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Tue, 30 Sep 2008, 01:48 PM

Five Rookie Drivers Headline Nominees for 2008 Auto Club Road to the Future Award
Courtesy of NHRA Communications
Photo copyright 2008 NHRA & Auto Imagery, Inc.

GLENDORA, Calif. --

Rickie Jones

Mike Neff
Five NHRA rookie drivers, representative of all four pro categories, have been selected as nominees for the 2008 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, it was announced today by officials from NHRA and the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The nominees for the prestigious award include, in alphabetical order, Rickie Jones (Pro Stock); Mike Neff (Funny Car); Junior Pippin (Pro Stock Motorcycle); Bob Tasca III (Funny Car) and Steve Torrence (Top Fuel).

The award, which recognizes the top rookie competitor in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and offers a $20,000 prize and traditional trophy to the winner, will be presented during NHRA's annual championship awards ceremony on Monday, Nov. 17 at the spectacular Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.

Junior Pippin
"For more than 100 years the Automobile Club of Southern California has represented integrity, commitment and professionalism to our millions of members. The Road to the Future Award has come to symbolize these same attributes in the sport of NHRA POWERade Drag Racing," said Thomas V. McKernan, Chief Executive Officer of the Automobile Club of Southern California. "To be nominated recognizes not only that a rookie driver had a noteworthy first season, but also that they demonstrated exceptional potential for the future and earned the respect of their peers. We congratulate all five of the nominees for this year's award and look forward to enjoying their achievements both on and off the race track for many years to come."

Jones, 21, from Galesburg, Ill., drove his QuarterMax/RJ Race Cars Dodge Stratus to a sixth-place qualifying effort at Dallas and then followed that with a semifinal finish on race day. He also qualified for the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, posting career-best performance numbers of 6.627 seconds at 208.36 mph.

Bob Tasca III

Steve Torrence
Neff, 42, from Fishers, Ind., turned in his wrench set for a pair of driving gloves in Funny Car competition, and raced to three runner-up finishes, including back-to-back efforts at St. Louis and Bristol. He also posted a runner-up finish at Englishtown. He was the No. 1 qualifier at Bristol and also qualified fourth at Indianapolis and finished there with a quarterfinal effort. He is the only rookie that qualified for the Countdown to 1, NHRA's playoffs, and is currently 10th overall with four races remaining in the six-race run to the championship.

Pippin, 55, from Conyers, Ga., powered his Stone Mountain Harley-Davidson Buell to a career-best performance of 7.044 seconds at 189.98 mph. He is currently 13th overall in the POWERade Drag Racing Series points standings in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock Motorcycle category.

Tasca, 32, from Hope, R.I., raced to a semifinal finish at Atlanta and qualified for the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. He is currently 12th overall in the POWERade Series standings in Funny Car.

Torrence, 25, from Kilgore, Texas, drove his Vis Viva Living Force Energy dragster to back-to-back semifinal finishes at Sonoma and Brainerd and also qualified for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. He's currently 15th overall in Top Fuel points.

In 2002 the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award and the NHRA Rookie of the Year Award were combined to create one award recognizing the future stars of the sport. Past winners of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award have developed into some of NHRA's biggest stars, including Tony Pedregon (1996, Funny Car), Ron Capps (1997, Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (1998, Top Fuel), Antron Brown (1999, Pro Stock Motorcycle), Melanie Troxel (2000, Top Fuel), GT Tonglet (2001, Pro Stock Motorcycle), Gene Wilson (2002, Pro Stock); Brandon Bernstein (2003, Top Fuel); Jason Line (2004, Pro Stock); Robert Hight (2005, Funny Car); J.R. Todd (2006, Top Fuel); and Ashley Force (2007, Funny Car).

NHRA Rookie of the Year winners prior to the merger of the two awards included the late Darrell Russell (2001, Top Fuel), Don Lampus (2000, Top Fuel), Scotty Cannon (1999, Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (1998, Pro Stock), Gary Scelzi (1997, Top Fuel) and co-winners in 1996, Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Matt Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Rookie drivers in all four of NHRA's professional categories are eligible to win the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award. More than 100 of the nation's most distinguished auto racing journalists will select the winner through a voting system based on the following criteria: number of events participated, performance on and off the race track, participation in NHRA promotions and relationships with fans, sponsors and media.

In addition to the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, the company is the title sponsor for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Nov. 13-16 at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The company also is a major sponsor for John Force Racing, providing primary sponsorship for the Mustang driven by Hight, as well as associate sponsorship for the Ford Mustangs driven by John and Ashley Force and Neff. In addition, the company is the presenting sponsor of the California Hot Rod Reunion presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California at Auto Club Famoso Raceway, as well as the presenting sponsor for the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.

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