GATORNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK -
BEAUTIFUL WEATHER, AGAIN- The spectacular Florida weather continued for Sunday's eliminations at the 38th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals. Sportsman racing began at 8 a.m. under clear skies, bright sunshine and air temperatures in the 40-degree range. The parking lots were half-full by 7:30 in the morning and all roads leading into Gainesville Raceway were packed with quarter-mile faithful eager to witness the day's racing.
THE FAN - Ryan Langham, 15, of Fort Myers, Fla., won the third round of the NHRA POWERade Fan Nationals. Langham defeated hundreds of area fans, including five returning champions, to claim the victory, driving realistic POWERade Funny Car simulators. He/She will have the opportunity to race for the ultimate title of 2007 POWERade Fan Nationals Series champion in November at the 43rd Annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California.
PASSING GARLITS- Tony Schumacher's 35 career NHRA national event victory moved him up to fourth on the all-time Top Fuel win list, passing the legend 'Big Daddy' Don Garlits. The huge moment was not lost on Schumacher.
"It's unbelievable," said 'the Sarge'. "In all fairness, when he raced there just weren't as many races. It's great to hear it but that man is still the man. He is still 'Big Daddy'. He's still the king of the world. I hate to take away that statistic on him on the same run where he saved my butt, because had I been in behind that [engine] I would have had that injector in my lap. It was kind a bittersweet moment for me."
Schumacher added, "Gainesville is huge; it's such a fun race to win with packed solid crowds in sunny Florida. I'm going back home and tonight I'll be in the snow in Chicago, so this place is such a pleasure to be at winning just extends it. This is a big race and this one means a lot to me. This race, on my list is about second. With it's packed stands, sunny Florida, beautiful, great trophy."
SEEING DOUBLE- The first pair of Top Fuel cars to go down the Gainesville Raceway quarter-mile were driven by Morgan Lucas and Bruce Litton, both sponsored by Lucas Oil. Litton took the upset victory with a career-best run of 4.585 at 329.18 mph. Lucas was the only Top Fuel car with lane choice to choose the left lane in the first round and it may have cost him. Adding insult to injury, Lucas lost on a holeshot when Litton beat him off the starting line with a 054. to .136 reaction time.
"You're always excited when you qualify well," said Litton. "But the bad thing is that out of all the cars that were here, I had to race Morgan. I don't like to race my sponsor's car and Morgan's a great kid. But we just went out to do our best. The car ran tremendously, that was my career best E.T. and mile per hour. It picked the tires up at half track and was running 272 mph and I knew it was on a really good run. The car went so fast it blew the mud flaps off of the car. We're really tickled with it. We went out and shook the tires on our second run so it wasn't meant to be."
KALITTA THREESOME- All three Kalitta Motorsports dragsters advanced to the quarterfinals but in very different ways. Doug Kalitta won his race on a holeshot over Cory McClenathan. Hillary Will beat Doug Herbert, despite losing a blower belt at the top end and almost getting nipped at the finish line. David Grubnic defeated Bob Vandergriff, despite shaking and smoking the tires, forcing him to pedal the car. Unfortunately, none of the three made it to the semifinals.
HOLESHOT HEAVEN- Three Top Fuel drivers earned their paychecks during the first round. Bruce Litton, Doug Kalitta and No. 1 qualifier Larry Dixon all won via holeshots, running slower than their opponents but still taking the victory with a quicker reaction time off the starting line.
ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR- In a rare occurrence for the competitive, unpredictable world of Top Fuel racing, the top four qualifiers in the 16-car field all advanced to the quarterfinals.
SURPRISE, SURPRISE- "If you're good and not lucky you don't get anywhere and I'd rather be bad and very lucky," admitted a surprised Larry Dixon following a pair of runs where his motor quit early and he coasted across the finish line.
"It shot out there really good and carried the front tires for a while and when the clutch came in, man, it blew the tires off hard and it didn't even give me enough time to get back out of it and it knocked the belt right off of it." said Dixon following his semifinal win. "I said 'here we go again' and kept waiting for Bazemore to come around me but we were fortunate enough to get the round win." Dixon lost to Tony Schumacher in the final round."
BAZEMORE EXPECTING MORE- By all accounts Whit Bazemore, the driver of the Lee Beard-tuned Matco Tools Top fuel Dragster, has had a great start to the 2007 POWERade Drag racing season. Especially when you consider that technically Bazemore is a rookie, despite spending many years driving a fuel Funny Car. After three races Bazemore has reached the quarterfinals once and the semifinals twice, including Sunday at the Gatornationals. But when talking to Bazemore you can tell that he might not be as surprised as some people.
Actually, without trying to sound too arrogant, we're kind of running under our expectations. It doesn't mean we're not happy, because we are. The car has been very competitive but we're still a couple hundredths of a second behind where we want to be. We're managing to go rounds and the Matco Tools car is strong, but we're not as strong as we can be. We certainly aren't as strong as our teammate Rod Fuller's car and that alone tells you we still have some work to do. We're going to test here tomorrow.
CAPPS CONQUERS GAINESVILLE (AGAIN)- Ron Capps drove the Brut Revolution Dodge Charger RT to the Gatornationals Funny car title for the second year in a row, joining an exclusive company of drivers in the process. Capps became the fourth driver to have won the prestigious East Coast opener back to back, adding his name to the list of greats Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme and Frank Hawley.
"We saw a lot treacherous conditions out there today," said Capps, "there were cars hitting the wall and a lot of good teams were having a hard time. But my job was made so easy by (crew chief) Ace McCulloch and the Brut Revolution crew guys. The car was a dream to drive all day. It made my job so easy. And we didn't just go down the track, we hauled the mail on every run. It was a great job."
Capps summed up the enormity of winning in Gainesville. "Its one of the few races that is just called the 'Gators,' how many races do we have that are call just by one name. This is one of the races you grow up as a kid reading about Garlits, Ace, Schumacher, Snake and Mongoose, I mean everybody. This is a big deal."
Capps couldn't have prepared himself for a driver like runner-up, Phil Burkart, who was in the right place at the right time all day.
"I feared that car in the final more than several cars we ran today to be honest with you. He ran good, he didn't back into it. Not to disrespect any cars we raced but I told the guys this was the hardest round we ran all day. We knew he was going to go down the track and he was probably going to run a 4.80, which he did. That was a scary final round, I don't like those."
FUTURE TRIVIA QUESTION- Who was the first driver that Ashley Force beat in a fuel Funny Car? Drag racing trivia buffs will want to remember the name Jeff Arend, who was the driver that Ashley defeated in round one with a 4.780 at 315.49 mph to take her first Professional victory. It was also her fifth consecutive round win at the Gatornationals, including her victory in Top Alcohol dragster one year ago.
"I'm getting to love Gainesville," said Ashley after the benchmark victory. "I have a really great team, Guido is an awesome crew chief and it's his birthday weekend so I really wanted to perform well. My guys are so pumped up, we were doing all kinds of handshakes before the run because we thought 'we've got a lot of practice in, we've done a lot of testing and we just need to go out there and do what we were trained to do'. And that's to make good laps down the track and we did it.”
Ashley's day turned ugly in the second round when she tagged the wall and was disqualified.
MORE LEFT LANE WOES- Cruz Pedegron was the only Funny Car to choose the left lane, which has been tricky all weekend. Besides losing the run, Pedregon also tagged the wall near the top end when his car took a hard left turn, tearing off the rear quarter panel of the Advance Auto Parts body. Both fuel cars (Pedregon and Top Fuel driver Morgan Lucas) with lane choice that took the left lane were defeated.
SPECIAL GUESTS- Don Schumacher Racing hosted a pair of special guests at the Gatornationals on Sunday. Motocross champion James Stewart from Winter Haven, Fla. was a guest of Ron Capps, driver of the Brut Revolution Dodge RT Funny Car. Chopper Inc's Billy Lane, a popular custom bike builder, was special guest of Oakley, one of DSR's major corporate backers. Capps also entertained members of the Jacksonville, Florida-based rock band .38 Special.
THIRD TIMES A …Robert Hight has driven his Auto Club of Southern California Ford to the No. 1 qualifying spot at the last two races and made the two quickest runs in NHRA history this season, but he has still failed to take home a Wally. Hight lost in the second round after smoking the tires against Jim Head.
RUBBIN' AIN'T RACING- NASCAR fans know a little rubbing is a part of racing, whether it’s up against the wall or another car. But that is certainly not the case in NHRA drag racing. Funny Car featured three races that involved cars tagging the wall, including a pair of John Force cars that both hit the wall in opposite lanes during the quarterfinals. Eric Medlen hit the wall hard in the right lane and Kenny Bernstein took his second round victory of the year. Then during the very next pair to race, Ashley Force smacked the Gainesville concrete wall in the left lane as she appeared to be cruising to her second career round victory. The foul handed the victory to a tire-smoking Phil Burkart driving the FX Caprara Kia Automobile Dealership-sponsored flopper tuned and owned by Florida tuning wizard, Paul Smith.
RACK ONE UP- Ron Capps trip into the final round was a painful one for the defending event champion. After a solid 4.857 at 322.58 mph defeated a resurgent Kenny Bernstein in the Monster Funny Car, Capps emerged from the car doubled over for several minutes in pain.
One reporter in the media center had the diagnosis well before Capps admitted it.
“I know you guys have played sandlot ball enough to know what causes a guy to bend over like that,” he said.
"The crotch strap was in a bad place," said Capps, "it doesn't take much to bend you over on something like that. It knocked the wind out of me bad. I guess I'll have to get some ice on my groin."
Score one for the media.
1-800-CALL-PAUL- Independent Funny Car crew chief and car owner Paul Smith has been racing for a long time at Gainesville Raceway. The Boynton Beach, Florida resident has driven, tuned and helped other drivers earn their fuel license here many times. The long list happens to include his current driver and this year's Gatornationals Funny Car runner-up, New Yorker Phil Burkart. It will be nine years ago this Monday that Burkart upgraded from his Alcohol Funny Car license to nitro Funny Car in three runs in a car owned and tuned by the crafty veteran. Smith will be staying at Gainesville Raceway again on Monday to help another driver make the leap to nitro.
John Capps, the brother of the driver Burkart lost to in the final round, Ron Capps, will attempt to earn his fuel Funny Car license on Monday with the same car Burkart drove on Sunday. Smith will be calling the shots and Ron Capps will be there to watch.
Smith has been the longtime owner and operator of the only fuel school in the country where someone can learn to tune or drive a nitro car. John Capps has driven A/Fuel dragsters and Alcohol Funny Car in the past.
Ron Capps noted after the race, "I was proud that car was making runs because that just meant that Paul was getting a handle on the track so tomorrow by brother can get his upgrade. I trust Paul with John in that car a lot. We'll be here testing and I'll be sure to be watching closely."
ME TOO!- Each Sunday morning during a race meeting, Don Schumacher Racing invites its guests to “meet the drivers”, in this case all seven competitors: Tony Schumacher, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Gary Scelzi, Richie Stevens, Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown.
While addressing this large group, Top Fuel champ Schumacher asked the crowd, “How many of you are at your first drag race?” The first hand in the air? Gary Scelzi, who, as usual had the group in continuous laughter during his time behind the microphone.
STILL WINLESS - Scelzi still has not won at Gainesville Raceway. The only other regular NHRA race track at which the four-time world champion has not won is Englishtown, N.J. He will add Norwalk, Ohio, to that list this year, making it three once again. His last year's win in Denver, pared the list to two at the time.
"We weren't trying to set the world on fire. We were going to try to run a 4.75. We took steps to slow it down again, like we did in Phoenix, and it didn't want any part of it. It just went out there and smoked the tires.
"Kenny ran a great run, so hats off to Kenny.
"I took the first return road, and he went down to the end. I have not
spoken to Kenny, but congratulations to Kenny. We're hoping he wasn't' going to get cured that quick, so good for him."
MAD MAX IS BACK- Greg Anderson earned the maximum available 138 championship points racing to his second win of the season by qualifying No. 1, setting the Pro Stock elapsed time record and winning the race. After a rare early exit at the NHRA event in Phoenix three weeks ago, Anderson returned to championship form at the Gatornationals.
Anderson lowered the ET record with a 6.536 at 211. 43 mph in his first round win en route to his 45th career victory, which helped him move back into the points lead.
"It's what I would call just about a perfect weekend," said Anderson following his victory. "I've always considered Gainesville and the Gatornationals to be one of the premier races on the circuit. It always been very tough for me to win down here, I don't know why. It's a lot of tough competition. This is the one everyone kind of waits for.
”You go to Pomona, you go to Phoenix and you get your season started and usually everyone comes here with their guns loaded. We saw the best atmospheric we've ever seen and it kind of through everyone for a loop on Saturday. It took us a while to get a hold on the race track because the cars were making so much more power than we're used to. We had to make some changes and the track got better as the weekend went along and that aloud us to use the extra power we had. We were able to put most of that power we had down on the race track and that's why you saw world record-setting times. That's why I love this race track."
MORE LEFT LANE ISSUES- Kurt Johnson, who failed to make the show and was announcing from the booth for his sponsor was asked about the problem with the left lane after the first pair of Pro Stock cars were unable to negotiate it. "Both lanes were terrible for the ACDelco Pontiac," said KJ.
RED FACE ZONE- Defending POWERade Pro Stock world champion Jason Line threw away the quickest and fastest run in NHRA history when he was disqualified with a red light start, an amazing 6.553 at 211.69 mph. The speed was fast enough to set a new national record, despite the red light, but he lost the elapsed time record to his teammate Greg Anderson later in round one.
“I threw away an opportunity that only comes along once or twice in any given season,” said Line, following the run that left the reigning champ with mixed feeling. “I thought I had cut the light perfectly and didn’t realize that I red-lighted until I had been through all the gears. I can’t win. I take static for being late and losing on a holeshot and now I take static for leaving too soon.
“I’m pleased with the performance of the Summit Pontiac and look forward to doing it all again at Houston."
MORGAN HANDICAPTED- Larry Morgan was a surprising Pro Stock finalist. "It's good to be back in the finals believe me," said Morgan. "As you guys all know Anderson ran a 6.56 and I ran a 6.60 something, they're going to handicap me like they do the cars in the Comp class."
MOVING ON UP – A strong quarterfinal run that included his career-best elapsed time and top speed moved three-time NHRA champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. up two slots in the crowded POWERade points standings to seventh place overall. It's an important step for the 47-time national event winner as the new championship structure allows only the top eight racers to run for the title.
Coughlin opened the day with a 6.582-second, 210.01-mph victory over Allen Johnson that was both his quickest and fastest run ever.
The win over Johnson set-up a Round 2 match-up with three-time series winner Greg Anderson, who posted a national record of 6.536 seconds in his opening race of the day. Undaunted, Coughlin lined his Slammers Ultimate Milk Chevrolet Cobalt up against Anderson and quickly took a two-hundredths of a second head start. But Anderson managed to track Coughlin down and nip him at the finish line by a mere six-thousandths of a second, 6.563 to 6.589.
"Greg's making some smoke over there," Coughlin said. "I knew he had us covered performance-wise so I tried to gain as much as a could at the tree. He gave us a little but I needed just a touch more.
"I'm still pleased with the weekend. The car is getting better and our confidence is growing each round. To run our best numbers ever is special and the fact our performance helped us move into that provisional group that's in the Countdown to the Championship is a bonus. Now we need to stay in that group and if we continue to go rounds we will."
THE LANES HAVE IT - Without lane choice, No. 9 qualifier Allen Johnson had a tough first round.
Johnson nailed a near-perfect reaction time of .014 (.000 is perfect) to Coughlin's .042, but a slight diversion out of the groove resulted in a losing 6.618-second elapsed time at 208.65 mph to Coughlin's winning 6.582/210.01. The margin of victory: .0081 of a second.
Johnson's run marked his second-quickest ET of the weekend, and his fastest speed of his career. His 6.602-second qualifying lap was also his career-best elapsed time.
"The lanes, of course, were worth a lot," he said. "We lost lane choice that last run in qualifying. That hurt us. You know, as bad as everything was this weekend (with teammate Richie Stevens not qualifying and struggling with car problems), maybe we learned a lot and it sent us in a little different direction and we'll come out of Houston with a lot of gusto.
"Last year we went the first six races before we got on track. So, maybe we will cut that in half this year and do well."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
FROM LAST TO FIRST- Gatornationals Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Karen Stoffer achieved one of the hardest feats in drag racing by winning the race from the No. 16 qualifying position. What made the victory even more impressive are her three holeshot victories, which included beating the No. 1 qualifier and new national record holder Angelle Sampey in round one. She also strapped a holeshot on runner-up Matt Smith, who was racing a woman for the fourth time in six career final round appearances. Stoffer admitted that qualifying didn't go well.
"The Geico bike was struggling during qualifying but we I had a revelation in the middle of the night with my husband and he was able to put the right tune up in so we could be competitive. So actually it was a full team effort, they gave me the bike and I was able to ride. Starting 16th we certainly didn't expect to be here tonight but you always go out hoping for a win, all you want to do is come out and do your best.
“And when you're racing the best, like Angelle, certainly it brings out your best game and I think that’s what happened. Gary got the bike tuned up and we knew that bike was capable of running sixes and we knew Vance & Hines gave us the power. All I had to do was my job and ride it and that's what we were able to do, and I' very happy about that. I knew we had a competitive bike, we just had to put the whole package together."
G.I. BLUES- U.S. Army Pro Stock Motorcycle teammates suffered a terrible first round in Gainesville. After qualifying 1st and 3rd, Antron Brown lost to Tom Bradford and defending event champ, top qualifier and new national record holder, Angelle Sampey, lost to Karen Stoffer. Both riders lost on holeshots.
MOM THINKS I’M PERFECT- Angelle Sampey has been racing for 11 years, has three Pro Stock Motorcycle championships in her trophy case but still confesses “I haven’t had a perfect run yet.” That would include Saturday’s potential national record of 6.911.After qualifying No. 1, Sampey called her mom at home to tell her that she’d picked up the top slot for the first race of the season.
“My mom still gets excited with every win I get. Can you believe she cried when I won my 40th race, like it was my first?” Angelle asked.
ALWAYS A GENTLEMAN- Antron Brown is a gracious man.
“I always want to be a gentleman so I let my teammate have top qualifying position,” he joked on Sunday morning. “After all, she looks better on SportsCenter than I do, doesn’t she?” he asked.
In Schumacher’s “meet the drivers” gathering, Brown recited the team’s entire list of partners and then quipped, “We’ve got a Walmart store under this canopy.”
TOP FLOPS- All of the top four qualifiers in Pro Stock Motorcycle were defeated in round one by their lower qualified opponents. The highest seeded rider to advance to the quarterfinals was No. 5 qualifier Chris Rivas, who defeated Peggy Llewellyn.
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
RECORD-SETTING CONDITIONS- A cold front blew through the North Florida area Friday evening, providing almost perfect racing conditions on Saturday for the enormous crowd at Gainesville Raceway. With clear skies, a few puffy clouds and a stiff wind blowing straight down the race track, career-best runs and record-setting performances were the order of the day for the Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes, who seemed to benefit the most from the great conditions. The fuel classes struggled a little more with the race track with lots of tire smoke and engine damage in Top Fuel and Funny Car.
DIXON REACHES FOR THE SKYTEL- Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon jumped from the No. 6 position to No. 1 qualifier during the final session on Saturday. Dixon entered the day in the lower half of the 16-car field in the 10th spot, but a 4.596 during the third session followed by a stout 4.510 at 330.07 mph enable Dixon to nail down his 27th Number one career qualifying position. It was his first pole position since the Seattle race in 2005 and the first top spot for crew chief Donnie Bender.
"Our first run today the car ran a 4.59 and spun the tires really hard from half track on," Dixon explained. "So we were just working on the set up of the car to try and calm it down with the engine and the clutch. And the hope was that if they could keep it hooked up you could run between a 4.52 and a 4.54 and a 4.51 came on the board. I think it ran that good because of the speed. It stayed hooked up and ran 330-mph. That's our best speed of the year, so obviously the engine is running real nice. I'm thrilled for (crew chief) Donnie Bender, he made an adjustment and the car responded the way he wanted it to and that was his first pole.
“I was thrilled to death for him. I saw one of Schumacher's guys and I said thanks for throwing a bone to him. They've been stealing all the bonus money all year. The president and vice-president of Skytel's parent company Bell Industries were here and a lot of other people and I just met them this weekend and they've never been to a drag race, and to come here and see this they probably think it's all easy now. But it’s a good time to be able to do this."
TOO GOOD? – Sometimes the atmospheric conditions are not conducive to drag racing. Sometimes they are just too good.
Battling a tricky Gainesville Raceway quarter mile, #2 qualifier Rod Fuller and the Valvoline team – as did many NHRA competitors – struggled to master the historic Florida drag strip. The four-time NHRA Top Fuel winner carded his best run of the weekend on Friday, using a tune-up from crew chief Rob Flynn to power to a run of 4.535 seconds at 323.66 mph. The run paced the 16-car field on the opening day of qualifying.
“The conditions were so good on Saturday, it was just tricky to get down the track,” Flynn said. “We're still learning how to race this car in different conditions. We learned a lot even though we struggled. On the last run, we now know we have to tame it down a bit. We’ll do that on Sunday morning and go from there.”
“We’re happy that Valvoline is back for this race,” team owner David Powers added. “It’s important that we do well from them and that these engines continue to be lubricated by Valvoline.”
HANG ON SLOOPY – It got scary at the end, but Pomona winner J.R. Todd held on to his spot in the field.
"We're in . . ." he said with a sigh. The SKULL Shine/Torco Racing Fuels Top Fuel driver was happy to be in the starting line-up, even if it is 15th overall. He races current POWERade Series Top Fuel leader Rod Fuller (No. 2, 4.535 seconds at 323.66 mph) in the opening round. Todd, meanwhile, had a best of 4.642 at 304.32.
"We have some issues with the clutch system right now," he added. "We'll get it figured out and definitely be ready to go Sunday. As long as we're in the top 16 we have a chance. Anything can happen. We'll be ready to get the car down the race track."
BAZE AND THE GATORS – He got his start as a photographer at R.J. Reynolds photographer then jumped the fence to the Funny Car ranks. Whit Bazemore updated his resume at the Gatornationals with a qualifying berth in Top Fuel.
The 2005 Gatornationals Funny Car winner made his best run of qualifying on Friday afternoon when he used a tune-up from champion crew chief Lee Beard to power to a run of 4.542 seconds at 326.24 mph.
“It’s really tricky out there,” Bazemore said. “We’re all over as are other teams. Lee (Beard) and the team are concerned with the consistency. We haven’t been as consistent as at the first two races. But, the track has been difficult for a lot of teams. It’s wide open. We’re ready to win. We want to win the Gatornationals like we did two years ago.”
LITTON RETURNS- Indiana resident and Top Fuel racer Bruce Litton returned to the NHRA tour in Gainesville. Litton drove his brand new Brad Hadman built dragster to a best of 4.678 at 319.90 mph on Friday and entered Saturday's final pair of qualifying sessions in the No. 9 spot.
"We tested in Valdosta last weekend and made five runs," said Litton. "We never took it to the finish line but we were sorting out our new car and we were real pleased with what we learned there. Yesterday was the first time we took the car to the finish line and we were very happy. I think it shows a lot of promise and we're excited about this year."
Litton plans to race his Lucas Oil-sponsored dragster at five NHRA national events and run the full 12-race IHRA schedule. "We left our shop in Indianapolis on March 6th and won't return until April 4th," added Litton.
"We'll run here at the Gators, the IHRA race in San Antonio and then go to the NHRA race in Houston. We just want to do the best we can to support Lucas and Torco."
NO BUD FOR YOU- Brandon Bernstein had never failed to qualify for an NHRA national event in Top Fuel going into the Gatornationals, but he entered the final day of qualifying not in the 16-car field. During the third qualifying session, Bernstein's Budweiser dragster encountered more problems.
"I was backing up and I had the clutch pedal out but the car just wasn't rolling," said Bernstein. "The guys had to push me forward and I had to just let it roll to get both staging lights on. I don’t know what the deal was but this is a hard working team and we'll get this Budweiser/Lucas Oil car in the show."
Unfortunately Bernstein, who held the third longest qualifying streak at 79 races, was bumped out of the show during the final session when Bob Vandergriff ran a 4.629. "Streaks are meant to be broken," said Bernstein following Top Fuel qualifying.
"It seemed like the track got tricky even after the air being so great here today. The guys said we dropped a cylinder early so that was that."
UNDER THE GUNDERSON- Former Top Alcohol dragster driver Michael Gunderson looked impressive during qualifying at his home track. The Florida resident recorded an impressive career-best 4.635 at 326.16 mph on Friday to make the quick half of the field in the No. 6 spot. Former Top Fuel driver and crew chief John 'Bodie' Smith is providing the tune up for five-time NHRA Division 2 Top Alcohol dragster champion in Gainesville and he was pleased with the team's qualifying results.
"We're pumped up," said Smith enthusiastically. "Two weeks ago I went down to Mike's shop and we started working on stuff. I looked at everything and he's got all the perfect stuff to run a Top Fuel team. It's a great opportunity for me to come in and work with Mike and his crew. All they want to do is race and go fast within a family atmosphere and that goes right along with the way I've always approached racing. That's what it's all about, we're here to have fun but at the same time we're serious racers. Mike knows that and he knows how serious I am about making this car go down the race track on every run. If you don't do that you can't learn and that's the problem he had last year.
“If we can get the car to go down the track two or three runs we can start learning all together as a group." Gunderson, who was the first Alcohol dragster driver to run over 280-mph, is currently running out of his pocket and looking for sponsorship. If the team continues to run as well as they have in Gainesville this weekend, they should be able to attract solid backing soon.
NEW HEIGHTS-Robert Hight set both ends of the Gainesville track record on the way to his second consecutive No. 1 qualifying spot. Hight used his final run to jump into the top spot with a fantastic 4.686 at 331.94 mph, setting top speed of the meet so far.
"You ever see so much bumping and changing going on in the last session?" asked Hight. "It was unbelievable sitting back there in the staging lanes. We ran a 4.79 last night and were qualified No. 2, but as it turned out I think we were 8th when we pulled up to run. You know you've got to get down the track and actually improve on that No. 8 spot. And Jimmy Prock just pulled out all the stops.
”We were walking out there earlier and he said 'You know I think you could run a .72 out there' and he went back and made a bunch of changes and I figured that is what it would run. But then everybody started bumping and Scelzi ran a 4.75 right in front of us. Jimmy got back in the box again and it ran a 4.68."
Hight continued, "We've run 4.60's at all three tracks this year. I'm very fortunate to drive a fast car like this. And what is great this weekend is that we went down the track on three out of four times. I really want to win this race, this is want you want to put on your resume. It's one of the top two or three races of importance to win."
BODY DOUBLE- Bob Gilbertson encountered big time problems during his third qualifying attempt Saturday. Gilbertson was on a strong pass when the motor exploded just past half track, causing a considerable amount of damage to the Autolite XP Spark Plugs flopper.
"I was trucking along pretty good and it just went boom, and I had a little fire so I pulled the bottles," said Gilbertson, who had no indication that the motor was ready to let go.
"I had some G's and I was pulling along and it just exploded. We might have to pull the other body out, I'm not sure, but that would be kind of cool. It's kind of crazy but it will look good."
Gilbertson's other body is the one that he uses when he runs on the IHRA tour. He returned with the spare body and jumped into the show with a 4.81.
MUSICAL FUNNY CARS- The final Funny Car qualifying session was once again a thrilling round of racing. The number one qualifying position changed four times between Phil Burkart, Jeff Arend, Gary Scelzi and then Robert Hight, who grabbed his second pole in a row.
UNEXPECTED PLEASURES - Phil Burkart has been trying to put a deal together in Funny Car since he left the Worsham team at the end of last season, “But we never expected this much success from one weekend’s sponsorship.”
Burkart hooked up with a local, northern New York auto dealership, FX Caprara, a Kia dealer in Watertown, New York. After all, “I’ve been friends with the owner for more than 20 years from bracket racing.
At the same time, Paul Smith Racing, from Boynton Beach, Florida was looking for a driver for their home race. Burkart fit the bill. “Being here is a great thing and being fifth in qualifying, well, that’s way over the top,” he said.
The team’s Monte Carlo hasn’t run since Indy last year (with Johnny Gray), but in final qualifying, Burkart ran a 4.786/323.35, the fifth fastest speed of the meeting. “That’s the quickest and fastest this car’s ever run,” he crowed. Burkart will face Bob Gilbertson in the first round and “can’t rest on these laurels. I’m treating him like he’s the toughest guy on the track.”
Burkart’s plans for this Saturday evening? “I’m so jacked up I won’t sleep a wink,” he said.
ANDERSON SETS SPEED MARK, QUALIFIES NO. 1- Greg Anderson rebounded from a disappointing outing in Phoenix to grab his 53rd number one qualifying position on Saturday. Anderson, who struggled on Friday, rebounded in dramatic fashion on Saturday by making a pair of runs over 210-mph, including setting the provisional national speed record at 211.20 mph.
Anderson led a 16-car field that was just four ten thousandths of a second from becoming the quickest in NHRA Pro Stock history.
"We had a little tire shake this weekend that we got rectified," said Anderson. "That left lane is tricky, especially in these Pro Stock cars. There's something going on with that left lane, we'll have to look after it as a group and figure out what's wrong, its bit everyone today. Something's not right with it and we don't like it that way because it makes it tough on Sunday because you're not going to have that many side by side races. You want your lanes to be fairly equal. Staying in that right lane is the key right now."
Anderson continued, "The conditions are awesome but it actually makes it harder to tune the car because when you have air like this, the cars are so finicky, they have so much more power than we're used to having with them. It's probably a 50 horsepower jump from what we would normally have with these engines just because we don't have the experience running in conditions like this. Either you hit it perfect and run really fast and set records or you don't make it down the race track." Anderson will face Justin Humphreys in round one on Sunday.
JASON LINE - CLAIRVOYANT- Reigning POWERade Pro Stock champion Jason Line predicted prior to the race that you would see a Pro Stock car run 210-mph during the weekend at the Gatornationals and he was right. Line's teammate, 3-time POWERade champion Greg Anderson, blasted into the provisional No. 1 qualifying position during Saturday's third qualifying session with an amazing 211.20 mph run, the fastest in NHRA Pro Stock history.
"I can't say enough about the job our engine guys do," said Anderson after the run. "We struggled yesterday, without a doubt, and didn't know what we were going to do today. We changed everything but the gas cap and obviously the car went out there and ran, so it looks like we've got quite a package here."
Anderson recorded a stunning 6.566-second track record elapsed time on the barrier breaking run in his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GTO. Unfortunately, Jason Line was unable to negotiate his car down the tricky left lane during the same session and entered the last qualifying round not in the show. Line made an amazing run on his last attempt, leaping into the No. 5 qualifying spot with a 6.597 at 211.03 mph to nail down the No. 5 position.
EDWARDS WAS FIRST- Mike Edwards recorded an impressive 6.575/210.18 mph run following Greg Anderson's 211-mph run earlier in the third qualifying session. "Well, I was the first to run 210-mph in a Pro Stock car," quipped Edwards over the PA system afterward, and technically he was correct.
THE PROFESSOR IS NEVER HAPPY- Six-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Warren Johnson made the quickest and fastest run of his career during the third qualifying session on Saturday. But you wouldn't know it afterward by his top end interview.
"We were a little loose on the clutch and it got off to the left and moved around a little bit," said WJ. "At the same time I think it was a halfway decent run, it wasn't all that great."
HAPPY TO BE HERE - Roy Johnson, who tunes son Allen’s Dodge Stratus as well as Richie Stevens’ similar car, is recovering nicely from his massive heart attack during the February Firebird race meeting. Johnson is grateful for all the cards, letters and other get-well wishes that have been headed his way, but most of all, he just wanted to get both of his cars down the track this afternoon.
On a day where the left side of the Gainesville track confounded many teams and drivers, Johnson was able to find the sweet spot for Allen (P9), but not for Richie, who failed to make the field. In the third qualifying session, “We were too aggressive with one car and too conservative with the other, but we’re hoping to change that.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be in the last go-round. “I’d feel a lot better if I had both cars in the field,” he said.
CHANGING FORTUNES - Larry Morgan had struggled the first two races of the POWERade Pro Stock season, failing to make the field at Pomona and Firebird.
But a good test at Valdosta earlier this week changed Morgan’s fortunes and the veteran will start his Dodge Stratus as No. 2 qualifier in the 38th annual ACDelco Gatornationals (6.566/210.31) on a very quick Gainesville Raceway quarter-mile.
The 27-car Pro Stock field boasted many veterans and one 2007 race winner who will be watching, rather than racing on Sunday. Kurt Johnson, the winner in Phoenix failed to qualify his Chevy Cobalt and has plenty of illustrious company in the DNQ corral: Jim Yates, Tom Martino, Kenny Koretsky, Richie Stevens and Ron Krisher, all failed to make the field, meaning three drivers who had been in the Top 10 will watch rather than race.
SLAM DUNK - After a hiatus from the sport of NHRA drag racing, former NBA standout Tom Hammonds made a triumphant return in Gainesville. Hammonds last competed at an NHRA Pro Stock event at the Gatornationals here at Gainesville Raceway in March 2003.
Hammonds landed in the 15th spot with a 6.631, 209.17.
"I'm excited about this program because for the first time, I am able to put a full, 100-percent effort into racing NHRA Pro Stock," said Hammonds. "When I raced before, I was still playing in the NBA, and then when I retired from basketball, I was devoted to completing the GM Minority Dealership program. I couldn't give my full attention to racing, and given the limited amount of time we had on the track, I still think we were pretty successful."
Hammonds entered his first NHRA Pro Stock race at Englishtown (N.J.) in 1997, and qualified for his first 16-car field later that September at Reading (Pa.). Hammonds announced his retirement from the NBA in Sept. 2001, and then three weeks later, advanced to his first career final round at the NHRA Fall Nationals in Dallas. His second career final round came the following week at the ACDelco NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas. Following his sabbatical from the sport in 2003, the 39-year-old Hammonds completed final coursework in the GM Minority Dealer Development Program, and opened Tom Hammonds Chevrolet in Darlington, S.C. in May of 2004. He sold the dealership in December 2005 to focus full time on his Pro Stock drag racing career.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” Hammonds said. “We didn’t have a single part for this car (a 2006 Chevy Cobalt) and we actually put the engine together in the back yard.”
Hammonds hired Jimmy Oliver, who Hammonds says is one of the best engine builders out there, drove their new hauler across the state and ended up making the show in their first try, with a 15th place qualifying mark of 6.631/209.17 in a crowded, 27-car field.
“I’ve always been about teamwork and this is an overall team effort. It takes a team to be successful and we’re just missing one piece of the puzzle: a major partner.” It’s been at least three years since Hammonds drove a proper race car and he remarked, “For us to be part of the field of 16 is an outstanding accomplishment,” especially considering the crew built their engine without a dynamometer. Hammonds' crew will move into their new shop within the next 30 days and yes, it will have a dyno.
NOT FROM AROUND HERE, HUH? - The NHRA Gatornationals is not only nationally renowned among drag racers, but apparently it is internationally renowned as well. Two Pro Stock champions from Sweden brought their Pontiac GTOs to Florida to compete in the Pro Stock class. Jimmy Alund is from Norrrkoping and is the current FIA European Drag Racing champ. Michael Malmgren hails from Arild and won back-to-back FIA European championships in 2002-03. Malmgren was also the first European Pro Stocker to run in the sixes at Santa Pod (U.K.) on 5/28/00.
Neither driver made the 6.634 cut despite spending much of the previous week testing.
NOT FROM AROUND HERE, PART 2 - Florida native Matt Scranton has traded in his NHRA XPlod Sport Compact entry for an NHRA POWERade Pro Stock car. Specifically, the 2004 Pro RWD champ bought the Jerry Haas-built Pontiac GTO that Greg Anderson ran last year.
"Matt bought the car that I ran the first half of last year," said Anderson, "and then we built a second Haas car and I ran it, but that's a good car he's got. He's a nice guy and I hope he does well."
Both Anderson and teammate Jason Line have served as unofficial "coaches" this weekend. Not bad being mentored by the two guys who have won the last four NHRA POWERade Pro Stock titles.
Scranton took their advice and the end result is a berth in Sunday’s final eliminations from the 13th spot with a 6.610, 209.62.
JEGGIE’S BEST – Jeg Coughlin, Jr., fired off his personal best in Saturday’s first session. When the jockeying for position in the final session completed, the Ultimate Milk Chevrolet Cobalt dropped to eighth.
"It's always a good thing when you reset your career best numbers and it feels great to do here at Gainesville Raceway," said Coughlin. "The conditions we had today were almost perfect for Pro Stock. The weather conditions tomorrow are expected to be very close to what we had today, so this Slammers Ultimate Milk team should be able the translate our team data from qualifying into a solid set up for race day."
A former winner at this event, Coughlin's voyage to this year's victory circle begins against Allen Johnson, who qualified 9th with a 6.602.
THE SUPER - A mere five-thousandths of a second error quickly reduced Coughlin to spectator status after the opening round of Super Stock Saturday morning. Coughlin dialed in his JEGS.com Chevrolet Cavalier during Thursday's qualifying rounds, which took place under fairly warm temperatures. By the time he ran the first round of eliminations, the vastly different atmospheric conditions made him a little too fast, and he broke out of his index by .005 seconds.
"It got so good out there we were well over a tenth of a second quicker and we basically didn't touch the car since qualifying," said Coughlin, who qualified with an 8.788 but ran an 8.655 against an 8.66 index. "We made the adjustments we deemed necessary for the air we had out there but I guess we just missed it. I was on the brakes hard but a still broke out. That's Super Stock for you."
Despite the first-round exit, Coughlin collected his second class trophy of the year in the Super Stock category by having the quickest C-Modified entry. "Lil' Jeggie will be happy because he loves it when I bring home a Wally," Coughlin said.
THREE OUT OF TEN AIN’T BAD - Jim Yates shook his head. "Three of the top 10 in Pro Stock didn't make the field here, and that's an eye-opener, including the driver who won the last race."
Such was the case Saturday as qualifying concluded for Sunday's ACDelco Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
Yates, who was seventh in points coming into Florida, ran his quickest elapsed time of the weekend on his last attempt, 6.653 seconds at 208.52 mph, but his Sea Ray Boats/Wiley X Eye Wear Pontiac GTO needed to run better than 6.634 seconds.
"We aren't going to panic," the veteran from Occoquan, Va., said. "The track threw us a curve ball. We are a better team than what we showed, but the track was very, very difficult. We've been coming here for 18 years and I can't remember it being like this before.
"We got behind early and had to change motors and we just couldn't adapt to the horsepower curve fast enough."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
U.S. ARMY MARCHES TO THE TOP- The U.S. Army Pro Stock Suzuki Motorcycle team of Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown qualified in the No. 1 and No. 3 spots, respectively, for the quickest field in NHRA history. Sampey grabbed her 40th career number one qualifying spot and her third at Gainesville Raceway, where she is the reigning event champion.
Sampey's 6.911-second elapsed time set the provisional national record, which will be good for an additional 20 bonus points if she leaves the race with the record intact. Sampey, who will race Karen Stoffer in an all-female round one match up was thrilled with the performance of her Suzuki.
"Tomorrow is going to be another beautiful day and everybody is going to go fast again," said Sampey. "I don't think anyone will dip into the 6.80's but there are four bikes that are capable of doing it. We're running our old bikes, we have brand new motorcycles in that trailer waiting to be raced. They’re just as fast, if not faster, than those bikes we had out there today, but my crew chief decided to make a decision for the whole team and keep the new bikes on the trailer until we have more test runs under them.
”He just felt more comfortable tuning the old bikes right now. It's just good to know that we have four motorcycles that can set a national record," added Sampey. "It's a beautiful way to start out the season when you come out to the first race and you're the No. 1 qualifier, and even Antron's qualified No. 3, he's just right behind me, that's awesome."
RECORD-SETTING SESSION, EVEN FOR A GIRL- The third Pro Stock Motorcycle session on Saturday was one for the ages. A total of 11 riders broke into the six-second zone following the round and the 7.051-second bump spot was just one ten-thousandths of a second from being the quickest 16-bike field in history.
Angelle Sampey led the pack with a 6.919-second run, the quickest in NHRA history and a provisional national record.
"I didn't even have a perfect run," said an excited Sampey following the run, "so I'm so proud of my guys. My crew chief, Steve Tartaglia, is a genius. He can make a girl go that fast, so imagine how smart he must be."
AND THE RECORDS KEEP ON COMING- The Pro Stock Motorcycle class set the record for the quickest field in NHRA history with a 7.033 bump spot. With similar conditions expected for Sunday's eliminations, Angelle Sampey's 6.919-second elapsed time may not hold up for the new national record. The record-setting field included three women, Sampey, Karen Stoffer and Peggy Llewellyn, who made a very successful return to NHRA competition in the Karl & Kim Klement Racing Buell by qualifying 12th with a 7.001 at 185.28 mph.
CHIP OF CONSISTENCY- Chip Ellis dropped to the 4th position despite improving to a 6.930 on his final qualifying run. "We made runs of 6.956, 6.957, 6.943 and 6.930, so with that kind of consistency I feel very confident going into eliminations. Ellis will square off against Steve Johnson in round one.
FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME - Before Saturday Eddie Krawiec's career-best elapsed time on a Pro Stock Motorcycle was a 7.254-second pass at 186.02 mph.
Then Saturday happened. The newest member of the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team ran career-best numbers – by a bunch – at the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals. The New Jersey native turned in a 6.948 pass at 191.02 at Gainesville Raceway. The numbers were good enough for the No. 7 position in the quickest field in NHRA history.
It was also the first of two 6-second passes turned in by Krawiec.
"It's actually unbelievable," Krawiec said. "It's like I'm living a dream. I finally get to do something that I have been going after for avery long time. And I get to do it with two three-time champions (Matt and Andrew Hines) and a legendary tuner (Byron Hines) in my corner.
"I've never been able to come to an NHRA race with equipment this good and a team this prepared and supportive. To be able to come into my first weekend and progressively get better on three of the four runs and record two six-second passes is just phenomenal."
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK -
"I did notice a bump but somebody put some orange cones out there so I made a right and then a quick left and then I was back going straight," joked Snap-on Tools Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Steve Johnson. "There's basically no bump as long as you drive around it, that's the advantage of having two wheels."
U.S. Army Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Antron Brown noted, "You can feel it a little bit, but we're accelerating pretty good at that point because the track conditions are really good. If the track were slicker it would be much more noticeable."
Top Fuel driver Clay Millican said, "Everybody has to deal with it, everybody ought to know how to take care of it. We were here in December, so we kind of had warning ahead of time that the bump was there. We weren't sure if it was in the left lane because we only tested in the right, but we know for sure there is one in the right lane. It's kind of more like a dip than a bump and the car would come out of it carrying the front end, which is kind of fun! It's nothing that these guys can't figure out, so I'm not worried about it."
ONE, TWO PUNCH- David Powers Motorsports Top Fuel drivers Rod Fuller and Whit Bazemore qualified one and two, respectively, after the completion of the first day of qualifying at the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals. Fuller jumped from 14th to the No. 1 spot with a 4.535 at 323.66 mph on his second run. Bazemore was not qualified when he recorded a 4.542 at 326.24 mph to move into the second slot.
“This is awesome. Last week I was on crutches and now we’re No. 1 qualifier at Gainesville. The knee didn’t really bother me. I think the adrenaline just takes over. It’s awesome to have my teammate in the No. 2 spot. These two David Powers dragsters are running great. There’s no way that will hold tomorrow. We had to de-tune the car for that run because we were just trying to get in the show and we happened to hit it.
“I’m glad Valvoline is back for this race. I’ve been
with them for so long, we have a great relationship. It’s great that these 8,000
horsepower engines will continue to be lubricated by Valvoline. Hopefully, we
can win this race for them.”
Competing in Top Fuel for the first time at Gainesville Raceway, Bazemore powered his Matco Tools Iron Eagle dragster to the provisional No. 2 qualifying position. Bazemore’s rail spun the tires on its opening attempt of the weekend.
“It’s always important to have a good run on Friday,” Bazemore said. “Sometimes the goal isn’t to be No. 1 or 2, it’s is to be solidly in the show and we did that. We ended up a few thousandths (of-a-second) behind our teammate and we’re pretty happy with the results.”
"We had a miscue in the staging lanes. The van was going one way and the racecar was going the other way and we bent the front left A-arm," said Todd.
PLEASANT SURPRISE - Cory McClenathan was pleasantly surprised Friday afternoon following his 4.585-second, 330.07-mph qualifying run put him in third place.
"The speed was a surprise," he said. "We were the only car to run over 330. Wes (Cerny, team crew chief) and Tony (Shortall, assistant crew chief) made a lot of changes to the car over the last two weeks so to see it go down the track like that was very satisfying. We're really happy. Wes has the horsepower and he's doing what he needs to do to get it down the track.
THE NEW LOOK LUCAS - Morgan Lucas has a new look for 2007 and it features consistency. The new gig is working too, after propelling the 23-year old driver into the fifth spot after the first day.
“It’s the consistency we’ve been looking for since we made the changes from earlier this year,” said Lucas. “John Stewart and Lance Larsen have made tremendous strides and with Richard Hogan adding his info has given both of our teams a great tune-up. We had three straight 4.50 runs in Phoenix, so I know our guys can get the job done”.
After the first round of Friday’s qualifying, Lucas was in the No. 3 position and his co-crew chiefs knew the cooler afternoon weather conditions would give them a chance to step it up and did with his time of 4.602 seconds along with a speed of 327.90 mph.
“I couldn’t be any happier, but we need to get Melanie’s car higher in the program and I have full confidence in everyone to do just that,” said Lucas. “We are really getting our act together and appreciate everyone’s hard work.”
"I'm glad all of these people are unemployed, so they can come to the races," said Scelzi.
"When I hit the throttle, all hell broke loose," Medlen said. He finished the day in the No. 15 position with a 4.951 at 279.73 mph.
The broken belt was the culprit for the slow speed of just 276.35 mph on the run. Burkart sat out the second session and finished the first day of qualifying in the No. 11 spot.
THE FUEL DOCTOR - Mike Ashley debuted a new paint scheme on Friday in Gainesville honoring the man who made his dream of driving a Funny Car a reality. The eye-catching paint scheme was applied by Mark Brown and Illusions Paint & Body.
"Evan has done so much for me and my team, I wanted to do something special for him. I talked with Mark Brown, the artist from Illusions in Tennessee who has painted all of my other cars, told him what I was looking for, and then let him loose," Ashley said. "This 'Fuel Doctor' shows Evan as a kind of 'racing-fuel mix-master' and is definitely another one of Mark's masterpieces.
"It's a mental thing for me, really. I feel great when I am in a car that looks cool, and I seem to perform well, too," he said.
Being on the outside of qualifying for the first two NHRA season-opening events hasn’t deterred the Dunn team and going into Gators, their spirits were high and with their great run today has only targeted that direction in the right place with greater enthusiasm.
“Just persistence, working on the tune up since missing by just a little at Phoenix and Pomona has put us here,” said a happy Bartone. “This is the same motor setup basically, and we’ve been working on the clutch, working on the chassis and trying to get the race car down the track. I’m glad we’re in the No. 7 spot and see if we can pick it up a little bit tomorrow we should stay in the top half of the field for Sunday and that would be great for the Lucas Oil Funny Car.
“We started the season with a bunch of new parts and it’s just getting laps on those elements are making them perform better taking us in the right direction.
Having a Florida residence in Del Ray Beach, in many ways, has all the components of offering Bartone the chance to claim Gainesville Raceway as a second home track on the 23-race NHRA POWERade Funny Car tour.
“I have a lot of family and friends and you can tell by my Southern accent that this is definitely a home track for me,” said a sarcastic Bartone, who is a native of Long Island City, N.Y.
"Obviously the whole crew is doing a great job, on both sides of the pit," Coughlin said. "We have a true team mentality here so it's just as important for Dave to be quick as it is for me. It's really nice when we both hit good runs like that, especially this weekend with all our Slammers' friends here. "There's not much to complain about with that second run. The car was nice and smooth and just felt great all the way through the gears and out the back half. Dave tested both of our cars last week and the little adjustments they made obviously worked well for both of us. We're all very pleased."
ELLIS CHIPS AWAY IN PRO STOCK BIKE- Chip Ellis made two nearly identical runs and reset the track elapsed time record to qualify No. 1 in Pro Stock Motorcycle at the first race of the season for the two-wheeled class. Ellis ran a 6.956 at 192.36 mph in the first qualifying session and returned to run a 6.957 at 191.87 mph in his second qualifying attempt.
"We didn't think we were going to even run but the NHRA crew did a great job getting the track ready and the Drag Specialties S&S powered Buell has been running flawless all day," said Ellis. "We made two runs within one ten thousandths of a second so we're pretty optimistic. We tested last week in Georgia and ran really well there and George Smith is making the tuning calls on the bike now and he's doing a real good job. We're just going to get out there and keep making really consistent runs. George Bryce is still involved in our deal, as well, so we have him to help us if we get in any trouble."
“The back half is like a V-Rod and the front half is Suzuki,” Scali said. “Vance & Hines has always been the innovator in our class and I’m privileged to be able to run this combo the first time in competition for them.” While the Suzuki engine is still a 2655cc 2-valve, it’s got more horsepower, Scali said. “We’re the only ones running this type of fuel injection,” a proprietary, in-house V&H program.
Sure looks like the new package is working, as Scali went from 20th in his first run to sixth in his second pass (7.004/192.60).
“George [Smith] has worked with George Bryce so many years and he really loves racing. Doing this is a big thrill for him.” Smith is planning to “challenge Chip to raise his game this year and put it all together,” he said.
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THURSDAY NOTEBOOK -
NEW THINGS - The third race on the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series schedule is set to roar into Florida’s historic Gainesville Raceway this weekend. The event will include the inaugural race of the year for the Pro Stock Motorcycle contingent, the first of 16 scheduled contests.
Veteran attendees of the first national event of the year on the East Coast will notice a number of changes at the venerable Gainesville facility. Luxury suites similar to the ones recently constructed at Pomona and Indianapolis have been built atop the pit-side grandstands. And the large grandstands that once sat on the pit-side finish line have now been moved to the starting line on the spectator side, directly across from the Top Eliminator Club seats. The vacated area at the top end now offers parking for motor homes for the first time.
NOT HAPPENING - The highly anticipated debut of the David Powers Motorsports monostrut wing-equipped Top Fuel dragster has been put on hold for the event. Top Fuel points leader Rod Fuller is expected to test the car at Gainesville Raceway on Monday, following the event.
NEW LEADERS - J.R. Todd will be the focus of plenty of attention in Gainesville. His Dexter Tuttle-owned team is still in shock over the defection of crew chief Jimmy Walsh and crew member Danny DeGennardo, who left the team following the previous race at Phoenix to join Kenny Bernstein’s struggling Funny Car team. Jim Head and Johnny West will step in to help Todd during his transition to find a new crew chief. With four victories in the last 12 NHRA national events, including a win at the first race of the year in Pomona, Todd has proven his skills as a driver. He is currently third in the Top Fuel points standings.
“It was a real shock,” Todd said of Walsh’s departure. “It hit us all by surprise and it was definitely a big setback for the team that we didn’t need. But everybody is pulling together and stepping up and doing their jobs. Hopefully the tune-up doesn’t suffer and we can continue running the way we were.”
“The way we were” includes four victories in the past 12 races (including this season’s Winternationals); 2006 rookie of the year honors and a $20,000 bonus. He currently ranks third in NHRA POWERade Series points with 147. Todd also ran three successive 4.4-second runs, highlighted by his best of 4.473 seconds, at the Winternationals.
“I’m ready to get to Gainesville and get some laps under our belt to see where we are,” Todd said. “That way I hope I won’t have to worry about how the car is going to run. I just want to get back to business.
“My biggest worry is the performance of the car. That’s what I am pretty much focused on. We just have to put everything behind us, not change our game plan and go to Gainesville and, hopefully, pick up where we left off.”
BACK AGAIN - Popular Funny Car driver Phil Burkart Jr., will return to action at the Gatornationals, driving for veteran crew chief and car owner Paul Smith. In a strange twist of fate, Burkart will be driving the car formerly driven by Jeff Arend, who now drives the car that Burkart drove the last several years for the Worsham family operation.
Although Burkart has been out of a full-time ride since early December 2006, he hasn't been far from the drag racing scene. During the off-season, Burkart made the trek west to testing sessions in Las Vegas and Phoenix. For his fans, seeing Burkart pilot Smith's Kia Monte Carlo on a real race day will be a long-awaited and well-deserved reward.
"I have a great and loyal bunch of fans," said Burkart, who not only misses the excitement of racing at over 330 mph, but also longs for the personal contact he has with his fans. "I really enjoy being out there in front of the true drivers in this sport -- those folks who dedicate a whole weekend to us, coming out Friday, Saturday and Sunday to watch us pull Gs. The fans are amazing and I'm going to give them a great show in Gainesville."
It's a highly competitive field, but Burkart's confidence comes well earned. He has four Wally's at home that prove he's capable of ending the day in first place.
"I'm so thankful for Paul Smith, who's a legend in these circles," Burkart said. "I know we'll be competitive during qualifying and on Sunday. Paul has great equipment and he's a magician when it comes to tuning a hot rod. Hopefully, Kia and the guys at FX Caprara will like what they see and this one-race deal will turn into something more consistent."
CROSSING OFF OF THE LIST - Gary Scelzi is looking to strike Gainesville Raceway off the list of only two tracks that he hasn’t won at in either Top Fuel or Funny Car. Scelzi won the season-opener in Pomona, his 34th career national event victory since he began driving in the nitro classes in 1997. He’s reached the final round twice at the Gatornationals, once in Top Fuel and once in Funny Car.
"Except for the mishap in Phoenix (first-round loss due to loss of traction), we went right back out Monday morning (to test) and ran a 4.73 (-second elapsed time) at 328 mph under the same conditions. We know what happened on Sunday, we fixed it, and went right back out and repeated just like (crew chief) Mike Neff thought it would. I am thrilled to go to Gainesville.
"Everybody knows that this is one that I haven't won before. I've been to the final in Funny Car and I've been to the final in Top Fuel, and never have won this race. It's got a lot of meaning. It's a lot like winning Pomona. It has a lot of heritage. Kenny Bernstein ran the first 300-mph run there, and people come from everywhere to Gainesville. People from Atlanta who don't go to the Atlanta race go to Gainesville, because of all the history behind it.
"It's one of those races that I'm rally excited about. I've been excited this whole season. When you're excited about the season, it's great to go to a race you've never won, because you just feel good going in.
"I looked at the entry list and there are 23 cars entered. This is not going to be an easy show to get into and, once you get into it, it's going to be a war. We like when we go to war.
"I haven't been this excited for a long time."
WINNING AGAIN? - Kurt Johnson is hoping to continue his winning ways in Pro Stock at his sponsor's event this weekend. The driver of the ACDelco Chevy Cobalt enters the Gatornationals after a convincing win in Phoenix that included a pair of impressive holeshot victories. KJ won in Gainesville in 2003 and was runner-up in 1999.
“Two years ago, our win in Phoenix turned out to be our only one for the year, and this entire ACDelco Cobalt crew is committed to not repeating that performance,” stated Johnson. “The way we see it, if you win once, you should be able to do it again, even in a category as tough as Pro Stock. It’s certainly great to have won, and we definitely enjoyed taking home the trophy, but that’s not where we want to stop. That win is driving me even harder, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep it going in Gainesville.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT - Dave Connolly pulled double duty during testing last week in preparation for the Gatornationals. The youthful Connolly made 31 runs in three days of testing, making 22 runs in his Torco/Slammers Ultimate Milk-sponsored Chevy Cobalt and nine runs in teammate Jeg Coughlin’s Cobalt.
“I feel confident going into Gainesville,” said Connolly, who has had diabolically different results here in his last two visits. He was runner-up in 2005 and missed the starting lineup a year ago. We have nowhere else to go but up as far as last year’s performance goes. But I think we’ll be in good shape from both driving and performance perspectives, and I’m excited about it. With the cars performing better we were able to do some things that made the driving side a little easier too.”
The Elyria, Ohio native is getting a feel for the team approach that builds on information gleaned from both cars.
“This is probably the first time we’ve brought both cars to a test session,” he said. “We had both crews, but Jeg wasn’t able to make it due to business commitments. That just meant more seat time for me. I had no problem doing that at all. We made 31 runs in three days, 22 in my Cobalt and nine in Jeg’s. Preparing both cars and getting to make double runs definitely helps.
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE - Andrew Hines will enter the Gatornationals seeking to defend his Pro Stock Motorcycle championship with a season-opening victory. The three-time POWERade champion earned the first of his eight career NHRA national event victories at Gainesville Raceway in 2004 and qualified No. 1 there twice. The rider of the Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley Davidson V-Rod won last season’s championship by a mere 23 points over Antron Brown, the third narrowest margin in class history.
A FOURTH - Angelle Sampey will be looking to capture her fourth career POWERade world championship aboard her U.S. Army Suzuki in 2007. Sampey, the defending event champion, won the first two races of the Pro Stock Motorcycle season last year and finished third in the point standings behind her U.S Army teammate, Antron Brown.
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