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Top Fuel Dragsters Are Aging Gracefully

October 27, 1994|SHAV GLICK

Has drag racing, once the domain of teen-age hot rodders, become an old man's sport?

Ten of the 31 entries for this week's Winston Select Finals at Pomona Fairplex in top fuel dragster, the sport's premier class, are 50 or older.

The list includes five of the favorites--Don Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein, Joe Amato, Connie Kalitta and Eddie Hill, last year's National Hot Rod Assn. champion.

Hill, 58, is the oldest. He is winless this season but was the No. 1 qualifier at Indianapolis with a 4.762-second elapsed time before losing in the finals to Kalitta.

Kalitta, 56, is the father of 1994 champion Scott Kalitta and is himself a three-time winner this season at Gainesville, Fla., Atlanta and Indianapolis, where he won the U.S. Nationals.

Prudhomme, 53, won last Sunday's NHRA meet at Dallas for a record 49th victory in nitromethene-powered dragsters. It was the fourth victory this season for the Snake, who won his first Winston Final (then the World Finals) in 1975 at Ontario Motor Speedway.

Bernstein, 50, has bettered 300 m.p.h. in his last six national events, with a top speed of 307.80 m.p.h. Sept. 18 at Reading, Pa., and has been No. 1 qualifier at four events, but has yet to win a final round this season.

Amato, 50, has won a record five top fuel championships and was a winner last August in Seattle. He holds the Winston Finals record of 302.21 m.p.h. set last year.

All five also will be in the Budweiser Top Fuel Classic, an eight-driver shootout scheduled Saturday for a $50,000 first prize. The other entries--based on qualifying points earned in the previous 17 events--are Shelly Anderson, 28; Cory McClenathan, 31, and Scott Kalitta, 32.

The Kalittas ran the quickest side-by-side top fuel race in NHRA history at Houston, with Scott edging his father, 4.748 to 4.788 seconds.

Other members of the over-50 set include Gary Beck, 53, 1983 world champion and two-time Winston Final winner; Clayton Harris, 55; Bruce Larson, 56; Jim Murphy, 52, and Jack Ostrander, 56.

Qualifying for the 30th Winston Finals in professional categories will start at 1:30 today. Another session Friday and two more Saturday, at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., will set the 16-car fields for Sunday's eliminations. The event is the 18th and last of a $16-million championship series that began at Pomona last February.

Scott Kalitta, in top fuel, and John Force, in funny car, have already clinched the $150,000 championship bonus in their classes, but the $100,000 pro stock title will be decided at Pomona between Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion, teammates in Wayne County Mopar Dodges.

Alderman, the 1990-91 champion who was suspended for two years for using drugs, has a 578-point lead over Geoffrion with 1,200 points at stake Sunday. Geoffrion defeated Alderman in last Sunday's final round at Dallas for his sixth victory. Alderman has four.

However, the man to beat in the pro stock final round may be Oldsmobile driver Warren Johnson, who has won the last four Pomona events. That's 16 consecutive eliminations. He has not lost there since the 1992 Winternationals.

In addition to the three major championships, Winston series champions will be determined for pro stock motorcycle and seven sportsman categories.

Motor Racing Notes

STOCK CARS--Dale Earnhardt clinched his seventh Winston Cup championship last week in Rockingham, N.C., but two other championships will be on the line this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. A record seven drivers will be contending for the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour crown in the GM Goodwrench/Delco Battery 300 on Saturday. Points leader Steve Portenga, 24, has yet to win, but leads Bryan Germone by 32 points going into the season-ending 300-kilometer race. The Winston West championship, which has narrowed to Mike Chase, Ron Hornaday Jr. and John Krebs, might be decided Sunday during the Slick 50 500 as the West Coast entries compete with the Winston Cup drivers. One more race remains, Nov. 27, at Tucson Raceway Park. Pole position qualifying is Friday, with the 500-kilometer race Sunday. It will be shown at 2 p.m. on TNN.

PAGE JONES--The 22-year-old son of Parnelli Jones remained unconscious Wednesday, 30 days after suffering head injuries in a sprint car race at Eldora Speedway. Jones is undergoing physical therapy in the rehabilitation center of Daniel Freeman Hospital in Torrance.

MOTOCROSS--Greg Albertyn, 22, the world 250cc champion from South Africa, will ride a Suzuki in the Supercross and U.S. national outdoor series next year. . . . Cary Agajanian has been named chairman of the American Motorcyclist Assn.'s newly formed subsidiary racing corporation, Paradama, which will conduct all professional racing programs.

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