IHRA MOPAR CANADIAN NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
Keep up with this weekend's IHRA Mopar Canadian Nationals by reading our behind-the-scenes event notebook. We bring you the stories behind the numbers and win-lights throughout the course of the weekend. Tune in daily for the latest news from the pits.
UPSETS AT THE BEACH - It wasn’t a good weekend for former winners, class champions, or No. 1 qualifiers at this weekend’s MOPAR Canadian Nationals at Grand Bend Motorplex, which is located on the shores of Lake Huron.
In Top Fuel, last year’s winner Bobby Lagana went down to Jim Cavalieri in the first round, while in Nitro Funny Car, Mitch King sent Terry Haddock, winner of the last race at Edmonton, to the sidelines in the opening stanza. Top-runner Jack Wyatt was also eliminated, falling to Dale Creasy Jr.
Defending Alcohol Funny Car champion and No. 1 qualifier Mark Thomas suffered defeat at the hands of San Antonio winner Terry Munroe.
No. 1 Pro Modified qualifier Scott Cannon was another first-round victim, getting outrun by Jason Hamstra. No. 4 qualifier Ed Hoover also made an early exit, thanks to Burton Auxier. Defending race and class champion Pete Berner suffered the same fate in the first round of Pro Stock, losing to Bob Bertsch. Rickie Smith and Rob Mansfield also parked their hot rods after first-round defeats.
By the time the Top Fuel finals rolled around, points leader T.J Zizzo was gone, having lost in the semifinals to Scotty Cannon. Edmonton winner Terry McMillen suffered the same fate at the hands of Jim Cavalieri.
Bob Gilbertson’s Nitro Funny Car was pushed from the line before he could take a shot at a berth in the final, his leak handing Mitch King a free ticket to the first Funny Car final of his career.
In Pro Modified, several big names fell by the wayside as the rounds wore down. John Russo and Burton Auxier went out in the quarterfinals, and they were joined in the pits by defending class champion Quain Stott and Jim Halsey one round later.
Early departures in Alcohol Funny Car included San Antonio winner Terry Munroe and Canadian Larry Dobbs. Interestingly, it all came down to an all-London, Ontario, final with three-time champion Rob Atchison facing off against Paul Noakes. An interesting side note was the fact that former Atchison crew chief Led Mallows has now joined the Noakes team.
Bob Bertsch fancied himself a spoiler in Pro Stock this weekend, having taken out defending event and class champion Berner in the first round, and top qualifier and elapsed time record-setter Brian Gahm in the second. His luck ran out when he lined up beside former champion Steve Spiess in the semifinals, however. After taking an advantage off the line, Bertsch got out of the groove and had to abandon his run. John Montecalvo and Robert Patrick also failed to make it past the semifinal round.
LONG TIME COMING – Scotty Cannon will testify that waiting ten years between national event victories is much more than the average six-time world champion can bear to wait.
But, he learned to live with it. In fact, he learned to live with a lot of things, such as chronic back pain.
Just to think, less than three months ago, Cannon was sprawled across an operating table undergoing surgery to repair a damaged disc. Today he exited the Evan Knoll-owned, Seelye-Wright-sponsored dragster as if he was running a marathon.
Cannon’s success left a greater feeling than a shot of cortisone. Nevermind the fact he holds 28 career national event victories, six world championships and still remains the winning driver in the Pro Modified division, today’s win validated a career of domination.
Cannon won on nitro.
“We got lucky, but I take it,” Cannon said. “We could have hopped it up and did things different, but we went with our gut and decided to leave it as it was. We were beat in the finals but we had the right combination to win. It was our day to win. We had the most consistent race car today. I’ve been doing this a long time but if you make it consistent you’re going to win. My team did an incredible job. We may look like the Bad News Bears, but we won.”
This one produced a number of firsts. It marked the first time that an Evan Knoll-owned Top Fuel dragster had won a national event and it also marked the first time that Cannon and Jimbo Ermalovich had won together.
Cannon entered eliminations as the third quickest dragster and used the momentum to defeat Todd Paton and points leader T.J. Zizzo before stopping Jim Cavaleri in the final round.
Cannon reached an NHRA Funny Car final but his last victory on the IHRA tour came in 1998 when defeated Wally Stroupe during the IHRA President’s Cup Nationals in Budds Creek, Md.
“It’s been nine years and only the second time since I have been in the winner’s circle,” Cannon said. “Evan had faith in us. I had no idea why. But he did and I am glad he did. I love him and respect him and I am trying to do my best for him all the time. Today didn’t shock me but it made realize that it isn’t so easy to make it back. I proved to myself that I can still pull one out when I need to.”
The victory puts Cannon solidly in the third position in the Top Fuel championship standings just 62 points behind Zizzo and 22 out of second. Cannon wasn’t nervous until he realized that he was within striking distance.
“I am stressed out more than I ever have. I want to win. I don’t usually count the points, but today someone reminded me that we are only 90 points out of first. That’s within striking points. At first I didn’t want to hear any points talk. But, you can’t help but think about it. I’m not even going home. I’m testing all the time until we can get to Michigan. Lord knows we are trying, the stars and moon line up and we might have a dog in the hunt. You can rest assured this dog is still out there.”
Cannon will tell you that he was down on himself and drag racing was the furthest thing from his mind. A call from Knoll changed his thought process.
“Evan called me one day and asked me why I was parked,” Cannon said. “He had more confidence in me than I had in myself. It wasn’t about the money. I could have stayed at home and been just fine. But when someone believes in you like that you have to get after it. I am giving this every ounce of energy I can. If you don’t step out there and try your best when someone believes in you than you have no clue about what it takes to be a champion. Being a champion means you have the ability to get out there when you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We are doing as hard as we and if anyone can try any harder, then God bless them.”
FINDING WAYS TO WIN – Dale Creasy says a driver that has the same kind of success he’s encountered in Canada would be hard pressed to complain about anything. Case in point. He’s only lost one round in Canada since racing north of the border in 2006.
“We just really work hard at it,” Creasy said. “Running two cars this weekend was really tough. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do it, but I knew what it was for – it was for the show. We want to give the fans as much as we can.”
Ah … the love of seeing your second car in the show.
“I even stopped my burnout short to watch the other car go by,” Creasy said. “It just worked out well.”
Creasy entered the weekend by navigating uncharted waters. He was the defending event champion.
“It just shows the progress of this team,” Creasy said. “I don’t think we understood what we had done and we had won a couple of events. Clay Millican came up to me and told me we had discovered how to win. You are so tense you don’t realize what you do. I think I do now.”
FINDING WAYS TO LOSE – Bob Gilbertson is growing weary of his penchant of finding ways to lose.
Gilbertson met and defeated Andy Kelly in the opening round but he was shut off on the starting line in the semi-final when a camshaft plug broke allowing oil to leak from the car. This allowed Gilbertson's opponent Mitch King to take the win with an off-pace 23.98 second elapsed time.
"Once again another parts failure cost us," Gilbertson added. "At the last race the wheelie bar broke and now the cam plug breaks, we had the car to beat at both of these Canadian races and we couldn't capitalize on it. All we can do is go on to the next race and try our best and hopefully win a few to climb our way back up in the points."
FOAMING AT THE MOUTH? - There’s never a dull moment with Gilbertson.
Gilbertson's team was also short two crew members as they were stopped at the border by Canadian officials who wouldn't allow them to enter the country. The team’s official press release stated it was because their rabies shots weren't up-to-date. Or, it could have been for other reasons.
"Not having two key guys there put a big load on the rest of the team who worked their butts off and I'm proud of them," Gilbertson continued. "They all did their regular jobs then jumped in and did the rest of the work that had to be done. It was a team effort and I'm disappointed for them more than me."
GOOD SAMARITAN – Raymond Commisso runs a restaurant for a living and he says that when he’s not racing, he’s there. If not for a great partner that enables him to leave and go racing, he could never race in competitive Pro Modified.
Commisso feeds a lot of hungry people (up to 600 people a day) – seven days a week, three meals a day. He fills them up.
This weekend provided the opportunity for Commisso to treat himself to a full course of Pro Modified helpings. He brought in a brand new car and on it’s maiden voyage drove all the way to the winner’s circle.
Of course it was through the generocity of Roger Burgess that made this victory happen.
“This car was originally built for Al Billes,” Commisso said. “I bought it with a partner and then sold it to Roger Burgess, who owns Pro Care RX. Roger is a wonderful man and made of of this come through for us. In Bristol, he was in there with us helping to pack parachutes.
“It’s a great feeling to know we have someone behind us to support us like he does financially. Not so much that, as it is the moral support.”
Something told Commisso this was his day to win it all.
“When I came through the gates, I knew this car would run because of what Al Billes could do,” Commisso said. “Al worked on that car for ten days to get it ready for this weekend. We had the car sitting in our shop, but we really had no incentive to get it running.”
That was until Burgess gave the go-ahead to get it running and test it for him.
“We had a great G-Force Race Cars Camaro at home that was capable of running 5.90s at 240 mph,” Commisso said. “We just wanted to come in and test this car. We were really looking for Monday testing. We never imagined that we’d get to where we did today.”
LAND OF BROKEN STREAKS - Carl Spiering ended a streak dating back to Rockingham in 2004 when he failed to qualify for an International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) meet. Spiering and his Eaton-sponsored Camaro Pro Modified did not make the show at the IHRA Mopar Canadian Nationals at the Grand Bend Motorplex in Grand Bend, Ontario this past weekend.
“We had a small parts failure that surfaced during the first two rounds of qualifying that could have caused some very serious damage and we opted to park the Eaton Road Warrior prior to the our final attempt to qualify and regroup for the next event in Martin,” explained Spiering.
“It’s disappointing and a little setback, but we’ll come back at the next race stronger than ever,” he continued. “After our strong showing out west the Eaton team is even more determined going into the next event.”
YEAH, IT STILL FLIES WICKED FAST - Steve Spiess, the 2005 Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com Pro Stock world champion, won a Nitro Jam national event for the first time since the 2005 Skull Gear World Nationals when he defeated Frank Gugliotta in the final round at the Mopar Canadian Nationals. Spiess, from Manhattan, Ill., carded a 6.389 at 219.22 mph to claim the championship against Gugliotta, who lifted out of the run.
The Spiess Shuttle was cruising.
“The car has really started to pick up the last couple of races, but my driving has been poor and it showed,” Spiess said. “There are things that happen at home that can mess up your mind, and when you’re here you really think that you shouldn’t be here. In 2005, when we won the championship, we had things our own way all season long, but last year we only went to one final, so that shows how much of a change we went through.
“Things are going real smooth at home now, and things at the track have just fallen into place. Mike Baker gave my daughter a lucky rock, so I have to thank Mike – maybe that helped us win the race.
“We’re certainly changing things around this year,” Spiess said. “We’ve qualified well all year, and now we have a win. Like I said, everything just fell into place. I felt great when I woke up this morning, and that’s real important because so much of drag racing is how you feel mentally.
“I had Frank Gugliotta in the final, and he’s always tough at the tree, and you know he’s going to go from A to B. He, bar none, is the guy who makes me most nervous to go against. He’s good at the tree, like I said, and he’s a good racer. I was ready for him today, though, and I even holeshotted him. I think he could have gotten down there on me, especially the way the lanes were a bit divided, bt we were on our game and held him off.
“A weekend like this is great. Winning and getting the Last Man Standing points both nights – I think we can work our way up now. I’m excited, I’m pumped – I can’t wait until we go to Martin in two weeks. The Last Man Standing program has really helped me, because I’ve been struggling at the tree recently, and this makes you focus on the tree on Friday and Saturday as well as on Sunday. It gives you more chances to improve your reaction times. And the extra five points every time doesn’t hurt, either.
“I’ll have to say that I’d have rather had the first 6.20 pass than the ten points this weekend, but hey – Brian Gahm did it and congratulations to him.
“We made some adjustments to the car this weekend,” Spiess said. “Nothing major, mostly just things with the clutch. We did experiment with a couple of other things, but I really don’t want to talk about that. Everything has really picked up. We haven’t been mile per houring very well lately, so going 219, 220 this weekend on a track that has some bumps that slow you down, well, we know we’re on the right track.
“This whole class has gone to another level. Engine builders Sonny Leonard and Jon Kaase have had to work extra hard to keep up, and they’re doing it. Every year they find another fifty horsepower or so. The cars are also improving every year – it has become so competitive out here that I don’t know where it’s going to end. The car that I won everything with in 2005, which is sitting in my garage, is not near the car I have now.
“It’s a natural progression, of course, but what it’s done is make racing more expensive. And Pro Stock is extremely expensive. In my case, it doesn’t really hurt that much, so I think it’s great. And it has made Jon Kaase work extra hard, and it shows out on the track.
The topic of conversation in the Pro Stock pits recently has been the use of Braswell carburetors, so Spiess had weighed in on the subject. “We’re not running the Braswell carbs right now. In fact, we have something on the car that no one else has. People don’t believe it works as well as it does. But we have Braswell carbs coming, so we’ll have them on the car soon.”
NEW POINTS LEADER - Robert Patrick regained the points lead with a semi-final finish.
Patrick’s weekend ended at the hands of Frank Gugliotta by a 6.374, 219.69 to 6.403, 219.04 margin. The loss of lane choice in the quarter-finals put Patrick into the less-than-advantageous left lane.
“It was just a tremendous weekend,” Patrick said. “We did the best we could with the conditions that we had. My hats off to Jim Weinert and the IHRA track prep crew, they did the best they could with what they had to work with. It’s unfortunate that it turned into a one-lane race track. All in all it was a great weekend.”
For Patrick, he’s hitting his championship stride at just the precise moment.
“I drove good this weekend and I felt that if we had lane choice then we might have had a legitimate chance at winning it all,” Patrick said. “I think we have as good of a chance to win this deal anyone going down the stretch. If I don’t win another race this year and just keep going to the semi-finals, I’ll take that.”
BATTLE OF LONDON - In the Alcohol Funny Car showdown, Noakes claimed his third career Ironman with a win over his friend and fellow London, Ontario resident Rob Atchison. Noakes left first, .031 to .080, and took the stripe in 5.947 seconds at 242.50 mph to Atchison’s 6.024, 242.41.
“This is my hobby – it’s fun,” said Noakes. “I’m living my dream, and I have family and friends who help me out all the time. We’re all family here, for that matter. We all spend a lot of time together.
“I was pulling my hair out waiting for this race to come to Grand Bend,” said Noakes. “It’s really tough to have all this stuff sitting in your garage and not be able to race. We came here to Grand Bend twice to test, and had no trouble running 5.80s. It’s just too bad that we don’t have the budget to go to Texas or Oklahoma. I would really love to go to Edmonton because it’s a Canadian race. I want to go to all the Canadian races. As it is, we plan to do five races this year, and I just want to do well. Winning is awesome, of course, but doing well to me means qualifying for the show and making sure you’re there on race day.
“Les Mellows, my crew chief, said we were going to win the race this weekend. I told him I just wanted to qualify. I had spent all my money, and I needed to make some more. I just wanted to qualify and put a few bucks in my pocket.
“After we started going rounds I figured that a low 5.90 would win, and I just had to be on my game as a driver,” Noakes said. “When we ran that (5.82) in the first round it made me real happy. That was the quickest pass of the day, and we’ll take those bragging rights, too.
“I can’t say that I was the most consistent driver all day. I can tell you about the mistakes that I made, and about the slaps on the hand I got from Les for making those mistakes. I will say that Les put a great car under me all day long, and the crew worked real hard. Working on these cars is not an easy job; we were sweating like crazy and wondering if the day would ever end. It did, and it worked out real well.
“There has been some talk about Les leaving Rob’s team and joining me. Well, Les and I were best friends 18 or 20 years ago and he worked with me when I first started racing. Back then I really couldn’t afford to pay him. He’s a smart man and I was holding him back, so when he had the opportunity to go to work for another team, I told him to go for it. He went to work for Rob and had a lot of success with him. Les wanted to cut back on traveling and going to all the races, but he didn’t want to get out of it totally, so at the end of last year we decided to team up again.
“Years ago, when we first worked together, Les always wanted to try things and I always had to tell him that I couldn’t afford the parts that it took. I bought a bunch of new parts this year – I almost went broke doing it – but the car is going to be real tough to beat at every race we go to this year.
“Life is good!”
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ZIZZO ON TOP - T.J. Zizzo ended up
holding on to the No. 1 qualifying spot in Knoll Gas Torco Racing Fuels
Pro Nitro Top Fuel, but defending Mopar Canadian Nationals champion
Bobby Lagana made him sweat it out in the last pair. Zizzo ran a 4.662
at 314.83 mph during Saturday afternoon qualifying to move into the top
spot, but Lagana took a shot Saturday night and narrowly missed bumping
Zizzo off the pole.
SWEET MEMORIES – “I love coming back to Grand Bend, because we won our first race here in 2006,” said Top Fuel competitor Bobby Lagana. “It was something I’ll never forget.
“We’re struggling a little right now, but I think this team is in a unique situation. We’ve got a lot of neat gadgets on the car now, and I think that’s part of the problem. We’re actually learning so much about the car that we sometimes think we’re smarter than we are. Now you understand something instead of just taking it for granted. I actually enjoy that more than just running a 4.70 every run without changing anything or putting something new on the car.
“Our car was new last year, so it’s nice to go to bed at night knowing that you’re driving a car that’s safe,” Lagana said. “I’m not saying that I drove stuff that wasn’t safe, but we put ourselves in suspect situations in the past. It’s good for the crew to know they have a good car to work on.
“This sport has definitely changed over the years – it’s gone in a lot of different directions. I’m only 29, but I’ve seen it go a lot of ways. The sport has had a different feel the last couple of years. We had a good time last year, but I don’t know – it’s kind of weird. We’ll keep going along and hopefully we’ll get our struggles out of the way.
“I tell people all the time that if we had to give up racing next year, next month, next week, or even the next day there’s so much we can take out of it,” said Lagana. “It would be very difficult to know that you couldn’t come back to race the way we want to do it, but how could you fail in life if you could take back what you learned through this and apply it to something else.”
The Lagana team has certainly elevated their program in the last several seasons, the most obvious thing being their switch to an enclosed race rig from the familiar ramp truck they used for years to haul their car and equipment to race tracks around North America.
“Yeah, three years ago we came to this race with our ramp truck,” Lagana said. “People ask me about the ramp truck all the time. Anyway, three years ago we left New York to come to this race on a Tuesday, because I wanted to get to the track early. Just two hours from home the truck broke down, and we had to change the cylinder heads on the side of the highway. We had everything fixed by Thursday night, and took off again for Canada. Two hours later, the rear-end broke, so we limped the truck home, put a new rear-end in, drove up to the track and qualified with a nine-second run on Saturday. Those are the stories about the ramp truck that we can’t replace, and we have lots of them.”
THE CANDY MAN CAN – Confectioner Mitch King has been hauling two nitromethane-fueled cars to IHRA races all season, and being responsible for a Funny Car and a Top Fuel Dragster comes with it’s own unique set of problems.
“Running in two fuel classes at one race causes a lot of stress and a lot of gray hair,” the Galveston-based racer said. “You’ve got to be partly crazy, too. Fortunately, we have Bexar Waste and Sunset Cove helping to make this happen. We’ve run both cars at every IHRA race this year, and we’re going to try to make it to all the races left on the schedule.
“We did it three times last year, and we decided to make all the races in 2007,” King said. “We’re having a good time so far, and we’re doing fair. We had a rough weekend at Tulsa, but we’re keeping the fun meter pegged. We’ve thought about just bringing one car to a race, but with the distances we travel to most tracks it makes more sense financially for us to try and qualify both cars.
“We have a young man on our crew named Dave Gallegos who is going to be getting his Top Fuel license soon, and he’ll take over driving the dragster. We’re just bringing him along slowly so he doesn’t get in over his head. That will take a little pressure off me, and he’s also bringing a little money to the table, so that helps things out.
“We’re just trying to have some fun and not overdo it.”
NITRO FUNNY CAR
NO JOY ON FRIDAY – Nitro Funny Car competitor Jack Wyatt squandered a prime qualifying opportunity Friday night when parts breakage left him dead in the water – literally.
”The throttle cable broke on the burnout just as we stepped on the gas, and it went wide open,” Wyatt said. “It hurt the motor a bit – put the burst panel out, but we fixed everything and we’re ready to go again. It’s just tough that we had to that last night when the air and conditions were so good. We’re down to two shots at the show, but we’ll be all right.
GO GILBY - Bob Gilbertson gave the standing room only crowd at Grand Bend Motorplex a thrill. Gilbertson shot to the top of the Knoll Gas Torco Racing Fuels Pro Nitro Funny Car qualifying sheet when he posted a 5.011 at 258.91 mph in the Saturday evening qualifying session.
“Everyone in Canada is pretty cool,” Gilbertson said of the huge Canadian crowd. “Live Nation does a great job of putting these things on. I hope everyone who came out today comes back tomorrow. We’re planning on putting on a great show. We’re either going to blow it up, put it in the wall or put it in the Winner’s Circle.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON - Scott Cannon Jr.’s astounding 5.997 pass Friday night held on to the pole in the Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com Pro Modified class. Cannon set both ends of the track record Friday and will battle Jason Hamstra in the first round. Mike Janis, Kenny Lang, Ed Hoover and Tony Pontieri rounded out the top five on the qualifying sheet.
MOVING ON UP - John Russo, a cabinetmaker from Massachusetts, has enjoyed considerable success in the Pro Mod ranks the last couple of seasons, and now he’s aiming to step up his program even more.
“We have a ‘68 Firebird just about ready to go,” he said. “It’s just about the same as Scott Cannon’s car, and it was built by Jim Geese at Vanishing Point Race Cars in Pennsylvania. Hopefully, if everything goes right, we’ll debut the car at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis in September. I have sold my current car to a local racer back home in Massachusetts.
“I’m really excited about the new car, so it’s really hard to stay focused,” Russo said. “We have an outside chance of making it into the field for the Pro Mod Shootout this year, but to tell the truth I’ve lost a bit of interest in running this car. I’ve got a lot going on with the new car, but we’re going to give it our best shot right now and just have some fun.
“Thanks to Al Billes and my whole crew it’s been a great year,” Russo said. “We’re going to stick with the engine and combination we have right now when we get the new car on the track. We have plenty there to do what we have to do. It’s all about planting the tires.”
NEVER TO LATE TO LEARN - Ed Hoover is a charter member of the Pro Modified fraternity, and in the years since the inception of the class in 1990 he’s been a prime player, first with a nitrous combination, and more recently with a supercharged powerplant under the hood.
Hoover always did most of his own work, but the evolution of the class has dictated changes for those wishing to remain competitive, and this was not lost on the man from South Carolina.
“This season we decided to go with an engine tuner,” Hoover said. “We hired Al Billes over the winter to do a bunch of research and development and to help us with our program. This is a professional class and we decided that we had to step up and get a dyno-tested engine and the right parts to do the job. That’s what this class is all about now.
“It all paid off when we won the first race of the season at San Antonio,” Hoover said. “We hurt our good motor at Rockingham – we ran well but we hurt our motor. At Tulsa we were down on power, so we went back to the dyno and found out that the trouble was in the car and not the engine. We changed out a bunch of stuff in the car, and by the time we went to Edmonton we had everything sorted out, and we won again.
“We’ve got a good year going – we just have to see how it all shakes out at the end of the year at Rockingham,” Hoover said. “I take it one race at a time – I don’t sit around and count points or anything like that. Hopefully we can do enough good and be there at the end of the year.
“I’m not sure where we are in the Shootout points, but [car owner] Paul Trussell told me we have an outside chance of getting in that deal if we do well here. We’re real close to getting in, but what hurt us was not having the right power at the end of last year.
“We’ve got a real team effort this year – I’m not used to that,” Hoover said. “For years I drove the truck, built the motors, and crewed the car. Now this deal is a lot more serious. Everybody else stepped up and hired half a dozen people – I don’t have that many, but I have two really good people and the help of Al Billes. He helps crew on the car, too, checking out the track when other classes run, which is something I don’t have time to do. Hopefully now I can work on being a better driver.
“If we get into the Shootout we’ll be chasing a Cannon again’” Hoover said. “Scotty and I fought for years in Pro Mod, and his son Scott is a chip off the old block. He’s going to be like his daddy, and be as knowledgeable, if not more knowledgeable, because of what they have out there now. When Scotty started he had it tough because they didn’t have any trickle-down technology from other Pro Mod cars. He had to make his own power. Today you can buy all that information. With all the power he’s making now Scott is going to be tough; real tough.”
Proving that he and Trussell are determined to keep pace with the top runners in the class, Hoover well soon have a new car to ride into battle in.
“We have a new G-Force ’67 Camaro with a Synergyn body being built,” Hoover said. “We’ll be able to put a big tire under it, and that’s something we’re looking forward to. Now, on race day, when the sun comes out the track might go away a bit, and that big tire might be a big advantage. We can only run a 34.5-inch tire on the Corvette because of the body shape and the wheel tubs. We’ll build the Camaro so that we can run a 36-inch Top Fuel tire. It’s a lot of tire but it’s come to that. This tire we’re running now doesn’t want to push a 2,700-pound car on a greasy, slimy, hot track. When you make the power you need to win the race, the tire gives up. Cannon has proved that the big tire is the way to go, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
RECORDS FALL - Brian Gahm ran the first 6.20 run in Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com Pro Stock history Friday night. He backed up his record, officially a 6.299, during Saturday afternoon qualifying and the time stood up against the field when all qualifying was complete. He will face Rob Mansfield, the No. 8 qualifier, in the first round. Robert Patrick ended up second on the qualifying sheet with a 6.318 pass at 220.15 mph. Steve Spiess, Frank Gugliotta and Pete Berner rounded out the top five.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING – When Pete Berner laid down some impressive passes at the recent Tulsa race, the Pro Stock pits quickly became a hornet’s nest of rumor and innuendo. The Jon Kaase-built powerplant in Berner’s GTO was topped by carburetors from the shop of Dave Braswell, and some claimed that this gave Berner an unfair advantage.
Like so many similar situations, this turned out to be a tempest in a teapot, as Berner explained. “Everybody has them now. When it started out we did the prototype work for Dave Braswell, with the castings that we had last year. Out of what we learned last year Dave developed this casting. We had the first set, the prototype set, and in fact we’re still running them on the car. To tell the truth they’re not as good as the productions carbs are now – Brian Gahm ran a 6.29 with them last night.
“Most all the people who ordered them when we started going through all this received them at the first race this year,” Berner said. “When I ran real fast at Tulsa we had them on the car; other guys had them but nobody elected to put them on. After that, people who had them put them on, and some ran better and some didn’t. It’s just tuning – I mean, Jon Kaase builds a heck of a motor, and it just so happened that the carburetors complimented the engine that Jon developed. This motor is an awesome motor – it wants to jump out of the frame rails when it runs. You go down the track and every piece of the car is shaking. This thing has a tremendous amount of power and the carburetors just enhance it.
“There has been a lot of controversy because everybody wanted these carburetors now and people are saying it’s just nor fair and we have an advantage and so on. We just went into production with them, and we didn’t know if they were going to be good, bad, or indifferent. We took a gamble on them, and lo and behold they’re great carburetors.
“Every time we go down the track we learn something,” Berner said. “We didn’t make a good run here on Friday, for example, so we changed a bunch of stuff around because we’re still learning about them.
“There are guys out here who have good carburetors that aren’t Braswell carburetors, and they’re going fast. They could put Braswell carbs on and not pick up as much as somebody who didn’t have a good set of carburetors to start with.
“They’re purpose built for big motor racing, and they’re available. Anybody who ordered them has them or will be getting them real soon. Dave is on his third batch of carburetors, and they’ll be going out next week. The demand has been tremendous, and some teams have ordered four or five sets. It takes time, but there’s no problem with availability.”
ON HIS GAME - Brian Gahm added to his string of firsts Friday night by running the first 6.20 in IHRA Pro Stock history. Gahm, of Lucasville, Ohio, became the first into the 6.40s in 2004, and the 6.30s in 2005.
“That was a great run last night,” he said. “The guys have worked so hard with this combination and this new car, and Jon Kaase has given us lots of power. It all came together last night. But I have to say that there are a number of guys here who could have run that 6.20 last night.
“Cliff Moore, my crew chief, worked all day yesterday laying graphs from runs going back to 2004 one on top of the other. He finally came up with the set-up he wanted to try, but as I was sitting in the lanes last night I saw car after car blow the tires off, so I asked Cliff if we had gone the wrong way. He said no, let’s go with our gut feeling. So we went down the track, and fortunately it worked out great. But like I said, other guys could have done it too. I’m glad it was us, though. We made the right call and the other guys just missed it. It doesn’t get any better.”
Oh yes it does. In the first qualifying session today Gahm posted a run of 6.355 to back up his Friday night effort and establish the Pro Stock elapsed time record.
ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
ALIVE FOR FIVE? - Mark Thomas has advanced to the final round of each of the first four Knoll Gas Nitro Jam events this season. He appears to be well on his way to his fifth. Thomas claimed No. 1 qualifier honors in the Alcohol Funny Car class on the strength of a 5.838 pass at 241.76 mph. Thomas will face Paul Noakes in the first round of eliminations. Larry Dobbs was second on the sheet with a 5.841/242.41 pass while Tim Stevens ended up third.
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HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS – T.J. Zizzo is leading the Top Fuel points battle, but with Bruce Litton less than a round of racing behind him, and plenty of other heavy-hitters chomping at the bit to play the role of spoiler, the Chicago-based racer needs all the help he can get to stay ahead of the pack.
To that end, veteran tuner Rahn Tobler, who was spotted in
the Zizzo pits at the previous event in
Zizzo explained how it all came about. “It’s really good to
have friends in this sport,” he said. “Rahn and Dave Settles, our crew chief,
have been good friends for years, and I have known Rahn myself for quite a
while. He told me that any time we needed some help, and if he was available,
he’d come to some races with us. With Dave’s blessing, I called Rahn before the
“These guys are a great group, and I have known Dave for a long time,” Tobler said. “It’s just fun to come out and hang out with these guys. They try very hard and hopefully they’ll win a championship. The IHRA program is really growing, and it’s nice to come here and see just how competitive the Top Fuel fields are getting.”
After one session of qualifying, Zizzo sits atop the field after he posted a mark of 4.662 seconds at 314.83 mph.
THE SHIRT OFF HIS BACK - Multi-time IHRA Pro Modified champion Scotty Cannon, who is running a Top Fuel car for Evan Knoll this season, was seen wandering around the pits earlier today with a pack strapped to his back. Now ordinarily that wouldn’t be unusual, but the story behind it is worth telling.
Cannon, who is from
When pressed for details, Cannon muttered “(blank) no!” when asked if his bags had resurfaced. “I was ready for them this time, though,” he said. ”We were running real late for the plane, so I grabbed a shirt and a pair of pants and stuffed them in this pack. Guess I’ll have to go shopping real soon if the stuff doesn’t show up.”
Cannon’s son Scott was having a better time of it, however, recording a career best 5.997 elapsed time 237.92 mph to claim both ends of the Grand Bend Motorplex Pro Modified track record and grab the provisional pole.
“My dad and I thought about it all day, thinking if we were going to back it down,” Cannon said. “We finally decided not to because the air was so good and you see what happened.”
Things actually went pretty good for dad, too, as Scotty Cannon qualified No. 2 for the Top Fuel field with a solid effort of 4.768, 301.07.
NITRO FUNNY CAR
DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE – Defending Nitro Funny Car champion Dale Creasy Jr. has added a second driver to his stable, at least for this weekend’s race at Grand Bend. Veteran shoe John Lawson will be behind of the wheel of Creasy’s 2006 championship-winning car.
“We’re really blessed to have the opportunity to come out here,” Lawson said. “We’re really looking forward to it. I really appreciate Peanut giving us this chance. We’ve been watching the IHRA racing, and wishing we could be out here. When we should have been out here we just didn’t have everything together, so this is great.
“I hope I haven’t hired my own assassin,” Creasy said with a laugh. “I picked the best guy I could find to drive my car, and one of the only guys I would trust to drive my car. So whatever happens -- happens – we’ll just have to see. John will be driving the car I won the championship with last year, and for the first time we have information on every track we’ve raced on. I’m not sure if that will help, but theoretically it should help. We’re going to give him a good safe car, and if it does good then good for him.”
After the first session, Creasy claimed the provisional top qualifying spot with a 5.062 pass at 300.73 mph.
“We were getting a little nervous because it looked like the Funny Cars were having problems getting down the track,” Creasy said. “But we were able to put a clean pass together. We’ll be back at it tomorrow.”
Lawson made it into the No. 3 spot with a run of 10.378,
ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
ALIVE IN FIVE - Ohio-based corn farmer Mark Thomas has been to the Alcohol Funny Car final at each of the first four Nitro Jam national events this season. He qualified Friday like he intends on making it five-for-five, blistering the quarter-mile in 5.838 at 241.76 mph to end up on the provisional pole heading into Saturday.
A pack of Canadians are hot on Thomas’ tail, however, with Larry Dobbs in the No. 2 slot, followed by Rob Atchison (4), Paul Noakes (5), Scott Wildgust (6), and Trevor Lebsack (7).
INTERESTING? - After the first of three sessions, Scott Cannon and Ed Hoover
sit 1-2 in qualifying. 16 years ago at
the IHRA Bristol Fallnationals, when Scott’s dad Scotty was battling it out
with Al Billes for the championship, Hoover defeated Billes in the quarterfinals
to effectively hand the title to Cannon.
NOT HELPING THEIR CAUSE - Coming into the event there were a handful of drivers with a mathematical chance of getting into the Shootout. After one session, Ed Hoover is the only one in the top half at second. Raymond Commisso is 16th. Tony Pontieri and Mike Janis are unqualified and John Russo did not receive a time after rolling the beams and just coasting the quarter mile.
A CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS A REST – Raymond Commiso has a perfectly good race car at home in
“It seems crazy, doesn’t it? Our G-Force car has taken us to
a final and four semifinals in HRA this season, run a 5.98 at 245 miles an
hour, and qualified third or better at every race," Commisso said. "At the IHRA opener at
“We’re going to try to qualify here this weekend, and if we do, fine, and if we don’t that’s fine, too. We’re going to stay on Monday and do some extensive testing, and that’s our main goal this weekend – to get this car sorted out.
“Al Billes builds our engines, and what can I say about him? Having Al Billes in your corner is like having Michael Jordan on your basketball team. He’s the best. He proves that with me and with all the other guys he tunes for. It’s not only the power he makes with the engines he builds, but he also knows how to run the cars, which is just as important as having the horsepower. That’s why we’re No. 2 in points in the NHRA. This has been a dream come true for me.”
THE TRADITION CONTINUES – Former IHRA Pro Stock champion Brian Gahm has made a career of being the first to smash performance barriers.
2004, at this same track, he became the first member of the Quarter-Max 6.40 club. A year later, the the Lucasville, Ohio-based racer became the first member of
the Lenco Transmissions 6.30s club when he posted a run of 6.395 at
It was only fitting that Gahm continue his streak by kicking open the door to the Jerry Haas Race Cars 6.20s Club Friday at Grand Bend. His 6.299 pass at 220.66 mph was the quickest Pro Stock pass in recorded history.
“I like getting some of my money back from Haas,” said Gahm,
who drives a Jerry Haas-built 2007 Mustang with Jon Kaase power. “This is a
brand new race car and it doesn’t get any better than that. I’m tickled to
death. We contemplated what to do with the transmission and Cliff (crew chief
As he approached the end of the track Gahm wondered if his car was going to stay together.
“When I hit the high gear the thing was flat carrying the mail,” he said. “When I got to the high side it was banging around and I thought the engine was coming apart. When they first told me I thought I heard them say a 6.39 because it was banging around so much. We were shooting for a 6.32 and would have been happy with that, but everything came together with the weather and it was a heck of a run.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY – Mountain Motor Pro Stock turns 30 this year, and who better to reflect on the history of the big cubic-inch class than Pro Stock veteran Rickie Smith.
“It really got started in IHRA,” Smith said. “The NHRA was running weight per cubic inch and people got tired of trying to figure the rules out. They kept putting weight on this guy or that guy because Ford runs this and Chevrolet runs that, and the IHRA said hey – enough of that. We’re going to up the cubic inch and everybody is going to run the same.
“The first big motor I had was a 632 – that’s where everybody kind of started out, and it wasn’t long before we started running big numbers,” Smith said. “They were fast, and the NHRA took notice. It took a couple of years, but the IHRA cars were running so fast and getting so much attention that the NHRA followed suit. They didn’t want to make it unlimited, though, so they set a limit of 500-inches. That’s still Mountain Motor to be, because anybody knows that 500-inches or bigger is a big motor.
“Today we’re running engines that are 200 cubic-inches bigger than that, and they’re pretty awesome,” Smith said. “I like the way they feel – the way you drive them. They keep Gs on you in the car. We run five-speeds in them now, and you stay pretty busy changing the gears, so they’re fun to drive.
‘The cars get wild – they get squirrelly, and that’s what
the fans want to see. They want to see cars get a little crazy and not be sure
just what they’re going to do. We have the 500-inch cars done to such a science
now that they hardly ever do anything stupid. That’s just not too exciting. The
Mountain Motor cars are the bad-ass cars right now
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MOMENT OF A LIFETIME - Bobby Lagana, Jr. had been down almost every road that drag racing provided and they weren't always paved. Last year, he traveled down ultimate avenue with the first career national event victory of his career.
After trying for nine years, doing whatever it took to get from race to race, Lagana had an Ironman. All those trips with the dragster pointing skyward on a ramp truck, all those times the checking account dipped into single digits, all those near-misses, DNQ’s and first round losses were wiped away with one single shot down the track against the driver who had done more for Lagana than any other driver on the
IHRA circuit, Clay Millican.
Millican, with his Crew Chief Mike Kloeber, took Lagana and his rag-tag team under his wing years before they squared off in the final round in Grand Bend. Lagana and his brother, Dominic, were kind of “honorary” crew members on Millican’s Werner Enterprises Top Fuel team. In fact Lagana had “Werner” on the back of his wing for a number of years…not because Werner gave him sponsorship, but because he
destroyed his wing on a pass and had to borrow one from Millican and Co. The Laganas worked the wing off in the Millican pits. Dominic, in fact, would sometimes accompany Millican’s team on the road when it crossed over into NHRA competition.
After Lagana defeated Millican in the final round at Grand Bend to win his first career Ironman, the happiest person on the grounds was Lagana. The second happiest, without a doubt, was Millican, who jumped out of his car at the end of the track and rushed over to congratulate an emotional Lagana.
When Lagana met up with his brother a few minutes later the tears flowed.
“I just looked at him and said ‘this completes us," Lagana said. "We had been trying for so many years and had been through so much,” Lagana said. “At that point the emotions took over. My team has had its shares of ups and downs, but that feeling in Grand Bend is something I will never forget. I still get a little choked up thinking about what that win meant to me, my family, (Crew Chief) Jay (Lewis) and everyone who had helped us out over the years…especially Clay and Mike Kloeber. We probably would not have been racing if not for them.”
Lagana won again later in the year in Epping, N.H. and currently sits third in the Top Fuel points race this season.
REDEMPTION - Terry McMillen might be a little late off the line in Friday's qualifying session because he's still dreamin' and not in a hurry to wake up from his dream weekend of winning Top Fuel in Edmonton. But, he knows all well the Grand Bend alarm clock will go off soon.
"That win was big for both the Amalie team and the Torco team," McMillen said. "Everyone is still pretty pumped up about it. The phone hasn't quit ringing and my inbox is probably still full. But, as soon as we pull into the track at Grand Bend it will be all business."
While the Edmonton race may prove to be the turning point for the teams, McMillen credits the positive changes to the Tulsa race. "When the fuel car didn't qualify at Tulsa, Doug Foley and Tim Lewis and the crew went to work overtime," McMillen explained. "They did everything to get that car identical to Doug's car. We had one piece left to change and now in Grand Bend we should see the full results. We expect this car to run the kind of numbers Doug has been scorching tracks with this season."
MAINTAINING BALANCE - T.J. Zizzo admits the most important balance of Top Fuel racing has little to do with the dragster itself.
Somewhere between tucking the kids into bed and keeping customers happy at the family-owned body shop, Zizzo works racing into his regimen. Zizzo will remind you that he's just a part time guy.
"It's a fine line and something that always requires a balance," Zizzo said of his juggling act. "Last season started out tough and Grand Bend was the first time we qualified for a race in 2006," commented Zizzo. "Then 'tough guy' (Bobby) Lagana takes us out first round. Then I look at the race we just left in Edmonton and we're having some problems right before Friday qualifying and Lagana is over there helping us out on our car. He's ready to take parts off of his car to get ours running. Where else do you see stuff like that? The Top Fuel family is one I'm proud to be a part of."
Zizzo maintains that his crew is his second family.
"Most of our guys have been with us from the beginning," Zizzo said. "If you look at our team, it's a tight knit group. They're a great bunch to go into battle with."
FIRST TIME? - For as long as Dale Creasy, Jr. had raced it was unthinkable that he'd never won a national event. But that changed last year after the third race in the newly formed IHRA Knoll Gas Nitro Funny Car division. He enters this weekend's Grand Bend event through uncharted waters as defending champion.
Creasy had toiled in the Nitro Funny Car ranks for over a decade defeated Bob Gilbertson in the final round.
“I got crushed about 25 times,” Creasy said of the top end celebration that followed his win. “Our team and Bobby Lagana’s team were down there high-fiving and hugging. We’re both doing the same thing; for years and years we’ve both been out here just trying to make a go of it. We both got into the final and both won. Amazing.”
Creasy's feat was unbelievable; so unbelievable that it didn't register for a while.
“I don’t think it sunk in for a couple days,” he said. “It was probably the best weekend I ever had racing because everything worked out right.”
MAKE MINE A DOUBLE - Race fans will be seeing a double dose of Creasy this weekend as the team adds a second flopper driven by John Lawson. This is a one-race deal with the potential of becoming a full-time venture.
"John is a great guy," Creasy said. "He drove for my dad years ago. He's a great family guy. We're going to have some fun this weekend. Who knows maybe we can find a way for John to be back out here full time."
Lawson will shoe the same car that Creasy drove to the 2006 Championship. "We haven't touched a thing on that car since it won the Championship last season. It's ready to go. I know John will do a good job with it."
"It's a lot different sitting here at the house than racing," Lawson said. "I'm looking forward to getting back out on there on the tour. I always remember how well IHRA treated everyone."
MARKED IMPROVEMENT - In Edmonton, the Paul Lee's team debuted an updated chassis with new light weight body. The end result was a No. 3 qualifying position and semi-final finish.
"We hope to continue where we left off," said Lee. "Grand Bend is a nice track. Besides being a good track to run on, it's near the resorts, so that makes it even better. The weather is supposed to be cool this weekend, so we're really looking forward to the night qualifying session. We just want to qualify well and take it one round at a time from there.
"We made some good progress in Edmonton. Our goal this weekend is to build on that and see if we can keep the cylinders lit. If we can do that, we should be able to go fast and not hurt parts. Bottom line is we want to make a good showing for Rislone and our associate sponsors Bar's Leaks, Allied Machine & Engineering, Permatex, Perryman Specialty Titanium Products, Goodson and M&R Products."
Team Owner Jeff McGaffic shares the team's optimism going into this weekend. He's also got that proverbial telephone lifeline at his disposal as well.
"We're looking forward to the weekend," said McGaffic. "Jimbo Ermalovich was our Crew Chief last year and even though he's not our Crew Chief this year, he's always a phone call away or will come look at something at the track if we have a problem. We really appreciate the fact he is still willing to help us when we need it despite working for Scotty Cannon's Top Fueler this year."
BLANKETY-BLANK WHEELIE BAR - Bob Gilbertson is coming off the recent Rocky Mountain Nationals where he was the low qualifier and re-set both ends of the track record but a broken wheelie bar ended his chances in the first round of competition. His performance there gives him hope that he can still contend for the championship. He's currently in fifth, a little less than 200 points out of first, a lot of ground to make up but not out of the realm of possibility with seven races remaining on the schedule.
"It's crunch time for me and this team," Gilbertson said. "We all know what we've got to do, that's qualify well, grab all the bonus points we can, go rounds and hopefully win a few races. We've got our work cut out for us and with guys like (Dale) Creasy, (Terry) Haddock, (Jack) Wyatt and a surprising Andy Kelly all in front of me in the standings we've got some tough competition and we have to perform and not make any mistakes."
Gilbertson's crew chief, Tommy Delago, knows what he has to do.
"I've got to make sure that Bob has a car he can qualify well and win races with," Delago added. "After Edmonton I'm confident that we've got a handle on the tune-up and if we don't have any more stupid things happen like the wheelie bar breaking I'm sure that we can give the rest of the field a run for their money."
CRUNCH TIME - With just one more qualifying race left before August's Torco's CompetitionPlus Pro Modified Shootout, a handful of drivers still have a mathematical chance of earning a berth into the $20K field.
The five on the outside looking in features a whos-who of Pro Modified talent with Mike Janis, Ed Hoover, Tony Pontieri, John Russo and Raymond Commisso.
The current eight headed into this weekend's event is as follows: Scott Cannon, Danny Rowe, Jim Halsey, Kenny Lang, Quain Stott, Carl Spierring, Eddie Ware and Mike Castellana.
GOOD EXPERIENCE - On the road to his 2006 Pro Modified World Championship, Stott made a semi-final appearance in Grand Bend. Adding to that, Stott's team car driven by Tommy D'Aprile qualified No. 1. Grand Bend has been a track that Stott has enjoyed, posting one win, one runner-up and two semi-final appearances in the past six seasons.
"Grand Bend has always been kind of a special place for us," Quain said. "It was the first race we ever ran in Canada and for whatever reason we've ran well here over the years."
Stott will need to continue his success to keep pace. Stott, currently sixth in points, is within striking distance of the top contenders, and knows he must keep pace to defend his championship.
"Right now you look at the top of the pack and you see Cannon and Stoken," says Stott. "They're both running some big numbers race in and race out and if the rest of us aren't careful these guys can run off and we'll be wondering where they went."
NO EXCUSES - Carl Spiering his hoping his recent success will translate into momentum this weekend.
Spiering qualified the Eaton Road Warrior No. 2 at Edmonton with a 6.103-second, 234.37-mph run. And he got to the final but was beaten by a mere four feet.
“We were pleased with our performance in Edmonton,” stated the 42-year old Spiering. “Our ERD (Engine Research & Development) engine program has been very successful. We’ve got it where we want it, and we’re now going to concentrate on getting some winning laps with this hot rod.”
Spiering added he is confident even with the stout group of Pro Modifieds traditionally competing at Grand Bend; the team will do better than last year’s fifth qualifier and second round loss.
“We’ve got the equipment,” he said. “Right now there’s no excuses. I’m going to be on my game plan and drive my best.”
HIGH CARB INTAKE - One of Pete Berner’s strongest attributes has created quite a bit of stir in the pits – a set of Braswell carburetors.
“Dave Braswell’s 7520 carburetors have really complimented our engine program,” Berner said. “It works well and this combination has helped our guys to make those crucial tuning decisions right on the money.”
But, before you credit the carburetors totally for his success, Berner said you might want to consider the cohesiveness of his team as another factor.
“We have had a great team effort and we are coming into a point in the season where it is working to our advantage that all of our team is firing on all eight cylinders,” Berner said. “When you couple that to great horsepower from Jon Kaase and a great car from Rick Jones, throw in the carburetor talents of Dave Braswell – you have the combination that it takes to win.
“In a nutshell if you ask me what we’re doing to generate success that is the answer you are going to get. It is what we are doing down to a tee.”
Because Berner’s team has been on their game simultaneously, they have won the IHRA’s Last Man Standing Award at the last three events.
“We qualified on the pole the last two races and doing it back to back is something that is uncharted territory. When you add in the fact that we went to the finals in back-to-back races it is something that motivates you to go to the next level. I’m not saying this to glean any glory for myself but rather for my crew. They are the one that busts their butts to make it all happen. If you’re looking for somewhere to give credit – looking at those guys is as good of a place to start as any.”
NOTHING LEFT ON THE TABLE - Robert Patrick readily admits consistency has always been his albatross. He’s been a dominant figure for the last few seasons, but there has always been a streak of misfortunate that nailed him to the wall when it came down to the final points tallying time.
In Tulsa, after qualifying solidly on the pole during Friday’s qualifying, Patrick mortally wounded his primary engine during the first session the next day. Fate dealt Patrick a favorable nod when rain delayed final eliminations. That provided Patrick’s engine builder Bob Ingles the opportunity to not only fix the damage but to up the ante for the competition.
Patrick’s revamped engine acquired some extra horsepower, but for some reason it did not jibe with the conditions that Tulsa Raceway Park offered.
Patrick lost the first round of eliminations; not exactly the kind of reward he had in mind for gaining engine power. That prompted a team meeting.
“We all got together with Bob Ingles and we just laid it on the line,” Patrick said. “Bob is breaking his back to give us a great motor and we are too good of a team to be this inconsistent. We just made a pact to return to the basics and go from there.
“That’s what we did. We went back to what got us in the winner’s circle in San Antonio and decided to work from there.”
HEAVY HEART - Forgive Patrick if he hasn't been himself lately. He's still coming to grips with the loss of close friend in the days leading up to the Tulsa final eliminations.
Cary Coleman’s death left Patrick reeling from a setback that no test session could overcome or that money couldn’t buy relief from.
Patrick learned a lot from Coleman over the years about fitness and proper maintenance of his body, but the most invaluable lesson – how to be a friend – was what left a lasting impression.
“It’s been a tough few weeks,” Patrick, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, said. “Doing as well as we’ve done lately eases the burden some, but it is still tough. Being tough motivates us. You have to smile when you don’t feel like it.”
Patrick’s recent victory during the IHRA Rocky Mountain Nationals ensured that he’s won at least once every IHRA Knoll Gas Nitro Jam event in Canada. As fate has it, he's headed to Canada again this weekend for the IHRA Canadian Nationals in Grand Bend, Ontario.
The Edmonton victory was extra special to Patrick. He’d trade the fourteen others for this one because he won it for a friend.
“I won it for Cary,” Patrick said. “He carried me to the winner’s circle and that’s the greatest ride a friend can have.”
Or, one can give. Rest in peace Cary.
HANG ON SLOOPY - You have to give Terry McMillen credit, he's not a quitter. One race after winning his first career Top Fuel crown, he's still looking for a win in Alcohol Funny Car. That elusive win has not been for lack of effort or faith.
"Andy (Mac Daddy) McMillen and Tad (TV Tad) Heflick have stayed after this new combination," McMillen said. "The car ran the second low E.T. on Saturday in Edmonton and it's the happiest that motor has been in some time."
Andy said, "It's serious. As long as we don't sabotage ourselves this car is going to run the kind of performance numbers that will have Terry back in the hunt for the championship." The team made positive moves to the tune-up in each qualifying round in Edmonton. "We made a pretty aggressive call on the clutch going into the first round," said Co-Crew Chief Tad (TV Tad) Heflick. "Terry's a Funny Car guy. If we don't send him out there with a car that shakes a little bit he won't know how to drive it. Unfortunately we gave him a little more shake than anyone can drive through."
MY HOUSE - Nobody comes into Rob Atchison's house without being made aware of his roots. The announcement comes with his performance. Atchison claimed his first career AFC victory in Grand Bend and went on to become the first Canadian driver to win an IHRA world championship.
He's yet to win at the Motorplex since, but that doesn't stop the memories from flowing every time he rolls through the gate.
“Grand Bend is forty-five minutes from home and I made my first ever drag race pass at the Grand Bend Motorplex,” said Atchison. "I drove the For Wheels Auto Super Pro Camaro and bracket raced regularly at the “Plex” in Super Pro until we bought our first Funny Car from former IHRA competitor Doug Hearsum. We put a cast iron Big Block Chevy with an automatic transmission in it and ran Pro Comp at Grand Bend, London Motorsports Park and Toronto Motorsports Park. We ran 6.60’s at over 200 with a steel motor and were very competitive winning the Grand Bend Pro Comp Championship. The car was an ex Bob Newberry car so it was built for a small driver so I couldn’t run a clutch type transmission so when we decided to go true Alcohol Funny Car racing we bought a car from multi-time NHRA Division Champion Terry Mullins and put an aluminum Big Block Chevy in it."
A large feather in Atchison's cap has been in gleaning success from a Chevrolet wedge engine in a world dominated by Hemis.
“We took the Chevrolet as far as we could and to this day are the fastest stock block Chevy to run Alcohol Funny Car,” stated Atchison. We are Chevy guys and the AJ 481X was based on a Chevrolet and my dad Bob and I thought we could develop it into a winner. We had to basically do the whole learning curve on our own because nobody else was running an AJ in Alcohol Funny Car. We now make a bunch of our own stuff that has improved the performance and reliability of the 481X.
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