Houston: Pontiac/Chevrolet Racing qualifying report

BAYTOWN, Tex., March 23, 2001 - Qualifying for the 14th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil got underway today at Houston Raceway Park. In Funny Car, Del Worsham's CSK Pontiac Firebird blasted away the competition streaking to the No....

BAYTOWN, Tex., March 23, 2001 - Qualifying for the 14th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil got underway today at Houston Raceway Park. In Funny Car, Del Worsham's CSK Pontiac Firebird blasted away the competition streaking to the No. 1 position with a run of 4.810 seconds at 313.22 mph. Ron Capps is second in a Camaro, Tommy Johnson Jr. is third in a Camaro, Tony Pedregon is fourth in a Mustang and Whit Bazemore is fifth in a Firebird.

In Pro Stock, Warren Johnson's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Grand Am sits in the No. 2 spot tonight with a run of 6.845 seconds at 200.74 mph in the last qualifying session of the day. Mike Edwards took the top spot in the Young Life Cavalier with a run of 6.843 seconds at 200.65 mph. Mark Pawuk is No. 3 in the Summit Racing Grand Am, Darrell Alderman is fourth in a Dodge and Brad Jeter is fifth in a Grand Am. Jim Yates is qualified sixth in a Grand Am, Ron Krisher is seventh in a Cavalier, George Marnell is eighth in a Grand Am and Troy Coughlin is ninth in a Cavalier. Tom Martino is 11th and Bruce Allen is 12th.

In Pro Stock Truck, Bob Panella took the No. 1 qualifying position in an S-10 after setting both ends of the national record with a run of 7.420 seconds at 182.11 mph. Randy Daniels is the No. 2 qualifier in an S-10 with a lap of 7.425 seconds at 181.45 mph. A pair of Sonomas are keeping pace with the front runners. Mike Corvo Jr. has his GMC in the No. 3 spot with a qualifying number of 7.468 seconds at 179.52 mph, and Jeff Gracia is in the No. 4 spot with a lap of 7.480 seconds at 180.52 mph. Greg Stanfield is fifth in an S-10 and John Lingenfelter is 11th in a Sonoma. The bump tonight is Brad Klein in the No. 16 position with a 6.908 elapsed time at 198.50 mph.

Gary Scelzi took the No. 1 qualifying spot with a 4.546 elapsed time at 321.8 mph, but the day was dominated by Mike Dunn who drove the Gwynn-Steinbrenner/GM Mobility Yankee to a top speed of 331.61 mph, the fastest speed in NHRA history. Dunn is qualified sixth.

Qualifying highlights of the O'Reilly Nationals can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, March 24, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Eastern. Three hours of final eliminations' coverage will be telecast on ESPN2 on Sunday, March 25, starting at 6 p.m. Eastern.

PRO STOCK

Warren Johnson, (GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Grand Am)
"We rolled the dice and put in a whole new clutch assembly we had never run before. The setup we had before was becoming unpredictable in its performance on both the starting line and down the track, and it wasn't as adaptable to changing track conditions as we wanted it to be. The bottom line is we weren't comfortable with what we had in the bellhousing so we made a wholesale change. The run looked pretty good on the computer screen. I moved off a little to the left and I'm sure that hurt the e.t. a little bit. We were looking at the dew on the roofs of the cars as it got later and later, and we were concerned that the track might be a little loose. It did spin the tires slightly in the middle of the track, but overall it was a pretty good run tonight."

Brad Jeter (Southern Rods & Parts Pontiac Grand Am)
"Steve's (Schmidt) worked very hard all winter on motors. We ran real good at Phoenix, and we tested before Gainesville at Bradenton, but after the first qualifying session there we got on the heavy side of the clutch and never got it back. I wasn't doing a very good job there so we came here with a different approach to try and go back to the way we were doing things at Phoenix. I'm just glad for Steve and all the guys back at the engine shop. The hard hours they've been putting in are beginning to show up on the racetrack. We had a car last year that was pretty good, but Pontiac and General Motors have done a great job with the Grand Am. I have a great racecar, we've got good horsepower and I feel like I'm doing a decent job in the bell housing. We're ready to go."

Jim Yates (Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Grand Am)
"We're real fortunate right now to have a lot of power under the hood. Bob's (Ingles) done a great job over the winter of getting us what we need. The Grand Am is an outstanding racecar, but we're having trouble coming up with the right clutch combination. We were too aggressive on the first run and we were too light on the second run. We turn left and it turns right, then we turn right and it turns left. It's going to be a matter of us trying to get better acclimated to the conditions we're running in. The longer we're here the better we'll run, and if we can get those two qualifying runs in on Saturday I think we'll be where we need to be."

Tom Martino (Century 21 Pontiac Grand Am)
"We changed the car for our last qualifying run in Gainesville, and that's the first time we've made three consistent runs, since we've owned this Century 21 Grand Am. It's also the first time in quite a while that we went from one track to another and made a solid run - usually it takes us a couple passes to get a handle on it. "I'd like to change the car a little bit more, but I'm afraid to, so tomorrow I've leave it alone and make some subtle changes to the tune-up, because right now, it doesn't want to run up high. We'll try to make another good run just like today's, and see where that puts us. If we're in the middle of the pack or better, I'll change the four-link for the afternoon run and see what it does, because I can always go back to this set-up for race day."

Kurt Johnson (AcDelco Chevrolet Cavalier)
"My AcDelco Chevrolet Cavalier is running big speeds, but we need the E.T. to stay in the show. The car is planting the tires so hard that the tires are just running over themselves. It shakes through low and second, and then it quits, but by then we've given up four or five hundredths. It's just too hooked up, but we know what to do to correct the problem. We tested in Commerce (Georgia) on Monday, and the track threw us the 'Commerce Curve' again. We knew the track was good, and we were running 1-second flat in 60 feet even with a lot of bite in the suspension. We thought we had a safe setup for Houston, but here it's not even close. We're working the suspension much too hard, and that's what we're going to straighten out tomorrow." No. 15 qualifier - 6.908ET/201.19mph

Ron Krisher (Eagle One Chevrolet Cavalier)
"I'm happy for Mike (Edwards). He's been working hard on both of our cars and it's finally coming together. I don't think my run was very good but since he had the run that he did that will help us for tomorrow. It's still hard dealing with a new car, but slowly but surely we're coming around. The 60-foot time is what's been killing us and Mike had a great one, so hopefully he's figured something out. We'll come back tomorrow and go after it again. Hopefully we'll be able to improve and move up the ladder." No. 7 qualifier - 6.867ET/200.56mph

Mike Edwards (Young Life Chevrolet Cavalier)
"I changed everything but the kitchen sink on that Chevrolet Cavalier from the first session and it responded. It was a totally different race car from the start to the finish. We had one of our best 60-foot times ever. We haven't been running good 60-foot times at all so that 1.01 was great. We're going to put the same set-up in Ron's (Krisher) car and see what happens tomorrow. The reason we haven't seen the fast times that we've seen in Top Fuel and Funny Car is because I don't think the track has come around for Pro Stock yet. It's kind of loose in the middle for us. I think tomorrow we might see faster times after the Fuel cars take another stab at the track. But we're happy with this Chevrolet Cavalier and the support from Young Life has been great. Hopefully we can keep our momentum going and keep improving." No. 1 qualifier - 6.843ET/200.65mph

Jeg Coughlin (Jeg's Mail Order Chevrolet Cavalier)
"I have to say, that run felt a lot better then what it looked like. I was surprised that we stayed in with the conditions getting better by the minute. Now that we have a solid baseline to tune the Jeg's Chevy Cavalier from, I think that we will run much better tomorrow." No. 14 qualifier - 6.903ET/199.88mph

Troy Coughlin (Jeg's Mail Order Chevrolet Cavalier)
"It feels great to make a strong run like we did right out of the trailer. The Jeg's Chevy Cavalier hooked up the minute my foot came off of the clutch during the first session. The car made an initial move to the left and than it quickly straightened out and rocketed to the big end following the middle of the groove. This new Cavalier felt great going down the track, in fact it was one of the better runs that we have made since taking delivery of it. We still have more left in it and a cleaner run would have put us in the No. 1 spot and that's very encouraging when you are driving a new car. No. 9 qualifier - 6.882ET/199.91mph

FUNNY CAR

Del Worsham (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird)
"That wasn't by design, to run a number like that. It actually had a cylinder out the whole way on the left side and that's one-eighth of your power right there. It's a bit of a tricky track really, it loosens up a lot past halftrack so you've got to be tuned right. But it can be done obviously. Tommy Johnson put a real number up so it can be done. We need a little more wing maybe, and take a little out of it past half track. If we run on all eight The CSK Firebird should run mid-4.90s without any trouble."

Second Session:
"We came here last fall and didn't qualify after making a bunch of key mistakes. We looked back on our notes, made what we felt were the proper adjustments and it all worked out. I owe it all to my crew, my dad and my crew chief. We had a run like that going in Gainesville and a $100 part broke that cost us. We came here, bought new parts for this CSK Firebird, it stayed together and everyone saw what happened. We blew a header off at the top end. We took off the new headers to save them for raceday. I knew it was good and there was a little drama in the car with the fire and the header problem, but it felt terrific. We basically started on this tune up last October and the testing we did at the GM wind tunnel has definitely paid off. We kept picking at it and picking at it, and kept making adjustments to the body and it's all worked out."

Frank Pedregon (Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird)
"It's been a long time since we just blew the tires off by overpowering the track. We were pretty aggressive and that gives us a baseline to tune from. You've got to negotiate that last half of the track, you just can't throw a tune-up at it and hold on. We'll ease the CSK Firebird through the back half tonight, and I would also bet the track will come around a bit by then. So I think we can run a nice safe number tonight."

Whit Bazemore (Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird)
"On our first run, we ran near the front of the pack and the cars in front of us did not run that well. We were conservative going up for the first round and Lee (Beard) decided to be a little more conservative in the staging lanes, based on the performances we saw in front of us. It wasn't a bad first lap, it went from A to B and that gave this Matco Tools team a starting point. "Tonight we stood on it and got aggressive, and unfortunately the car just did not respond like we wanted it to. We had to shut off a little early and that cost us a little e.t. We aren't quite where we want to be, but I think says a lot about our team. Tomorrow, we hope the conditions will be there to step it and get our Matco Tools Firebird back in the low 4.80's."

Chuck Etchells (Kendall/Matco Tools Chevrolet Camaro)
"It's a given that you're going to jump on it for a Friday night run in the dark, especially on such a tight track. But since we'd been so far over center on the tune-up, Terry (Manzer) was being a little cautious, and the track ended up being too good for our car. As a result, it just shook like mad, and since I knew it was down on power there was no point in pedaling it to run a 5.0, because we had already done it. We knew we had to back our two cars down based on our test session in Dallas. That worked on our earlier run, but didn't on our second. We'll forget about tonight, go back to our first run and try to improve on it in the same type of conditions." No. 11 qualifier - 5.019ET/308.07mph

Jim Epler (Motley Crew Chevrolet Camaro)
"On our first run, we had new tires on, so there was a little more wheel spin than the tune-up was ready for, and it dropped a cylinder. Even so, we were comfortable with the run because it was similar to Chuck's and he ran a 5.01, so we were looking to improve on it. However, this was our first night run, and I've had most of my No. 1 qualifying shots on night runs because you have to really turn up the power. WE saw Chuck go out and shake, and Terry couldn't really do anything about the power, so he turned the clutch flow up and it just wasn't enough, so it shook the tires. We'll learn from that and know what to do at night next time. We should be able to run a low 4.90 on the first pass, and then we'll try to sneak up on it even further in the afternoon, which will be under conditions similar to those on race day. Tonight would have been good for qualifying, but we'll just have to do it tomorrow under race conditions - we'll be okay." No. 13 qualifier 5.373ET/213.81mph

TOP FUEL

Mike Dunn (Gwynn-Steinbrenner/GM Mobility/GMC/Yankee Dragster)
"Speed wise it was excellent. It was a little weak early. It picked the front up, I yanked the brake to bring it down and then it drove through the clutch real bad. At halftrack it started picking up, and it picked up pretty good. I know some were wondering if we really ran that fast. We looked at our G-meter from our 328 run and we had more G-meter at the top end and more RPM. Whatever it did, it ran faster than our 328 run. We know how to fix it to run e.t. We'll fix the clutch which was off big time early on in the run. If it doesn't spin the tires tonight it'll run a god e.t. to go along with that speed. We only pick up 60 mph hour from about halftrack on but you can feel it continue to charge. I had Larry (Dixon) out front to gauge by. When I had to grab the brake that opened up the distance between the two of us pretty good and then we picked up quite a bit going to the finish line. I knew it ran fast based on that. It's hard to tell. When you run 320 mph it's hard to tell the difference and I don't care what anybody says."

Post session:
"We've been running big speed but we've also been running the car slowly because of a problem with smoking the tires. That wasn't a planned deal. When the front-end lifted up I kind of chickened out and grabbed the brake. We had the clutch set a little bit sloe and when I grabbed the brake that made the clutch even slower. Consequently, that's when Larry opened us up. I thought then we had killed the run but then we started picking it up at halftrack. Larry was on a good run. It's a shame he didn't get that elapsed time. He probably ran a little bit better than we did, in fact I know he did. He probably ran a high 4.50 gauged on the way we ran. The car just kept picking up. We ran 328 in Phoenix, and 326 last weekend in Gainesville and that's after dropping a cylinder at four seconds. So we knew the thing was capable of running 330 if we could get everything right. We put it up on the computer and the G-meter was higher from halftrack on than the 328 run and the rpm was higher. So regardless, it ran faster than the 328 run. We should be able to back it up. Tonight we're going to try and fix the clutch and run low e.t. of the world. If it still runs good on the other end it will still run big speed."

PRO STOCK TRUCK

Bob Panella (Panella Trucking Chevrolet S-10)
"From a point standpoint this is great. It's 20 points I have now that I didn't have when I got here if it holds. Personally, it's just great to get this S-10 fast again. We've been fast but we haven't been quick and fast at the right times. We've been working real hard on both of our trucks and we're starting to learn a lot about both of them. What (Jeff) Gracia did that first run actually helped me for that last session. The speed thing is more of an ego thing then anything. It doesn't give you any points or move you up on the ladder, but it feels good to be back on top and hopefully we can repeat tomorrow, and more importantly on Sunday. You know we weren't supposed to run this late, tomorrow was supposed to be the run of choice but it turned out that we ran later. It was 10 degrees cooler then it was when we were supposed to run and that helped a lot. It gives you a good indication of what we'll probably see tomorrow. It's hard to say if it will hold up. I feel like I can do a little better because of the lane but Randy (Daniels) is also going to be right behind me along with Stanfield. There are a lot of trucks out there that can do what I just did. I felt that I could run that well but I just haven't been able to do it and I'm just happy that I was able to today. Everything is finally coming together and the S-10 is flying again -- it feels good. Both runs felt good today. I've probably been in the truck about 5-600 times and I've made a lot of trips down the race track in my own truck and I know what it takes and it hasn't been right. Both runs were good but that second run was almost picture perfect." No. 1 qualifier - 7.420ET/182.11mph Mike Coughlin (Jeg's Mail Order Chevrolet S-10)
"We made a good run in the Jeg's Chevy S-10 and after not qualifying at the Mac Tools Gatornationals that gives us something to smile about. The truck made a move to the left and I slowly drove back to the middle of the groove. It was important for us to gain information on the run. If we would've made a straight run in the first session we would have easily been in the top half. The guys did a great job tuning this Chevy S-10 for the second session of qualifying. The run we made shows that we have the power and that we were just off on the setup. We will spend tomorrow fine tuning and hopefully improve our position for race day. My hat goes off the guys. They have all been working nonstop since we brought the engine program in-house, it really proves that hard work and dedication pay off." No. 6 qualifier - 7.489ET/179.14

-Pontiac/Chevrolet Racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Bob Panella , Mike Dunn , Darrell Alderman , Brad Jeter , Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Jim Epler , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , Gary Scelzi , Ron Krisher , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , Mike Coughlin , John Lingenfelter , Tommy Johnson , Chuck Etchells , Greg Stanfield , Bruce Allen , Tom Martino , George Marnell , Mike Corvo Jr. , Mike Edwards , Tommy Johnson Jr.