LAS VEGAS - LAST CHANCE & PS SUPER BOWL
The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is hosting the Last-Chance Test Session for professional NHRA teams, including POWERade Drag Racing Series Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car and Pro Stocks Friday through Sunday. The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series teams will use this as a last-chance thrash to tune up their cars before the 2007 season begins in Pomona, Calif. The Torco's CompetitionPlus.com team will be on hand to bring you the same day notes.
'Evil animal' bites Day -- Back in the late 1970s and early- to mid-'80s, Chuck Worsham and Richard Day owned a Corvette Top Alcohol Funny Car nicknamed "The Screamer." But this weekend, The Screamer well might have been Day's son, James.
In pursuit of his nitro Funny Car license, James Day took a wild ride Saturday. Never mind that it registered a 7.280 elapsed time at 118.74, the second-best of his weekend (but still not within the prescribed 5.50 seconds or quicker and 250 mph or quicker). What he'll remember is that the pass left scrape marks along the right side of his unadorned Camaro body.
"The car took off. It made a small move to the right, and I brought it back. Then it made a violent move, and I made a typical rookie mistake. I stayed in it for about seven-tenths of a second, and I was talking with Tim Wilkerson about it and he said it should've been only about four-tenths," Day said of his brush with the wall.
That three-tenths-of-a-second difference is something Day, a former Top Alcohol Funny Car and dragster driver, said he's trying to get used to. "It's just getting used to moving that quickly. It was a real eye-opener. It showed me how hard and aggressive these things are," he said.
"It's an evil animal -- but I love it!" this godson of Chuck Worsham said, adding that he was born with nitro in his blood. "I should have been born a crack baby -- you could go to [the] Betty Ford [Clinic] for that."
Day, who married Don Schumacher's daughter Samantha a year ago January 7, drives for Diamond Bar, California, real-estate mogul Dave Smith. Chris Nance is his crew chief. So why didn't Day, who'll turn 29 at the end of this month, hook up with his father-in-law?
He said Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Del Worsham, Gary Densham and Tim Wilkerson all have befriended him and given him advice. He said while he certainly wouldn't turn down an opportunity with Schumacher Racing, he understands that's an established operation with enough responsibility on its hands.
"You've got to go out and do something. You can't just sit back and wish it'll happen. You can dream all you want to, but if you don't go out and promote yourself, you'll just be sitting in the grandstands," he said.
Day didn't make any passes Sunday, but he did get in the five-second range during the weekend, at 5.756 seconds and 177.02 mph. That performance was second-best Friday to Wilkerson's 5.469/181.01. After Day's wall-banging episode, he made passes of 11.800 and 12.002 Saturday.
He said he would like to get some experience in the 12-race International Hot Rod Association's e-Max Drag Racing Series.
Coughlin leads Sunday with 6.6 -- Jeg Coughlin Jr. turned in the quickest time Sunday among the Pro Stock drivers, a 6.679-second pass at a class-best 206.29 mph in the Slammers Ultimate Milk/Jeg's Chevy Cobalt. He was the only one to dip below 6.7, although Mopar Dodge Stratus driver Richie Stevens, his former teammate at Schumacher Racing, followed with a 6.707.
Kenny Koretsky, who qualified fourth Saturday for the Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown, had Sunday's third-best time -- a 6.711-second E.T. -- in the Nitro Fish Wear/Indicom Chevy Cobalt.
Best Sunday but wanting more -- Tommy Delago, making his first solo crew-chief debut this weekend, said of his Terminator Motorsports team, "We're experimenting with a lot of things." He said new Alan Johnson-built cylinder heads that he bought from Don Proteome "update our heads by six years." Maybe it was that. Maybe it was his tinkering with the six-disk clutch. Whatever Delago did, it worked for driver Bob Gilbertson, who put in Sunday's fastest time among Funny Car drivers.
Gilbertson's 5.090-second elapsed time (at 222.66 mph) is not where Delago wants the Autolite Spark Plugs/Prestone Antifreeze car to be this week at Pomona. He doesn't even want to be just 12-hundredths better. He knows that won't be competitive enough.
"If you run a (4.)78, you're not going to make the show," Delago said. "We need to learn how to run a 72 so we can make the show more often."
Gilbertson missed the cut at five events last season. He was runner-up to Ron Capps at Houston, though, on the way to a 16th-place finish. He was third in IHRA's final standings, behind champion Dale Creasy Jr. and runner-up Jack Wyatt.
"This is a major undertaking for both me and the team," Delago said. "It's my job to make sure we give Bob a safe, fast car that he can drive and win with,and it's going to be a lot of hard work. But I'm up to the challenge. My goal is to take this team to the next level and be able to compete with the bigger teams and make some noise in the Funny Car class."
Noise has been a bit of a problem recently for the Gilbertson team. However, this year, you won't hear them saying in frustration, "Hello -- hello -- can you hear me now?!" into their two-way radios. Nitro Radios, a division of RadioHead 2Way, announced it will supply Gilbertson and crew with two-way communications for both the NHRA and IHRA schedules.
"Nothing is tougher on radios than the extreme conditions that a nitro Funny Car produces, and this partnership with Gilbertson's team will help us improve our line of drag racing radios. We'll have a great test bed for our line of radios," company president Brad Smith said.
"Hooking up with Brad and Nitro Radios is going to be a big help to this team," Gilbertson said. "We've had a lot of problems with our radios in the past, but after seeing the new Motorola radios Brad hooked us with, I know that our radio issues are a thing of the past. Having clear, audible communication between the driver and crew chief is a big part of getting the car down the track and I look forward to being able to hear the radio over the noise produced by my 8,000 horsepower engine."
People and parts -- Preparing for the start of the 2007 season is as much a matter of finding the right personnel combination as it is finding the perfect set-up. Pro Stock veteran Kurt Johnson said he knows that and said that's what he and his father, six-time series champion Warren Johnson were fine-tuning this weekend.
"At-track chemistry" and "establishing a baseline" were the buzz-phrases in the ACDelco Cobalt Racing team pit at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"It's good to get back in the rhythm without the pressure of having to qualify or earn points towards the championship, KJ said. "It's a great dress rehearsal for Pomona."
He said he had planned to use the time productively. And he did.
Johnson's 6.727 elapsed time was fifth-best Sunday among 20 Pro Stock drivers. Greg Anderson also had a 6.727 E.T., but Johnson's speed was 205.88 to Anderson's 205.29 in the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GTO.
Johnson qualified 11th -- five places ahead of his father -- for the Pontiac Pro Stock showdown and was eventual winner Dave Connolly's first victim. However, Johnson gave him a close race and lost by just five-hundredths. And he had a commendable ,015 reaction time to beat Connolly off the starting line. KJ's 206.51 mph was the top speed during qualifying.
"We've been having fun," he said. "We've added a couple of younger guys to Dad's and my teams, which has created a little extra enthusiasm. We're able to train them to do things the way we like, which has proven to be effective over the years. In addition, Terry Adams has joined us and will be working with both teams, bringing a tremendous amount of experience with him. He's a real pro, which should prove extremely helpful over the course of the season.
"One of the most important elements in a successful racing effort is the attitude, and going into the season everyone on the ACDelco and GM Performance Parts crews has a great attitude. Hopefully, we’ll be able to reward their hard work with a few wins. We're certainly going to try."
Brogdon ready -- Larry Morgan had been an inspiration, the way he won the 2006 Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown and pocketed the $5,000 payoff for his Mopar Dodge team. Rodger Brogdon had hoped to do the same this weekend.
"Last year Larry Morgan stole all the thunder at this event in his Mopar, and we're looking forward to being just as much a thorn in the side of all the GM Racers this year," Brogdon said. "This should be fun."
Brogdon didn't qualify for the Showdown in his new Jerry Haas-built Dodge Stratus Saturday. Nevertheless, it was a valuable weekend for him, and he said, "I can’t wait to give everyone a real run for their money."
He was in a Pro Stock car for the first time, deprived of previous testing because of unexpectedly cold temperatures and adverse weather across the South. But this Houston-area home builder thinks big -- it's his Texas heritage.
"The car drives great. Jerry Haas has supplied me with a terrific vehicle for competition," Brogdon said. "And with the horsepower that we have from David Nickens, well, it will be up to Pete Smallwood and the rest of our team to get that horsepower to the ground.
"We planned on getting far more test laps in the car completed than we've been able to," Brogdon said. "But with each run down track, we've been able to advance our learning curve."
The former Comp Eliminator driver said, "Driving this 500-cubic-inch Mopar is certainly different than sitting behind the wheel of my high-winding small-block Comp car, and just getting acclimated to the demands this car makes in driving style will take some additional seat time to get used to. But nothing, and I mean nothing, intensifies the drive to learn like competition."
He might not have been able to deliver this weekend on his sly prediction that "I do believe we just might be able to show them a little something." But the season is just four days away, and he will have 23 races to mix it up with his new pro colleagues.
Crash course -- Hillary Will's scary crash Saturday came less than a week after Ashley Force's fireball at Phoenix. Will returned to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after being released from the hospital Saturday evening. She didn't make any passes Sunday.
Force and all her Castrol Ford Mustang teammates passed up the Las Vegas test session this weekend, but earlier last week, her father, John Force, talked about the incident at Firebird International Raceway.
"She had a nasty fire," the reigning and 14-time champion said. "She said, 'Dad, it exploded. I couldn't see anything.' She said, 'I triggered my bottles,' but it blew her windshield open. She got a little bit of smoke. She was gasping to breathe, and I felt so bad. It was scary for me, but she was like, 'How long do you think it will take to fix it?' She was like an hour and a half later back in the staging lanes. It was a nasty fire."
Despite the scares and the extra work, he said he is having an enjoyable time. "It's so much more of a job … but I'm having fun. I'm out here with my teams. My daughter's with me. It's great to get up in the morning and see her because so many years on the road I never saw her. So I'm a happy camper right now."
Tony Schumacher, the current Top Fuel champion, said of Ashley Force, "She, in my opinion, probably paid more dues than most of the people out there who have had a chance to drive a fuel car. She has been in the Super Comps and Alcohol for years and driven Funny Cars for a few years testing and testing. That's pretty cool. Who has really gone through that much? So by the time it's time for her [to make her pro debut] in Pomona, to step off the clutch, whoever is on the other side had better respect the fact that she may give them a whoopin'."
Secrets shared -- In talking with reporters earlier last week, Tony Schumacher qualified his pleasure at being the driver in a one-car team this season. "I'm as happy as I could be . . . [crew chief] Alan Johnson is the best in the business, and to give that information away, I'm just not that happy about it."
Former teammate Melanie Troxel and her crew chief, Richard Hogan, are in the Evan Knoll/Torco stable this year, locked into a technology-sharing agreement with Morgan Lucas Racing.
New routine, new goals -- Clay Millican knows one thing for sure about the man he calls "Mr. Evan Knoll" -- Mr. Evan Knoll is a man of his word.
"One day when I was walking through the pits," Millican recalled, "Evan said he wanted to talk to me. 'Do you know how many millions I've spent to beat you?' he said. 'Since I couldn't beat you, I'm going to own you.' "
And Knoll added the Top Fuel team to his growing empire, purchasing the operation from principal owner Kenny Koretsky Motorsports. It was the second ownership change for Millican in the past couple of years, but this move means an entirely new chapter in Millican's career.
The six-time International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel champion, who leaves his familiar surroundings with 50 victories and the half-dozen consecutive titles, will run all 23 Powerade Drag Racing Series events in his newly renamed Knoll Gas/Torco Dragster.
"We are excited to be running all the NHRA races this year," Millican said. "I want to thank Evan Knoll for giving us the opportunity. We also have been able to do a lot of testing, and that has been good for me. I get to drive the car, get to stage it, and get good looks at the Christmas tree before we go to Pomona.
"Testing also has been good for the guys who work on the car, because they will be fully prepared when it comes time to go rounds on Sundays. We'll be in mid-season form. Mike [longtime Millican crew chief Kloeber] has been working hard. We want to be able to play with the big boys."
That might sound like Millican never has competed in the NHRA. He has, though, earning three runner-up finishes in 60 races, 46 of which have come in the past four seasons.
One thing will be new, though. The team has added a technology trailer to compete better with his new full-time rivals. "We'll be able to service our equipment and carry more spare parts with the new trailer. We want to be competitive right from the get-go. We'll be running for the championship, so we’ve got to be prepared. We know the rest of the teams are going to be prepared," Millican said.
"Evan Knoll has given us the opportunity to make the transition to NHRA," he said. "It's a pretty rare occasion when your team owner is your sponsor. At the same time, we want to thank our former owner, Kenny Koretsky. Kenny was looking out for our team's best interests. He wanted us to be able to raise our level of competition . . . and that was pretty cool."
The team attended the Nitro Blast-Off at Las Vegas and went to Phoenix, where, frankly, it lost valuable testing time worrying about Rod Fuller's car debuting the modernized monostrut wing stand Kloeber had been working to develop and had hoped to be the first to run. All in all, Millican said, his dragster will be ready for the season kick-off this coming week.
And how could he not be looking forward to that? His sixth IHRA championship didn't come easily last year. He experienced a dip in performance and was trailing Doug Foley late in the season, until Foley had a serious accident that sidelined him for the rest of the year. But those problems seem to be behind him, he said.
"The car and engine are definitely happier than they were last year," Millican said. "The performance was back the way it was in 2005. And Mike hasn't really tuned it up yet. He just wanted to make sure the car went down the race track so he could gather more information. He has been changing a lot of stuff, and there's a lot of stuff he still wants to try.
"Somewhere along the way last year, we obviously got off-track. We are determined to be going in the right direction . . . and it looks like that's what we’re doing. All of us know we must run better this year."
Millican's 2006 NHRA record reflects the difficulty he was having in IHRA's eight-car competition. He failed to qualify only four times in 48 previous races. But he didn't make the 16-car field an uncharacteristic five times in 13 appearances last year.
"I know this team is a group of winners, and we have to go out there and do what we've always done – be as prepared as we can be," he said. "I have no doubt we can win races, and that's what we're planning on doing, winning races and making the new Countdown to the Championship. It should be a fun year."
Homework pays off -- Cory McClenathan' said Carrier Boyz Racing crew chief Wes Cerny and assistant crew chief Tony Shortall “worked on different parts on the car and the tune-up since our last race in November.”
And everybody noticed that they had been doing their homework back in the Brownsburg, Indiana, shop during the winter. McClenathan made his quickest quarter-mile run – 4.473 seconds, second-best during last week’s test sessions at Chandler, Arizona. Earlier, the veteran driver posted his fastest speed, 333.16 mph, on a 4.514-second lap.
His final tune-up for the season-opener at Pomona, California, was a 4.823-second pass at 247.16 -- fastest and second-quickest Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the Last Chance Test Session.
"Our performance showed a lot of promise, and we should only get better. Wes wanted to try different setups ,so he kept making changes. He learned a lot," McClenathan said. "I’m proud of everyone on the team. The car’s new paint scheme looks really cool. I’m really looking forward to Pomona.”
McClenathan, who'll be starting his 16th drag-racing season, grew up in Southern California and considers the newly renamed Auto Club Raceway at Pomona his home track. He won there in 1992 and 2002 . At the track, he also was runner-up in 1994 in the November Finals and twice reached the final round pf the Winternationals in 1994 and 2003.
“This was a great way to start the new season,” McClenathan said. “We are excited, because we have a new Brad Hadman race car and new clutch pieces and everything has been working like it’s supposed to.”
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Will's Crash - From the cockpit forward, the Attac chassis of Hillary Will's Top Fuel dragster didn't look too worse for wear.
However, the left half of its rear wing was sheared off, the engine was destroyed, the supercharger fried, crushed headers lay twisted and bent, and her shrapnel-strewn pit area indicated Will was a lucky young lady following her frightening accident Saturday afternoon during the Last Chance Test Session.
And if the nasty bruise she sustained is no more than a symbol of sophomore struggle, Will is expected to be back in the KB Racing LLC-owned, Kalitta Motorsports Dragster this coming weekend at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, California.
Despite her preference to stay at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Will was transported to University Medical Center for assessment. She was treated and released within a couple of hours and returned to the track.
The California native based in Ypsilanti, Michigan rode out the top-end crash, registering a 4.66-second elapsed time, and she was alert and talking with emergency personnel immediately afterward.
"She's being checked out. She has a pretty good bruise on her arm but other than that, she wasn't complaining about anything," car owner Ken Black said by mobile phone from the hospital. "She was conscious the whole time. She's not sure what happened."
Her dragster got sideways at around the 1,000-foot mark, traveling more than 290 mph. Details are sketchy about the cause of the crash, which spewed parts across the track and over the wall.
"The motor flew over the fence on the right side," Black said by mobile phone from the hospital. "Someone told me he thought it went 100 feet in the air. My heart went up to my throat."
"The car did its job. It broke apart [where it was supposed to]," he said. The rail broke apart just behind the cockpit enclosure.
"The roll cage didn't look that bad. I don't know if the car rolled or what, but whatever happened, she landed right-side up," the team owner said. "I was surprised how far it slid. She went almost to the sand trap, to the turn-off point."
Black said initial speculation was that the tires began to experience trouble at about 700-800 feet.
"The tires never came off the rim,' he said, but he indicated the tread came off a tire -- he guessed on the left side -- and took out at least part of the rear wing.
As for the cause of the incident, Black said, "They're not 100 percent sure, The NHRA guys are on it. The Goodyear guys are on it."
He said barring a sidelining injury, Will likely will be at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona beginning Thursday.
"If she wants to hop back in the car, we'll do it. It'll be up to her," Black said.
The Attac chassis, which appeared to have done its job, is the handiwork of Michigan builder Chuck Lett, who has crafted dragsters fulltime since 1997.
THE AFTERMATH BY THE 1320TV.COM
And he said he's hoping for a little deja-vu. "When I won in '05, I went on to Pomona and won there. I hope that pans out the same way," he said.
Connolly, the No. 6 qualifier, won a close final-round drag race against two-time series champion Jim Yates, the No. 12 entrant, and earned the $5,000 winner's share. He drove his Torco/Slammers Ultimate Milk Chevy Cobalt to a 6.714-second elapsed time at 204.91 to Yates' 6.742/204.91.
"Actually we were on a very good run down low," he said. "But obviously the air temperature took over and kind of made it a little slick down track. And it got us pretty loose in third and fourth gear. But I think it would have gone 69 (6.69 seconds) or something like that if the track temperature wasn't so low."
The victory was coup for the Cagnazzi organization, which has provided Connolly a full in-house racing package this season. "It's the first win for one of their cars, so that makes you feel a little extra special," he said, acknowledging chassis builder Todd Bevis.
The race doesn't count toward the Powerade championship, but that didn't matter to Connolly.
"Some people say, 'Ah-- that's not for points.' But every drag racer wants to win every race. It's definitely a morale-booster. Pretty much every car out here is going to be at Pomona at the beginning of the season. To come out on top and run pretty consistent all day is definitely a morale-booster for me and the whole team, all the guys at Cagnazzi. But just because we won today doesn't mean that they're going to roll over, by any means," Connolly said.
Just the same, he said, "I feel like we have all the pieces in order to have a great season."
Connolly credited his entire team and cited Cagnazzi Racing engine experts Steve Johns and Joe Hornick and team owner Evan Knoll.
Connolly, an Elyria, Ohio, native, has moved to Florida, where he is close to the Bradenton drag strip at which he tested three days in December. He also tested for five days in Gainesville, Florida, the second week in January.
He's a teammate to fellow Ohioan Jeg Coughlin Jr., and he said the two-time Pro Stock champion has had an influence on him.
"He's a stand-up guy, just like everybody on our team," he said. "The driving ability I have has come a lot from him."
Not as triumphant a return -- Jason Line had a much more successful weekend in his previous trip to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In that October 2006 appearance, he clinched his first Powerade Pro Stock championship and won the ACDelco Nationals. But Max Naylor spoiled his momentum here at Las Vegas, eliminating him with a 6.741-second pass at 204.42 mph. Line's 6.769-second E.T. wasn't enough for the higher-qualified Naylor in a battle of the Nos. 8 and 9 drivers, but his 205.51-mph speed was best of the round.
Six-six no guarantee -- Allen Johnson set low elapsed time of the first round of the Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown and used his 6.698-second effort to defeat Mopar Dodge Stratus teammate Richie Stevens (6.754/204.54). His was the only 6.6-second E.T. , but it carried him no farther. Johnson lost power midway through his second-round run against Mike Edwards and coasted to a 12.651-second clocking.
Perfect -- Mike Edwards had a perfect .000-second reaction time to propel him to an opening-round victory over Tom Martino, who had a .006 light himself. Edwards won the match-up, 6.735 seconds at 204.54 mph to Martino's 6.746/204.54.
Can't fix unqualified -- Pontiac had some positive news before its Pro Stock Showdown began. It wouldn't have to give any more of its money to Dodge driver Larry Morgan, last year's race winner. Morgan failed to qualify for the 16-car field. He was 23rd among the 24 entrants, with a qualifying effort of 6.791 seconds at 203.89. His speed was fastest of all the non-qualifiers.
Max's excellent adventure -- Max Naylor's excellent adventure ended with a mechanical malfunction in the semifinals of the Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown. The driver of the Jagermeister Dodge Stratus qualified in the top half of the field and advanced by using starting-line advantages to beat reigning series champion Jason Line in the first round and Warren Johnson in the quarter-finals.
"He did a great job today. That team's going to get better and better," winner Dave Connolly said.
Rice kicks off NHRA career -- Erica Enders had to drop out of the Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown because of a broken valve. She had qualified her Dodge Stratus 14th in the 16-car line-up with a 6.733-second pass at 203.95 mph. However, her crew discovered the mechanical problem after they returned to the pits and determined that it couldn't be fixed by the opening round of the specialty race.
That allowed Dwayne Rice to put his Pontiac GTO into the show. He had missed the cut because of his speed. He had an identical elapsed time to bubble-sitter Warren Johnson's: 6.767 seconds. But Johnson did it with a 205.47-mph speed, and Rice ran it with a 203.61.
Rice, of Grove City, Ohio, is making his NHRA debut. He was one of four International Hot Rod Association GM drivers who were the first to drive the GTO in competition, at San Antonio last March.
Rice had a respectable 6.802-second performance at 204.43 mph in the opening round. But Greg Stanfield beat him with a 6.739-second elapsed time at 204.66 mph.
Missed the cut -- Also missing the field for the Pro Stock were Ben Watson, Ron Krisher, Tony Rizzo, Rodger Brogdon, Justin Humphreys, and Tom Hammonds.
Coughlin has lots on plate -- "We've got plenty of horsepower but we're missing our set-up just a little bit," Jeg Coughlin Jr. said after his quarter-final finish in the Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown. "We're steadily making progress, but we're not exactly where we want to be just yet. We've got our work cut out for us since the roll call for Pomona begins in less than a week. I'm not disappointed, though. Our primary goal this weekend was to make some runs and learn how to tune this car. Once we're able to consistently get the horsepower to the ground, we're going to have one fast hot rod."
Coughlin qualified 13th in the 16-car field with a 6.732 elapsed time and defeated No. 4 qualifier Kenny Koretsky in the opening round before losing a close race against Jim Yates, 6.732 seconds to 6.768.
Coughlin also made several runs in his brother John's Jegs.com Chevy Cavalier Super Stock car. Racing on an index of 10.00-seconds, Coughlin made numerous runs in the 8.8-second range at more than 150-mph. Coughlin plans to race in both Pro Stock and Super Stock at next week's season-opening Carquest Winternationals in Pomona, where he will try to become just the ninth driver to win two eliminator titles at the same race.
"We made a few minor adjustments to this car, and it appears to be responding very well," Coughlin said. He drove the car to victory at the 2003 St. Louis event, his last Super Stock victory. "It has been a very competitive car for a number of years," he said, "and I'm really looking forward to racing it in at a few races this season.”
Man on a mission -- Lanny Miglizzi knocks himself out, crawling, kneeling, lying down, virtually wallowing in the grease and gunk on the racing surface before and during a race on behalf of Don Schumacher Racing and each of its Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle teams. But this weekend, he was here on a DSR-related assignment only indirectly.
"I'm on my own mission," he said. "I'm hungry for data."
So this track-reading specialist, who has is soul and his sole into the sport, was at Las Vegas, trying out some new shoes, along with new track-temperature guns.
Miglizzi, admittedly hard on shoes, clothing, and equipment because he uses them to the fullest extent, said he wore out two pairs of shoes since the national event last fall at Virginia Motorsports Park. Instead of tire-chunking, he said, he had a critical case of "shoe-chunking."
He had worn out his shoes at the Viriginia, fall Las Vegas, and Finals at Pomona national events, and they couldn't make it past the first Las Vegas and Phoenix 2007 tests. Oh, and in between the Phoenix and final Las Vegas test sessions, he spent a couple of days at Pomona, studying the latest idiosyncrasies of the track where the season will start this coming week.
He said Mark Ingersoll, crew chief for the Mopar Dodge Pro Stock team of Richie Stevens and Allen Johnson "really don't need help. He can do it on his own."
Miglizzi said he alternates between Oakley- and Impact Racing-brand shoes and said when he finds an appropriate pair, he'll buy five of the same kind.
"Shoes are important," he said. "You're trying to tell a crew chief about a half-gram difference in the race track, so you have t have shoes that help you feel the track."
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK -
Pro Stock prelude -- Jeg Coughlin Jr., in the Cagnazzi Racing '07 Cobalt, and Greg Stanfield, in his '06 Pontiac GTO, were the only Pro Stock drivers in the 6.69-second range during Friday's prelude to the Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown. The specialty race will get under way at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Rounding out the top five elapsed times Friday were Dave Connolly's 6.711-second run, Kurt Johnson's 6.732, and V Gaines' 6.740.
Larry Morgan, the defending Pro Stock Showdown champion, turned in the 12th-best performance Friday, with a 6.775-second E.T. In his Dodge Stratus.
Hot commodity -- Fire was not what Hannes Wernhart wanted to see again for a long time, let alone his first time back in a race car.
But the agricultural innovator from Bakersfield, California, who ironically drives for TNT Motorsports, saw his Firebird nitro Funny Car erupt into flames just 100-150 feet off the starting line Friday afternoon.
The flash fire didn't injure Wernhart, but it signaled an unfortunate start to the 2007 season for the California Crude Oil-sponsored team. And it brought back memories of his fiery accident at Famoso Raceway in a Division 7 Top Alcohol Funny Car race May 22, 2005 -- the last time he drove a race car.
"We don't know what happened for sure, maybe something with the valve train," Wernhart said. "It backfired through the manifold. It went 'Boom!' and blew the blower off. We broke something."
But he shrugged off the setback, saying, "If you want to be in this world, you've got to be able to take this kind of stuff. If you put nitro in your motor, sometimes it gets upset with you."
Wernhart is an Austrian citizen from near Vienna who moved to the United States at age 17. He settled into a farmer's life in California, growing almonds, watermelons, and avocados and smaller yields of onions and potatoes. But he has shifted his focus to his Onion King Harvesting enterprise, designing, developing and marketing his onion-harvesting machine. Vocal about The American Dream, Wernhart is in the process of becoming a U.S. Citizen.
Just as planned -- J.R. Todd had a couple of planned shortened runs in Dexter Tuttle's Torco/Skull Shine Dragster Friday. "We'll probably run some full passes tomorrow," the 2006 Rookie of the Year said. "This is just our first weekend out, so we're just shakin' everything down." Todd improved on his 7.796-second, 90.52-mph first run with a 5.832-second elapsed time at 146.85 mph later in the afternoon. Todd said his Jimmy Walsh-tuned team plans to take delivery of a new car sometime near the second race of the season, the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at Firebird Raceway at Chandler, Arizona.
Breaking cycle of abuse -- Fourteen-time and reigning Funny
Car champion John Force is aware that Ron Capps could be more dangerous
than ever in 2007. He recognizes that Capps is a man who, like Gary
Scelzi and Pedregon brothers Cruz and Tony, could replace him as the
"I guarantee you, Ron Capps, he's had three years of getting smacked around, and he's going to have focus," Force said. "He's got a good race team."
Capps finished third in the standings, on the strength of a class-leading five victories.
Still part of the team -- Tommy Lee made it to the starting line Friday at Las Vegas. But he wasn't in the Slammers Ultimate Milk Pro Stock Chevy Cobalt, like he was this time last year. He vacated the driver's seat when two-time class champion Jeg Coughlin returned to competition after a brief hiatus. Lee still is working full-time on the team, which includes Dave Connolly.
New to the team -- Jerry Eckman, who has worked for the last couple of seasons for Kenny Koretsky's Pro Stock operation, has joined the crew of Tom Hammonds' new Pro Stock team.
Running strong -- Kenny Bernstein, who fulfilled the cross-grading requirements to earn his Funny Car license Thursday at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix, remained in Arizona. He rented the track Friday and certainly seemed to enjoy having it to himself. He ran a 4.79-second elapsed time at 323 mph Friday and said he was ecstatic with the way his Monster Energy Dodge Charger is performing lately.
If it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a drag-racing community to help a six-time champion over a difficult bump in the road. John Force, who asked his trio of top-drawer crew chiefs to help Monster Energy/Lucas Oil co-crew chiefs Ray Alley and Johnny West refine their tune-up, and Gary Scelzi, who offered an incredible supply of encouragement, led the brigade and were the ones to sign Bernstein's license.
"I want to especially thank John Force, who is a great champion with a great heart," Bernstein said. "John watched us struggle with tire shake over the weekend and was so gracious to send Austin Coil, John Medlen, and Bernie Fedderly, a great part of his brain trust, over to lend us assistance. Without their help, and without Gary Scelzi, I don't know if we would have accomplished what we have."
He said that during testing, "we shake, rattled, and did everything but roll, including losing a few battles with the race-track cones. The shake was so severe it was blinding. After a few days of this at Firebird Raceway, we got some help from some friends.
"Also, we want to extend a big thanks to all the drivers over the weekend who were so helpful and supportive. I am proud to be a member of the NHRA drag-racing family and humbled by all those who came to our aid," he said.
Bernstein also praised his newly assembled crew. "Now our team can turn our focus to other areas to prepare for the season-opener at Pomona," he said. "The team has worked untold hours to get our Monster Energy/Lucas Oil car on the ground and down the drag strip. They deserve a big tip of the helmet."
He acknowledged that at times his enthusiasm for a project overrides the knowledge of just how enormous a task really is. And that was true, he said, of building this Monster Energy/Lucas Oil team and preparing for the next weekend's CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
"Before we made our comeback announcement last summer," Bernstein said, "I knew our Monster sponsorship was going to come together, and I had already had Murf McKinney building the Funny Car chassis and had orders in on some of the rolling equipment. For months, I made to-do notes on my yellow legal tablet and didn't get much sleep. It seemed my brain was always switched on.
"Remember -- we didn't have the first Mac tool or toolbox," he said.
Bernstein said Alley and West, and the entire team worked well into the night seven days a week to get the race car, transporter, and support vehicles on the road to testing. "And [wife] Sheryl has put in a tremendous amount of time, designing hospitality and race-trailer interiors and team uniforms, and attending to what must be millions of details," he said. "In fact, the entire staff at Kenny Bernstein Racing has pulled together to help launch the Monster Energy/Lucas Oil Funny Car team."
Bernstein marveled at the idea of gathering Force and Scelzi to help with his dilemma. "That's pretty stout when you think about it," he said. "John has an unprecedented 14 Funny Car championships, Gary has four titles, and I have six. That’s a total of 24 years of championships.
"I am very excited about getting back in the race car," he said. "When the car goes down the track instead of sashaying or shaking, it's like sliding back into a comfortable pair of shoes."
He even expressed excitement about the black paint scheme with the signature green Monster "M" claw, calling it "spectacular." He said it has "led to the motto 'Bernstein is back in black.'
"We have our fingers crossed that we will have a respectable season this year and find our way to winners circle a few times. We'll see what fate awaits us when the season kicks off."
Herbert hosting open house -- Doug Herbert was not among the few Top Fuel drivers who chose to participate in this weekend's Last Chance Test Session. He went home to Lincolnton, North Carolina, to host his annual Open House at Doug Herbert Performance Center.
"I started out behind the counter of a hot-rod shop, helping customers," Herbert said. "It's for me to get out from behind the desk and talk to the customers about go-fast parts and the race team. The open house is always a good time, and I look forward to it every year."
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The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is hosting the Last-Chance Test Session
for professional NHRA teams, including POWERade Drag Racing Series Top Fuel
Dragster, Funny Car and Pro Stocks Friday through Sunday. The NHRA POWERade
Drag Racing Series teams will use this as a last-chance thrash to tune up their
cars before the 2007 season begins in Pomona, Calif.
A free autograph session featuring the stars of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing
Series will take place on Friday, Feb. 2, from 8-9 p.m. at the South Pointe
Hotel & Casino at 9777 Las Vegas Blvd. South in Las Vegas. The autograph
session will take place in the Del Mar Lounge near the South Point's sports book
and all NHRA Pro Stock drivers, including 2006 champion Jason Line, will
participate. A number of NHRA Funny Car and Top Fuel drivers are expected to
participate as well.
The Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown will take place on Saturday during the
three-day Last-Chance Test Session and the first 1,000 fans through the
spectator gates will receive a free Pontiac Motorsports hat and souvenir
Since every ticket also is a pit pass, fans in attendance will be able to see
their favorite drivers and cars as they make final preparations for the grueling
For more information, please call The Strip's office at (702) 632-8213 or visit www.LVMS.com.
Friday, Feb. 2 - Free NHRA driver autograph session at the South Point Hotel & Casino - 8-9 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 2 - Last Chance Test Session - 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 3 – Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown / Last Chance Test Session – 9 a.m.-5 p.m. – The first 1,000 fans through the spectator gates will receive a free Pontiac hat.
Sunday, Feb. 4 – Last Chance Test Session – 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
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a d v e r t i s e m e n t
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a d v e r t i s e m e n t
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