GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 8, 2000) - With the beginning of the 2000 NHRA season, Pro Stock Car driver Bruce Allen is out of the starting blocks and running strong in the Reher-Morrison Pontiac Firebird with his sights set on the Winston ...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 8, 2000) - With the beginning of the 2000 NHRA season, Pro Stock Car driver Bruce Allen is out of the starting blocks and running strong in the Reher-Morrison Pontiac Firebird with his sights set on the Winston championship. Heading into the 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., the 49 year-old Arlington, Tex., resident is coming off a pair of back-to-back No. 5 qualifying efforts at Pomona and Phoenix. But the real story in the Reher-Morrison camp this year may be the confidence, the overall enthusiasm for competition and their success in carrying forward last season's second-half momentum into the early stages of the 2000 schedule.
Allen is no stranger to Winston Pro Stock competition. Since joining the Reher-Morrison team in 1985, he has won 12 national events in 31 final-round appearances. One of those victories came at the 1988 Gatornationals. He has finished in the top 10 of the Winston standings 10 times, with his best season coming in 1989 when he won four races and ended the points battle in second place. Allen has finished third in the Winston standings three times (1985-87) and is seventh on the NHRA's all-time list for wins by a Pro Stock racer. Although still looking for a major sponsor that will help finance their racing efforts this year, the Reher-Morrison Pontiac Firebird team is currently 10th in the Winston Pro Stock standings.
The 31st annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway is the third race on the 23-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Television coverage of final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, March 19, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern. Qualifying highlights can be seen on Saturday, March 18, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Two races into the season and you've qualified strong at both Pomona and Phoenix. How are things going this early in the year, especially compared with your start in 1999?
"The progress from last year is unbelievable -- we've made great strides with the Reher-Morrison Firebird. But like anything, once you start doing better, you want to do more. With hindsight being 20/20, just a few thousandth's and we could've been in a couple of final rounds. When running against Warren (Johnson) in the first round at Pomona, I lost by a few thousandth's of a second and Warren ended up going on to the final round. That doesn't mean that we would have made it that far if things had been different in that first round, but Warren and I certainly had the best race at Pomona. We just need to work harder and go faster so we can get some of those breaks. We're so close in being able to break through to the final round to win a race, but we're still not quite there and right now, that is very frustrating."
Do you see any similarities to your start thus far and your performance in 1997 when you finished fourth?
"I think the biggest thing is, when you know that you have all the pieces and you have your whole arsenal available, you know that you have everything that it takes to do it right. Now it's just a matter of going and getting it done. When you don't have the equipment to run well, you know that it's going to be a long uphill battle. Once you get up to that peak where you know that you can excel, that's when you feel it's time to make that extra push. We're there now, and we just need to go out and take advantage of the situation. In 1997 we did just that. We won a lot of rounds, and even though we didn't win a race, we advanced to the finals a couple of times. This year, performance-wise, we're in even better shape. Now those final rounds can be wins and those close races can be wins as well. It's to the point now that every week we're excited again about going to the racetrack."
Over the past six months, the performance of the Reher-Morrison Pontiac Firebird has increased dramatically. What would you contribute that to and do you feel that in the off-season, you were able to pick up a little bit more?
"Certainly in the last half of the '99 season, we got our engines and car working better with a combination of things. We're in a position here, with Reher-Morrison Racing Engines and Pontiac, that we can spend more time working on our program and dedicate a better effort toward it. I also think that over the winter we were able to concentrate on some specific things and increase the performance of our engines. The spec-fuel issue also has made a difference, since now everyone is playing from the same deck. We're fast enough to put ourselves in a position to win, but to do that we need to take that next step which is to make our car a little better and look at it from a performance standpoint on race day. I believe that you work on what you're struggling with most. The worst thing we're doing now is not making good runs on race day and not taking advantage of the power we have. We need to do that."
Didn't all the work last year seem to pay off by the end of the season?
"I approach every season like Sparky Anderson, or the manager of a baseball team who's aware of the ups and downs his team will face for the entire 162-game schedule. I guess that's because I'm from the old school and have done this for such a long time that I feel like you have to be working hard even when your not doing well. But at the same time, you have to be realistic. For instance, in a lot of baseball games you have to know when to throw in the towel and give up on winning that game. When you're behind 9-0 in the ninth inning, you don't put your best pitcher in there to try and win the game. You wait until you have an opportunity to win a game before you go to your stopper. In the last couple of years, even though we struggled, we knew we had to be out there racing, and working on our cars and engines to get to where we could win those close games in the ninth inning. I think we're there now. The difference is our mind-set. Before when we went out to compete we felt like we had to be really lucky to win a race or even win a round. Now that's not the case. We're fast enough to go out and win those rounds and win a race without being lucky. We can win a race just by being the fastest car on any given Sunday and that definitely makes it much more enjoyable."
Is there a different approach in how you set your car up for qualifying and how you prepare for raceday?
"When the conditions are favorable to go fast, as in qualifying, you know that it's a go-for-it-all situation. You don't hold anything back because you want to get as high on the ladder as possible, which is generally an advantage. In Phoenix, Jamie Yates qualified in the 16th position and went against Kurt (Johnson) in the first round, who ended up shaking the tires and losing. Jamie was then able to make it into the semifinals. That doesn't always happen, but on raceday the condition of the track is usually quite a bit worse than when you qualified. Only because in qualifying, you're going to get one or two sessions of really nice weather. When it comes to race day, you're at the mercy of maybe losing lane choice or running after the fuel cars, which is usually always a disadvantage for the Pro Stock Cars because of the clutch dust and oil that gets on the track. You have to take what the track will give you and be a little conservative, but at the same time you need to run fast enough to win the round. You can't worry about it, you just have to go and try to beat who ever you're racing and make the best run you can. If it all unfolds to be in your advantage, that's great. But if it doesn't, there's not a lot you can do about it."
Do you approach racing the way you do golf? Where you're not really playing someone else as much as you're trying to play within your game and score the very best you can?
"From the Reher-Morrison standpoint that's true, but I don't think that everyone has that same approach. Our approach is that you can't affect what someone else does, you can only control your own outcome. If you do the best you can to not beat yourself, and go out there comfortable knowing that you can get down the track, then you're going to try and run as fast as you can. Then if somebody outruns you, there isn't anything you can do about it. On the other hand, some people take the approach that you need to go for it all. There's certainly nothing wrong with that other than if it doesn't fit your style you'll usually mess up. You find that once you get out of your element you start doing things that you shouldn't be doing. We've raced for years, and we know that one race isn't going to make the whole season. A successful season is the result of adding everything together and you have to take it somewhat as it comes."
Are you satisfied with the progress of the engine program?
"I think we're in as good of shape as we've been in 10 years. When we make a good run, and everyone else makes a good run, we're within a hundredth to two-hundredth's of a second of the absolute fastest cars. We're still giving up a little bit in the middle of the track though, spinning the tires even on our very best runs. When we fix that, we'll be one of the fastest cars. We need to get that done because our engines run good enough to be one of the top-three qualifiers every week. But that's not good enough - we need to get an advantage. You can't just be as good as everyone else; you have to be better! That was Warren's (Johnson) strong suit over the years, that he could always out-power everybody. We have some things here that we're working on in the engine shop that I think that maybe by Gainesville we'll be more powerful. I hope the engines will run even better then than they do now, but they're certainly good enough now to win a race. In the past couple of years, I wasn't very happy with our engine program, but midway through last year we really got it going good. The engine certainly isn't our problem right now. Our shop is pretty intertwined, with the staff from the engine shop and the race team, so everyone is pretty much working on our engine program in one way or another. More than that, it's when you start working on the right thing, and whatever that happens to be, it accelerates your program so much because when you're working in the wrong area, all you do is go backwards. At the same time, other teams are working on the right areas as well, so they're getting better and better. In the last year or so, we started working on some things that have continually improved our performance. Like we always say here at the shop, we're looking for 15 to 20 horsepower over the course of the year but we're only going to find it one or two horsepower at a time. When you do find your 10 sets of two horsepower, you've got your 20 horsepower. You're not going to get 20 horsepower all at once, so the big thing is to be willing to do whatever it takes to find a piece of horsepower or two and that takes a lot of work and a lot of hours. The guys here at the shop have been doing that very well. We've been increasing our engine performance every race, going to the next event with that one or two extra horsepower."
Who else does Reher-Morrison supply engines to in NHRA?
"Right now, we supply engines to some Pro Stock Truck teams, such as Rick Jones, Kim Smith and others. We're currently not supplying any of the Pro Stock car teams with engines, but we are working very hard on the truck program because we feel that in the long run that could be a large part of the income for the Reher-Morrison race team. We need to get our Pro Stock Truck engines running better so that the teams using our horsepower are the fastest trucks out there."
Are there any exchanges of information or feedback between Reher-Morrison and the Pro Stock Truck teams?
"Not really, at least directly. What we've learned on our Pro Stock Car engines we try to put into the truck engines, but they may not have the same requirements. The truck engines like to wind up a little bit higher, and the guys who run the trucks prefer to run them higher, so if the things that we're learning makes those engines go up to 9800 to 10,000 rpm's, that may not necessarily help our Pro Stock Car program. But over the course of several months, maybe we can increase the rpm that a Pro Stock Car engine runs and that may help everybody in the long run. Right now though, they're two different programs."
What's the game plan heading into Gainesville?
"We're going to be testing some engine components in Houston prior to Gainesville and we'll do some chassis work to see if we can pick up where we're missing a little bit on raceday. Gainesville Raceway is a great facility. The surface is good, the track is a tremendous place to race and there are thousands of knowledgeable drag racing fans that come out from all over the country. It's the first East Coast race of the year, so a lot of fans from the north and east come down, and I enjoy seeing all the people that I haven't seen for a year. But more importantly, if we have some nice cool weather you can just really run fast. There's a good chance of setting the record at that race. We're fast enough this year, because I think we're one of the best cars out there, so I think we may be able to do just that. The main thing is if we can get a weather pattern in there where we can make a couple good runs and qualify solid, then we can work on getting down the track on race day and try to win the event. We really feel like we're in a position where we're real close to being able to do that. We're working harder on that more than anything. Once you're in the field solid, then you need to be able to take advantage of that and win a race."
What are your goals for 2000?
"My personal goal is to win a number of races. I'm obviously going to be happy when I win the first one, but I won't be content with that. I want to win four or five races and I think we're capable of doing that. I think we can finish in the top three or four in points and I wouldn't rule out winning the championship. I'm also very realistic and know that until we fix some things on the car, we're not in a position to do that just yet. But we're certainly in a position at this time to win races."