Funny Car teams begin westward trek

DENVER (July 5, 2000) - The 2000 NHRA Winston championship season has reached its halfway point with the drivers and race transporters ready to embark on the three-race Western swing of the schedule. Over the next four weeks, teams and ...

DENVER (July 5, 2000) - The 2000 NHRA Winston championship season has reached its halfway point with the drivers and race transporters ready to embark on the three-race Western swing of the schedule. Over the next four weeks, teams and equipment will be put to the test. First at the Mile-High Nationals in Denver, Colorado, on July 13 -16, followed by the Prolong Northwest Nationals in Seattle, Wash., on July 28 - 30 and concluding with the Autolite Nationals in Sonoma, Calif., on August 4 - 6. Drivers and crew members are well aware that these next three events will go a long way in deciding the final outcome of many of the points races. With three wins in six-final round appearances, the halfway mark of the season finds WWF Pontiac Firebird driver Jerry Toliver leading the Funny Car points standings after trading the top spot back and forth with perennial champion John Force. Toliver has a great crew assisting him in his pursuit of a first Winston title that includes Dale Armstrong and Bob Brooks. "It's been a phenomenal half-season," said Toliver. "Obviously, we started off the beginning of the year with the points lead and held it until Dallas (first seven races). Then John (Force) took it back in Dallas and held it for two races (Dallas and Chicago). We stepped up our program and took it back in Columbus. It's been truly amazing and has been a great year so far. The team really is gelling. I'm really pleased with the way our performance has been and looking forward for it to be a competitive second half of the season. "Dale Armstrong is just a dream to work with. He just keeps amazing me with his ability to figure out these tracks and his tireless work ethic. Dale is totally committed to this race team and in taking this WWF Firebird to the championship. That's his total focus and that's what it takes to win a championship. I've learned so much from Dale about his attitude of becoming a real racer. He certainly has taught me a lot in that area just being with him, watching and listening to him. Dale is 100-percent racer. That's what he lives, eats and breaths. He's 100-percent dedicated to this team and it has certainly has shown with our performance on the racetrack." One of the big stories coming out of the world of NHRA championship drag racing at the end of last season was the teaming up of car owner and tuner Jim Dunn, and long time Funny Car driver Al Hofmann. Dunn is celebrating his 50th anniversary in the sport and Hofmann is making the transition to hired driver. So far the relationship has worked well for everybody with the Mooneyes/Red Line Oil Pontiac Firebird qualifying at every event and cracking into the Winston top 10 after advancing to the semifinal round at St. Louis. "I'm real happy for the entire Jim Dunn Racing team and our sponsors, Pontiac, Mooneyes, Red Line Oil and everybody that is associated with this racecar," said Hofmann. "We had a rough start but I think we're finally going to pick it up now. If I do my job, and Jim (Dunn) does his then I think we'll be tough for the rest of the year. We're going on to Denver, and if we don't have any mechanical problems I think this 2000 Firebird is going to be a hot rod that can win a race." The Checker Schuck's Kragen brigade is beginning to see the advantages of the two-car program that they embraced at the beginning of the year. Del Worsham's red 2000 Pontiac Firebird and Frank Pedregon's blue Pontiac have qualified for every event with both drivers running career-best numbers in elapsed time and top speed. Worsham is eighth in the points standings heading into the three-race Western swing. "Overall we're about right where we projected ourselves to be with the red Firebird and maybe even a little ahead of the curve as a two-car team," Worsham said. "Of course, when we look forward at the beginning of any year I always secretly hold out the expectation that we'll do even better than we think we should. The funny thing is though, we usually start out well then struggle through the second quarter of the season, the Atlanta-through-St. Louis part. Even though I secretly hope we'll do better than planned, we usually end up going into the second half a little behind what we expect. It's been that way for the last three years. This year, although we've gone through some periods where we just couldn't buy a round win, we've qualified well and run very consistently pretty much throughout the first half. "To be a top-half car you've got to run with Force's two cars, Toliver's two cars, Capps, Skuza, Cannon, and a lot of other contenders. You can't do that being timid or trying to baby your parts. We plan on winning a lot more rounds in the second half, and we plan on winning a race, at least one. Traditionally our car has always had its best stretch of the year from Denver to Indy. For some reason we usually get on a roll with those tracks and do well, so we plan on doing that and then carrying it over to the final quarter of the year. Our ultimate goals haven't changed and they're well within reach. We want to be a solid middle-of-the-ladder qualifier, we want to finish in the thick of the Winston Top 10, and we want to win a race. I don't see any reason we shouldn't attain all those goals by the time the 2000 season ends." Pedregon, who is currently 11th in the points standings, also feels the best is yet to come for his blue Checker Schuck's Kragen Firebird. "Jim Dunn always told me that it took up to half of a season for a team to come together," said Pedregon. "This team came together by the end of the first quarter of the year. We took a bunch of guys who'd never worked together before, and three of them were only entering their second season with a pro car, put a rookie crew chief on the job, a driver only entering his third year in a Nitro Funny Car, added a bunch of new equipment and went racing. I look back at testing in Tucson and even the Winternationals at Pomona, and it's amazing we did what we did. We hardly knew each other's names, but Dave Fletcher kept things so under control and running smoothly that we just got better and better. "Right now, both of the Checker-Schuck's-Kragen Firebirds are running very consistently and very close to each other. I know Del expects to win a race before this year is over, and so do I. I want to help the team more in the second half. Just like baseball players or basketball players, sometimes a driver can have a little slump during the season, and I've had one. I've been just average so many times at the lights that any guy cutting a good light can get me, and it's cost us a couple of rounds. I want to be the guy costing other teams a round. That's my responsibility." Although racing an abbreviated schedule this year, Sioux City Kenworth Pontiac Firebird driver Tim Wilkerson has made the most of the opportunity. At Las Vegas, Wilkerson qualified fourth and advanced to round three. At Dallas he qualified in the No. 3 position, and at his home track in Chicago, Wilkerson ran a career-best elapsed time of 4.857 seconds to take the No. 2 qualifying spot. "Everything has been going pretty well so far this season," Wilkerson said. "We've had some education with the new 90-percent rule that we knew we would have. We've broken a couple of parts that we never expected to break, so that's kind of been a flaw. I wish we would have won more rounds than what we have. I'm kind of disappointed with that, but we've had some breakage that we couldn't control and a couple of driver errors. All in all things are pretty good I think. "During the next half of the season, we hope to erase some of the silly errors that we had in the first half. We don't want the car malfunctioning from time to time like we've had with some of the parts breakage. Hopefully I can get dialed in a little better to drive the car. I believe we're going to see that as soon as we get the car consistent. The fact that I'm tuning the car, driving, and running the operation is somehow affecting my performance as a racer. But we'll continue to work on it and hopefully do well during the second half of the season." Turning bad luck into good will be the goal of Mad Magazine Pontiac Firebird driver Dale Creasy Jr. during the season's second half. Creasy has struggled to make the competitive 16-car qualifying fields but sees the potential for improvement beginning with Denver. "Things haven't turned out like we wanted them to turn out during this first half of the season," explained Creasy. "But it's starting to turn around and getting better for us. I think with just a little bit more hard work we will be back on track. Qualifying at this point is what we hope to accomplish during the rest of the year. It would be a boost to the program if we could do that on a consistent basis. It's no fun when you're watching everyone else race on Sunday. What we want to do is come out strong in the second half with the Mad Magazine Firebird and show them that this first half was just a fluke. If we can get everything going in the right direction I think we can be competitive out there." The 22nd annual Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals is the 13th race on the 23-event NHRA championship schedule. Qualifying highlights can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, July 15, beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern. One hour of early-round coverage of final eliminations can be seen on Sunday, July 16, beginning at 4:30 p.m. with two hours of final-round coverage beginning at 11:30 p.m.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Al Hofmann , Del Worsham , John Force , Dale Creasy Jr. , Tim Wilkerson , Jerry Toliver