SEATTLE (July 24, 2000) - The Winston Funny Car title may be out of reach for Mooneyes/Red Line Oil Pontiac Firebird driver Al Hofmann, but that won't stop him and team owner/crew chief Jim Dunn from charging full steam ahead. Now that the...
SEATTLE (July 24, 2000) - The Winston Funny Car title may be out of reach for Mooneyes/Red Line Oil Pontiac Firebird driver Al Hofmann, but that won't stop him and team owner/crew chief Jim Dunn from charging full steam ahead. Now that the two have had an opportunity to work together for the better part of 2000, the question that both veterans are asking is why they didn't get together sooner.
With the second half of the season in full swing, the growing pains are over and Hofmann and Dunn feel that a breakthrough race is just around the corner. Any of the next four events on the schedule could validate such optimism since Hofmann has won twice at Seattle (1992, 95) and once at Sonoma (1995). Dunn on the other hand tuned Frank Pedregon's Pontiac Firebird Funny Car to a runner-up finish last year at Sonoma and a victory at drag racing's crown jewel, the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
How would you evaluate the team's progress at this point of the season? "The team itself has done a good job. We've just run into little things that come up in racing. You have to have luck to go on with this thing too. Jim Dunn, obviously, has a lot of experience with 50 years under his belt. The whole team has done an excellent job and I can't say enough about them. We just have to get it to all come together. The five-disc clutch kind of threw us a curve early and we've been trying to get a handle on it. We got back into the top 10 in points, so during the last few events, we've been pleased with our performance."
On Sunday in Denver you used the backup car. Are you going to be able to use the new car in Seattle? "I don't believe we're going to have the new car for awhile. After the fire on Saturday in Denver, the 2000 body is pretty well destroyed. There isn't much left of it. The old car ran pretty well though in Denver. I was happy with the 5.15 in the first round - it ran 298 mph and that's a good speed for us. Denver was a rough weekend for me. I haven't red-lighted in five years and that kind of took everything out of me. When you red light for yourself it's one thing, but when you do it as a paid driver for a team like Jim Dunn's, it's hard to take."
Do you feel like an opportunity might have gotten away in Denver? "Whit Bazemore was running really well. The chances of us beating him were pretty slim, and I knew that going up to the line. I figured if he ran another 5.00 we were going to be in trouble. I wasn't trying to guess at the tree. I just went totally brain dead. When the second light came on I just stepped on the gas. It's just one of those things. Obviously I didn't do it on purpose. I hated to let down the Dunn team. I think a lot of those guys. We just had a rough weekend all together starting with the fire. It just wasn't good."
It was impressive that the team was able to come back the way they did. "I can't say enough about that team. They worked until 4:00 a.m., and we fired it up and had a perfect racecar. They totally rebuilt that car from one end to the other and it sounded great. When Jim (Dunn) is under pressure, he can bounce back. And when he does you better watch out."
A lot has been said about your relationship with Jim Dunn. According to everything you've said the relationship has gone very well. "We're both focused on winning rounds and winning races. Trying to cut a light and getting a red light is tough to get over. It will take awhile for me to get over it. We are both focused on the same thing and are going in the same direction. I just think so much of him and the whole crew. Every time Jim and I are going off about something Diane (Dunn) says we are so much a like. But hey, it sure is clicking. We see it coming together more and more every week."
Where are some of the races where you think you have excelled? "St. Louis was a big home run for me. When you beat someone on a hole shot that really boosts your ego. It was excellent for us. It got the whole team pumped back up. It's just too bad we had to come to Denver under these weather conditions and then to red light. It's like Dunn says, 'you put a little in the bank you have to pay a little too.' But St. Louis was really great for us. The weather in Denver was tough. At one time the temperature under the awning was 112 degrees. Those are tough conditions to try and tune in - and it's tough to drive in as well. If I was 25 or 30 years old it might make it a little easier, but the heat and the altitude got to me a little up there on the mountain. I wasn't feeling the best, but that's no excuse for a red light. For the whole team to go a round on Sunday and to run good was a huge plus. It's not like we bought that first round. I was pretty happy with that. It was the best we had run all weekend."
Have you and Jim Dunn talked about next year? "Right now my plans are to race four more years. I feel like as long as Jim wants me to drive for him I will be more than happy to. If Jim quits, I'll quit. I would never run my own car or team again. This is the most I've enjoyed racing since 1995. So as long as Jim will keep me in the seat I will stay with him."
Would you and Jim go out and work as a team to get a sponsorship for next year? "John Dunn is really good at that. They let him handle the sponsorship deals and put things together. Pontiac has been behind Helen's team and my team for years now, and I can't say enough about Pontiac. I probably wouldn't be where I am at with my team if it wasn't for Pontiac."
How long do you think Helen will continue with her team? "They're making plans for next year already. I think it's heading in the right direction. She was pretty down at a couple of races, but Tommy Johnson is an excellent driver and I think Andy (Nering) is starting to get a handle on what he is supposed to do. He's a new crew chief and he needs to stop listening to other people. If he listens to himself he'll do fine."
Are you looking forward to the next two races in Seattle and Sonoma and will you be 100 percent after the fire in Denver? "I can't wait. Going to Seattle will be good. I've done well there and Jim has done well there. We're going to go there loaded for bear. We aren't going to go there light on parts. Fires happen, you kind of have to figure them into your budget. But I'm really pumped up about going to Seattle and doing well. It's a little nicer to run closer to sea level. The track is a little tricky, but that's where I have to do my job, and if Jim does his job maybe we will get some win lights."
Is there anything in particular you like about Seattle or Sonoma? "The country is beautiful and the people are great. The conditions are usually good and you can make pretty good power there. The track conditions are a little bit tough. But they are both about the same so if you get a handle on one, then you have a pretty good head start on the next one."
Do you see yourself moving up in the points standing as the season progresses here towards the U.S. Nationals and on towards the end of the season? "Our goal right now is to finish in the top five. I feel like we can do that. If we've got everything going and have the right ingredients to do that plus a little luck, we should be able to manage a top-five finish."
Has the 90-percent rule thrown you for a loop? "You have to throw out all your notes on these racetracks. Jim Dunn is the tuner on the car, and he's had his work cut out for him. You have to lean on the mechanical part of the motor so hard now because you only have 90 percent to work with. Bazemore's 4.99 was pretty good for the 90-percent rule in Denver. You probably aren't going to see any more 4.70s until we get back to places like Dallas or Houston because now it's the second time back and some of the guys are getting a handle on the 4.80s. When the conditions come around you will probably see some 4.70s before the end of the year. "
Is the 2000 Pontiac Firebird a good racecar? "It's an excellent racecar. If you don't have it you're not going to run with these other guys, like (John) Force and (Jerry) Toliver. You need that downforce that the new Pontiac can create. It probably, I would say, is the best racecar on the track right now. It's just a matter of putting it all together."