Rockingham, NC - Buoyed by a semi-final appearance at the previous IHRA event, the Amalie Oil North American Nationals in New Hampshire, Kingsport, Tennessee's Tom Lee returned for the fall race at Rockingham Dragway with a definite plan of action.
Rockingham, NC - Buoyed by a semi-final appearance at the previous IHRA event, the Amalie Oil North American Nationals in New Hampshire, Kingsport, Tennessee's Tom Lee returned for the fall race at Rockingham Dragway with a definite plan of action. After all, it was at the season opener held at this venue that Lee set the world record 6.552 elapsed time mark that left his fellow Sunoco Race Fuels Pro Stock competitors shaking their heads in amazement.
Hoping that lightning would strike twice, Lee brought his Charlie Taylor-owned 2001 Mustang back to the "Rock" in an effort to strengthen his grip on second place in this year's championship chase. Chances were very good that class-dominating Gene Wilson would wrap up the 2001 title at this event, so Lee was focusing as much on holding off the charge of number three man Ron Miller as he was on taking down Wilson.
His weekend started off slowly, the first shot at qualifying yielding a 20.907 on the heels of tire shake and handling problems down track. Later on Friday, he rebounded with a 6.694 at 206.73, good enough for tenth spot in the provisional field. Day two of qualifying didn't offer up any improvement, in spite of a solid 6.709 at 206.89 run in the heat of the day. When the dust settled, Lee maintained his number 10-ranking heading into race day.
It was here that his memories of Rockingham 1 were tempered by the reality of Rockingham 2. Lee rolled to the line opposite number 7 qualifier Steve Spiess for the first round of eliminations, and cut a slightly better light at the start. Unfortunately, as his Mustang made a snake trail down the first 300 feet, his elapsed time suffered, and Spiess took the win by 0.010 seconds, 6.716 to 6.738. Whatever his original game plan was, it certainly didn't include a first round loss.
"Yeah, we sure wanted to do better here at Rockingham," Lee said. "We struggled in qualifying, and then get knocked out in the first round. It's kind of tough to swallow. After all, the championship may be out of reach, but we're still in a points battle, and every round counts. This Charlie Hunt team has been in there battling all year long, and we want to do the best we can the rest of the way, and then look at what we can do to step it up just that much more for 2002. This operation has too much going for it to be denied a championship for long"