Checker Schuck's Kragen
NHRA Nationals Fact Sheet
By NHRA Communications
WHAT: 19th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, the second of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Professional competitors in three categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA POWERade championships.
Sportsman competitors in five categories earn points leading to 2003 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championships.
WHERE: Firebird International Raceway, Chandler, Ariz. Track is located off Interstate 10 from the north at exit 162A (Maricopa). From the south, take exit 162 (Maricopa). Follow the signs to convenient parking.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 20-23.
PURSE: Cash and contingency awards of more than $1.9 million.
SCHEDULE: THURSDAY, Feb. 20 -- Gates open at 7:30 a.m. Sportsman qualifying and time trials, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
FRIDAY, Feb. 21 -- Gates open at 7:30 a.m. Sportsman qualifying, time trials and eliminations, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
PROFESSIONAL QUALIFYING SESSIONS at 1 and 4 p.m.
SATURDAY, Feb. 22 -- Gates open at 7:30 a.m. Sportsman eliminations, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
PROFESSIONAL QUALIFYING SESSIONS at 1 and 4 p.m.
SUNDAY, Feb. 23 -- Gates open at 7 a.m. Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
FINAL ELIMINATIONS begin at 11 a.m.
TELEVISION: Saturday, Feb. 22, ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 11:30 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Feb. 23, ESPN2 will televise two hours of final eliminations at 9 p.m. (ET).
SATELLITE: Friday, Feb. 21, 10-10:30 p.m. (ET) - Galaxy 11 / Transponder 13K
Saturday, Feb. 22, 10-10:30 p.m. (ET) - Galaxy 11 / T 13K
Sunday, Feb. 23, 10-10:30 p.m. (ET) - Galaxy 11 / T 13K
Transponder 13K: Uplink frequency, 14260 MHz, vertical; Downlink frequency, 11960 MHz, horizontal
2002 WINNERS: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel; Del Worsham, Funny Car; Bruce Allen, Pro Stock.
2002 REWIND: Tony Schumacher earned his first win since the 2000 season (Indianapolis) at the site where he made the first 330-mph pass in NHRA history (1999). Schumacher drove the U.S. Army dragster past Larry Dixon, who was making his second straight Top Fuel final round appearance, in a smoke-filled finale. Dixon's Miler Lite dragster was adorned in Arizona Diamondbacks colors in honor of the 2001 World Series Champions. Dixon would go on to capture the 2002 Top Fuel championship. In a rematch of the season-opener final round, Funny Car driver Del Worsham pleased his supporters as he put the Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird in the winner's circle at his title sponsor's event. Worsham made his worst pass of eliminations (4.940 seconds), but it was enough to hold off rival John Force, who lost traction early in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Worsham didn't even qualify for eliminations until his fourth and final qualifying effort landed him the No. 10 spot in the field. Bruce Allen scored the Pro Stock victory, driving his Reher-Morrison Pontiac Grand Am to the finish line ahead of Warren Johnson's GM Goodwrench Grand Am. Allen became the second of 13 different Pro Stock winners in 2002.
WHAT TO EXPECT: As Firebird International Raceway plays host to the second event of the 2003 season, every racer will be jockeying for a position in the standings. Larry Dixon used a strong early-season performance to jump out to a lead that proved to be insurmountable. Every round plays a crucial role in the final standings, especially in a category like Pro Stock, where a couple of rounds can mean the difference of several positions in the POWERade top 10. Look for quick times and high speeds after many of the NHRA's top professional teams took part in a preseason test session at FIR and gained valuable racing data that will be applied during the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals.
2003 POINT STANDINGS: Top Fuel -- 1. Larry Dixon, 116; 2. Cory McClenathan, 91; 3. Clay Millican, 77; 4. Melanie Troxel, 71; 5. Tony Schumacher, 54; 6. (tie) Doug Herbert and John Smith, 53; 8. David Grubnic, 52; 9. Doug Kalitta, 38; 10. Brandon Bernstein, 35.
Funny Car-- 1. Tony Pedregon, 116; 2. Johnny Gray, 93; 3. (tie) Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr., 72; 5. Tim Wilkerson, 58; 6. Whit Bazemore, 57; 7. Del Worsham, 54; 8. Bob Gilbertson, 51; 9. Gary Densham, 35; 10. Gary Scelzi, 34.
Pro Stock-- 1. Warren Johnson, 117; 2. Allen Johnson, 94; 3. Darrell Alderman, 76; 4. Greg Anderson, 72; 5. Ron Krisher, 54; 6. Kurt Johnson, 52; 7. (tie) Brad Jeter and Randy Daniels, 51; 9. Greg Stanfield, 38; 10. Jeg Coughlin, 35.
FAST FACTS: 12-time NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion John Force has appeared in the final round eight of the last nine years at FIR, winning seven times with his lone runner-up finish during the stretch coming last season to Del Worsham. The only Funny Car final round Force has not advanced to in the past nine seasons was in 1993 when Cruz Pedregon defeated Jim Epler for the win. Force also was the runner-up in 1991 to Jim White...Tony Schumacher has been the Top Fuel victor two of the last three seasons at FIR, however, only one Top Fuel driver has ever repeated as event champion and that is Larry Dixon's current crew chief, Dick LaHaie (1986-'87)...Force, Worsham, and Pedregon are the only active Funny Car drivers that have ever won at FIR...Darrell Alderman's three wins at FIR are the most by an active Pro Stock driver. Warren Johnson and Jim Yates each have two. Bob Glidden has the all-time Pro Stock mark with five wins at Firebird...The track record for elapsed time and speed was established in both Funny Car and Pro Stock, but nothing changed in Top Fuel. The speed record (330.23, 1999) has stood for the last three events.
QUOTABLE: Brandon Bernstein, rookie driver of the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster on his outlook for the 2003 season - "We all want to go out there and win a POWERade championship. That's a goal that I have set because I know this team is capable of doing that. If we win some races along the way, then that's great. It's one of those things that we are going to be out there and we are going to try our hardest every time. Hopefully we will win races and be contenders for a POWERade championship."
Doug Herbert, the driver of the Snap-on Tools dragster who finished seventh in the final standings but was impressive in the second half of the season, winning at Sonoma and earning his first two No. 1 qualifying positions (Chicago 2 and Las Vegas 2). Herbert also made a crew chief change following the 2002 season - "We all feel real good about the new season. I'm excited about Ron Douglas being our new crew chief and being able to work with (tuning consultant) Jim Brissette again. We definitely have a good combination and a good crew to make a run for the championship. We are probably in the best position we've been in to start a new season. We don't have to start the year testing new stuff. I think our team chemistry is better than it has been. Everyone at our Cherryville (N.C.) shop is excited, which is a good sign. If I'm the only one who's enthused, it's not going to do any good. Brissette will help everyone else work together better. All-in-all, it's going to be good."
Del Worsham, the defending winner of the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, which also is the title sponsor that backs the two Pontiac Firebirds that make up Worsham Racing. Worsham finished No. 3 in the 2002 final Funny Car standings and is considered one of the top threats to dethrone perennial champ John Force - "It's absolutely going to be the toughest year ever in the Funny Car class. There are so many good teams, and they all think they should not only be in the POWERade Top 10, but in the top five. Obviously, there's not room for 16 cars in the top five, so it's going to be incredible competition every week. We've freshened up our stuff, worked on some new things, brought out two new chassis, and we have two new Pontiac bodies for our cars, so we're ready to go for it. It's all looking very good, and I know both of our cars are going to run well, but I can't imagine there ever being an easy weekend this year.
"Winning (at Phoenix) last year was one of the highlights of my career, so the only thing that could be better would be to do it again. Last year was amazing, starting with barely getting qualified for the race on the last lap. Then we got our act together and beat four great teams on Sunday, including John Force in the final round. We not only won our sponsor's race, in front of hundreds of CSK people, but we denied Force his 100th win doing it. They had to have all the hats and confetti ready for him in case he won, so it was great to make them put it all back away."
Gary Scelzi, the newest member of Schumacher Racing and driver of the Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T - "It's different looking out of the new Dodge. It's like you sit further back because the dash area is further forward. But the visibility is good and the car is really stable on the top end. It doesn't want to drift around a lot. So, it's a whole new ballgame for me. I made a couple of runs in last year's car (in 2002) and then we came back and we have the Dodges now and it's a whole different feeling. I like the feeling; it's stable. It's a great sense of security. It's a great beginning."
Jeg Coughlin, the defending NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion and driver of the Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier on what the Jeg's team needs to succeed in 2003 in the competitive category - "The first thing we need is more power. Horsepower is king in Pro Stock and that's what it's going to take to stay on top. The second item is qualifying. I believe there will be a number of teams that will qualify at each event this year. The third thing is consistency on race day. Having consistent wins and late-round finishes will be a must to claim the top spot."
Ron Krisher, driver of the Krisher Racing Chevy Cavalier, and was the only driver to qualify for every event in 2002. He had a category-best nine No. 1 qualifying positions including the first four of the year, the top speed at nine events, and recorded the quickest elapsed time at five races. He feels horsepower will give him a boost in 2003 - "I feel that the commitment I've made to the success of the race team and the engine program is indicative of how I can conduct all of my business affairs. Everything I do I'm either successful at it, or figure out why I'm not and fix it, or go on to something where I can be successful. That's just the approach I take to everything. But in racing, I understand that it takes time and a huge investment before things start coming back your way. I don't know if we can take the championship this year or not, but I want to be at least a top-three race car at the end of the season. Our engines are fresh and ready to go, and we were able to find some more power over the winter. Plus, we have a brand-new Chevy Cavalier that's going to be awfully fast."
STORIES: Passing the Budweiser Torch - Last season Kenny Bernstein ended a driving career that saw him etch his name into the NHRA record books numerous times. The first driver to eclipse the 300-mph barrier and the only driver to ever win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, Bernstein handed the keys to the famed Budweiser dragster to his son Brandon for the 2003 season and beyond. After earning the Division 7 Top Alcohol Dragster crown in 2001, the younger Bernstein spent the entire 2002 season as a crewmember on his father's team, learning the intricacies of a nitromethane powered dragster. All eyes will be on the 30-year-old as he tries to fill the legendary shadow left by his father.
The next Force? - Who will it be? Will there be another? Maybe not, but someone will be the driver to eventually dethrone the king. Force, winner of 12 NHRA POWERade championships and the last 10 in a row, didn't clinch the 2002 crown until the semifinals of the last race of the year. His teammate, Tony Pedregon presented him with quite a challenge. Tony's brother Cruz, is the only other driver other than Force to win a Funny Car title since 1990. Del Worsham, the defending winner of the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals who finished No. 3 in last season's standings, joins T. Pedregon as one of the young drivers aiming for the top. The 32-year-old racing veteran has 11 career wins and is a favorite to knock off Force. Whit Bazemore is another candidate to replace Force as the Funny Car champ. The outspoken Indianapolis resident won back-to-back races (Bristol, Tenn., and Atlanta) which placed him among the top three, before a slump took him out of contention. After a great showing in preseason testing, Bazemore would like nothing more than to take some of the spotlight from his rival.
World's Fastest Couple -- Rhonda Hartman-Smith and her husband John Smith, who also serves as his wife's assistant crew chief, compete against each other in separate dragsters to create an unlikely rivalry in Top Fuel. The couple travels with their young daughter Megan to each NHRA national event. Rhonda's father, Virgil, is the team owner and also works on both cars, making each race weekend a family affair.
Three For Force, Four For Schumacher - Funny Car champ John Force unveiled the first three-car team back in 2001. As teams continue to pursue the perennial champion, team-owner Don Schumacher has raised the stakes for other Funny Car competitors with his own three-car team. After fielding a formidable two-car duo last season, Schumacher snagged three-time Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi from the free agent ranks to pilot his third Funny Car, and combined with the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster driven by his son Tony, Schumacher Racing now has a four-car team.
Scelzi Returns to Funny Car Competition - Gary Scelzi, who competed in the first seven events of the 2002 season in a Funny Car, will join Whit Bazemore and Scotty Cannon in their efforts to put an end to the dominance of Force's Ford Mustangs. After obtaining his Funny Car license at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the week before the 2002 season, Scelzi experienced a tumultuous seven races in 2002 with crew chief Alan Johnson in the White Cap Toyota Celica. Scelzi amassed a 6-5 record in elimination rounds, earned a runner-up finish in his third Funny Car race, then finished out the season with consecutive DNQ's (did not qualify) at Bristol, Tenn., and Atlanta. His 228-92 career record in eliminations entering the 2003 season ranks him in the top 10 among active drivers for highest winning percentage (.713).
Mopar Switches Gears - After backing David Nickens Racing for the past few seasons, Mopar has joined forces with Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson and new teammate and long time Dodge driver Darrell Alderman. Johnson and Alderman will be one of the two two-car teams backed by Mopar. Pro Stock veteran Larry Morgan and second-year driver Gene Wilson will be the other duo to pilot the Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus' for the 2003 season. Johnson scored his first win in nearly three years in 2002 and had a career-best finish in the POWERade top 10 Pro Stock standings with little financial backing. Three-time Pro Stock champion Alderman earned one victory in 2002, his first since 1997. Morgan also ended a winless drought by visiting the winner's circle in Sonoma, his first win in eight years. Rookie Wilson finished ninth in the overall standings in the ultra-competitive category, earning three runner-up finishes, including the 2002 season-finale at Pomona Raceway.
Safety Safari-- These men and women are a team of professionals dedicated to making the sport safe for the competitors and keeping the action on the track moving for the fans. Spend the day or a few hours with this crew and watch as they take care of preparing the race track for competition, responding to crashes and cleaning up oil and debris on the racing surface.
Regarding Weather -- In drag racing weather plays a vital role as crew chiefs examine data and tune their race cars for maximum performance. Most teams have sophisticated weather stations on board their team transporters so they can access up-to-the-minute weather information as well as forecasts.
ABOUT THE TRACK: Firebird International Raceway serves as a race facility that houses a quarter-mile drag strip, three road racing courses, 120-acre lake, and the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. The facility opened in 1983 and has been a regular stop on the NHRA circuit since 1985. The facility was built, and still owned and operated, by former Funny car racer Charlie Allen. Up until 1990 the track hosted the Fallnationals in October, before the event was moved to February. As a result of the change, the track has produced some of the sport's all-time best numbers, including the first 330 mph pass in NHRA history.
TRACK RECORDS: Top Fuel-4.521 seconds by Mike Dunn, Feb. 2001; 330.23 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. 1999
Funny Car-- 4.797 seconds by John Force, Feb. 2002; 321.19 mph by Gary Densham, Feb. 2002
Pro Stock-- 6.865 seconds by Warren Johnson, Feb. 2002; 201.97 mph by Ron Krisher, Feb. 2002
NATIONAL RECORDS: Top Fuel-- 4.477 seconds (June 2001, Joliet, Ill.), 332.18 mph (Oct. 2001, Reading, Pa.) by Kenny Bernstein
Funny Car-- 4.731 seconds (Oct. 2001, Reading, Pa.) by John Force; 326.87 mph (Feb. 2002, Pomona, Calif.) by Gary Densham
Pro Stock-- 6.750 seconds (Oct. 2001, Reading, Pa.) by Jeg Coughlin; 204.91 mph (Feb. 2003, Pomona, Calif.) by Warren Johnson
TICKETS: For tickets call Firebird Raceway at (602) 268-0200, or call Ticketmaster at (480) 784-4444 or (520) 321-1000.
GENERAL ADMISSION (includes pit pass) - Thursday: Adult, $10; Junior (6-12 years), $5. Friday: Adult, $29; Junior (6-12 years), $15. Saturday: Adult, $39; Junior (6-12 years), $15. Sunday: Adult, $43; Junior (6-12 years) $15. Child (5 years-under), admitted free with paying adult in general admission and pit access areas each day.
RESERVED SEATS (includes pit pass) - Friday: Adult, $39; Junior (6-12 years), $25; Child (5 years-under), $20. Saturday: Adult, $49; Junior (6-12 years), $25; Child (5 years and under), $20. Sunday: Adult, $55; Junior (6-12 years), $27; Child (5 years and under), $22. Call Firebird raceway for additional adult seating options and motorhome passes.
INTERNET: The latest NHRA press releases, interview transcripts and quality images of race cars and driver headshots can be obtained at nhra.com/media/welcome.html.
TEAMS USE PRESEASON DATA FOR CHECKER SCHUCK'S KRAGEN NATIONALS ASSAULT
CHANDLER, Ariz. - With the 2003 NHRA POWERade season running on all cylinders by the time the circuit reaches the Valley of the Sun, professional competitors will look for any slight advantage to gain an edge on the quarter-mile drag strip.
Following preseason testing in the Phoenix area, several NHRA teams hope the data they obtained will put them in the winner's circle at the 19th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Feb. 20-23, at Firebird International Raceway. The $1.9 million race, which will be televised on ESPN2, is the second of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
More than 20 professional teams competed in the open test session at the always-quick Firebird Raceway, with each team recording valuable information with every pass down the track. The data helps crew chiefs decide on the right tune-ups for their vehicles to be used during the season, or at a specific event like the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals. Since the weather plays such an important role in the performance of the car, the close proximity of the test session to the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals is a bonus for teams and crew chiefs because the atmospheric conditions are similar at both events.
Defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon began his championship run last season with an unbelievable start, advancing to the final round at 10 of the first 11 races, including a runner-up finish at last year's national event at FIR. Dixon was impressive in the test session behind the wheel of his Miller Lite dragster, recording the quickest pass of the three-day event held in mid-January. Defending event winner Tony Schumacher, the 1999 Top Fuel champion and another budding superstar, also had some eye-opening passes in the U.S. Army dragster and showed he will be a contender for the $400,000 championship purse offered by POWERade.
Top Fuel rookie Brandon Bernstein showed he wasn't going to be intimidated by the veteran nitro-pilots, as he recorded some of the top numbers of the session in the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster, formerly driven by his retired father Kenny. The 30-year-old will be intently watched as he takes over the driving duties of one of the most heralded vehicles in all of motorsports.
Last year NHRA icon John Force again proved to be too much for the rest of the Funny Car field, snagging his 12th POWERade championship and the 10th in a row for the all-time winningest driver in NHRA history (106 wins). Force has been dominant at Firebird over the past few years in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, but last season's event winner, Del Worsham, is seeking to join Force as the only two Funny Car drivers to repeat as event champions at Firebird. Worsham's Pontiac Firebird would prove to be a contender for the crown all season, and is a favorite to dethrone Force in 2003. Last season's championship battle went down to the season-ending event, and all signs indicate another year-long battle for Funny car supremacy
Texas' Bruce Allen came out on top in Pro Stock in his Pontiac Grand Am, becoming the second of 13 eventual different winners in the category in 2002. This following the 2001 season, which had 15 different drivers visit the winner's circle, making the 200-mph category one of the most competitive classes is any form of motorsports. Jeg Coughlin won at Phoenix in 2000 en route to his first series crown and will be a favorite heading into the 2003 Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals. A first round loss at last season's event was one of several early season disappointments that Coughlin overcame with his second-half dominance that led him to the 2002 title in his Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier.
SCHUMACHER RACING SEEKING NITRO SWEEP
CHANDLER, Ariz. - Tony Schumacher blasted his way onto the NHRA scene in 1996, advancing to the Top Fuel final round in his first career start, at the NHRA's most prestigious event, the Mac Tools U.S. National at Indianapolis.
From that race on, NHRA insiders knew that Schumacher, and the Schumacher Racing organization, were going to make their presence felt.
Schumacher Racing will make its yearly visit to the Valley of the Sun for the 19th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Feb. 20-23 at Firebird International Raceway. The $1.9 million race is the second of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
During the 2002 off season team owner Don Schumacher hired three-time Top Fuel champion Gary Scelzi as the pilot of the Oakley Time Bomb Dodge Stratus R/T. Scelzi joins Whit Bazemore and Scotty Cannon at the Schumacher camp, joining John Force Racing as the only three-car Funny Car operations on the circuit. Paired with the Top Fuel dragster driven by Tony, Schumacher Racing has a four-car juggernaut that will contend for two POWERade championships.
"I love competition," said Don, a Funny Car pioneer. "Otherwise I wouldn't be racing or in business. It's quite a challenge to be able to put a fourth team together and have the personnel fall into place and get the components and parts put in place in a short period of time. The toughest part of multiple teams is to have the team members all get along with each other. We've got an organization and a great bunch of people and crew chiefs who have been able to put this together."
Scelzi competed in a Funny Car at the first seven races of the 2002 season, posting a runner-up finish at Gainesville, Fla., before parting ways with former crew chief and team owner Alan Johnson. After five years of Top Fuel competition, including heated battles in 1999 and 2000 with current teammate Tony, Scelzi is content with his new ride.
"I really don't miss being in a dragster," said Scelzi, 42. "I had five great years in Top Fuel. I'm tied for fifth on the all-time win list and have three championships, a runner up and a fifth place finish n five years. That's pretty outstanding. I wanted to do something new and exciting and having a manufacturer behind me like Dodge, and a great sponsor like Oakley. I knew Funny Car is where I wanted to be. It seems like there's more excitement there right now. Being a part of Schumacher Racing with the talent and the equipment that (Don) has assembled, a guy would have to be brain dead not to be excited about the opportunity."
Despite Scelzi's championship experience, it's his teammate Bazemore that is favored to contend for the POWERade title.
"I think this year we have an extremely good chance to do very well," said Bazemore. "I am more focused than I have ever been. We're a much more competitive team this year personnel-wise. I think the decisions that are made on race day are going to be stronger because of the personnel that we have."
With the team expansion, several changes were made throughout the Schumacher camp. The most notable alteration to the face of the team was the shifting of responsibilities of Tony's former crew chief, Dan Olson, and bringing on crew chief veteran Wes Cerny to make the tuning decisions on Tony's dragster.
"We obviously want to get to the top," said Tony, the 1999 Top Fuel champion. "There's no reason why we can't do it. We have a great team in place and a new crew chief who is considered one of the best in the business. Wes knows how to win races. He's clearly a valued addition to the Army team."
CHECKER SCHUCK'S KRAGEN NHRA NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION
SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1 and 4 p.m. on Feb. 21. Qualifying continues at 1 and 4 p.m. on Feb. 22. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. Feb. 23.
TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 19th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals. Call Firebird Raceway at (602) 268-0200, or call Ticketmaster at (480) 784-4444 or (520) 321-1000 for ticket information.
ON TV: ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage of the Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals at 11:30 p.m. (ET) on Feb. 22. ESPN2 will televise two hours of final eliminations coverage at 9 p.m. (ET) on Feb. 23.
ON THE WEB: NHRA media department press releases and photos are available on the Internet at