This weekend at NHRA’s Mile-High Nationals, there are only 16 Top Fuel dragsters competing.
That means all the drivers will qualify for the 16-car eliminations Sunday.
For the powerhouse teams like Don Schumacher Racing that may not be a big deal, but for part-time driver Scott Palmer it is welcomed.
Palmer was the first Top Fuel dragster to qualify Friday. He struck the tires about 100 feet out and clocked 6.865-second run.
“We are just trying to make it to the finish line and make nice respectable runs here because these conditions are for experienced crew chiefs, these are not for guys like me,” said Palmer, who didn’t improve on that elapsed time on his second qualifying pass Friday night. “I just have to be careful and not do anything stupid. On Sunday, anything goes here. This is going to be a tricky race track on Sunday because it is going to be so hot.”
Terry McMillen, who is 12th in the points, also sees the benefits of only have 16 Top Fuel competitors at Bandimere.
“I think it helps a team like us (when there are only 16 competitors),” McMillen said. “If we decide to go half track and take a look at the motor, there is no pressure because we are still in the show. For us smaller teams, I think it is a benefit because we do not have to kill our stuff to find out.”
McMillen did far more than make half track passes Friday. He came out of the box and ran a 3.947-second lap at 314.75 mph. McMillen’s run was more impressive considering he failed to qualify at Norwalk, Ohio, the last national event.
“I told Terry if we ran a 98 or 99, I would be thrilled to death,” said Richard Hartman, McMillen’s crew chief. “I told Terry if he felt anything (during the run) to shut it off and obviously he didn’t feel anything. That (314.75 mph) is pretty stout. We can’t run that at sea level.”
McMillen proved his initial run wasn’t a fluke by running a better 3.930-second lap in Friday’s night session. That left him No. 4 on the qualifying ladder.
McMillen’s two runs were even more important because of his hectic Saturday schedule.
McMillen is flying on a Kalitta Lear jet Saturday morning around 5 a.m. Mountain Time from Rocky Mountain International Airport to Las Vegas to make a speech at the Bio Med National Convention at the Bellagio Resort in Vegas. Lou Holtz and McMillen are the featured speakers at the convention Saturday. McMillen is expected to be on the ground in Las Vegas for only an hour. He will board the Kalitta Lear Jet and is expected to be back in time for the third qualifying session at 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time.
Morgan Lucas, who runs his Morgan Lucas Racing two-car Top Fuel team, isn’t complaining about Bandimere only having 16 Top Fuel dragsters entered. Brandon Bernstein is Lucas’ teammate.
“Thank God this the one race of the year where we only have 16 cars show up,” said Lucas, who is fifth in the point standings. “But, at the same time it just probably really expensive for a lot of these non-touring teams to make all the changes it takes to come up on the mountain to run. I have to say the Bandimeres do a great job putting on the event and just give us a great place to race.”
Bernstein and Lucas qualified No. 5 and No. 7 Friday at 3.947 and 4.002 seconds.
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