31st Annual Mac Tools Gatornationals
March 17, 2000
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 17, 2000) - Qualifying for the Mac Tools Gatornationals got underway today at Gainesville Raceway. In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson and the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird returned to familiar form, taking the No. 1 qualifying position with a track-record elapsed time of 6.849 seconds at 200.83 mph. Ron Krisher in a Firebird is fourth, Mark Pawuk in the Summit Racing Firebird is fifth, Bruce Allen is sixth, Tom Martino is seventh, Steve Schmidt is eighth, Jim Yates ninth, Richie Stevens is 10th, George Marnell is 14th, Mike Thomas is 20th and Jamie Yates is 27th.
In Funny Car, Todd Paton in the Nitrofish Pontiac Firebird is sitting in the No. 5 qualifying spot with an elapsed time of 4.916 seconds at 315.42 mph. Gary Densham in the NEC Firebird is qualified eighth with an elapsed time of 4.956 seconds at a career-best top speed of 311.56 mph. Al Hofmann is 11th, Del Worsham is 13th, Frank Pedregon is 15th, Cristen Powell is 16th, Tim Wilkerson is 17th, Bruce Sarver is 18th and Dale Creasy Jr., is 21st. The No. 1 qualifier is John Force in a Mustang with an elapsed time of 4.836 seconds at 321.50 mph. Whit Bazemore is second in a Camaro, Tony Pedregon is third in a Mustang and Jim Epler is fourth in a Camaro.
In Top Fuel, Cory McClenathan's MBNA/Pontiac dragster is the No. 7 qualifier with an elapsed time of 4.695 seconds at 301.67 mph. The No. 1 qualifier is Gary Scelzi with an elapsed time of 4.619 seconds at 318.54 mph. Doug Kalitta is qualified second, Joe Amato is third, Tony Schumacher is fourth and Larry Dixon is fifth.
Television coverage of the Mac Tools Gatornationals can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, March 19, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern. Qualifying highlights cans be seen on Saturday, March 18, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Warren Johnson (GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Firebird) "I have a love-hate relationship with Gainesville Raceway. There are two times that I haven't qualified for a Pro Stock show and both of them have been here at Gainesville. On the other side of the coin I've won here eight times so it's a double-edged sword - either we do real well or real bad. At least we have a good place to start from. Some of the other cars could pick it up some. I'm sure that there were some cars that didn't make a perfect run today. On the first lap down the racetrack we didn't leave much on the table. We left a little bit but I'm sure that other cars probably left more. The bottom line is that the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Firebird won't get bumped out and that's all we're concerned about at this point in time. This winter has been terrible -- anything that could go wrong has gone wrong. In fact, we're still not up to 100 percent. We're still short of pistons due to a manufacturing mix up but in a couple of weeks we'll be back on course. We didn't have the engine parts to get back to where we were last year and that's what has hurt our performance. It wasn't any chassis setup or anything like that because that's all remained the same. Early on when we ran the Hoosier tires they didn't run the speed of the Goodyears, but now we have that part of the puzzle figured out. As long as the track remains the same and if it gets a little cooler then I think the possibility is there that we can go a little quicker. We may not be able to run in the 6.70s with the parts we have now, but I think we can drop our e.t. by as much as two-hundredth's of a second at the most." No. 1 qualifier - 6.849ET(track record)/ 200.83MPH.
Jim Yates (Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird) "Right now we're a little confused. We were light on the clutch during the first run so we made a change in the bell housing, changed the gear ratio and obviously over stepped it on that second run. Plus the track was going away later in the session in that right lane. We were behind Kurt (Johnson), and he was all over the track in front of us. I really thought the Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Firebird would be able to get down through there. The car got a little out of the groove, started shaking the tires and I had to shut it off. We'll step back and come out with a combination that will be able to run a 6.80-something and get us in the top half of the field. You're going to need lane choice in that first round on Sunday to be able to win. I think that's going to be worth at least a hundredth or two right now. I'm hoping to learn enough tomorrow so that we can find a combination that will be competitive on Sunday." No. 9 qualifier - 6.917ET/199.79MPH
Tom Martino (Century 21 Pontiac Firebird) "To be honest, the first run wasn't quite what we were looking for. We've been trying to run a different clutch setup because we think it will prove to be more user friendly, but we don't have it quite dialed in yet. The overall run wasn't bad, but the clutch part of it was terrible. For the evening session, we went back to our original setup. It was a touch light, but probably only by a hundredth. It was pretty good run, and we'll tune on it from there to try and move our Century 21 Firebird up the ladder for Sunday. The weather will play a big part of our setup. After not getting the performance we wanted in the morning, we were a little conservative for the second session to make sure we got a good run in. Fortunately, we accomplished our goal. With that in the bank, tonight I will just set the clutch as if the conditions were identical to what we just ran. That way, when we arrive in the morning, I'll make the changes for the conditions. We're happy with that." No. 7 qualifier - 6.914ET/199.32MPH
Bruce Allen (Reher-Morrison Pontiac Firebird) "Our first pass was probably the worst run we've made all year. The Reher-Morison Firebird went right, got out there and got a little loose, drove down part of the centerline and that was it. We came back, made some adjustments and I think we can pick at it and make it a little better. Tomorrow morning will probably be our best session and I think we'll be fast. I didn't turn the computer on during the first run so I'm not sure how good it was. We didn't get any clutch data but I know we had more than we needed. The car was violent, made a hard move and it just wasn't a pretty run. But like I said, it was good enough to get us in the top half of t he field and tonight we may be able to improve on where we are. As long as we make a good run tonight is all I'm worried about and then we'll try and nail it in the morning." No. 6 qualifier - 6.909ET/199.40MPH
Mark Pawuk (Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird) "We made a terrible run in that first session. We had some work done on the Summit Racing Firebird before this race and then went to Darlington to test for two days. We were really worried coming in here because we couldn't make a good run there. As bad as the run was today, I'm happy with the 6.89. I think there's some left in it but I'm sure that a lot of other guys feel the same way. We're just pleased that we made a good run right off the bat and that we have something we can tune from. We'll keep working on going faster and try to catch the No. 1 guy. When you don't know whether or not the car is going to go down the racetrack, it takes the pressure off somewhat when you can step up and run a 6.89. I think that will be safe, but you never can tell what this weather is going to give us tomorrow. It could be a real fast racetrack, especially if the barometer goes up and the temperature goes down. If it stays cool this place could be awesome. We're just sticking to our gameplan, we're happy that we made a decent run and we'll try to improve on it tomorrow." No. 5 qualifier - 6.892ET/199.11MPH
Richie Stevens (Vlaspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird) "It sure is nice to get in the field today. It makes everybody a little more relaxed and allows us to work on the race day set-up a lot more. I hate when I have to sweat it out overnight on Fridays. We had some electrical problems in Round 1 and had absolutely no data to work from. The on-board computer wasn't working and neither was the shift light. We were lucky to run a 6.95 to be honest with you. Round 2 was really like a shot in the dark for [crew chief] Tommy Utt but, just like he always does, he nailed the set-up. The Valspar Refinish Firebird did shake a little bit in the middle gears and never really smoothed out until I was way down the track. That tells me we have a lot more under the hood. I'd love to move up to the top half of the ladder tomorrow and have lane choice for Sunday." No. 10 qualifier - 6.922ET/197.83MPH
Al Hofmann (Mooneyes Pontiac Firebird) - "We put a cylinder out on the Mooneyes Firebird in the second session. It was kind of weak and we were trying something different to see if we couldn't step it up. I'm pretty happy though. This new Firebird is just awesome -- it will stick anywhere. We haven't smoked the tires once since we've gone to the new car so that tells me just how good it is. There's so much downforce at 300 feet that you can feel it pushing it to the pavement. I've never been in a car that's been such a pleasure to drive. When it puts a cylinder out though you really notice it with the downforce because it really begins to move around. But the car does what you tell it to. When you turn the steering wheel, the car responds -- the body wants to work with you. The gameplan for tomorrow is to go after a 4.80. If we can run anywhere from a 4.85 to a 4.88 then I'll be real happy and I'm sure Jim (Dunn) will be too." No. 11 qualifier - 5.005ET/300.00MPH Del Worsham (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird) - "Way too soft. We need to turn the dial up a few notches and get down where we should be. I'm happy we made a full pass and got the data and decent run out of it, but we can't try to take giant steps and get greedy. We have to step it up one bit at a time. But frankly, I think you can knock a tenth off of that 5.05 without even getting close to edgy. Then we can work our way up from there. I'm really happy with our Checker Schuck's Kragen Firebird right now. It just has a nice feel to it and it wants to go down the track. It's great knowing that when you're sitting in there getting ready. It's great to know the odds are more you're going to go down the track than not."
Frank Pedregon (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird) - "If Del's red Firebird was way too soft, then our blue Pontiac was even softer. We can jump on it pretty hard without going overboard and knock a lot off that time. I have complete confidence that the blue team will set a new personal best ET mark here and it should be on this second pass. Man, it is just so good out there. When I heard that Todd Paton ran a 4.91 in his first pass, I knew we were in for some serious Funny Car racing today. This track is always good, but sometimes the air is tough here. It's not today though. Today we've got the great track combined with incredible air and it's for real out there."
Tim Wilkerson (Sioux City Kenworth Pontiac Firebird) - "It's great to be back. We're just trying to learn how to run our hot rod. The first run was weak and we just got after it a little too much. With everyone throwing those numbers out there from never-never land that's pretty stout. We'll take it back up there again tomorrow and try it. I'm confident we can be racing on Sunday. If we can't run a five-oh then we don't deserve to be here. It's just a matter of learning this game all over again. Those are the only two runs we've made with the 90-percent deal so not testing makes it a hard deal. We just need to get after it. The first run we weren't even close. I pedaled it, put a hole out and that old Firebird ran a 5.29 while tearing itself up. We can't afford to do that too many times but we got after it in the second round. It almost made it. I've got Fred Mandolini helping me this weekend. Over the winter I was calling him all the time and he would just abuse me. I told him it's easy making calls while sitting at your coffee table so I got him to come out and hang out. He's just a good all around car guy that knows a lot about tuning Funny Cars. He'll pick up a lot of good things on what we need to do. We're going to run 15 races close to home and if we can get some more help we'll race the whole schedule." No. 17 qualifier - 5.292ET/262.49MPH
Gary Densham (NEC Pontiac Firebird) - "Believe me, we want to win this thing! Gainesville Raceway is one of those tracks that I think the NEC Pontiac Firebird can do real well on. We can give the track a lot of power and it will usually stick. Obviously the 2000 Firebird bodies will have an advantage on the tracks that are marginal, and we're hoping to get one just as soon as possible. But we're running great right now. We stayed and tested after Phoenix. The car had some good early numbers today and that was pretty positive considering we were having trouble getting her hooked up from about halftrack on. We spun the tires a little bit on the top end today, but we still ran 311 mph so we're pretty darn pleased with that. We want to step it up just a tiny bit and get it in the low 4.90s. You always want to run low e.t., and top speed, but you have to be consistent to win races and that's what we're aiming for now. We'll have a pair of free shots at it tomorrow and we'll try and go quicker."
Dale Creasy (Mad Magazine Pontiac Firebird) - "We arrived at the racetrack early, took the car apart and tried to service the Mad Magazine Firebird. We found that we had a bad crankshaft in it at 11 a.m. When we tried to change it, we didn't get it finished until about noon but that was too late. We were the second pair in line and didn't make it. We ran in Montgomery last week in a match race and ran very well. We treated it as a national event and the car gave us better numbers than it's had all year, so we're pretty optimistic. I'm hoping we can get it down the track and then we'll be okay. We'll be a little aggressive, but we won't do anything stupid because I don't want to smoke the tires and lose another run. If it runs a five-oh I'll be happy. Then we'll bring it back tomorrow and try and run in the fours." No. 21 qualifier