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NHRA: Winston Invitational Story

6 April 1998

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Cruz Pedregon continued his parade as the hottest NHRA Funny Car driver April 5, winning the 10th annual Winston Invitational, NHRA's $650,000 All-Star race.

Pedregon leads the Winston point standings, recently reset the Funny Car national elapsed time and speed records and became $100,000 richer at Rockingham Dragway's annual non-points celebration of the best drivers in the business. The Moorpark, Calif. driver increased his season-long winnings to an impressive $250,000 with the six-figure payday.

Kenny Bernstein, Mark Osborne and Matt Hines also collected large paychecks with victories in their respective pro categories.

Pedregon was quick throughout the weekend, taking top qualifying honors with the low E.T. of the weekend (4.884). A string of 4.90-second runs carried him through Sunday's final eliminations, knocking off Randy Anderson and Chuck Etchells in the first two rounds.

In the final, he covered the quarter-mile in 4.927 seconds at 312.06 mph in his Joe Gibbs-owned Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird. Runner-up Ron Capps smoked the tires in his Copenhagen Chevrolet Camaro and limped across the finish line at 9.792 at 86.65.

"We were consistent and quick and that's what it takes to win," Pedregon said. "The car drove real good and we were on our toes today, because Randy Anderson and Etchells really gave us a tussle there. I was a little surprised at Ron in the final, because those guys have a great team. Wes (Cerny, crew chief) did a good job tuning the car for the sunny conditions we had. This is my first win here and anytime you take that kind of payday home it means a lot."

Bernstein, from Lake Forest, Calif., scored his second straight Top Fuel win at this event, powering the Bud King dragster past upset-minded Paul Romine, who made his first final round appearance at an NHRA event. Bernstein ran 4.710 at 305.39 on his $100,000 winning pass to coast across the finish line in front of Romine's Carquest dragster, which smoked the tires near mid-track and ran 5.995 at 165.89.

For Bernstein, who has one win, a first round loss and a DNQ this season, the roller coaster ride continues. However, with another good showing to add, he hopes all the steep drops are behind the team now.

"We're tickled to win this thing, no doubt," said Bernstein, who advanced to the final with a decisive first round victory over Doug Herbert and used a holeshot to sneak past Jim Head in the semi- finals. "Anytime you get these eight-car fields, they're extremely tough. But Lee (Beard, crew chief) adjusted well to the conditions as the day went on. The track has a tendency to get loose when the sun comes out, but we managed to set it up for that and it worked out."

Besides the big payday, it was an emotional win for Bernstein, a driver whose NHRA career has spanned nearly three decades. He dedicated his win to Winston's T. Wayne Robertson, a longtime supporter of drag racing who was killed earlier this year in a southern Louisiana boating accident.

"T. Wayne has been a friend of mine for many years and this win goes to him," Bernstein said. "I felt like he was riding with me in the second round. We got lucky there when I cut that near-perfect light (.412). I certainly didn't plan on it, but needed every bit of it to beat Jim (Head) there because he went a little quicker."

In Pro Stock, Abingdon, Va.'s Mark Osborne collected a career-best payday of $50,000, driving the Dick Sherman Racing Pontiac Firebird to his first NHRA victory since 1995 at Atlanta Dragway. It was Osborne's first victory at the Rock.

Osborne was consistent all day long with victories over Troy Coughlin, V. Gaines and Jeg Coughlin. In the final he outran Kurt Johnson for the cash, posting a 7.025 at 196.89 to Johnson's considerably slower 7.470 at 166.11.

"I went to three finals during the last year and was a runner-up three times," Osborne said. "I was beginning to think I was going to be a permanent bridesmaid, but it feels great to get a win."

Trinidad, Colo.'s Hines, aboard his Eagle One Suzuki, outran top qualifier and defending race winner Angelle Seeling to collect the $10,000 Pro Stock Motorcycle payday. Hines, the defending NHRA Winston champion in the category, ran 7.348 at 181.15, to Seeling's slower 7.390 at 180.50.

"Angelle was running pretty fierce this weekend and I was just trying to stay focused in that final, I knew it was going to be tough to beat her," said Hines, the defending NHRA Winston champion in the category. "She's my biggest rival and when she's fast like she was this weekend she can be scary. We're just glad to steal the trophy and the money at this one."

The estimated four-day attendance was 81,500. The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event is the Fram Nationals, April 16-19 at Atlanta Dragway.