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Fri, 7 Sep 2001, 06:58 AM

Imports Race into Houston
Courtesy of NHRA Communications

BAYTOWN, Texas -- Houston Raceway Park can lay claim as the world's fastest drag strip. This past March Mike Dunn made the fastest run in drag racing history, blasting down the quarter-mile in 331.61 mph in a Top Fuel dragster. Come the weekend of Sept. 8-9, HRP will try and tame the top drivers on the import drag racing scene and set some performance records during the inaugural Toyo Tires NHRA Import Nationals, the fifth of six races in the $120,000 NHRA Summit Import Drag Racing Series.

The turbo charging, nitrous oxide burning stars of the import drag racing not only plan on messing with Texas, but each other as well. Valuable NHRA Summit points are at stake as competitors seek to become the first NHRA Summit Import Drag Racing champions ever in one of the five Heads-Up categories.

The Pro category has seen a different winner at all three races thus far with R.J. Simrock, driver of Ben Ma's Ford Focus, winning in Dallas and remaining consistent enough to stay atop the points standings. However, team Puerto Rico has taken the past two races with Rafael Rivera winning in Gainesville, Fla., and Jose Torres in Sacramento, Calif. So, if Simrock slips he may be looking up in the standings at a pair of RX7's.

The Modified class also has seen a different driver in winner's circle following eliminations at the first three events. The top five drivers in the category are separated by less than 100 points in the standings. Stephan Papadakis in his yellow AEM Civic took the class by storm at his first NHRA Summit Import Drag Racing Series event in Sacramento winning out of the gate. However, Chris Rado, still searching for his first win of 2001, has moved to the top of the standings by winning rounds and remaining consistent. If Craig Paisley can return from the horrific crash that occurred in Gainesville he could have a say in who takes home the $20,000 champion purse at the end of the year.

Lisa Kubo, winner of the first two races, still has a commanding 101 point lead in the Hot Rod category even after bowing out with a red light in round two at Sacramento. Still, Kubo can't afford to give up any ground with the likes of Kenny Tran in his 1993 Civic, Jimmy O'Connor's Acura and recent winner JoJo Callos and his Civic all just one step behind.

In the Street Tire category, Ari Yallon's performance through the first three races can be summed up in one word: dominant. Yallon has yet to lose a round in Street Tire competition and has looked like a man amongst boys. He leads teammate Steven Kan by 123 points and will try to make it four in a row in Houston.

Another tight points race is shaping up in the All Motor class as Joel Mandl and his 1991 Civic leads the pack down the backstretch. Mandl is still searching for win number one, but has been a model of consistency, which is why he leads the chase towards the title. Mandl can hardly afford to let up with the likes of Co'Torres Gee and Scott Kelly, both with one victory this year, less than 100 points behind.

SCHEDULE: Heads-Up qualifying sessions are set for noon, 2 and 4 p.m. on Sept. 11. Final Eliminations begin at noon on Sept. 9.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for Toyo Tires NHRA Import Nationals. For more information contact Houston Raceway Park at (281) 383-RACE (7223).

TELEVISION: On Sunday, Sept. 30, ESPN2 will televise 30-minutes of event coverage at 6:30 p.m. (ET), with a rebroadcast on Monday, Oct. 8, at noon (ET).

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