IHRA PRESIDENT'S CUP NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - MILLICAN TURNS '51', JANIS JAMMI" IN MARYLAND, CANNISTER VICTORIOUS IN RETURN, FOURTH TIMR THE CHARM FOR KING, BERNER TAKES POINT'S LEAD
THE FALL WEATHER 'IS' HERE- The fans and racers attending the IHRA Torco Racing Fuels President's Cup Nationals were treated to three days of beautiful weather and Sunday's conditions may have been the best all weekend. A light breeze, a few scattered clouds and mild temperatures created an ideal racing environment all weekend at Maryland International Raceway.
MILLICAN TURNS '51'- Clay Millican was the only driver with lane choice to take the left lane in round one of Top Fuel. The Drummonds, Tennessee native turned out to be the only driver to win from the left lane, defeating Scotty Cannon in a pivotal race in the points chase for Cannon, who entered the event just 48 points out of first place.
Millican advanced to his first career IHRA final round without former crew chief Mike Kloeber, after defeating Floridian Michael Gunderson in the semifinals. The driver of the Knoll Gas dragster squared off against current Top Fuel point's leader T.J. Zizzo, who defeated Bruce Litton to reach the final round. Millican was gunning for a record 51st IHRA national event victory in Top Fuel.
Millican left the line first on Zizzo and never looked back, recorded a 4.576 at 325.85 mph to earn his first victory with crew chief Johnny West. The top end speed also backed up Millican's 328.14 mph qualifying run to set a new IHRA national speed record.
"I'm just really proud to get a win for Evan Knoll," said the always excitable Millican, "He picked our team up and gave us all the parts and pieces anyone could ask for and we came here because it's the Torco Nationals. We just wanted to do the best we could and dang if we didn't have a good weekend.
"We ran fast enough in the final to set a new speed record and it feels really good for the car to run that quick and fast in the final," added Millican. "I was so proud of what Johnny (West) accomplished. He shouldn't even be here, he's got torn ligaments in his knee and he'll probably need surgery but he still just worked his tail off this weekend."
Millican didn't have any misgivings about being a thorn in the side of those in the IHRA Top Fuel point's chase.
"I was nervous because I raced Scotty Cannon, one of Evan's team cars in the first round, and he's in the hunt for the championship," Millican explained. "I called Evan and said 'what do you want to do?' and he said 'may the best man win'. It was a heck of a drag race. I thought about stirring up the point's a lot, but this is the Torco Nationals and we drive for Evan. He wanted us here and we're going to do whatever he wants us to do because he is just awesome."
NITRO FUNNY CAR
Only one of the drivers with lane choice (Dale Creasy Jr.) took the left lane in the first round in Funny Car, where he defeated Terry Haddock. Choosing the right lane may have proved costly for the other drivers with lane choice as both Jeff Diehl (No. 6) and Jack Wyatt (No. 8) won their first round races from the left side of the track and the bottom half of the ladder.
Both of the No. 1 qualifiers in Top Fuel and Funny Car took the left lane in round one and were victorious.
FOURTH TIME A CHARM FOR KING- Mitch King upset 2007 Nitro Funny Car champion Dale Creasy Jr. in the semifinals to advance to his fourth final round of the season. King and veteran crew chief Paul Smith went into the final round with lane choice over Spring Nationals winner, Jack Wyatt.
King dropped a cylinder right off the starting line but still recorded a 5.133 at 289.45 mph to earn his first career national event victory. Wyatt ran over the top end timing blocks and his run was disqualified.
"This is my first national event win and it feels pretty damn good," said King with a grin. "Today we just 5-teen them to death. We were actually trying to run a little harder than that in the final but it had a hole out from the hit all the way down.
“But that Paul Smith is one bad dude. He worked for me a few years ago and we all got along good. His guys liked my guys and we've been pretty darn fortunate. Normally Paul doesn't help guys with no money, so I'm pretty fortunate he's over here helping us.
Anyone thinking King was nervous entering his fourth final round of the season still looking for a win was wrong.
"I just tell myself 'it's another Fuel Altered race," said King, "and we've won a lot of them. Jack (Wyatt) is a tough opponent and we knew he was going to go up there and try and run a 5.0 and that's what we we're trying to do and we just let the cards fall where they may."
JANIS JAMMIN' IN MARYLAND- The Torco Comp Plus Pro Modified final round featured former IHRA champion Mike Janis against John Russo, with Janis owning lane choice by running over a tenth of a second quicker than Russo in the semifinals.
Janis, appearing in his third final this season, arrived at MIR in second place in the point's standings with a chance to cut into the slim lead held by Scotty Cannon Jr. Russo has also been hot lately, winning the North American Nationals in Epping in August.
Both cars left the starting line together and shook the tires slightly, but Janis quickly regained control and pulled away to take the win with a 6.025 at 241.63 mph to Russo's 6.127 at 241.24 mph
"It kind of feels like 2001 when we set the record," said Janis with a smile. "At least we're back in the thick of it. We started off the year pretty slow. We had a lot of horsepower and couldn't figure out how to put it to the ground. But the last five races have just been outstanding. The chassis guys, Steve and Mike Jr. put a nice program together for the chassis and clutch and it's been working awesome.
"Now we have to get rid of the new style body car and I'm kind of disappointed in getting rid on the G-Force car," Janis added. "But, the IHRA has their own feelings about what should race and what shouldn't; I don't agree with it but that’s the way it is."
ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
CANNISTER VICTORIOUS IN RETURN- Alcohol Funny Car featured a male versus female final round with six-time IHRA champion Mark Thomas against the Kalbones-sponsored ride of Laurie Cannister.
Thomas, the AFC current point's leader, entered the final round with the mental edge on the strength of three wins in five final round appearances this season.
Both cars left with identical reaction times before Cannister took control, driving away from Thomas to earn the win with a 5.780 at 245.49 mph to a 5.845 at 245.09 mph
A former Pro Outlaw world champion, the President's Cup Nationals was Cannister's first race in Alcohol Funny Car since 2002.
"This is absolutely awesome," said an enthusiastic Cannister. "It's just been a story book weekend. To be able to get back in my old car because the people that bought it thought enough of me to put me back in it is just amazing. My husband Dale was tuning the car on his own this weekend for the first time and he just did an absolutely awesome job.
"We didn't hurt a thing all weekend and we ran low ET every round," said Cannister. "The new owners, Kevin and Wendy Sims, just called me two weeks ago and asked me if I would drive at this race and Rockingham. So this only came about two weeks ago. I just said 'twist my arm' you don't have to ask me twice to drive a Funny Car. I haven't raced in five years, 2002 was the last time I was in a Funny Car. I drove them for two years and the only race I won was right here at MIR. It really is a story book deal!"
BERNER TAKES THE POINTS LEAD- Dean Goforth squared off against Pete Berner in the finals of Torco Comp Plus Pro Stock. The race was particularly important for Berner, who entered the race third in the national point's standings and was appearing in his fourth final round of the season. Berner, who moved into the points lead with a semifinal victory over John Montecalvo, had a chance to extend his lead with a final round victory over Goforth.
Berner had an excellent .038 reaction time in the money round and never looked back, taking his second win of the season with a 6.307 at 222.40 mph. Goforth made a game effort, recording a 6.357 at 223.69 in his runner-up effort.
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK – BIG DAY FOR PRO STOCK, RECORD-SETTING PRO MODIFIEDS, MILLICAN’S MONSTER EVENING AND BRAND’S BRANDING
OUTSTANDING WEATHER- The weather for Saturday's final day of qualifying at Maryland International Raceway was absolutely perfect. Cool temperatures, cloudless skies, a slight breeze and no threat of rain provided all the ingredients for a great day of racing at the Torco Racing Fuels President's Cup Nationals. Most of the cars improved on their performance from Friday, despite the sun shining directly down on the track throughout the day.
OVERFLOW CROWD- The crowd at the 17th annual Torco Racing Fuels President's Cup Nationals was so large that the parking lots on the facility were all overflowing, forcing spectators to park across the street from the event. See what some perfect weather and the chance to witness 300-mph race cars will do!
MILLICAN IMPROVES ON NATIONAL SPEED RECORD- Six-time IHRA Top Fuel world champion Clay Millican made the fastest run in IHRA history on Friday night with a 328.14 mph blast at 4.642-seconds to get a leg up on the national speed record. Millican, who actually pedaled the throttle on Friday's run, needs to back up the 328-mph run within one percent to make it official. The conditions on Saturday may play right into Millican and crew chief Johnny West's hands, especially during the evening session.
"It's certainly possible (to back up the record), even during the day today," said Millican. "I think a lot of the cars will run quicker than our 4.64 and I'm anxious to get out there and see how quick this Knoll Gas dragster will go on a nice smooth run. It shook the tires a little bit last night. The track was better than everybody thought last night and the air is always good here. Even during the first session today I think the track temperature will be low enough for us to go out there and back up the speed record. But I don't think you'll see an elapsed time record during the day."
Millican expected the track conditions to be good at Maryland International Raceway this weekend.
"I wasn't surprised with the conditions we had last night," said Millican. "There were a lot of cars that seemed to have trouble shaking early, and a lot of times what that is a combination of the track and the air being good and its hard to get the wheel speed you need to keep it from shaking. I was shocked we went a 4.64 after I pedaled it, the thing was on a monster run."
LAGANA'S LATE NIGHTS- Bobby Lagana drove the Twilight Zone dragster to the No. 5 position with a 4.866 at 293.15 mph Friday night, but it was far from a perfect run for the New York native.
"We missed the set up big time," said Lagana, somewhat perplexed. "We missed on the drive shaft speed and it shows that I pedaled it and the rest is history. Every run we're trying to run in the 4.60's but we just can't find the right combination. It's been a struggle."
Lagana noted that the team hasn't arrived back to their hotel at the last two races before 3:30 a.m.
"We've been short crew guys," said Lagana. "We've got a 12-year-old doing the clutch and my girlfriend Kim does all the nitro and cleans all the parts, and between the rest of us it's been late, late nights. Everybody buckles down here, but I can honestly say that I almost can't wait to go home."
GUNDERSON COMES OUT SHOOTING- Michael Gunderson piloted his John Smith-tuned Under the Gun dragster to the No. 2 position Friday night with a 4.668 at 301.74 mph. Gunderson, who's making his first visit to MIR, admitted the team was just feeling out the race track.
"John (Smith) just wanted to get the car to go from point A to point B," said Gunderson. "We figured it would be about a mid-4.60. It went out and hurt itself a little bit, but it was no big deal. It had the front end way up in the air and I back pedaled a little bit. It actually went four-hundredth's quicker to the eighth-mile than on our 4.63, so it was on a good run. This track is awesome. The air is going to be the thing. There's so much good air here, if the track stays good in the heat it's going to be great."
CREASY ON TOP- Dale Creasy Jr. qualified No.1 in Nitro Funny Car and admitted afterward that the team was trying a few new things.
"We're just trying some things," said Creasy, the back to back Nitro Funny Car champion. "It's starting to work. We didn't really do any testing before the championship was announced. And the changes we're making are minor. We weren't sure how to do it, but we had a couple of runs to make it happen.
"Tomorrow's another day," continued Creasy, "raceday is not going to be like it is tonight. So we're going to have to be on our game. I figured Gilbertson was going to better that (4.920) cause his car runs real good. But he didn't and we ran real good. The last two or three races the car has been coming around because we can afford to make the car a little more aggressive because we can afford to not win now. We want to win, but in qualifying when you go out and run 5 flat on your first run you've got room now. You've got two runs to try things. So maybe we're on to something for tomorrow. This track is beautiful, so we'll see what happens."
KING'S WILD BURNOUT- Mitch King raised a few eyebrows and probably the blood pressure of some of the starting line workers during his burnout early Saturday afternoon. One of the rear tire's on King's Corvette Funny Car grabbed the pavement instead of smoking the tires after rolling through the water box and the car quickly turned sideways, going up on two wheels before he gathered it back in and regained control.
"I was told they didn't squirt enough water down," said King. "One tire was dry and one tire was wet. Luckily I caught it pretty quick and didn't hit Paul (Smith, crew chief) or we'd all of been in big trouble. It was pretty hairy from where I was at and I asked them on the radio if they wanted me to back up and do another burnout and they said 'no just go'."
King laid down a 5.064 at 278.75 mph to move up from the No. 8 bump spot to the top half of the field in the No. 4 position, despite the awkward burnout.
"I had to shut it off a little early way down there at the top end," said King. "I was getting a little close to the wall but I threw the chutes out late so it didn't scrub off any elapsed time. The mile per hour was down but it was on a pretty good pass."
CREASY CRUISING- Newly crowned 2007 IHRA Pro Nitro Funny Car world champion Dale Creasy hasn't let up since clinching his second straight Funny Car title in Milan last weekend. The Chicago-native ran a 5.001 at 301.40 mph to qualify second Friday night. Then he returned and recorded a consistent 5.028 at 261.62 mph to remain in the No. 2 position going into third and final qualifying session Saturday evening.
"So far so good," said Creasy with a wry smile. "We ran what we wanted to yesterday and this morning an O-ring came out of the blower. It was going to run a little better, but we'll keep moving forward and see what happens later today."
GILBERTSON CONSISTENT (AND QUICK) - North Carolina's 'Burnin' Bob Gilbertson looked good during qualifying. The driver of the Autolite Funny Car laid down a pair of 4.92's on his first two qualifying attempts and his consistency helped him grab the No. 1 qualifying position going into the final session.
"We're happy we made two four-second runs," said Gilbertson after his second attempt. "There just not low fours like we wanted. Last night we were trying to run a 4.75 but we came up with a 4.921, and that's a little depressing. It seems like when you have a really good track and you're glued in, something will happen. You overpower the clutch or something like that.
"Tonight we'll throw the sink at it and see what the heck we've got," Gilbertson added. "We're feeling pretty good about it. I just have to get woke up and stand on it hard tonight."
Gilbertson did admit he loves running at MIR.
"This track here is great," said Gilbertson. "This track reminds me of Gainesville, you throw both chutes out and it's like 'man, why'd I do that?' because they had to tow me off the track. It's got a big, huge shutdown area and it's a good track. If Jimmy Prock was here, look out, this is his kind of place. Good air, lots of rubber and it's glued down good."
Gilbertson's was unsure when asked about his plans for 2008.
"Where still kind of up in the air about next season," Gilbertson explained. "With Cory McClenathan taking most of the sponsorship money away from all the Autolite teams, we're still a little up in the air with what we're doing. There's always good old Trick Tank (Gilbertson's company) to be out there. We'll be doing something, we just don't know what."
LAWSON’S LUCK- Chicago racer John Lawson rolled to the starting line for his second qualifying attempt Saturday morning but he never got a chance to make a run.
"We broke a throttle cable just as John went to do his burnout," said team owner and crew chief, Dale Creasy Sr. "That's just the kind of luck we've been having lately, little things just keep biting us."
SMITH MISSES BY TWO THOUSANDTHS- Mike Smith just missed qualifying for his second career national event in Nitro Funny Car. Smith just missed bumping out Jack Wyatt in his final qualifying attempt in the National Tire & Battery Funny Car by a mere two-thousandth's of a second Saturday evening.
"It was a great weekend for our team," said Smith despite the DNQ. "The team did a great job all weekend and we just need some more runs to be competitive with these guys on a regular basis. We'll get there eventually."
CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK – Scott Cannon, Jr. isn’t content with his famous Pro Modified racing father being the only championship in the house. He moved closer to clinching his first championship by establishing a new elapsed time world record (5.938) and earning the Last Man Standing award.
“We want this championship bad and we are doing everything we can do to earn it,” Cannon said. “We tried to get after it early, but shook the tires some but it came around tonight. We’re going after it tomorrow.”
Cannon had previous 5.99 and 6.00 runs before raising the world record bar.
THE NITROUS FRONT – Four of the sixteen qualifiers in the Pro Modified field utilize the nitrous combination.
The Awesome Motorsports team put one of their two cars in Sunday’s eliminations.
Mike Castellana landed on the bump spot with a 6.206 elapsed time at 230.17 miles per hour. Shannon Jenkins missed the cut.
On this weekend last year, the Awesome Motorsports team shocked the Pro Modified community by announcing their departure from longtime engine builder Gene Fulton to join the Reher–Morrison program. Today’s shortcomings doesn’t deter the past world champions.
“The program is working excellent for us and we have more power than we have ever had,” said. Jenkins. “When you increase power like that, you create problems for the car. We just have to make this car consistent. We have great cars, it’s when you start trying to apply this torque and you start trying to run early and then trying to make enough power to run with the blowers, you find yourself running on the ragged edge. We have the best power that we’ve ever had and I couldn’t be happier than I am with Reher – Morrison.”
Jenkins is credited with recording the quickest pass in nitrous history with a 6.09. That marked the first time a nitrous car had run in the 6.0s. He said consistency is their largest obstacle.
“The problem we are having, and we can run 6.0s, but we need to be able to do it on a consistent basis,” Jenkins said. “We’re not giving up on this. We may run out of patience, but we aren’t giving up. We’ve got the program if we can get the rest of the car to come together.”
This season the IHRA has permitted the nitrous competitors to raise their engine displacement past 800-inches. Jenkins said he’s content to use the rest of 2007 to prepare for a championship run next year.
“The blower guys are pretty much in the number range that they’re going to be in for a while,” Jenkins said. “That is, unless the rules change or something. I’m willing to sacrifice the rest of this year to get through this learning curve. We are doing this to be ready for the 2008 season. I think we can get there.”
How will they get there?
“It’s going to take a lot of money,” Jenkins said. “My mental stability when it comes to this is getting real weak. We’re not done yet.”
Jenkins said the nitrous fraternity continues to make gains, but those are often overshadowed by even larger supercharger gains.
“Whenever we make a great power gain, the blower cars come along and make an even larger one,” Jenkins said. “We ran a 6.09 and then they came out with a 6.02. That’s unheard of in a nitrous car. Our weakest link is not racing well on Sunday. You have to make runs. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. You have to be able to go up and down the track.”
JUST GIVE ME A SIGN – Ed Hoover wishes his time travel machine was working properly. If it were, he’d transport himself back to the 1999 season when he won back-to-back events after breaking out of a seemingly unbreakable slump.
Hoover has won twice in 2007 but appears mired in a several races long slump.
He can’t help but think back to 1999.
“Times have changed a lot since those days,” Hoover said. “There used to be 40 – 50 cars at an event and now there’s 18 to 20. That shows you just how difficult it has gotten out here. It shows how much money you need to race this class and how much money it costs.
“I still remember those days. This year we’ve won two races but we just haven’t won the races on Sunday that we needed to. We’ve had little things bite us from the ignition to the little trivial parts. You try to get over that stuff sometimes as hard as you fight it, it comes back to bit you.”
Hoover’s greatest enemy this year has not been a lack of horsepower, but the consistent application of it.
“You couldn’t tell a thing about your car in Michigan, it was the luckiest driver that won,” Hoover said. “When you have a track that you can’t get down consistently – you have to draw on luck. However, a win is a win. If I want to do anything to win this championship, it has to be this weekend. You have to roll with the punches.”
Hoover is still mathematically in contention for the championship, but with each early departure that window of opportunity gets smaller and smaller.
“I want that No. 1 so bad that it is eating me alive for each race to pass by and not be able to capitalize on things. I just want to take it one race at a time and win. We have a good car, tuner and engine. When the little things work right on Sunday, you win races.”
Hoover had no chance at winning the title at this point last season and his car ran better. Having the potential to win the championship and fighting the gremlins is as frustrating as it can be for Hoover.
“Last year we sucked – flat out sucked. This year, we’ve had the car to beat at so many races. We know that coming to the race track, we had horsepower – it was just a matter of getting it down the track. It’s almost a trade off because there’s almost as much pressure on being as close as you are on top. There’s a lot of stress there. Last year we spent much of the season wondering what was wrong.
“We have to do our job if we want to win this thing.”
RICH MAN IN THE PITS – Former IHRA Torco’s CompetitionPlus Pro Stock world champion John Nobile knew he had an uphill battle headed into this weekend’s Pro Stock Showdown. He’s got another challenge in figuring out how to spend the $20,000 that he won courtesy of Evan Knoll, Torco Race Fuels and Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com Saturday evening.
Nobile ran a 6.304 elapsed time at 221.49 miles per hour to defeat Frank Gugliotta, who drove Rick Jones’ Chevrolet Cobalt to a 6.320, 222.51.
“I couldn’t be any happier than I am now,” said Nobile. “We knew we’d be a player, but things looked grim after the first session and tried to piece things together after hurting the engine. We wanted to come out here and just make things work.”
Nobile’s event started out on a questionable note when he pulled through the gates at Maryland International Raceway with no engine in his Ford Mustang. The Jon Kaase engine that normally resides between the fenders of his car was damaged twice on the dyno due to faulty parts.
Nobile said he knew just getting to compete was a stand-alone achievement.
“It was a rush deal and anytime you rush things in Pro Stock, they don’t usually work all that well. The motor responded each round and just got better and better. After the first round, it became apparent to me that we could win this thing.”
Nobile credited the resolve of Kaase for making it all happen...
“John Kaase worked all through the night and delivered the engine to me personally on Thursday night. We put the motor in on Friday morning and here we are. There’s no better than Jon Kaase. He puts his heart and soul into these engines. He works for everybody out here.”
THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH – When you have Brian Gahm, you have a driver who has the potential of becoming the best game in town. Gahm used the final qualifying session to record the quickest and fastest run in all of drag racing.
Gahm shocked the capacity crowd at MIR by running a 6.281 elapsed time at 223.95 miles per hour.
“I never dreamed in my lifetime that I’d see a Pro Stock car go into the 6.20s,” Gahm said. “Then you have Pro Modifieds running 5.90s and 6.0s. I just never imagined this was even possible.”
Gahm didn’t know it was a good run initially but it became apparent shortly into the pass.
“It was trying to shake the tires down low because we had it a bit soft. I thought it was going to shake and it drove out of it real quick. The car was hauling the mail once it got halfway. I didn’t know how fast it would run, but I knew it was on a good one.
“When it got out of that shake, it carried the mail. We rolled the dice on that one. We were going for it. We left no doubt about that.”
A GREAT HONOR – For the last month, Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com has counted down the Top 20 All-time Mountain Motor Pro Stock drivers as voted on by a select committee of writers and individual involved in the class.
This evening the top driver over the last thirty years was announced.
Rickie Smith was awarded a special commemorative award from Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com publisher Bobby Bennett for earning a unanimous vote.
“This is an honor that I’ll remember for a long time,” Smith said. “When you work as hard as I have to get this stuff, you wonder if you will ever get recognized for it. Tonight was special to me. There’s a lot of time you are gone when you get honored.”
Smith got teary-eyed when sharing with the race fans how much the award meant to him and that he was aware his days as a driver were winding down. The sentimental Smith credited his supportive wife Nancy and their children as an incredible supporting cast since he graduated to the class in 1978 after totally dominating the Super Modified division.
“I got out of high school and had a small football scholarship – I had been married four months and my wife was three months pregnant,” said Smith. “We have been married thirty-six years now. When I went to driving bulldozers in construction with my grandfather, I only drove cars when I could find the time.”
Smith said his inspiration came from watching the legendary Super Stock 1957 Chevy of Mike Boyles and Lyle Epperson. Boyles is a seven-time IHRA world champion.
“I was inspired watching them and I used to try and beat them,” said Smith. “They were tough. That was where it all started and this is where it has traveled to.”
Earning this award was something Smith felt he was capable of, but felt there were others equally deserving of it.
“I figured I could be in the top five or top three,” Smith said. “You know I raced against some of the guys like Ronnie Sox and we had some memorable battles. Then Warren Johnson and I had some vicious startling line staging battles. When you are honored alongside of people like that – it says a lot.”
Smith said if he could be granted one wish, it would be for the next generation of Pro Stock drivers to fully comprehend the magnitude of how tough it is to become a champion. He is currently the winningest driver in the class with five world championships and thirty national event titles. Smith reached an unprecedented 52 final rounds.
“I just hope some of the younger drivers see what we have been able to accomplish and it inspires them to do the same,” Smith said. “You can do this but it is tough. You won’t work ten hours and accomplish it. You’ll work nearly 24 hours. That is what it will take.
“I worked in the basement of my home until 2:30 in the morning many nights and then I’d get up at 5:30 and go to work. A lot of people didn’t see that. My kids didn’t see that. All that happened for a lot of years.”
THE GOOD OLD DAYS – Smith said MIR was an integral part of his racing career over the years and particularly during the annual Wednesday evening Mountain Motor Nationals.
“We used to have some good days up here when we did the shootout on Wednesday nights,” Smith said. “We had the heavy-hitters like Lee Edwards, Warren Johnson and Harold Denton that used to come up here for that. There were always some battles – staging battles.”
Smith didn’t earn his nickname “Tricky” without knowing how to engage in some staging battles. He said he won more than he lost.
“You just can’t get these guys to play that staging battle stuff,” Smith said. “I liked it back then and it isn’t that I don’t like it now, it just seems like it was okay to have a little more controversy going on back then. None of us hated each other back then and we don’t hate one another now.
“It’s just friction and you want to win. I always think it is good for the crowd. They want to see people get mad at one another. You’ll get over it just like you might get mad at your wife. At least you hope they get over it. I think a little controversy is good for any sport.”
Just how prestigious was winning the Mountain Motor Nationals for Smith and his fellow competitors?
“Back then it was big,” Smith said. “This thing was almost as big as a national event. I don’t know. I am sure it is big to some of the young drivers coming up. But today, it just doesn’t seem like it has the same kind of zap today as it did back then. I guess back in the 1980s, we were the main attraction in doorslammer racing. This was before Pro Modified. When that class came along it took away some of the hype for this class.”
Smith said he’s a different person outside of racing – more sentimental. As for competitor, he said he’ll still go after the jugular.
“I think anyone that watches me knows that I still want to run hard and win every chance I can,” Smith said. “I know people always used to poke fun at me over the years because I was so passionate about racing. It means so much to me and to win because I know how hard I work. Maybe those who it doesn’t bring tears to their eyes doesn’t mean as much to them as it does me.
THE DIGNITARIES – Two of the IHRA’s most storied mountain motor Pro Stock racers served as the event dignitaries. Harold Denton, winner of the first unlimited displacement races, was honored as the Grand Marshall. Another longtime racer Roy Hill was recognized as the honorary starter.
Denton said he came tonight to honor the 30th anniversary of mountain motor Pro Stock racing. Of course, he wanted to watch the Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com Pro Stock Showdown. He won the event in 1991.
“That is 90% of the reason I came tonight,” Denton said. “This Showdown thing is huge. When I won this thing, it was huge but not only because of the money. It was to outrun the baddest cars in the country. I had the Sonny Leonard motor and I used to tease them.”
“I told them that once I put my car in high gear, I would pass them. There was a time I could spot some of them and run them down. That’s not the case today; you had better be on the tree.”
RATING THE TOP TWO – Denton said Smith and Lee Edwards rightfully earned their top two all-time driver rankings. He added their diverse driving styles made them equally tough.
“When it came to racing, Rickie was the king in driving,” Denton said. “Lee Edwards had a lot of horsepower and sometimes when you have that, you can relax some on your driving. But Rickie, he could have the slower car and beat you. I’d accuse him of cheating. I’d accuse him of guessing the light. I beat him a few times and he’d get to where he’d fuss at me a bit.”
Denton said he figured out Smith’s routine.
“He’d roll in there and not worry about seeing the light. I figured him out. When I’d see his wheels stop rolling, I knew it was time to drop the clutch. I did it a few times. I beat him at it a few times and that was like spitting in his face. He knew I had caught on to what he’d been doing to me for a while. He always wanted you to stage first, and I didn’t mind doing that. We were running a clutch at the time that if you drove it in, it was probably out of adjustment enough that you might not make as good of a run. So, I’d have to drive in and kick the clutch all the way to the floor. While I was sitting there doing that, if the tree was on you were going to be late.
“I watched him enough to get his rhythm and I beat him off of the line at one race. I have a picture where I had him by a car length by the time we passed the tower. Rickie got mad at me because I didn’t win the race. He was a good friend and has always has been. We may have fussed with each other a lot, but we traveled many roads together. He may not be superior in everything, but he’s one of the toughest you’ll ever race.”
THE PARADE STARTS HERE – Credit John Montecalvo with starting Saturday’s 6.2-second parade. He ran a 6.291 elapsed time in the final qualifying session. The Long Island, New York-based driver said last year’s absence from the Showdown provided enough inspiration to make it in this year.
Montecalvo entered the event as the fourth-seeded entry.
“We just had some issues with different areas on the car,” Montecalvo said about last season. “It had nothing to do with the car or the motor; we just found some things that made it run better. Our engine builder Sonny Leonard certainly picked up the power up a little bit. Pretty much what we attribute our success to this year. We have more power than we had last year. We have more power in different areas and Sonny working real hard to give us more. I’ve always had a good team; we just needed to get it together. This year we got it together. I consider this year fairly successful. Everyone is gunning for that No. 1 and it looks like it has eluded us this year.”
This season has provided rollercoaster results for Montecalvo.
“We started out with a bang and at mid-season we had a few mechanical failures and we’re not pushing blame, it is just one of those things. That’s just drag racing. We’ll give it our best and be ready for next year.”
A SPECIAL TRIBUTE – Look closely at the front end of the 2006 Ford Escort driven Jeff Dobbins and you will see a decal that reads, “My Daughter is in the U.S. Navy.”
Jeff and Cindy’s daughter is currently stationed in Japan.
“We’re missing here,” Jeff said. “It’s pretty tough with her being away, but at least in being in Japan she’s pretty safe.”
ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
JUST LIKE OLD TIMES – Dale Brand’s performance over the last two events is nothing more than a continuation of his blazing performance in 2002. Brand took a break after that season.
Brand led qualifying with a 5.604 elapsed time and to claim his second consecutive No. 1 effort. If the Funny Car field thought it could relax, Brand has got some more of the same in store.
“We have been working on this combination and it has a little more in it,” Brand said.
Brand’s return to action started 18 months earlier.
“We had the benefit of working on the car and not having to race every weekend,” Brand said. “It has freed us up to innovate. It has given us the opportunity to try new stuff because we are not caught up in a points battle. We can have fun and let it all hang out.”
Brand said the team may be running quick and fast, but they are in test mode.
“We always had a lot of things we wanted to try,” Brand said. “We were in the 5.70s back then and had some things that would have pushed us into the 5.60s. There were some things to do.
“Everything is pretty much built to our specifications on this car. The parts on this are custom built by us or we designed them. The majority of the parts are one-off. We are not deep. If we hurt anything we are done for the year but we have a lot of data for 2008.”
Brand warns this class is not one that will easily be run roughshod over.
“This is a tough class,” Brand said. “Everyone will step up – they are all good competitors.
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – LEE STILL ACTIVE, LITTON UNFAZED, RICHARDS STILL HOPING TO RETURN. MILLICAN BACK, GUNDERSON ALSO RETURNS
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE WEATHER - The weather was absolutely beautiful for the first full weekend of fall and the beginning of sportsman qualifying Friday morning at Maryland International Raceway. Mild temperatures, scattered clouds and a slight breeze provided idle conditions for both the racers and the fans, with the weather forecast excellent for entire weekend.
GUNDERSON RETURNS- Top Fuel driver Michael Gunderson made his first return to the IHRA tour since Tulsa in June. The former Alcohol dragster pilot plans to also compete at the final race on the 2007 IHRA tour at Rockingham.
"We know if we want to keep learning and keep this team going, you have to come out here and run some of these races," said crew chief John Smith. "Two weeks ago the entire team spent a week together in the shop working on everything and getting prepared to race. We want to come out here and try and qualify No. 1 and win the race, that's why were here. That's what Mike told me to do, come in here and be aggressive and see if we can get this thing to put some good numbers on the board and win some rounds.
LITTON LEVEL HEADED- Bruce Litton seems to be unfazed going into the final two races of the 2007 Knoll Gas Motorsports Nitro Jam series. The driver of the Lucas Oil dragster has won twice in four final round appearances and enters the event in Budds Creek just four points out of first place.
"I'm just to take it round by round," Litton said in a serious manner. "Even during qualifying you take it round by round and hope that you can learn something with each round to build on for the next run.
"Things take care of themselves," continued Litton philosophically. "We all chase points but what's going to happen is what's going to happen, win lose or draw. It's not entirely in our hands. We're just going to go out and have a good time out there and enjoy the moment."
I asked Litton if this was his normal routine and he admitted it wasn't.
"In reality," Litton eluded, "I think the teams start counting points long before the first event. They start looking at things like 'their stockpile of parts' and they form a game plan and figure out what they're going to do. Your actually counting points in February, two months before anything even happens.
"It ends up putting more stress on you that you don't need," said Litton. "You just go out and do your deal and what will happen is what will happen. You just have to go out and have a good time. Its fun for the people involved and also for the fans and the sponsors that are involved. A tight point situation definitely keeps more people interested in it than a run away."
MILLICAN BACK ON HOME TURF- Clay Millican was a surprise competitor at the Torco Racing Fuels President's Cup Nationals at Maryland International Raceway. The six-time and defending IHRA Top Fuel champion was excited to be back racing with his friends in the IHRA tour.
"I love racing here at Budd Creek." said the driver of the 'Ratt-Back For More' Knoll Gas dragster. "Evan (Knoll) said let's go have some fun and I can hardly wait. Anytime I get to drive the car I'm a happy guy. Budds Creek, Dallas, Richmond, Norwalk, I don't care just let me drive the car. Huntsville, Alabama, I don't care.
Obviously, back to back weekends at the racetrack hardly affect the Drummonds, Tennessee native.
"I don't have any problem racing every weekend," said Millican, "because what we're doing is non-stop testing. We're getting ready for next year. We're running a brand new chassis; last weekend (in Dallas) was the first weekend on it. We've got some more parts and pieces we going to test this weekend, and we're here to win this race. I want to make it No. 51!"
Millican currently holds the IHRA record for professional wins with 50.
WYATT STILL FIGHTING- Jack Wyatt didn't win the 2007 Nitro Funny Car championship, but he entered the President's Cup Nationals in second place and he is determined to finish the season in the number two spot.
"We're trying to get that No. 2 spot," said Wyatt. "We've been fighting hard all year. We've been tripping over ourselves, scuffing the front two cylinders all year. We think we might have found the problem at Milan. We're going out there and make sure this car runs good and try and win the last two races. We want to stay ahead of Terry Haddock and get that second place spot at least."
CREASY JR. NOT LETTING UP- Dale Creasy Jr. has already wrapped up the Knoll Gas Motorsports Nitro Jam Funny Car championship on the strength of his five victories this season, but the Chicago-native isn't ready to throw in the towel just yet.
"We came here to win the race," said Creasy. "That's what we go to every race to do. We have no pressure now, the point's chase is over but it's still going to be exciting. Wyatt, Haddock, Kelly and Gilbertson's are all right there fighting it out. If we qualify it's going to have to come through us one way or another so we're going to do our best just to get our car to go down the race track.
"If we qualified solidly enough we might try something tomorrow," Creasy said. "But our business at hand is to qualify for this race and be here on Sunday."
KING WANTS TOP 5- Two-car fuel driver Mitch King is still hoping to finish the season in the Top 5 in Funny Car in the season-ending IHRA point standings. King, who drives in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, each tuned by veteran Paul Smith, will finish in the Top 10 in both classes; however, he has his sights set on a Funny Car Top 5.
"We would like to win a race this year," said King, who has been runner-up in three Funny Car finals this season. "Our goal is to try and end up in the Top 5. We're still a little bit behind Gilbertson and those other boys that are fighting for second, but we still are fighting for that Top 5.
King has no problem with playing spoiler for the rest of the field.
"We'd like to get 'em upset," said King with a grin.
CREASY SR. GUNNING FOR HIS SON – Dale Creasy Sr. has been a fixture in drag racing since the birth of the sport in the early 1950's, and the Chicago-native was primed to go at Budds Creek. With fellow Chicago-resident John Lawson behind the wheel of his Nitro Funny Car, Creasy was hoping to cause plenty of havoc for his son, Dale Jr., the recently crowned and defending IHRA Nitro Funny Car champion.
"We're going to try and get it tuned up and give my kid a run," said Creasy with a smile. "He needs somebody to beat him, he's getting too big for over here. He's been running good, don't get me wrong, but we need to step on it and catch up with him. He's been doing really well, he's had a lot of runs plus he has some really good equipment.'
Creasy spoke of his son's success with fatherly pride.
"It takes money, everybody knows that," said Creasy. "He has a good sponsor with Evan Knoll so he can afford to go ahead and run good.'
The elder Creasy hinted at the fact that he may be back again in 2008.
"I think we might be back," said Creasy. "I might run one more year, I'm 67 now so I'm getting old," he laughed.
PAUL RICHARDS STILL LOOKING TO DRIVE- Before National Tire & Battery Nitro Funny Car team owner Paul Richards put his crew chief Mike Smith behind the wheel, he was the one who was suppose to drive the Chevy Camaro.
"I always wanted to drive a Funny Car," said Richards, "it's been my childhood dream. But I figured it would be better for me concentrating on securing the proper financing so we could get the car out there. Then I could get the opportunity to drive.
"But we kept using different drivers and finally I said 'you know I've got to do this myself'," Richards said. "Then I hurt my back on a job about three years ago. I finally went in and had surgery and got it fixed up a little more than a year ago. The back fells really good. I did test my back out at Frank Hawley's school driving a Super Comp dragster just to see how the feeling would be, because I was asked. I did that in September in Pomona and I did real well there. I felt comfortable, so now I'm ready to get in the Funny Car.
"It will probably be after Rockingham," added Richards. "I'm going to get in the car and make a couple of squirts and go from there. The way the National Tire & Battery team is working right now, I think I do a pretty good job managing and trying to hustle money, and we've got a lot of good guys here and Mike's doing too good of a job driving for me to say 'I want to be the driver right now'."
"If we ever had a situation where we could put a back up car out," said Richards, or possibly two-car situation. After I make a couple of hits at the Rockingham race then I'll know, but right now when I sit home and dream about it, absolutely I want to do it. But it's kind of on the back burner because of the fact I want to get the team properly up and running and acquire sponsors. I want to own and operate a team if I can't be a driver. The fire's still there!"
PAUL LEE ACTIVE BUT NOT IDLE- Paul Lee drove for Paul Richards Racing at the beginning of the season, but after relinquishing his driving chores, he's still helping the independent Florida-based team.
Lee is involved with an organization called The Science of Racing, a program which focuses on addressing the waning interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the United States.
"The Science of Racing is backing Mike Smith and the Paul Richards Racing team as an associate sponsor this weekend," said Lee. "We're working together to help the kids," Lee added. "That's what it's all about, helping the kids; promoting education, math and sciences to the youth, and these guys are helping us do that. I'm behind them 100 percent and their supporting me. These guys have a good race car and with Mike Smith tuning and driving and Paul Richards as team owner, they have a good team and a great shot at winning this weekend."
Lee, who drove the car at the first several races in 2007, has not completely given up his thoughts of driving again.
"It's both yes and no," said Lee with a smile. "Yes, I miss racing because I'm a competitive person and I like to race and that's my passion. But, at the same time I don't miss it. I love the competitive side. But I'm also working in things to help me move to the next level, and that's were I am in my career. My future goal is still to race full-time."
THE BIG PLATFORM – Scott Cannon, Jr. looked every much like his father during Friday evening’s ultra quick session. The second-generation driver drove his way to a provisional world record with a 5.993 elapsed time. This marked the first time that any Pro Modified driver had dipped into the five-second zone at Maryland International Raceway.
Cannon said he was surprised his Vanishing Point Race Cars-prepared 1968 Pontiac ran that quickly.
“I think I was as shocked as everybody else when I ran that one,” Cannon said. “I had pretty simple goals of making it down the track and just getting myself qualified.”
Cannon said it looks like most of his performances may appear to be hit and miss, but added sometimes it is just a matter of getting behind the eight ball at inopportune times.
“We’re just like anyone that runs an aggressive program that sometimes we miss it,” Cannon said. “We backed it down at the last race and that is probably what cost us. We haven’t changed a lot about our car but basically backed it down to where we knew it would run.”
Cannon leads the point standings with one race remaining after this one. He’s very protective of his lead.
“We started protecting it three races ago,” Cannon said. “We worked awful hard to get to this point and just not eager to surrender it.”
THE OTHER RECORD – Lost in the shuffle of Cannon’s five-second theatrics was the 241.02 mph speed from Mike Janis. Janis landed in the second spot with a 6.061 elapsed time.
For Janis, Friday’s qualifying had a striking similarity to a performance shootout that he engaged in with Fred Hahn in 2001. Janis ran a then unheard of 6.112 to edge out Hahn’s equally impressive 6.12.
Janis said it was his father that provided his greatest inspiration.
“We were battling it out,” Janis said. “We had run a 6.17 and then Hahn ran a 6.12. My dad told me I would go a 6.11. I told him that I hated to burst his bubble but my car didn’t have a 6.11 in it. We just threw some clutch in and leaned it out. Dad was smiling ear to ear.”
Janis adamantly denies ever sandbagging in those early days.
“A lot of people think I hold back but we are running it as hard as we can. We refuse to race fearing a rule change. Whether it goes fast or slow, it is as fast I can make it go. I never hold back.”
UNQUALIFIED – Two 2007 national event winners are on the outside looking in after one session.
Ed Hoover, winner in Edmonton, shook and smoked the tires at the hit and coasted through the traps.
John Russo, winner in Grand Bend, had problems and slowed to an 11.745 elapsed time.
Kenny Lang, winner of the Torco’s CompetitionPlus.com Pro Modified Shootout at Martin, Michigan, is also on the outside looking in.
NITROUS WATCH – There are seven nitrous cars in the provisional field after one session.
Jim Halsey leads the bottle rockets with a 6.151 elapsed time.
PATRICK, CONTINUED – Robert Patrick enjoyed last year’s domination of the President’s Cup Nationals so much that he decided to extend it one more year.
Patrick became the second IHRA Pro Stock driver to dip into the 6.20s with a 6.299 elapsed time at 221.13 miles per hour.
“It was just a great feeling to get into the top spot and claim that Last Man Standing award,” Patrick said. “We are so focused on this championship that every bonus point we can get means so much. We said we weren’t going to talk about them headed into here, but I got them, so we are talking. My guys work hard and Bob Ingles provides us with incredible horsepower.”
Patrick’s short times were impressive, but his second-half increments are worth bragging on.
“We went a 4.07 to the eighth-mile and they may be able to outrun us a little to the eighth, but if we keep doing what we are doing, they are going to have to come around me.”
Patrick said he doesn’t mind being the second driver to run a 6.20, although he wanted to be the first in a bad way.
“I was something we wanted real badly,” Patrick said. “We were racing conservatively and concentrating on the championship. Brian Gahm got the first 6.20 and then we outran him all the rest of the weekend. He got it first and I’m behind him and that’s fine with me.”
SCARY MOMENT – Unbeknownst to Patrick, Frank Gugliotta, in the opposite lane, got out of shape and crossed into Patrick’s lane during their duel.
“I saw Robert on his way to that 6.29 and I figured that I’d hook onto his bumper and get him to take me there too,” Gugliotta said with a smile when asked what happened.
Gugliotta, a two-time winner thus far in 2007, said the Rick Jones Chevrolet Cobalt immediately made a sharp right down track.
“You don’t have much time to think when something like that happens,” Gugliotta said. “The only thing I was worried about was keeping it off of the roof. You have to be careful not to overreact and whip the wheel back. I shifted into third and the rear of the car came around and I said it was time to quit.”
PENDING RECORDS – There are two pending records that could be established on Saturday with the required 1% back up.
Brian Gahm ran a 223.06 and Cary Goforth ran a 222.88 eclipsing the previous 222.06 mark.
Patrick’s 6.299 second elapsed time tied the mark previously established by Gahm.
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