NHRA: U.S. Nationals Night Qualifying Sets Field, But Drivers Say Race Day Conditions Are Different This weekend's (Aug. 28-Sept. 2) 48th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park is the most important event of the ...
NHRA: U.S. Nationals Night Qualifying Sets Field, But Drivers Say Race Day Conditions Are Different
This weekend's (Aug. 28-Sept. 2) 48th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park is the most important event of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season. As such, the schedule includes an additional qualifying session, with two of those five passes coming at night, on Friday and Saturday.
While night qualifying is spectacular for the fans, it presents competitors with a race-within-the-race. Track conditions -- more crucial to performance in drag racing than any other motorsport -- are often significantly different, with cooler temperatures in the evening. Thus, those runs typically determine the race day (Sept. 2) qualifying lineup of 16 in each class, while the three daytime runs are used to work on race tuneups.
In Indy testing last week, Darrell Russell was second-quickest among Top Fuel competitors, while Ron Krisher set an unofficial track record for the Pro Stock class at 6.862 seconds in the Eagle One Chevrolet Cavalier. The official track standard for the class is 6.879 seconds, set by Mark Osborne.
Valvoline/Eagle One racers comment on the challenges of day and night racing down the quarter-mile.
Darrell Russell (Valvoline-backed Bilstein Engine Flush Top Fuel dragster, three-time winner this season): "Night-time is strictly for jockeying for (qualifying) position. The day runs are for developing a tune-up for race day."
Joe Amato (retired five-time Top Fuel champion, owner of Russell's car): "At least you get two chances at it. If you miss the set-up on Friday night, you get a Saturday tune-up in the heat, and then come back Saturday night. I think that's a lot better for parity. I like that and I think it's good for the fans. Then, you've got two runs in the heat Sunday to get ready for race day. It's usually a crapshoot on Monday because the weather changes. It seems you're always testing and qualifying under one condition, and then a front comes through and the conditions change completely, and all you have in your computer (data) is out the window. That's why the crew chiefs get the big bucks."
Wayne Dupuy (Russell crew chief): "I kind of like it. You get to throw your banzai run out there at the night sessions. Then you come back in the morning and re-evaluate and build your race day tune-up from there."
Ron Krisher (Eagle One Chevrolet Cavalier, Pro Stock class, one win this season and U.S. Nationals runner-up in 2000): "I don't mind running at night. The big thing is where you are in the procession (qualifying order). If you're the first or second car out, before the shadows get longer, the temperature gets colder, the air gets better, that can hurt you. Usually, the daytime sessions at Indy are awful. The night-time, especially at Indy, is critical."
Matt Hines (Eagle One Suzuki, Pro Stock Motorcycle class, three-time champion, one win this season, 1998 and 1999 U.S. Nationals winner): "If you can't get your bike right by Monday, you've got problems. We've got the K&N Pro Bike Klash (special event) on Saturday, and an extra test pass on Friday night, so we have time to try a lot more stuff."
The IRP quarter-mile was repaved before last year's race. The Valvoline/Eagle One racers have different views on what track conditions will be like.
Russell: "I think it's going to be every bit as good, if not better, than last year. Some tracks get better as they get older. I guess it depends on how they were prepared, and how much they get beat-up by the weather."
Amato: "Usually, the tracks get better, because they get some running on them and they settle. It'll be polished up a little."
Dupuy: "The track usually gets better. It has more rubber on it. The thing that hurts us right now is the heat on the racetrack. With this tire, whether it's the one I'm running (older, harder) or the newer one, it doesn't like temperature. They've definitley slowed us down with this tire. You can only run so fast and that's what the tire allows"
Krisher: "Typically, they're not better. Chicago was a good example of that. It was smooth the first year we ran there and now it's starting to roughen up a little bit. We didn't have a real hard winter this year, so it's hard to know what it will be. I would not expect it to be better."
Hines: "It just depends on how the weather has been. The winters can be pretty harsh in Indianapolis. We'll start out by looking at last year's notes and then try to improve on that set-up."
NHRA Extra: Russell, Amato, and the Pressures of Indy
Darrell Russell came into last year's U.S. Nationals with experience in NHRA's most important event -- he was the 1997 sportsman class winner -- but as a professional "rookie" with the pressure of taking the seat of retired five-time Top Fuel champion Joe Amato. Russell made it to the second round at Indianapolis Raceway Park in Amato's Valvoline/Keystone Automotive dragster and finished the season with two wins and was honored as NHRA Rookie of the Year.
With three wins (Topeka, Denver, Seattle) already this campaign, is Russell more relaxed coming into the Labor Day weekend U.S. Nationals?
"I think so," Russell said. "I try not to let stuff like that bother me, simply because, you have to treat it as a normal race. If you try to go in there and tell yourself, 'This is the biggest race of the year,' you just put pressure on yourself and it's a way that you can choke. If you just go in with the mindset that we're going to do what we know how to do, and me drive the car the way I am supposed to, I think it's better."
Said team owner Amato, U.S. Nationals winner in 1987, 1988 and 1990: "He's more relaxed, in general, just because he's got more seat time in the car. It shows in his driving; he's learned how to peddle the car (get off-and-on throttle when tires spin). A Top Fuel dragster, compared to an alcohol (sportsman) car, has so much more horsepower. When it does spin the tires, you can peddle the car and still run a good number.
"It's an artform to learn that. Now that he's got a couple hundred runs down the track, he's a lot more comfortable doing what he's doing. You always have butterflys, because it's the U.S. Nationals, but I think he'll be more comfortable."
SCCA: 'Best Appearing Car' Award Returns to Runoffs
For the second consecutive year, Eagle One will present the Eagle One Best Appearing Entry Award at the SCCA Valvoline Runoffs, the national championships for amateur road racing. The 39th Valvoline Runoffs will be Sept.16-22 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, in Lexington, Ohio.
Laura Olson, of Costa Mesa, Calif., won last year's Eagle One award for her 1999 Mazda Miata in the Showroom Stock B class.
Almost 700 cars are expected to compete in 24 classes. Eagle One, marketers of premium waxes, finishes and polishes, will present a check for $1,500 to the competitor with the best appearing and prepared vehicle. In addition, the best appearing car in each class will receive an Eagle One appearance products bucket containing several of the brand's most popular products.
Known as the "Olympics of amateur road racing," the Valvoline Runoffs bring together racers who have earned their berth by placing in the top 10 in their class in eight different SCCA divisions. Classes include showroom stock, production, GT, Formula and sports racer. Valvoline is demonstrating its commitment to grassroots racing by sponsoring the Runoffs for the 18th consecutive year, offering more than $120,000 in contingency awards and a variety of products, including Valvoline VR1 Racing Motor Oil (the best-selling racing oil of all time), SynPower, Pyroil Automotive Chemicals and the Eagle One line.
Valvoline became the official motor oil of the SCCA earlier this year.
NASCAR: New Contracts for Benson, Ince
Johnny Benson and crew chief James Ince have signed multi-year contract extensions to continue with the No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac.Valvoline is co-owner, as well as sponsor, of the Winston Cup team.
Benson: "My goal is to do well and retire from this place some day. James and I have said from the start that we wanted to keep all of the crew members, team owners, and sponsors together and that is just what we have done. We know we have the foundation for a winning effort here and there is no place we'd rather work."
Ince: "Our goal is to win with Valvoline Pontiac. Simple as that. I have always said if they weren't paying us a dime, we would want to win races. I'd trade all the money in the world for a trophy."
James Rocco, Valvoline senior vice president: "This is great news for our company and all of our fans. We wanted Johnny and James and I know they wanted to stay with us. We think the team they have built and the people involved in our program are the kind Valvoline wants to be associated with. We took a bold step in owning this team so we have had a strong interest in making sure we have the people in place that we wanted."
BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS OF AMERICA UPDATE: Johnny Benson's performance in the No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac, combined with contributions from Valvoline and NASCAR fans, has brought the current total raised for Big Brothers Big Sisters since 1999 to $942,346. Valvoline is donating $5,000 for every Winston Cup race Benson wins, $2,500 for each pole, $1,000 for a top-10 finish, $500 for a top-20 result and $20 per lap Benson leads in this "Caring Hands" program. Valvoline has doubled its commitment to Big Brothers Big Sisters this season by donating the above amount not only to the national BBBSA mentoring program, but also a matching contribution to a local BBBSA chapter selected prior to each Winston Cup event.
Informed Sources: O'Brien New Ashland Chairman
Former Valvoline president James J. O'Brien will become chairman and chief executive officer of parent company Ashland Inc., effective Nov. 15, when current chairman and CEO Paul Chellgren retires. O'Brien was promoted from Valvoline president to senior vice president and group operating officer at Ashland earlier this year. He now is president and chief operating officer.
Also: Valvoline.com columnist I.N. Sider says NASCAR must deal with the growing issue of "aero push" and calls for a ban on wind-tunnel testing in the new "Behind [Closed] Garage Doors" column now posted on the Valvoline.com web site. The commentary/analysis column appears twice a month. Fans can sign-up at Valvoline.com for I.N. Sider's new free weekly "Track Talk" newsletter.