 6 award banquet winners:

http://www.dragracecentral.com/DRCStory.asp?ID={659082AE-F762-473D-AF0D-55DCF8006ABA}&Filter=30#indextop


New Cory Mac Deal. He is in fact going to Darrell Gwynn's team for 2003. John Stewart will be the crew chief, and Berryman Products will be a major sponsor along with the NY Yankees. The rest of this release on Cory Mac courtesy NHRA.Com

"Entering 2003, McClenathan has 31 career NHRA national event victories, including the 2002 season-ending Auto Club Finals. Before a racing accident cut short his own brilliant Top Fuel driving career, Gwynn amassed 28 career NHRA national event wins including the 1983 Top Alcohol Dragster championship. The popular Cory Mac replaces Australian Andrew Cowin, who finished a career-best eighth in NHRA Top Fuel points last season in Gwynn's dragster. The team produced four No. 1 qualifier awards in 2002, including the sport's quickest run of the year a 4.490 e.t. logged at the season-opening Winternationals.



From left, new teammates Cory McClenathan, Darrell Gwynn, and Jerry Gwynn.

"With the start of the new season upon us we found ourselves with a substantial amount of sponsor funding secured but still short of the necessary levels to allow us to race," Gwynn said. "We were resigning ourselves to the possibility of not being able to run and perhaps even permanently dismantling our racing operations. As it turned out, Cory was essentially in a similar situation. By combining forces we were able to solve our respective funding short-falls and create a very solid program that includes one of Top Fuel's greatest drivers."
An impressive contingent of continuing sponsors including the New York Yankees, who are currently enjoying their 100th anniversary in baseball, MBNA Bank N.A., GMC, Winnebago Industries, and Mac Tools return to the Gwynn team in 2003. They will be joined by an array of new team and driver sponsors including Berryman Products, Dyn-O-Mat, Centennial Batteries, Don Steves Chevrolet, Negley Electric, and Fabtech Motorsports. "


January 16, 2003

NEW Team Schumacher Photos!

The brand new Matco Tools Dodge Stratus of Whit Bazemore

Here's a first look at the Dodge Stratus, Oakley Time Bomb of Gary Scelzi!

January 15, 2003

Have you heard the one about so and so?
Oh ya, I heard that, did you hear?.......

Here are some of the best non secrets and secrets confirmed for 2003

…Gary Scelzi will be with Don Shumacher's mega team in 2003. He will be team mates with Whit Bazemore and Scotty Cannon. The sponsorship for Scelzi’s car will come from Oakley Eyewear. Both he and Cannon will have backing from Oakley while Bazemore will continue with Matco being his main backer.

…Also notable in that camp, is the shuffling of the Dodge Stratus bodies with Mopar backing out of the Skuza team (shortly after MOPAR stated they were sticking with the Skuza team) and moving to the Shumacher camp. That SUCKS for Dean and Don Skuza!

…Sticking with the Schumacher/Cannon team, Scotty Cannon's plan to have a Pro Mod on the NHRA AMS Pro Mod exhibition circuit is still going to happen providing a sponsor steps up and foots the bill. Cannon's son Scotty Jr. will be in the seat if backing can be found.

…All three cars will be back in the John Force camp for 2003. No word yet on a rumoured Top Fuel car or fourth funny car. Daughter Ashley will still be in the S/C dragster.

…Mike Dunn was close to a ride in Top Fuel again, but that apparently fell through, so he re-signed a multi year deal with ESPN2

…Alan Johnson and Bruce Sarver will be back as a team... at press time. The strong rumour here is that Jerry Toliver would replace Bruce as he has a sponsor deal. But Alan was quoted saying that was not true and Jerry would possibly part of a two car team. Don’t know what to believe in this one. Speedzone has heard Alan is having financial trouble and the season is in jeopardy.

…Unless you lived in the Arctic Circle, you know that Brandon Bernstein will take over for his dad Kenny in the Bud King dragster. Good Luck Brandon!

…Scott Kalitta will be out for early season testing in a (the) Kalitta Top Fuel Dragster. Whether or not this will be a two car team is yet to be announced.

…Cory Mac will be teamed up with Mike Peek and the Peek Bros. TF team for the entire 2003 season with sponsor Berryman stepping up their commitment. This will be the first ever full season for the Peek dragster.

…Doug Herbert re-signed a multi year with Snap-On Tools. He also let Johnny West go (who then moved to the Henkleman camp) and promoted one of his crew, Ron Douglas, to crew chief. This along with assistants Sam Shockley (ex div 6 alcohol crew chief for Gary Turner & John Hyland) Dougzilla is also giving away a Top Fuel car in a Snap -On/Herbert Performance Parts Promotion. Cool!

…Cruz Pedregon is back with more associate backing from the Bendix Corporation. He also signed Rob Flynn to crew chief this year.

…The Worshams and the CSK Funny Car team have promoted two crew members to co-crew chief on their two car team. Chris Cunningham and Marc Denner are now calling the shots along with Chuck and Del.

…Darrell Gwynn’s team is looking for more backing for their Yankees TF team.

…Snake’s team is unchanged for 2003. Why mess with the championship winner? Then again that FC team is very hot and cold.

…Paul Romine will run the entire Powerade tour in 2003. He has full backing from Carquest and is teamed up with John Mitchell.

…Not word yet on Clay Millican and whether he and the Lehman team will run the whole NHRA tour.

…David Baca will run the entire year in Top Fuel, but they are looking for more sponsorship. It was rumoured that he had bought Rick Henkleman's share of the team, but that is unconfirmed.

…Shirley Cha Cha Muldowney announced her final season of TF driving. She and husband Rahn Tobler will run at least eight races with backing from Action Collectibles, GM and Mac Tools.

Big Daddy Don Garlits will be out at least four times in 2003. Summit Racing and their 35th anniversary will back Big’s Swamp Rat 34

…Nitro Harleys will be an exhibition class at three NHRA events in 2003. Screaming Eagle has dropped the IHRA and will solely back the AHDRA and the NHRA. Where does that leave the IHRA?

…It's old news that Mopar dropped the Nickens Pro Stock team and now backs Allen Johnson's two car team as well as Larry Morgan dual car effort. The two owner/drivers will work beside Gene Wilson and Darrell Alderman.
A follow up to that is David Nickens and Kenny Koretsky have teamed up for 2003 with yet another two car Dodge Pro Stock team. The Pro Stock wars are getting interesting!

…George Marnell has teamed up with legendary engine builder Buddy Ingersoll for 2003.

…Mike Edwards will switch to a Grand-Am for 2003. He also has a new engine builder in Patterson Racing.

…Scott Palmer has announced an expanded schedule for 2003 on the NHRA Powerade tour. With additional funding from his primary sponsor O’Reilly Auto Parts he plans on competing at 10 events. His O’Reilly deal is entirely vendor backed, and as their success goes, so does Scott’s backing.

…Angelle Savioe and Star Racing still don't have a firm sponsor deal in place for 2003. Déjà vu all over again. What is it with this team? Are their demands to high?


2003 DIVISION 6 CHASSIS INSPECTION SCHEDULE
UPDATE (in red) Jan. 15/03

Feb. 1 Saturday Wilsonville, Or.
Jackson Automotive & Performance Steve/Jeff Jackson 503-682-2165

Feb. 1 Saturday Butte, Mt. Biggers Transport
Bill Biggers 406-533-0912

Feb. 16 Sunday Kent, WA Pacific Raceways
Dennis Boley 253-225-3990


Mar. 7/8 Friday/Saturday Boise, Id. Boise Roadster Show
Scott New 208-938-8986

Mar. 8 Saturday Medford, Or. Southern Oregon Dragway
Allen Rains 541-282-8066 or 541-601-3050

Mar. 22 Saturday Woodburn, Or. Woodburn Dragstrip
Jonathan Adams 503-982-4461

Mar. 22 Saturday Medicine Hat, Ab. Transline Pipe Line
Jim Burden 403-526-1044

Mar. 23 Sunday Calgary, Ab. Pace Trailer Sales
Rod Hanner 403-243-0611

Mar. 29 Saturday Spokane, WA Spokane Community College
Mike Rice 360-874-4579


Mar. 29 Saturday Edmonton, Ab. Devonian Hyundai
Cam McPherson 780-484-3311

Apr. 5 Renegade Raceway, Yakima WA

NOTES:
1- Racers must call the contact number prior to the inspection date in order to book an inspection time.

2- For information on other location dates please contact the Division 6 Tech Office at 306-374-3685.


Wednesday January 1, 2003 Another Zone that will be updated as soon as news happens, our NHRA Zone will deal with all Powerade National events as well as the Lucas Oil Divisional series.

Here are some of the highlights of 2002 from SpeedZone Magazine's Drag Racing Associate Editor Jamie Clerf.

He along with a dozen other Drag Racing correspondants from around North
America have sent in their Best of 2002 reviews that will be included in the January print issue of SpeedZone Magazine.

Race of the year (National Event IHRA or NHRA)
Craftsman 75th Anniversary Nationals at Joliet. On the strength of an incredible Top Alcohol Dragster show (thirty five total entries, record 5.46 bump, etc) alone this would have been a great event. Throw in some best-of-the year type performances from the nitro set (T. Pedregon's 4.76) and you have a national event that you wished you would have been in the stands for.

Side by side race of the year (National)
John Force 4.95 defeats Tony Pedregon 4.93, Semi-Finals at the Pomona AAA Finals. High drama at Pomona. People in the stands saying at once, "Okay this is it. Force vs. Pedregon in the semis at Pomona. If Force wins, he's the champ for a record 12th time. If Tony wins, he'll be the champ if he can win the final, too. Now they're staged...Tony deep-stages! Wait, Force goes deep, too! They're off. Green lights on both sides, but Force appears to have left first. All the way down the track. "It's Force...it's Tony...it's Force....it's Tony....it's....Force!" If you wonder why Force is the champ, you need look no further than his incredible .447 reaction-time (deep-staged or not) in his most pressure-packed race in years.

Worst race of the year (National)
AAA Finals Pomona Raceway. One of the potentially best national events of the year was ruined by the first measurable rain in the L.A. area in over 283 days! After two days of non-stop rain we were left with only one Pro Qualifying session and an extremely compromised event.

Did the most with the least (Pro)
The Henkleman, Baca, and McClenathan Top Fuel team. This team was something of a throwback this season. Their partnership was a nod to the 60s and early 70s era of Top Fuel racing when a group of friends got together to run a car. Operating on budget that was considerably less than the other teams in their same points neighborhood (Kalitta, Schumacher, etc), the McClenathan team proved you could still have good success on the NHRA trail without huge funding. The team finished the season with an emotional Pomona win and impressive fifth place points finish.

Crash of the year
Ron Capps, Funny Car at Dallas.The worst top end explosion that I have ever seen in the history of the class! Gee, I thought the 90% nitro rule was
supposed to stop these things from happening.

Upset of the year
Don Sosenka, Top Fuel Semi-Finals in Atlanta. Don't ask me how he did it. He just did. In his unbelievably underfunded fueler, Sosekna scored the upset and heartwarming story of the year by making it all the way to the semis. Before this race, Sosenka had never won even a single round in NHRA competition.

Disappointment of the year
The overall performance of the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes and, in general, the NHRA professional classes.The only professional record that was re-set all year was by Angelle Savoie in the Pro Stock Bike (yawn - oh wait did I just say that?) class. The 2002 nitro tires had a big impact obviously, but if the nitro cars aren't going to set records anymore then let's ditch the 90% rule so at least the cars will have the old sound again.

Biggest news of the year
Gary Scelzi leaving the Allan Johnston Funny Car camp after three titles in five years. You would have thought the talented driver and tuner would have been together until the end of their respective careers.

This is just a small part of what you'll see in our "The Best of 2002" print issue. To subscribe to SpeedZone Magazine check here.


2003 NHRA Zone Preview
By Jamie Clerf

The NHRA, unlike other forms of motorsport (i.e. CART), enters the 2003
season holding its own in a depressed U.S. economy. While there haven't been many new sponsors entering the sport, there hasn't been a rush in sponsor/racer defections either. This may speak to the improved management at NHRA (possibly), better TV package (likely), or the existence of long term sponsor/racer contracts (most likely, Dean Skuza excepted). Still the sanctioning body enters the 2003 season in about as good as shape as can be expected. They have a relatively stable base of event/racer sponsorships and can boast attendance figures that would make IRL execs drool over. Even the racers themselves seem to be looking to 2003 with optimism. The nitro racers in Top Fuel and Funny Car in particular appear eager to put what was a very disappointing performance year (i.e. no new records) behind them as they get more accustomed to that cantankerous Goodyear tire.

The NHRA does face more than a few lingering questions however. What are the short and long term implications if the Pro Stock Truck owners lawsuit goes against them? When (if ever) are they going to make the Pro Modifieds an official class? How are they going to attract a younger demographic of fans to one day replace their graying fan base? Wasn't there supposed to be a rush of new sponsors with Powerade, not big Tobacco, as the title sponsor.But enough of these questions for now.Here's "What to Watch" in the Pro and Sportsman ranks of NHRA in 2003.

What to Watch in Pro 2003

Top Fuel
2001 and 2002 Top Fuel have been the "Dixon and Bernstein Show" and that should remain the same (if slightly different) this year. Larry Dixon, coming off his first ever championship, figures to be a solid bet to repeat as champ in 2003. As driver of the Miller Lite Dragster, Dixon has improved greatly since he took over the ride from "The Snake" in 1995 (wow, has it really been that long!?). With Dick LaHaie's steady-as-she-goes tune-up, Dixon will be extremely tough to beat in 2003. Providing the stiffest opposition this year again figures to be Bernstein, not Kenny but his son Brandon. The second generation driver takes over the controls of the newly named Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster after a successful 1-year stint with the Darien & Meadows Top Fuel Training School (Scelzi, Troxel, etc. have jumped from this car to Top Fuel) a-fuel dragster in which he won the 2001 Division 7 championship. 2003 should be a "learning" year for the rookie driver, but with a rock-solid team (led by Tim and Kim Richards) and proven combination in place it could also be a "winning" year. Brandon Bernstein should be expected to make the odd rookie mistake or two, but in Top Fuel, the car, not the driver is the biggest difference-maker. It is possible Brandon could win it all in his rookie season in a similar fashion that Gary Scelzi did in 1997 (taking over an established ride, etc.)

Pushing Dixon will be a group of racers (Kalitta, Herbert, Russell) who are capable of winning any race they enter, but who lack the season-long consistency of Dixon and Bernstein. The rest of the Top Fuel class should also be improved this year, if not by quality then quantity. All signs point to more full and competitive fields after a year which saw thin and short fields at too many events. The wildcard in the championship race may be 1999 Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher, who has suffered through two miserable seasons. The addition of noted tuner Wes Cerny to the Schumacher camp may finally get this team turned around.

Championship Prediction: Larry Dixon
Darkhorse: Doug Herbert
Low ET Prediction: 4.47 secs
Top Speed Prediction: 333 mph
Personal Wish For 2003: A national event for Shirley Muldowney, followed by
a classic "smack-filled" top-end interview.

Funny Car
Maybe you had to be there to fully appreciate it, but when John Force and Tony Pedregon squared off in the semis at the 2002 AAA Finals in Pomona (for ostensibly, the championship), you could feel a certain something in the air. The feeling that, like in the Ali vs. Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle", the up and comer (Pedregon) had the aging champ (Force) on the ropes. As in the famous fight, Force (like Ali) rose up and delivered what may have been his finest performance in his long and storied career, putting a telephatic hole-shot on Perdregon for a 4.95 to 4.93 victory. Going into 2003 it remains to be seen if this was the champ's last stand or not. The incredible competition in the class has been made even stronger this year with the addition of another Funny Car (Gary Scelzi) to the Schumacher Funny Car camp. Still while the rest of the category changes tuners, drivers, body styles, etc. with regularity, continuity and winning remain the themes at Team Force.

Championship Prediction: John Force
Darkhorse: Del Worsham
Low ET Prediction: 4.72 secs
Top Speed Prediction: 327 mph
Personal Wish For 2003: The return of Dale Pulde (Dreaming, I know)

Pro Stock
Pro Stock is like the NFL these days - anybody can beat anybody on any given Sunday, well except for the Cincinnati Bengals that is! The parity, which dominates both the NFL and Pro Stock, makes the prediction business a dangerous practice. The one thing that is certain though is that Jeg Coughlin Jr. is the best driver in the class, a fact borne out by his second Championship in 2002 (the Coughlins first under their own engine program). He's not one to rest on his laurels either. While many his fellow drivers were taking holidays, Coughlin was racing and starring (he finishedsecond) at the Moroso 5 Day Bracket Championship in his bracket dragster. Look for Jeg to rise above a tightly bunched field of racers to claim another championship.

Championship Prediction: Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Darkhorse: Greg Anderson
Low ET Prediction: 6.72 secs
Top Speed Prediction: 205.44mph
Personal Wish For 2003: Even more starting-line burndowns.

What to Watch in Pro-Sportsman 2003

Top Alcohol Dragster
In the most interesting and competitive pro/pro-sportsman category, the headlines continue to be dominated by the unending A-Fuel vs. Blown Dragster controversy. Ironically the class appears to be as healthy and strong as it has been in years even with the rules battle. The spectre of a Rick Santos return also hangs over the entire class. The race for the Top Alcohol Dragster championship should come down to RSF or the Rick Santos Factor. If, Santos and the Jack O'Bannon team compete on a full-time basis they will win the championship. Sure there are a host of extremely competitive injected and blown cars across North America, but they are no match to what the multi-time champion Santos brings to the table - five championships, 5.20 performances in 2002, etc. It may be unfair to say it, but Arthur Gallant's 2002 championship, like the Houston Rockets NBA championships when Jordan was "retired", practically begs for an asterisk. Yes, they were the champs, but they never had to go head to head with Santos.

Championship Prediction: Rick Santos (if they run full-time), Duane Shields
(if not)
Darkhorse: Steve Federlin
Low ET Prediction: 5.09 (injected nitro), 5.22 (blown)
Personal Wish For 2003: A full season (and sixth championship) for Rick
Santos.

Top Alcohol Funny Car
The same positive things that I said about Top Alcohol Dragster cannot unfortunately be said about Top Alcohol Funny Car (TA/FC). The class is in arguably its worst shape in years with a frustrated group of racers fed up with costly rule changes and the increasing cost of the class. It should be interesting to see if the newly formed alcohol racers association (TARA) can affect some much-needed positive changes for the TA/FC class. Remember the last Top Alcohol Funny Car champion before Frank Manzo? It has been so long, neither did I! After some checking I found that it was 1996 and won by Tony Bartone! The year before that? Would you believe Joe Pendland? Manzo goes for his amazing 7th straight title and there is absolutely no reason not to pick him again.

Championship Prediction: Frank Manzo
Darkhorse: Bucky Austin
Low ET Prediction: 5.52
Personal Wish For 2003: Bigger, more competitive fields at both national and divisional events.

Watch to Watch in Sportsman 2003

Super Stock
The high flying, exciting class of Super Stock can probably lay claim to the highest quality drivers in drag racing this side of Top Alcohol Funny Car - Fletcher, Biondo, Bertozzi, DeFrank, etc. This group of racers while technically classified as sportsman are true professionals in every sense of the word, travelling the country full-time in high dollar racing operations.

After a couple of dry (for him) seasons watch out for Jimmy DeFrank, the two-time former champ in 2003. Other Super Stock highlights for the upcoming season, include the Indy SS/AA Shootout, an event that is gaining greater respect and attention from NHRA officials. Not to be forgotten is the Hemi Shootout put on by Speedzone's very own Dean Murdoch. Run in conjunction with the May 2-4 Mission LODRS, the race attracts the best SS/AA cars from around the country (Hess, Barton, Ogburn, etc) who come to Mission in hopes of a personal best ET or national record.

Stock
It didn't generate much in the way of headlines, but one of the most significant drag racing accomplishments of the last two years is the back-to back Stock championships by Kevin Helms. Only the second time that has ever happened! Think of it. Larry Dixon beats out a dozen or so legitimate Top Fuel racers to win a championship. Helms, on the other hand, has to beat out literally hundreds of Stock racers across North America! The task made even more difficult by the vagaries of a complex points system in which racers gain points at both national and divisional racers. While it won't show up on many radar screens this year, Helms' quest for an unprecedented third-straight title bears (and deserves) watching. He may just do it.


NHRA Powerade Schedule

Feb. 6-9, 2003
43rd annual K&N Filters Winternationals Pomona, Calif.

Feb. 20-23, 2003
19th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals Phoenix, Ariz.

Mar. 13-16, 2003
34th annual Mac Tools NHRA Gatornationals Gainesville, Fla.

Apr. 3-6, 2003
4th annual NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals Las Vegas, Nev.

Apr. 10-13, 2003
16th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil Houston, Texas

Apr. 25-27, 2003
3rd annual Mac Tools Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals Bristol, Tenn.

May 1-4, 2003
23rd annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals
presented by Pontiac Atlanta, Ga.

May 15-18, 2003
34th annual Matco Tools SuperNationals
presented by Racing Champions Englishtown, N.J

May 22-25, 2003
15th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals Topeka, Kans.

May 29-June 1, 2003
6th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Route 66 Nationals Chicago, Ill.

June 12-15, 2003
39th annual Pontiac Excitement NHRA Nationals
presented by Summit Racing Columbus, Ohio

June 26-29, 2003
7th annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals St. Louis

July 18-20, 2003
24th annual Mile-High NHRA Nationals Denver

July 25-27, 2003
16th annual CarQuest Auto Parts NHRA Nationals Seattle, Wash.

Aug. 1-3, 2003
16th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals Sonoma, Calif.

Aug. 14-17, 2003
22nd annual Rugged Liner NHRA Nationals Brainerd, Minn.

Aug. 27-Sept. 1, 2003
49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Indianapolis, Ind.

Sept. 11-14, 2003
19th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Reading, Pa.

Sept. 18-21, 2003
16th annual O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals
presented by Pennzoil Memphis, Tenn.

Sept. 25-28, 2003
3rd annual NHRA NationalsChicago, Ill.

Oct. 9-12, 2003
18th annual O'Reilly Fall Nationals
presented by Castrol Syntec Dallas, Texas

Oct. 23-26, 2003
3rd annual NHRA Nationals Las Vegas

Nov. 6-9, 2003
39th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals Pomona, Calif.


Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Schedules for Div 6
April 11-13 Firebird Raceway * Boise, ID
May 2-4 Mission Raceway Park Mission, BC, CAN
June 6-8 Woodburn Dragstrip Woodburn, OR
June 13-15 Pacific Raceways Kent, WA
July 11-13 Woodburn Dragstrip Woodburn, OR
August 15-17 Race City Motorsports Park** Calgary, AB, CAN
September 19-20 Southern Oregon Dragway Medford, OR
*No TAD or TAFC
**Out of Division Event (TAD and TAFC "in division") Jeg's All-Star points

Northwest National Open Series
May 24-25 Nl'Akapxm Eagle Motorplex Ashcroft, BC, CAN
June 28-29 Bremerton Raceway Bremerton, WA
July 19-20 Mission Raceway Park Mission, BC, CAN
August 2-3 North Central Motorsports Park Prince George, BC, CAN
August 15-17 Race City Motorsports Park Calgary, AB, CAN

Summit Racing Series Finals
September 5-7 Nl'Akapxm Eagle Motorplex Ashcroft, BC, CAN

Jr. Gold Crown Series Finals
August 31 Woodburn Dragstrip Woodburn, OR


Go to NHRA.com (Lucas Oil series section) for the schedules for the rest of
the divisions.

 

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