GM Racing Contingent Prepared To Set New Performance Standards At O'Reilly Nationals BAYTOWN, Tex., April 6, 2005 - Just nine weeks removed from the Pontiac Pro Stock Super Bowl which took place during the first weekend of February, the GM...
GM Racing Contingent Prepared To Set New Performance Standards At O'Reilly Nationals
BAYTOWN, Tex., April 6, 2005 - Just nine weeks removed from the Pontiac Pro Stock Super Bowl which took place during the first weekend of February, the GM Racing drag racing contingent is going back to Houston for the 18th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park. The low altitude (just 10 feet above sea-level), early spring weather conditions and the outstanding racing surface has usually meant great times, fast speeds and the potential for national-record setting performances at this Southeast Texas speed strip.
It isn't difficult to see why the Pontiac and Chevrolet Pro Stock cars enjoy running at Houston Raceway Park. Since the inaugural race at this venue in October 1988, the elapsed time Pro Stock national record has been set here seven times (1988,1990, 1992-95, 2003), or about once every two-and-a-half years, while the top speed national mark has been established six times (1992-93, 1995, 1999, 2003), or approximately once every 40 months.
Warren Johnson leads this distinguished club of Houston Pro Stock record holders setting the national speed mark four times (1992-93, 1995, 1999) and the elapsed time record three times (1993, 1995, 2003). His teammate and son, Kurt Johnson, is the most recent driver to set the national speed record at this facility driving the ACDelco Chevrolet to a top-end mark of 205.57 mph in 2003, the same year he defeated Scott Geoffrion in the finals for his second victory at HRP.
"Whether its Denver, or Pomona, or in this case, Houston, you race with whatever happens to your best combination, " explained Johnson. "Timing is everything when you prepare for a race, but there are a lot of hills and valleys out there, and hopefully we'll be on top of our game when we go back to Texas. We kind of missed at Gainesville and let that slip by, but now with these first three races out of the way, a little luck and some consistency will help us go a long way. The performance is up on the ACDelco Chevrolet where it needs to be, and now it's a matter of repetitiveness and adapting to conditions.
"The conditions we see in Houston could be real good, real bad or somewhere in between. You shoot for the record to get the extra 20 points, but you never know ahead of time if the conditions will be where they need to be. It's something you play by ear and if the opportunity presents itself, we'll give it our best shot."
During the first two months of the season, Johnson's ACDelco Chevrolet has run at the front of the pack during qualifying and now the 43-year-old Georgia resident is looking to parlay that performance into some solid round wins on raceday.
"We're going to have to get our clutch situation straightened out," said Johnson. "We've been soft at two of the first three races and it's cost us. It's all boiling down to the bell housing, and with two races left with the Cavalier before we retire it, we'd like to win them both. We need a little bit of R & D time to fine tune some of this new stuff. We have the new Cobalt coming on at the end of the month that we're looking forward to, but finding time for R & D in the middle of the summer is pretty difficult. Right now we're halfway on top of our game, we're not completely there but things are pretty optimistic around here."
Bruce Allen and the Reher-Morrison race team will make the three-hour drive down from their Arlington, Tex., race shop. Allen is a part of that Pro Stock drivers' club who have previously set a national mark at Houston Raceway Park, his record elapsed time coming in March, 1992.
"It's a good surface at sea-level, and most of the time we get to run with a real high barometer so historically that's made Houston one of the 'go-fast' tracks we race on," explained Allen.
In addition to his national-record and No. 1 qualifying run in '92, Allen earned low qualifying honors again at the fall contest in 1999 and has been runner-up twice (1990, '97). After struggling at the first three race of this year's campaign the 20-year veteran is hoping the return trip to Houston produces winning results.
"We're working hard at working out the kinks," said Allen. "We'll run Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday out here at the Motorplex and do some thing with the racecar to fix some areas that aren't working good right now. Engine-wise we found some problems and we're getting those sorted out, but we're talking minute stuff here which is all it takes when fields are separated by a fraction of a second. It's frustrating when you're not doing better and you're capable of it, but every team goes through that where they have their ups and down. Sometimes you have a problem that's strictly engine related and other times you pick up power but the car doesn't pick up performance. It's all intertwined and a matter of defining what to work on.
"We'll have an opportunity to measure ourselves against the rest of the field when we test this week at the Motorplex. You see trends when you're out running with enough good cars, and since you only have three or four runs when you're qualifying during a race, it's really good to test like that. And let's face it, you can narrow things down a lot quicker during 20 attempts in testing than four runs in qualifying."
If the Pro Stock record book is to come under assault at Houston Raceway Park, you can bet that current e.t. and top speed national mark holder Greg Anderson will be leading the charge, especially after his Summit Racing Pontiac reset the performance milestones at Gainesville Raceway with a run of 6.633 seconds at 208.23 mph.
"Setting both ends of the national record at the Mac Tools Gatornationals was a tremendous confidence builder," said Anderson. "We're still not where we want to be though, especially when you look at how some of these other teams are stepping up. The Gainesville event, with Jason's (Line) win and the way my Pontiac was running, was a nice shot in the arm and has us headed back in the right direction. We didn't have that at Pomona and Phoenix.
"I don't know if we'll be able to go much faster or quicker than we did at Gainesville because those kind of atmospheric conditions don't usually come this late into the Spring. But if we do, it probably won't be much more than a hundredth of second quicker than what we ran at Gainesville."
Anderson is the defending champion at HRP which accounted for one of his 15 national-event victories in 2004 and where he previously won the race in 2003. He holds the e.t. track record at 6.693 seconds and the speed track record at 205.72 mph, both established last year when he earned low qualifying honors. The 2003-04 NHRA POWERade champion is hoping Houston is the venue where he captures his first victory of the '05 season.
"The performance on the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac is definitely beginning to come around," said Anderson. "It was just a matter of bearing down, getting back to the racetrack, doing a lot of test runs, getting back in sync with each other and getting that thought process back where it needs to be - where we had it last year. We were making small mistakes at the first two races even though all the parts and pieces were there. Te non-stop testing, making lap after lap after lap, that we've been doing since the beginning of the year is beginning to pay dividends."
Two semifinal-round appearances and a No. 1 qualifying spot have two-time Pro Stock champion (1996-97) Jim Yates off to his best start since 2002 when he finished second in the points standings. Yates earned his 29th career low-qualifying award at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., and then at Gainesville, Yates drove the B & W Pontiac Grand Am to a career-best elapsed time of 6.672 seconds, and speed of 205.76 mph. He is currently third in the points standings.
"In order to win the Pro Stock championship you must learn how to win rounds," said Yates. "Then you must learn how to win a race. When we win a race, then we'll be in a position to be a championship contender. We're really close to the winning part of the package. When we put everything together we could take the lead. We are back in championship mode, almost back to where we were in 2002."
Heading into the Houston event (where Yates appeared earlier this year at the Pontiac Pro Stock Super Bowl), the 51-year-old Occoquan, Va., resident has a 5-3 win-loss record this year during eliminations. Yates was a No. 1 qualifier at this race in 2000 and has been runner-up twice (1995, 2000).
"Jamie (Yates) is doing a good job tuning the car," said Yates. "He's been making the right calls and our Pontiac has responded to the changes. We've been able to try different combinations by going rounds on Sunday. That's a bonus. You learn much more running in race conditions and we haven't been able to do that in a couple of years."
The 18th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals on April 8 - 10 is the fourth race on the 23-event NHRA POWERade schedule. Qualifying can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, April 9, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern. A three-hour broadcast of final eliminations will be telecast on ESPN2 on Sunday, April 10, starting at 7 p.m.
Pre-Event Stats & Facts
" Current Pontiac Grand Am Pro Stock driver Mark Pawuk added his name to the list of Houston Raceway Park national-record holders in March of 1990. In addition to the national e.t. mark, the 47-year-old Akron, Ohio resident defeated Rickie Smith in the finals for his first career Pro Stock win. Pawuk also earned low qualifying honors for the first time at Houston in 1990 and posted a runner-up in 2001. " Jason Line's Pro Stock victory at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., on March 20 was Pontiac's 145th all time in NHRA competition, the most by any manufacturer in the history of the category. Chevrolet is second on the all-time Pro Stock win list with 122, it's most recent by Dave Connolly on Feb. 13 at Pomona (Calif.). " Greg Anderson will enter the O'Reilly Nationals in Houston with the longest qualifying streak in Pro Streak at 50 consecutive events. Larry Morgan is second on the list with 36 consecutive races and Anderson teammate Jason Line is third with 26 (Pontiac). " The young 22-year-old Ohio stalwart, Dave Connolly, moved back into first place in the Pro Stock standings after driving his Chevy Cavalier to a runner-up finish at the Gatornationals. Connolly holds a 20 point lead over second-place Warren Johnson (Pontiac) and a 41 point lead over third-place Jim Yates (Pontiac). Jason Line is tied for fourth place with Allen Johnson. Ron Krisher is in sixth place, Greg Anderson is seventh and Kurt Johnson is eighth. Only 107 points separate first place from 10th place. " Houston native and Rookie of the Year candidate Erica Enders will be making her HRP Pro Stock debut, the same racetrack where she broke into the sport as an NHRA Junior Dragster competitor. Enders captured 37 victories including five nationals as an NHRA Junior Dragster competitor, and she and Ritchie Stevens are the only two Pro Stock drivers to have competed in the NHRA's entry-level division. Enders qualified her Chevy Cavalier in her second race this year at the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals in Phoenix, making Enders just the fourth woman in NHRA history and the first since 1992 to qualify for a Pro Stock field. " Warren Johnson leads the list of current drivers in GM-branded cars that have previously won at Houston Raceway Park. Johnson is a four-time winner of the spring race (1990, '94, '98, '01) and won the final fall event contested here in 2000. Mike Edwards and Kurt Johnson are both two time winners of the spring race; Edwards capturing his victories in 1996 and 2000, and Johnson winning in 1999 and 2002. Mark Pawuk won the race in 1992 and Chevy Cavalier driver Rickie Smith won the fall event in 1999. " Six current Chevy Monte Carlo drivers have previously won at Houston Raceway Park. Tim Wilkerson is the defending champion driving his Chevrolet to the winner's circle in 2004 and Monte Carlo's second victory in NHRA Funny Car competition. Tony Pedregon is a three-time winner of the spring race (1997-98, 2003) and won the fall event in 2000. Tony's older brother Cruz won this event in 1992 and the fall race in 1998, and Bob Gilbertson claimed his first career Funny Car victory at this race in 2000.
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