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NHRA: Winston Showdown to Feature Unique Format at Bristol Dragway

14 August 1998

BRISOL, Tenn. -- For the first time in official NHRA competition, Top Fuel dragsters will race against Funny Cars in the inaugural Winston Showdown at Bristol Dragway July 8-10, 1999.

The Winston Showdown will offer competitors a combined $727,000, the largest guaranteed purse in NHRA history.

Cliff Pennell, president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s Sports Marketing Enterprises, made the announcement at a news conference today.

The Winston Showdown, NHRA's all-star race, replaces the Winston Invitational. That event was conducted for 10 years at Rockingham Dragway in North Carolina.

The combined Top Fuel dragster-Funny Car field in the Winston Showdown will include 24 cars in competition, with Funny Cars receiving the benefit of a "headstart."

"We wanted to do something that had never been done before," Pennell said. "When we made the decision to move the race to Bristol, we wanted a format that would make the fans say, 'Wow!' When the Funny Cars line up with the Top Fuel dragsters, it should make for a fantastic show. One thing we know for sure is that it hasn't been done before.

"We surveyed fans at different races earlier this season, and the result was clear. NHRA Winston Drag Racing fans want to see a true all-star event, and they want to see the Top Fuel cars compete against the Funny Cars. So we're giving the fans what they want at what will be a tremendous new facility at Bristol Dragway."

"The return of NHRA Winston Drag Racing to Bristol is significant on several fronts," said NHRA president Dallas Gardner. "Returning to Bristol for the first time since 1967 and doing it at a new facility with the Bruton Smith signature on it spells excitement and success.

"In establishing the Winston Showdown, Winston has designed a spectacular event that will cast a tremendous spotlight on NHRA Winston Drag Racing. With its unique competition format, the Winston Showdown promises to be a fan favorite. To the fans, I would say, 'Don't miss this one.'

"The Winston Showdown makes a statement that is loud and clear. RJR's Winston brand continues its commitment and dedication to the continued growth of the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series."

Qualifying for the Winston Showdown will be as follows:

Top Fuel dragster and Funny Car (24-car field)

* The first 10 spots in Top Fuel dragster will be filled by the reigning Winston champion and the most recent, active race winners from 1999 and '98. If there aren't 10 different winners in 1999 and '98, the 1997 Winston Champion will gain entry followed by the most recent active winners from 1997, '96 and so on. Active is defined as competing in a majority of the races that season or the previous season.

* The remaining two spots in Top Fuel will be filled through qualifying at the Winston Showdown. Any Top Fuel team may attempt to qualify for the remaining two spots.

* The same process will be used for Funny Car, creating one 24-car field.

Pro Stock (16-car field)

* The first 10 spots will be filled in the same manner as Top Fuel and Funny Car. The remaining six positions will be filled through Winston Showdown qualifying. Pro Stock Motorcycle (eight-motorcycle field)

* The six most recent winners in Pro Stock Motorcycle will qualify in the same manner as Top Fuel and Funny Car. The remaining two positions will be filled through Winston Showdown qualifying.

Pro Stock Truck (16-truck field)

*Pro Stock Truck qualifying will be open to all competitors under the normal Pro Stock Truck qualifying procedures.

Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars will be pitted against one another during all four rounds of qualifying to give the drivers a chance to get accustomed to the handicapped start. The starting line will be modified to affect the drivers as little as possible.

The winner of the Top Fuel dragster-Funny Car class will take home $200,000. The Pro Stock champion wins $50,000, the Pro Stock Truck winner $15,000, and the Pro Stock Motorcycle titlist $10,000.

"Dragsters against Funny Cars -- leave it to Winston to come up with that," said seven-time and reigning NHRA Winston Funny Car champion John Force. "Bristol's a great market. I've raced there before. It's a great idea for the fans. They're gonna love it.

"When I found out we'd be racing the Top Fuel boys, I set the national speed record at 323 mph the same day. The Funny Car guys have always been considered the little brothers in this sport. Well, it's time for us to step up and play with big brother. This will really show the fans what it's all about.

"It'll be neat, but I'm focusing my attention on one guy. I've been keeping my eye one him, and he's been running great this year. I want to race Louie the Lizard (on Kenny Bernstein's Top Fuel dragster) and take him out."

"We welcome John's challenge," Bernstein said. "And we remember our days in Funny Car when we whipped Force like a dog every week. I don't think it'll be any different when the Top Fuel boys line up against him in Bristol.

"Bristol Dragway has always been a great place, and I'm looking forward to going back there. I've raced there many times, and I'm very excited about the facility our friends Bruton Smith and Jeff Byrd are building. It'll be good for NHRA Winston Drag Racing to return to Thunder Valley. It was always one of my favorite spots to race.

"As for Top Fuel and Funny Car, I'm very excited to line up against the Funny Cars. It'll be a fantastic step for NHRA Winston Drag Racing, and the Winston Showdown is the perfect time and place. Our sport is ready for it, and we need a true 'all-star' event. The Winston Showdown is just that, and I'm grateful to everyone at Winston for creating this event."

Professional qualifying for the Winston Showdown will be run Thursday and Friday afternoon and night with eliminations set for Saturday afternoon and night. In the first round of the Top Fuel dragster-Funny Car eliminations, the No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel will race the No. 12 qualifier in Funny Car, the No. 2 Top Fuel qualifier will face the No. 11 qualifier in Funny Car, and so on.

Eliminations for Pro Stock, Pro Stock Truck and Pro Stock Motorcycle will be contested in the usual manner with top qualifier taking on the last car to make the field.

Drivers will begin qualifying for the Winston Showdown with next week's VisionAire NorthStar Nationals at Brainerd, Minn. The winners at Brainerd will be eligible for the 1999 Winston Showdown.

However, if there are more than 10 different winners between now and then, the winners at Brainerd could be bumped from the Winston Showdown field. If the race were run today, the following drivers would be eligible.

Top Fuel: Joe Amato, Doug Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Kenny Bernstein, Cory McClenathan, Larry Dixon, Jim Head, Cristen Powell, Shelly Anderson and Eddie Hill.

Funny Car: Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Tony Pedregon, Frank Pedregon, Whit Bazemore, John Force, Chuck Etchells, Dean Skuza, Al Hofmann and Randy Anderson.

Pro Stock: Warren Johnson, Jeg Coughlin, Kurt Johnson, Mike Thomas, Mike Edwards, Mark Osborne, Jim Yates, Tom Martino, Scott Geoffrion, Darrell Alderman and Chuck Harris.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Matt Hines, Angelle Seeling, Dave Schultz, John Smith, Ron Ayers and Paul Gast.

NHRA and Winston celebrate the 25th anniversary of their partnership in 1999. Winston began sponsoring NHRA's premier series in 1975 with a point fund of $100,000. Today that point fund totals more than $2.2 million.