Topeka -- The battle lines have been drawn.
At stake: drag racing's biggest prize -- The coveted NHRA Winston Top Fuel championship.
Never before in the history of the sport have so many teams proved to be championship contenders at such a late date in the season.
With few points separating leader Tony Schumacher and top contenders Mike Dunn, Bud King driver Kenny Bernstein, defending series champ Gary Scelzi, five-time champ Joe Amato and upstart Doug Kalitta, the drama and excitement in the category is intense.
In Funny Car, a collection of drivers are scrambling to secure second place, as John Force has stormed out to a big lead behind the wheel of his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
No doubt, the stakes will be at an all-time high at the 11th annual Advance Auto Parts NHRA Nationals next Thursday through Sunday at Heartland Park Topeka.
With the opportunity looming for record-setting performances at the quick Kansas quarter-mile, teams will be seeking to earn crucial bonus points that come from setting NHRA national records
Cory McClenathan, Ron Capps, Warren Johnson and Craig Eaton are the defending event winners in their respective professional categories at the $1.7 million race, the 18th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
McClenathan, from Anaheim, Calif., out-pedaled Bernstein for the Top Fuel victory last year in his Joe Gibbs-owned dragster. McClenathan would like to see a repeat victory this season as he is among the many drivers in the category locked in an intense battle for the NHRA Winston championship.
Team Winston's Scelzi holds both ends of the track record at the quick quarter-mile and leads the charge among the remaining contenders, including Amato, Schumacher, Kalitta and Dunn.
San Diego's Capps was too much for Al Hofmann in the Funny Car final here one year ago, as the Copenhagen Chevrolet Camaro driver pulled away from the Umatilla, Fla. driver's Firebird to take the win. Neither driver has made much noise this season and both would welcome a return to the final round at this event.
Eight-time champion Force has claimed a majority of the headlines in the category this season, winning eight times and setting national records for elapsed time and speed along the way.
Johnson, from Buford, Ga., used a horsepower advantage to defeat Jeg Coughlin for the Pro Stock crown here last season. In a photo finish,
Johnson's GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird crossed the finish line just in front of Coughlin's Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobile Cutlass. Both drivers are having good seasons, as Johnson leads the Winston point standings with five victories. Coughlin has four victories and is making a late season charge toward the championship.
Glendale, Ariz.'s Eaton became the first Pro Stock Truck winner in Heartland Park drag racing history last season when he defeated John Lingenfelter in a classic Dodge vs. Chevrolet duel. Eaton's Dakota proved it had the power to oust Lingenfelter's S-10 in a tight, side-by-side battle.