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NHRA: Power, Speed to be Showcased at Pennzoil Nationals Presented by HiLo/O'Reilly Auto Parts

11 March 1998

BAYTOWN, Texas -- Every drag racer knows that a trip to Houston Raceway Park in March during an El Nino year means one thing: There'll be thunder and lightning in the forecast.

And the resulting sound and light show won't be from a passing storm system. Rather, it'll be produced on the smooth quarter-mile racing surface located just a stone's throw from Galveston Bay, an inlet connected to the Gulf of Mexico. If weather conditions cooperate at the 11th annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by HiLo/O'Reilly Auto Parts, March 19-22, drag racing fans in attendance will witness Top Fuel and Funny Car thunder, and lightning fast speeds in Pro Stock, and for the first time in the history of NHRA Winston Drag Racing, Pro Stock Truck.

The $1,700,000 race is the fourth of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

And arguably the quickest on the circuit.

Houston Raceway Park's sea level setting and moderate winter climate often makes it a great test site for a variety of drag racing categories. NHRA Pro Stock drivers often find plenty of power at the track during their annual SuperBowl in early January. However, this year due to the effects of El Nino, weather conditions should be very similar in March -- crisp and cool -- when all NHRA professional categories return for the first of two national events to be held at the track in 1998.

That means expectations will be high in all pro categories for teams to push the limits of their machines and go for broke. NHRA national performance records will be ripe for the picking.

Defending race winners Joe Amato, Tony Pedregon and Tom Martino will be among NHRA drivers seeking wins and record breaking performances.

In Top Fuel, Amato will have his work cut out for him, as Cory McClenathan's McDonald's dragster has been in top form all season, already resetting the Top Fuel speed record at 322.92 mph en route to winning the ATSCO Nationals in late February. Larry Dixon has one victory under his belt, and Jim Head has been a major contender with two runner- up finishes.

Pedregon will have to battle two older brothers, Cruz and Frank, if he's to win at Houston for a second time. Early season points leader Ron Capps has been brilliant in the Copenhagen Chevrolet Camaro, aided by the tuning wizardry of legendary crew chief Roland Leong.

No one can discount the chances of seven-time Winston champion John Force, a four-time winner of this event. The list of additional contenders in Funny Car is long, topped by ATSCO Nationals winner Chuck Etchells, Team Winston's Whit Bazemore, and the resurgent Al Hofmann, a four time finalist of this event from 1993-1996.

In Pro Stock, two-time defending NHRA champion Jim Yates is the front-runner, based on his two final round appearances to start the season. However, a tough contingent including Warren and Kurt Johnson, Mark Osborne and Jeg Coughlin, Jr. are well within striking distance.

Pro Stock Truck will make its first start as an official NHRA professional category at this event. Drivers expected to challenge for the inaugural category win and Winston championship include Chevrolet's John Lingenfelter, Ford's Roy Hill and David Nickens of Team Mopar.

* Schedule: Pro qualifying is at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. March 20. Qualifying continues at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. March 21. Pro Stock Truck qualifying sessions will be held on March 19 at noon and 3 p.m. Pro Stock Truck final eliminations will start at 11 a.m. March 21. Final professional eliminations start at 11 a.m. March 22. Federal-Mogul competition starts at 8 a.m. March 19.

* Tickets: Tickets are available for the Pennzoil Nationals presented by HiLo/O'Reilly. Call Houston Raceway Park, (281) 383-2666, or Ticketmaster, (713) 629-3700, for ticket information.

* On TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of highlights and live final round coverage from the Pennzoil Nationals presented by HiLo/O'Reilly on March 22 at 4 p.m. (CST). ESPN2 will show two hours of same-day qualifying highlights on March 20 at 7:30 p.m. (CST).