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Mon, 22 Oct 2001, 02:34 PM

Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future
Courtesy of NHRA Communications

And Winston Rookie of the Year Award Nominees Announced

GLENDORA, Calif. -- The NHRA announced today the nominees for two of the most prestigious awards that will be given during the 2001 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series Awards Ceremony, Nov. 12 at Universal Amphitheatre near Hollywood.

Amato Racing Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider G.T. Tonglet headline the candidates nominated for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award and the Winston Rookie of the Year title. They are the only two contenders competing for Rookie of the Year honors.

Funny Car driver Bruce Sarver and Pro Stock driver Brad Jeter complete the list of finalists for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award.

Russell, 33, became only the third driver in Top Fuel history to score a victory in his first professional race when he beat Mike Dunn in the finals at the 2001 Winternationals. Russell, from Hockley, Texas, has finished runner-up five times since the victory and currently sits in sixth place in the Winston top-10 point standings.

Sarver, 39, also won at the 2001 Winternationals, beating Tony Pedregon in the finals. Sarver, from Bakersfield, Calif., is currently sixth in the Winston standings in just his second season in Funny Car competition. He has claimed one victory and one runner-up finish this season. Sarver spent three seasons (1996-'99) racing Top Fuel dragsters before he was hired by Alan Johnson to drive the Pontiac Firebird. Sarver's first career win was in 2000 at the Keystone Nationals when he defeated Ron Capps. He claimed a runner-up finish to John Force at the Auto Club NHRA Finals for a career-best ninth place finish in the Winston standings that season.

Jeter, 26, drives the Southern Rods Pontiac Grand Am for team owner Steve Schmidt. In just his second season of Pro Stock competition, the Greenville, S.C. native is currently 10th in the Winston standings. Jeter has two runner-up finishes - both to Warren Johnson - in his career. Jeter joined the Pro Stock ranks after grabbing four wins in eight final round appearances in Pro Stock Truck competition.

Tonglet became the youngest Pro Stock Motorcycle national event winner in NHRA history when he beat Shawn Gann in the finals of the 2001 Sears Craftsman Nationals in St. Louis. Tonglet, 18, has made two other final round showings this season, losing to three-time champ Matt Hines and Antron Brown. After 12 events, Tonglet is fifth in the standings.

The Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award has been given annually since 1996 and is accompanied by a $20,000 bonus check. The award is given to a NHRA competitor destined for future greatness. Tony Pedregon, Ron Capps, Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown and Melanie Troxel are the past winners.

"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 Winston Drag Racing," said Thomas V. McKernan, president and CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California. "We congratulate all 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."

The Winston Rookie of the Year award has been given annually since 1990 to the NHRA newcomer having the most impact on NHRA Winston Drag Racing. Past winners include Gary Scelzi, Matt Hines, Scotty Cannon, Larry Dixon, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Del Worsham, among others. The winner also is presented with a check for $20,000.

"The NHRA Winston Drag Racing Rookie of the Year award is one of the most prestigious awards in the sport," said Rick Sanders, president of Sports Marketing Enterprises. "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. Darrell Russell and G.T. Tonglet are both talented and worthy nominees for the 2001 title of NHRA Winston Rookie of the Year."

Several other special award presentations will be made during the awards ceremony, including the Don Prudhomme Award, Blaine Johnson Award, Manufacturer's Cup and the Truck Manufacturer's Cup. The top 10 drivers from NHRA's 50 Greatest Drivers list will be honored, as well as the top-10 drivers in each professional category for the 2001 season.

The public is once again invited to the event that will showcase current stars and legends of the NHRA as the 50th Anniversary season officially comes to a close. Contact NHRA at (800) 884-6472 for ticket information. For hotel information, please contact Lisa Hathaway at Motorsports Travel, (661) 266-2422.

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